Tag: global security

The New Mineshaft Gap: Killer Robots and the UN

This past week I was invited to speak as an expert at the United Nations Informal Meeting of Experts under the auspices of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). The CCW’s purpose is to limit or prohibit certain conventional weapons that are excessively injurious or have indiscriminate effects. The Convention has five additional protocols banning particular weapons, such as blinding lasers and cluster bombs. Last week’s meetings was focused on whether the member states ought to consider a possible sixth additional protocol on lethal autonomous weapons or “killer robots.”

My role in the meeting was to discuss the military rationale for the development and deployment of autonomous weapons. My remarks here reflect what I said to the state delegates and are my own opinions on the matter. They reflect what I think to be the central tenet of the debate about killer robots: whether states are engaging in an old debate about relative gains in power and capabilities and arms races. In 1964, the political satire Dr. Strangelove finds comedy in that even in the face of certain nuclear annihilation between the US and the former Soviet Union, the US strategic leaders were still concerned with relative disparity of power: the mineshaft gap. The US could not allow the Soviets to gain any advantage in “mineshaft space” – those deep underground spaces where the world’s inhabitants would be forced to relocate to keep the human race alive – because the Soviets would certainly continue an expansionist policy to take out the US’s capability once humanity could emerge safely from nuclear contamination.

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On the Word ‘Global’

The word ‘global’ has become so frequently used in Western strategic debate that is has almost become background music. On one level, overuse robs it of resonance. But on another, it might be contributing to the conceptual and rhetorical overstretch that has led the US to overextend itself.

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International Security and the Twitterati

I’m just back from the Halifax International Security Forum where I had the good fortune to meet fellow Duck blogger Jon Western. The Atlantic’s Steve Clemons described the gathering as Davos for the security set, which certainly is a nice ego-boost, whether or not it’s true. The forum is in its third year and is backed by the Canadian government among other sponsors. The forum of 200 plus draws mightily on traditional transatlantic security elites, but the smattering of Brazilians, Syrians, Yemenis, Serbians, Indians etc. gave it a decidedly more cosmopolitan flair. On the U.S. side, notable attendees this year included Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (and 17 other defense ministers from around the world) as well as a trio of U.S. Senators McCain, Shaheen, and Udall. 
With most of the plenaries webcast and on the record, I was struck by the live Tweeting going on in the room, with a number of foreign policy observers  — Anne-Marie Slaughter, David Kurtz, Heather Hurlburt, Brian Katulis, Mieke Eoyang, among others–capturing the salient points and offering their observations live. One could have almost a real-time on-line virtual conversation both with people in the room and from around the world (check out the twitter hashtag #halifax2011).

Aside from the process, I had a number of observations that I think capture the zeitgeist from the meeting (or at least my biased interpretation of the proceedings).

First, I was somewhat surprised by the limited focus on the crisis of the Euro (which could have major implications for Western governments’ abilities to finance security and development commitments going forward). It may well be, as noted by my friend Tom Wright, that security experts have tended to avoid the complex subject matter of international financial markets in recent years. I fear they do so at their (our) peril. Despite the relative paucity of coverage of the issue, one of the most salient observations linked the European crisis to the rise of other nations. The observer pointed out that Portugal’s formal colony Angola, buoyed by oil money, is now helping its formal colonial master, by buying up banks and providing other sources of finance. 
Portugal’s Prime Minister visits
Angola hat in hand

Source: The Guardian
Second, there was understandably a large emphasis on the Arab Spring and much speculation about the future direction in places like Syria. After the Libyan intervention, participants assessed the extent to which it might serve as a precedent for other places under the guise of the responsibility to protect (R2P). While R2P in theory encompasses other instruments than the use of force, most of the discussion centered on intervention rather than other measures like conflict prevention. 
Clearly, panelists like Canada’s defense minister were reluctant to consider using force in Syria, though he thought the world could envision other measures that might pressure the Syrian regime such as bans on participation in sporting events. With yesterday’s vote in the UN General Assembly human rights committee to condemn Syria, it will be interesting to see whether the Security Council (and in turn China and Russia) will feel compelled to do something. 
A member of the Syrian opposition made a compelling case for assistance, though one questioner noted that the international community on the one hand has told the Syrian opposition not to ask for assistance and then has turned around and said, we can’t intervene because no one has asked us to (!). On this topic, the most memorable line for me was Senator McCain saying he was glad Bin Laden lived long enough to see the Arab Spring which was a repudiation of all that Bin Laden stood for.
Third, the meeting would not be complete without a session or two on the rise of China and other emerging economies. As ever, the scope of China’s ambitions and capabilities are unclear. With its actions in recent years in the South China Sea, China may have squandered some of the soft power it had built up in previous years among its neighbors. In terms of capabilities, even if China has an aircraft carrier, it may not have adequate planes for it (yet). More importantly, the challenges of tamping down domestic discontent may loom rather larger than external observers recognize, with far more men under arms to guard against domestic dissent than external threats. 
Outsiders tend to credit the Chinese for taking the long view and having a pretty apt perspective on the external world, but some of the folks I talked to suggest that the Chinese may not be as adept in managing their international presence as some imagine. In Africa, for example, actions by Chinese firms in places like Zambia, where owners of a Chinese mining company used live rounds against striking workers, have triggered a political backlash and international criticism by groups like Human Rights Watch.
Fourth, there was incredible uncertainty about the role of the United States going forward. This kind of gathering lent itself to some modest self-congratulation on the historic role played by the NATO alliance and some measure of pride in the success of the recent mission in Libya. Given the forum, it is not surprising that there was a welcome embrace of the U.S. decision to send troops to Australia to signal to China and other regional players that the U.S. intends to stick around.
The difficult economic circumstances in Western countries cast a cloud over the proceedings. The Australia announcement notwithstanding, there was something of sense of resignation, if not malaise, about the prospects for an American or broader Western revival. Anne-Marie Slaughter sought to remind the crowd that the combined economic and military might of the U.S. and Europe will not be matched any time soon, but her buoyant attitude seemed a bit of an anomaly. 
With the the supercommittee failing to reach an agreement on deficit reduction and Niall Ferguson provocatively warning of a EU break-up over the weekend in the Washington Post, it is hard to resist the somewhat defeatist temptation and imagine the inevitability of decline. Of course, such handwringing characterized a number of U.S. commentators in the 1980s during Japan’s rise and throughout the EU’s tortuous path of integration.

So, it is surely premature, despite the paralysis of the U.S. political system and Europe’s economic woes, to write off either of them. But, as I’ll explore in my next post on the economic crisis in Europe, we are living in pretty dangerous times for the global economy, and I worry that not enough of our leaders are taking those threats sufficiently serious.


Do the ‘Securitweebs’ matter?: Between Facts and Snark

Brian C. Rathbun now has 64 twitter followers!

Co-authored by Stephanie Carvin and Ben O’Loughlin

This article is about the twitter community who post content about human security or security in a non–traditional context – not just tanks and strategy but natural disaster relief, post-conflict reconstruction, low level political violence, and all the law and politics surrounding these issues.

So far as we can tell, this community seems to share the following characteristics:

  • They are a mix of journalists, think tankers, academics, NGO staff, and students.
  • While they frequently link to articles on traditional media websites, they frequently produce their own content, whether that is academic research, op-eds, or ‘reputable’ blog posts.
  • Although anyone may have a twitter account, and it may be seen as an equalizer, these individuals seem to have ‘elite’ qualifications. They seem to have skills (languages), experiences (military, conflict zones, journalism) or qualifications (graduate education). They are engaged with research and researchers.
  • They follow each other on twitter and engage with each other, forming a dense network. They often re-tweet each other’s links.
  • The perspective is often US-centric but inflected with international experiences and views.
  • The politics tends towards the centre-left on US terms or centre in Europe, but recent disagreement over whether to intervene in Libya shows there is no soggy consensus.
  • The content combines expertise, news, and a high degree of snark.

Taken together, this is the community of Securitweebs.

Two things made us write this article. A few weeks ago Stephanie posted a request for information about NGOs and landmines in the 1980s and got back really useful information from several tweeters, including @theHALOTrust – who also put her into contact with other organizations. Meanwhile down the hall, Ben was putting together a talk about how to identify and map ‘influencers’ in social media in order to shape what narrative spreads about Afghanistan or Syria. Is it possible to influence the narrative spreading among the Securitweebs? And can the Securitweebs as a whole control the narrative spreading beyond? There are nodal players within the Securitweebs, but the Securitweebs are a node within international public affairs.

The Securitweebs are an epistemic community: a network of experts who produce what counts as the truth about an issue. Mainstream media will come to them when the issue becomes a breaking story. Policymakers may solicit their leading figures of the moment, who will channel the collective wisdom of the network (and Tweet back to the network while being consulted, in close to real time, possibly adding a snarky comment).

Epistemic communities have long existed. What difference does existence through Twitter make? It is too soon to tell, but we would present a few observations:

  • Posting a question and receiving useful Tweets back makes it easy to survey a field, find hard-to-locate information, or even find new possibilities for collaboration. This is expertise harnessing crowd wisdom.
  • In addition, the network effects mean the connectivity of the most followed make it possible for anyone to produce content that becomes widely disseminated very quickly.
  • However, there is the obvious danger of groupthink; there is a consistent style and perspective as well as a shared interest, and that style and perspective is likely to attract the like-minded.
  • It’s interesting to conceive of how “nodes” work in this network. While there are many with thousands of followers (@abumuqawama and @afpackchannel for example), there are others with only a few hundred – but are well connected enough that their tweets, when picked up by this dense network, may have a substantial impact. Does this mean the network is essentially a multiplier?

Does the Securitweeb network differ from other communities? Do Securitweebs engage in more self-promotion than, say, the experts Tweeting about climate science? Does the level of political literacy or historical awareness or systemic sexual promiscuity differ from levels in the development community? Does the Securitweeb have more influence over security policy than Economistweebs do over taxing and spending? How does this network differ from a network about cupcake enthusiasts?

So what do Duck Readers think about this interpretation of the discussion of security/human security in the twittersphere? +1 or #fail?

@Ben_OLoughlin @StephanieCarvin


A puzzle in promotion: Petraeus at the CIA

This is a guest blog by Jarrod Hayes, who is is an assistant professor of International Relations at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research broadly focuses on the social construction of foreign and security policy.

The New York Times is reporting that President Obama plans on moving Leon Panetta to the position of Secretary of Defense and David Petraeus to the position of CIA director. While the Panetta move is interesting in its own right (i.e., will Panetta have the force of will necessary to manage the DoD?), what I find far more interesting is the move of General David Petraeus to the CIA, a man whose credentials for leading the CIA at best require some creative argumentation. I find the move puzzling (hence the title) and would like to forward a possible explanation for the move as well a negative repercussion that could result. First, the explanation. In June 2010, when Obama fired then U.S. commander in Afghanistan Stanley McChrystal after insubordinate remarks by officers under McChrystal’s command came to light, the President was left with a problem. Seven months earlier, Obama had announced a large troop increase to Afghanistan as part of an effort to prevail in a conflict claimed to be vital to US national interest. What appointment could Obama make in replacing McChrystal that would be in line with the President’s contention that success in Afghanistan was of critical importance? The obvious answer was hero-of-Iraq-and-counterinsurgency-demigod Petraeus, and so the President demoted (lateral move?) Petraeus from Central Command Commander to head up the Afghan mission. However, the appointment presented its own problems. At the same time Obama announced the Afghan ‘surge,’ he promised to begin bringing home US troops after 18 months (~midyear 2011). Would Petraeus, a man now vested with an immense amount of military and security legitimacy, resist when Obama decided to pull the plug? If he did, the President’s political capital could take serious damage at a time when the campaign for re-election would be at a critical stage.

Obama appears to have found a solution by promoting Petraeus to CIA director. Petraeus now has less reason to oppose a drawdown in a conflict that is going less than swimmingly (see Steve Saideman’s excellent post on the subject here) because his personal credibility and legacy are no longer on the line. Moving Petraeus to the CIA also shifts his institutional context, and if Graham Allison was right about where you stand depends on where you sit, being at the CIA ties Petraeus hands for two reasons: 1) CIA has global concerns (less dog in the Afghan fight) and 2) CIA has a firm institutional emphasis on not making policy. So the promotion is a win-win all around. Petraeus gets out of a fight that may be impossible to win and Obama removes (or at least lessens) a potential political landmine. The only downside is the poor guy who will get tagged with whatever comes in Afghanistan after the US leaves.

There is, however, a dark side to promoting Petraeus to the CIA. Since September 11, 2001, the CIA’s mission has increasingly focused on the US military mission. Military commanders have pressed progressively greater demands for timely battlefield intelligence and policy shifts that accompanied the Bush administration’s GWOT put the CIA on the front lines. These changes are not cost free. Rolf Mowatt-Larssen (and Andrew Bacevich regarding foreign policy broadly) among others has argued that the CIA since September 11 has become increasingly militarized at the expense of its traditional role as a collector and analyzer of political intelligence. It used to be the CIA’s primary job to know the kinds of things that might have led us to be less surprised by the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. The shift to a more militarized CIA means that the Agency no longer focuses on that kind of information (perhaps encouraging technological workarounds?), hence the surprise at the ‘Arab Spring.’ Since September 11, I think there is a good case to be made that we ask the CIA to do too much, and the increasing focus on militarily useful intelligence comes at the expense of the political intelligence that forms the basis of sound foreign policy-making. The appointment of Petraeus creates the real possibility that this pattern will not only continue but also be cemented and accelerated. If that is the case, Americans and their policy-makers will be increasingly in the dark about the world and what happens in it.


Feminist IR 101, Post #5 War and Security (in Theory)

There’s been a small break (understatement) in my posting as I dealt with some pressing stuff personally and professionally, and to post about some time-sensitive stuff (like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which I couldn’t resist, though I did resist talking about Wikileaks). I will now return to “Feminist IR 101,” a series of posts designed to provide audiences that had (intentionally or not) an understanding of feminist approaches to IR that caused them to misinterpret the intentions, goals, and potential contributions of feminist work in IR, particularly when assigning reviewers and performing reviews.

The last few posts before Feminist IR 101’s winter break were really an attempt to provide the basic tools that would help readers to understand the words and concepts employed in feminist research in international relations/global politics; the post-winter break posts will delve more into topic-based contributions that feminist lenses might make to seeing and understanding the ways that the world(s) ‘out there’ work(s), and how that is interdependent with, and intersubjective with, our theorizing about it.

I start where my work largely falls, in gender and security, or Feminist Security Studies – something I’ve written a fair amount about, theoretically and empirically, including, most recently, a feminist Special Issue of Security Studies, and a book, Gender and International Security: Feminist Perspectives. What does feminism contribute to thinking about security?

Feminists (including but not limited to Ann Tickner, Spike Peterson, Anne Runyan, Jindy Pettman, Christine Sylvester, Laura Shepherd, Annick Wibben, and myself) have argued that feminisms not only contribute to but transform both the central concerns of security studies and its methods, purposes, prescriptions, and performances.

So the first answer to how feminisms read war/security is – multiply and too broadly to discuss in one (readable) blog post. I’m going to make two posts – one about theory and the other about practice – but it will still necessarily be only a small snapshot of what Feminist Security Studies is/can be.

Feminists point out that there are genderings in concepts of international security that are often t ken for granted as gender-neutral if not even objective. Looking for women in global politics shows feminists that secure state often contain/make insecure people, especially at their margins, and especially women, which leads to questioning interstate gender relations; relationships between sexisms and militarisms; and the gendered natures of states, interstate relations, international institutions, and the international system structure as well as our perceptions and/or performances thereof.

Feminists have suggested that one of the key contributions of scholarship looking for women and gender in global politics to thinking about war and security is seeing them as fundamentally differently defined than the “common sense” understandings which pervade contemporary security scholarship. In “common sense” understandings, security is about the threat, use, and control of military force (so argues Steve Walt), and war is a time-deliminted but sustained violent conflict between two states, which starts and ends as/when those states decide it does (so argue Jack Levy and Bill Thompson).

Instead, feminisms have seen security policies as performed in/on women’s bodies, and personal security at the margins/periphery as every bit as important as (and often threatened by) state security/ies at the center/core of the international system. As such, they define security broadly and multidimensionally (see Ann Tickner’s work), and war/violence as a system (see Betty Reardon’s work) or a continuum (see Chris Cuomo’s discussion). Feminists have asked different questions about war(s) as well, including (but not limited to) how wars are sensed/sensual (see Christine Sylvester’s work), performed/enacted/experienced (see Judith Butler’s work), and how warring parties feminize each other (and relatedly how gender relations occur in/with wars, see the work of Spike Peterson). Feminists have provided evidence that gendered logics and war logics are co-constituted, that genderings operate as causes of war(s), and that studying war(s) and security without reference to/cognizance of/”control for” gender hierarchy is incomplete.

On the one hand, some say “so what?” or argue that these ideas are too broad or sweeping, or normatively weighted.  To the first, I’d argue that this work has a sort of “choose-your-own-ending” answer to the “so what” question. It could be strictly “practical”: operationalization of any traditional security policy is going to fall short of “working” to its fullest capacity without recognizing/taking account of gender subordination. It could also be fully transformative: security is not what “we” thought it was, nor do any of our traditional causal or constitutive analyses “work” fundamentally. To the second, well, of course, given the nature of the medium here – but there are hundreds of feminist books and articles that explore these assertions, and I could provide more guidance than I do here via email or personal conversation. To the last, of course the work is normatively weighted. All work is, some is just ignores its normative content. Feminist politic(s) are explicit; feminist security narratives (see Annick Wibben’s new book) are explicitly narratives. That’s a strength, in my view, not a liability.


Gender and Security: Theory and Practice

My post-ISA blogging is slower than it otherwise would have been, due to an unfortunate interlude with food poisoning. But I figured I’d start with the “working group” that Jennifer Lobasz and I ran at ISA, called “Gender and Security: Theory and Practice,” which Charli mentioned in her previous post. A Working Group at ISA meets on the day before the conference, and then twice during the conference, and members are asked to attend common panels around the theme of the group.

The stated mission of our group was:

The “Gender and Security: Theory vs. Practice” working group aims to develop an evolving subfield of Feminist Security Studies by creating a discussion between key scholars in the field of gender and international relations and new voices seeking to grow and consolidate these research programs. Addressing subject matter of interest to the Peace Studies, International Security, Feminist Theory and Gender Studies, and Women’s Caucus sections of the ISA as well as the conference theme, this working group will deal with questions about the relationships between gender, war, and peace; between the theory and practice of gender and security; between gender/feminist theorizing on security and the mainstream of “Security Studies”; and between different branches of Feminist Security Theorizing.

In the last five years, work in Feminist Security Studies has proliferated, producing dozens of journal articles, several important books, and several journal special issues, including, most recently, a special issue of the journal Security Studies. This workshop is meant both to reflect on and analyze this recent proliferation of scholarship and to look forward to defining and developing Feminist Security Studies as a subfield. Gathering a group of approximately 20 junior and senior scholars working in the field, the Working Group will look at Feminist Security Studies both internally (what is this subfield) and externally (how does it relate to Security Studies/IR more generally, and what does it have to say about “real world” practice of security?) through a variety of panels, informal conversations, roundtables, and other presentations.

While I couldn’t be at all of the meetings, I caught snippets of very interesting conversations: Tuesday, about the “state of the field” in Feminist Security Studies and the relationship between theory and practice in various areas of research, including conflict, post-conflict reconstruction, foreign policy, and peacemaking; Thursday, the conversation that Charli referred to about the relationship between Feminist Security Studies and Security Studies more broadly; and Saturday, concluding conversations reflecting both on those discussions and panels. I very much enjoyed listening to and participating in these conversations, and its hard to pick what to talk about, but two things jump out …

First, at the Thursday meeting, we posed a number of questions to participants, some of which Charli mentioned:
1) What (if anything) can gender analysis tell us about international security that security analysis omitting gender cannot?
2) What (if anything) can Security Studies tell feminist theorizing about security that it would not have access to otherwise?
3) Is a conversation where the sum will be greater than its parts? If so, how do we get to those benefits? What are the potential risks?
4) Can we develop effective strategies for communication among scholars coming from substantially different epistemological understandings to make a bridge between Security Studies and Feminist Security Studies? Should we?

Particularly, most of you who know my work, know that the great majority of what I do is devoted to making links between Security Studies and feminist theorizing – so I’ve defended that as a mission many times and remain committed to it. That said, a commitment to engagement, in my understanding, also requires asking the third question on this list – particularly, what are the risks of engagement? Sarah Brown (in a special issue of Millennium 22 years ago) warned that, in engaging IR, feminism risked losing its ontological and epistemological uniqueness. I’m interested in this concern particularly as I read Charli’s post which effectively advocates instrumentalizing gender as the way to package, re-present, and sell “feminist” concerns to the security establishment. While I don’t want to argue that there aren’t policy benefits that come from such approaches, but do worry that being quick to accept (or accepting at all) that it is okay to “sell” gender emancipation as a means to “normal” (impliedly gender-neutral) policy ends is problematic, reifying both the secondary nature of gender concerns and the existing (gendered) hierarchy of policy concerns in the security arena.

So, to me, write about gender in gendered techno-strategic language? No so much. Or, at least, not exclusively. But that brings me to the second question – the one to which I don’t have the answer, entirely. That is – if it is important to speak to/with the security arena, but not appropriate to do it in a way that “sells out” gender emancipation (at its ultimate expense) – then how? Separately, works in Feminist Security Studies reformulate mainstream approaches to traditional security issues, foreground the roles of women and gender in conflict and conflict resolution, and reveal the blindness of security studies to issues that taking gender seriously shows as relevant to thinking about security. Together, these works, as a research program, show that gender analysis is necessary, conceptually, for understanding international security, important for analyzing causes and predicting outcomes, and essential to thinking about solutions and promoting positive change in the security realm. How to “sell” that, though? Still working on it. But many of the very bright, very engaged participants in the Working Group had a lot of very interesting ideas and important success stories that I thought walked the line better than I ever have. And I will try to share some of those in the coming weeks and months.


Online Security Jam

I know I was asked to comment here on international political economy issues, but how can I pass up the opportunity to point you all to the Online Security Jam?

Yes, on February 4, you too can participate in an online discussion of important security issues. You will “help make the world a safer place…online.” The Jam is being co-produced by the European Commission and NATO, who are just so..so..cutting edge, yes? Well, ok, it’s actually being organized by Security and Defence Agenda, a think tank, and IBM. The goal is to engage literally thousands of experts and non-experts alike in “widening the debate” beyond military concerns. As they say, “No one person has the solution. We all do.” They even have a “Guide to Jamming,” complete with a video, for those of us who are not so of-the-moment, not so part of the online social community.

Actually, I do applaud the idea of widening the debate. And the organizers are sensitive to the increasing influence of NGOs in security issues, which has not always captured the attention of the powers that be. I will be interested in seeing what comes out of the Jam session. Although, frankly, I am not confident that crowdsourcing is the way to solve security issues, even in the 21st century.


Which New Year’s Eve would you rather celebrate?

Dan Drezner and Bill have both flagged Randy Schweller’s new piece in National Interest. I’ve just finished reading the piece and I agree with them – it’s really a depressing read. But, it’s the type of piece that we see periodically – it tries to take stock of the state of the global politics and IR scholars’ understanding of it. In many way, it reads a lot like Mearsheimer’s “Why We Will Miss the Cold War” or Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations?” It aims high and tries to explain large systemic events by using a lot of broad generalizations to develop the core argument that we live in a world of disorder.

But, it got me to thinking (and since we’re all making lists of one sort or another as we end the first decade of the 21st century), how does this New Year’s Eve (and the transition from this decade to the next) compare to the past ten or so decade transitions. How unsettling is our current era relative to others? Which New Year’s Eve on the brink of a new decade would you rather celebrate?

Here’s how I’d rank mine:

1. 1999 -2000: Post-1989 but pre-9/11. Ah, the days when our biggest threat was that Y2K was going to destroy us all. Cool Millenium concerts.

2. 1989 – 1990: The fall of communism in Eastern Europe – the only real question was how would it end in Moscow. Democratization’s third wave was snowballing….

3. 2009 – 2010: Is unipolarity and American hegemony really a bust? Environmental degradation, resource scarcity, demographic stress all sound scary but many of these threats are distant while terrorism and proliferation do not seem to convey the existential threat we experienced during much of the Cold War.

4. 1959- 1960: End of the Eisenhower era and we had settled into the Cold War; but I still wouldn’t trade tonight for 1959 — kids were practicing duck and cover in school and tens of thousands of Americans were building nuclear bomb shelters in their backyards. (I grew up in North Dakota and we still had the duck and cover drills in the late sixties — remember kids, even a piece of paper can help shelter you from fallout…)

5. 1979 – 1980: Collapse of Détente and a renewal of the Cold War, Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Nicaraguan revolution, the Iranian revolution, global economic recession, oil price spikes, persistent claims of US in decline — sucked to be us.

6. 1969 – 1970: Escalation of the Vietnam War — 40K+ Americans already dead as well as several hundred thousand Vietnamese; a spiraling of the arms race and social tensions in much of the West.

7. 1949 – 1950: The eruption of the Cold War with a series of crises/war scares from 1946 to 1949 culminated with the Soviet detonation of an atomic weapon in August, 1949 and the Chinese revolution in October. State S/P was drafting NSC-68 = scary.

8. 1929 – 1930: U.S. stock market collapse in October, 1929 fueling the global depression, collapse of the global trading system, etc…

9. 1919-1920: Early post-WWI recovery – refugees, property destruction, grief, a generation of young men perished, feuding among the allies, the promise of Versailles was history… Not a happy time.

10. 1939 – 1940: WWII begins in September, 1939. Enough said

I’d just add one note that I hadn’t fully anticipated before my developing my list, but my ranking goes from unipolarity, to bipolarity, to multipolarity. Hmmm…. Happy New Year’s!


There Be Game-Changes Afoot

OK, in between wrapping up my tenure statement draft and taking my daughter to the orthodontist, finally a moment for some Monday pirate blogging. As Peter notes, the big news story since Sunday was the rescue of Captain Richard Philips off the coast of Somalia: as I implied earlier, the capture of American hostages was bound to be a game-changer in the region and globally.

A few thoughts:

1) First, irrespective of any further US leadership on the issue now that our man is safe, there’s the copycat factor. The US’ precedent could be repeated by any vessels in the region, but whether this will solve the problem or make it worse is unclear. The pirates themselves are “vowing to retaliate.” Yeah, right. Pirate spokesmen seem to be claiming that their unbroken record of not mistreating captives might be coming to an end, but if their policy is to immediately kill captives whose countries approach the vessels, seems like that will put a damper on negotiations for ransom? One could imagine calling the pirates’ bluff but only through coordinated and systematic games of chicken. I think this could work in the long term: emerging naval technologies are going to make it easier, not harder, to pick off pirates in situations like this, and the US could consider sharing the technology with regional forces willing to help it police shipping lanes. Nonetheless, this approach, even if effective in the long-term, would certainly come at the expense of hostages’ lives in the short-term. I predict the exhiliration will quickly wear off and the issue of extrajudicial killing of pirates become a hot legal topic at the UN Security Council in short order – a good thing. High time we resolved this one.

2) One idea floating in the public discourse is a strategy of prevention, rather than retribution: arming merchant vessels. But there are many good reasons not to go this route, particularly in cases of supertankers filled with flammable liquid. But I wonder why non-lethal weapons such as long range acoustic devices are not being routinely deployed on such vessels. They’ve had success at repelling pirate attacks on cruise ships, why not merchant ships as well? Perhaps a global strategy of subsidizing the acquisition of such systems by commercial shippers would be less costly than an all out war against piracy on the high seas, or the kind of sanctions regime it would take to force countries and companies to stop making ransom payments.

3) On the other hand, the Obama Administration appears to be developing a more comprehensive preventive strategy: to go after pirate bases on land while resolving Somalia’s failed state status once and for all. A noble idea, but don’t expect it to be very politically popular, or to bear fruit overnight.

4) There is an opportunity here to solidify a security regime drawing in a number of regional maritime powers including Iran. Securitizing piracy in the Gulf of Aden could create a focal point for diplomacy between the US/EU and Iran. Roger Cohen has more. On the other hand, as John Boonstra points out, there is also an opportunity to muck up through a blustery unilateralism this emerging security community. Will Obama seize, squander or squelch this range of possibilities?

UPDATE: At Fox News, Paul Wagensell answers my question about sonic weapons: they’re not as effective as one might hope due to the availability of easy countermeasures. He lists a variety of other anti-piracy weapons that might, however.


Well, well, well.

From the AP:

“Somali pirates on Wednesday hijacked a U.S.-flagged cargo ship with 20 American crew members onboard, hundreds of miles from the nearest U.S. military vessel in some of the most dangerous waters in the world.

It was the sixth ship seized within a week, a rise that analysts attribute to a new strategy by Somali pirates who are operating far from the warships patrolling the Gulf of Aden.

In a statement, the company confirmed that the U.S.-flagged vessel has 20 U.S. nationals onboard.

It is not clear whether the pirates knew they were hijacking a ship with American crew members.”

Now we’ll see what develops.


An Alternative to Gibbeting

In a Reuters op-ed yesterday, Bernd Debusmann makes “the business case for high seas piracy”:

As far as illicit businesses with low risk and high rewards go, it doesn’t get much better than piracy on the high seas. The profit margins can easily surpass those of the cocaine trade. The risks? “There is no reason not to be a pirate,” according to U.S. Vice Admiral William Gortney, who commands the U.S. navy’s Fifth Fleet. “The vessel I’m trying to pirate, they won’t shoot at me. I’m going to get my money.” Even pirates who are intercepted have little to fear. “They won’t arrest me because there’s no place to try me.”

Well, how might that be changed? Duncan Hollis reviews recent suggestions at Opinio Juris. They range from “create an entirely new international organization” to “hang ’em.”

Here’s another modest proposal: try them at the International Criminal Court.

But no, you say, the crime of piracy is not under the court’s jurisdiction. How true – and how ironic, considering that the idea of the court was originally put forward by Trinidad and Tobago in an attempt to deal precisely with transnational criminals (drug traffickers and the like) engaged in similar activities. But these crimes, as well as terrorism, didn’t make it into the Rome Statutethe only crimes under the court’s jurisdiction today are war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide and (when it’s defined) aggression.

However. This is all up for reconsideration in 2010 at the Review Conference of the International Criminal Court – an event at which the terms and procedures in the original ICC treaty can be reconsidered, amended or addended by States Parties. According to the website of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court:

“Although, there is yet no clear agenda for the Conference, it is foreseeable that considering the adoption of the Crime of Aggression will constitute one of the main issues on the agenda. Also, the Rome Statute provides for the revision of Article 124, an optional protocol which allows States to not subject their nationals to the jurisdiction of the Court for seven years with regards to war crimes; and the Rome Conference recommended in 1998 the possible consideration of terrorism and drug crimes. “

So, why not piracy as well? It is analogous to all of the above in that it is a crime of universal jurisdiction – meaning a crime that no one state was able to stamp out alone, but all states, as members of the civilized order, had a responsibility and right to prosecute. In fact, it is the very oldest crime under universal jurisdiction: in its heyday, it was seen as analogous to the contemporary scourge of genocide or torture. And thanks to recent events, it is as salient today as genocide was in 1998. (OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it’s plenty salient. Any issue that can get my in-laws talking about Somalia instead of US electoral politics over Thanksgiving dinner is a candidate for some serious global policy-making.)

As a court of last resort, of course, the ICC would not be equipped to deal with an immediate backlog of cases as pirates are captured and extradited by nations such as Germany, India, France and the UK. But how much trouble would it be to change this? The maritime nations of the world (and those relying on maritime shipping) have a good incentive to put these folks behind bars: the ICC offers a legal avenue, and what is most needed is a prison in which to house suspects while they await trial. Why not fork over the resources, take care of capturing them where you can (not that this solves all the logistical problems there, just the legal ones), and let those who go on trial and end up in prison for life serve as at least a partial deterrent for others?

Just a hairbrained idea at twenty-six minutes to midnight with some rum in me. Thoughts?


Why It May Be Good To Think Twice Before Opening Fire On Pirates

Daniel Sekulitch provides an update on the pirate “mothership” sunk by India last week in a much-trumpeted police action on the high seas:

“It has now been confirmed by the IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre that the vessel sunk last week by an Indian warship was not a pirate mothership but, rather, a fishing boat that had been hijacked by pirates. The Thai-owned fishing boat, Ekawat Nava 5, had been commandeered early on November 18 and the crew had been tied up by their captors, according to the shipowner. Later that same day, the Indian Navy Ship Tabar encountered the Ekawat Nava 5 and ordered the fishing boat to stop for an inspection. The pirates are reported to have threatened the warship, leaving the Indians no choice but to fire on what they believed was a mothership, eventually destroying the vessel. But with the rescue of a crewman from the fishing boat day ago, after six days adrift, the real story has come to light, with tragic consequences. Fourteen of his crewmates remains missing.”

More here. And here.

Not that the Indian military doesn’t have bigger problems than bad PR over its anti-piracy operations right now.


Pirates and Sovereigns

This post began as a response to the comments on Peter’s recent post on pirates, but they got to be so long, and required hyperlinks, I decided to start a new thread.

In his comment to that post, T. Greer asks what the pirates who hijacked the oiltanker Sirius Star were thinking, since they can’t deal with the logistics involved in selling the cargo and were certainly likely to provoke the great powers (further) by targeting such a prize.

Somali pirates want two things, as far as I can tell:

1) Money, which is why their strategies have been based on ransom demands – they don’t care about docking in port and selling cargo, they care about getting shipowners and their insurance companies to buy back their property and their crewpersons’ lives. This also explains (I think) why the hijackers of the Faina continue to negotiate at sea with the Ukrainian shipowners, rather than identifying buyers of the ships’ military cargo within Somalia (for which there is a market aplenty). Ransom is now Somalia’s fastest-growing industry and is contributing to an economic boom there, which is one reason why marrying daughters off to pirates has recently become an coveted indicator of upward mobility among villages within coastal Somalia.

2) Domestic Legitimation (which is why they tend to avoid killing hostages if possible and why they are seizing larger and riskier targets). The longer they keep the world powers at bay, the more powerful they seem and the more credible their claims to be “protecting” the Somali coast from rampant global capitalism and illegal fishing/dumping by other nations, which was destroying the local fishing industry (many of the pirates are former fishers out of work) and polluting the coastline. This legitimation helps them maintain their credibility and social power among land-based Somalis, which reinforces their economic gains.

None of this justifies piracy, of course, but just my two cents from following the complexities of it a bit over the past three years. Best to think of them not just as theives but as political players in the region.

In this sense, there are genuine parallels with eighteenth and nineteenth century maritime piracy. Janice Thomson’s landmark study of the relationship between piracy, privateering and state-building early in the Westphalian system situates earlier pirate bands as alternate forms of non-territorialized governance aimed partly at resisting the emerging European state system’s reliance on property rights and ability to discipline labor. It’s no surprise to me that as state system loses its grip on markets, its role as container of political identity, and even its monopoly on the use of legitimate force, piracy has reemerged not only as a practice (this has been going on for least 20 years) but now also as a political discourse.

Aside from how to solve the immediate problem, the constitutive and legal questions here abound. If political players they are, rather than mere brigands, then what political rulesets should guide diplomacy with these people in order to both bring about a useful causal outcome (the protection of shipping lanes, the reconstruction of a country), while contributing constructively to reconstituting international law / institutions to account for the exercise of political violence by non-state actors through asymmetrical means?

I don’t know. But that’s one frame for understanding the kinds of discussions that are needed here – they are not so different from the discussions, such as those taking place at Complex Terrain Lab, about how to reconceptualize the state-centric law of armed conflict to account for / bring into the fold non-state actors. Only difference is, most of that discussion has taken place regarding the law of land warfare only, rather than maritime war law, as Ken Anderson pointed out recently: all should read his complete Opinio Juris post on the matter.


Rethinking the Long “War”?

Whomever wins today, we can safely look forward, I think, to a President who will tread more carefully on the fine line between protecting national security from “global terrorism” and upholding international commitments to fundamental human rights and the rule of law.

Fortunately for that person and his advisors, Simon Fraser University’s Human Security Report Project just released its weekly bulletin. “In Focus” this week is “Terrorism.” The bulletin provides a useful round-up of the latest research on terrorism trends (from Rand Corporation: Al Qaeda and Its Affiliates: A Global Tribe Waging Segmental Warfare), counterterrorism strategies (the Center for Contemporary Conflict at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey calls for a shift from open warfare to containment), and (of most interest to me) the tradeoff between human rights and national security. Some highlights:

The Center for European Policy Studies provides an empirical, case-study-based counterpoint to moral arguments against trading civil liberties for actionable intelligence:

“Behind the screen of an elastic conception of public security, the primacy of an intelligence-based rationale over the judicial process results in tensions between the attribution of guilt and the rendering of justice that distort classical judicial procedures and the principle of a fair trial. Moreover, such tensions eventually legitimise proactive and preventive strategies that lead to condemnation through allegations of terrorism rather than proof.”

Less helpfully for those interested in evidence, but useful for those needing a primer on post-9/11 national security law, is Freedom House’s report The Civil Liberties Implications of Counterterrorism Policies.

Then there is this analysis of civil society organizations’ role in terrorism prevention and response.

Perhaps most strikingly – food for thought for the next US Administration? – is the Carnegie Endowment for Peace‘s analysis of Saudi Arabia’s “soft” counterterrorism approach, which is apparently working much better than the US’s shoot-first, apologize-later strategy:

The increasing use of unconventional, “soft’ measures to combat violent extremism in Saudi Arabia is bearing positive results, leading others in the region, including the United States in Iraq, to adopt a similar approach. Understanding the successes of the Saudi strategy — composed of prevention, rehabilitation, and aftercare programs — will be important in the fight against radical Islamist extremism, says Christopher Boucek in a new Carnegie Paper. Roughly 3,000 prisoners have participated in Saudi Arabia’s rehabilitation campaign — which seeks to address the underlying factors that facilitate extremism and prevent further violent Islamism. Saudi authorities claim a rehabilitation success rate of 80 to 90 percent, having re-arrested only 35 individuals for security offenses. Key components of the Saudi strategy: (1) Prevention: Saudi Arabia has employed hundreds of government programs to educate the public about radical Islam and extremism, as well as provide alternatives to radicalization among young men. (2) Rehabilitation: The centerpiece of the rehabilitation strategy is a comprehensive counseling program designed to re-educate violent extremists and sympathizers and to encourage extremists to renounce terrorist ideologies. (3) Aftercare programs: The Ministry of Interior employs several initiatives to ensure that counseling and rehabilitation continue after release from state custody, including a halfway house program to ease release into society and programs to reintegrate returnees from Guantanamo Bay.

Maybe, if we’re lucky, our incoming President will start with a clean slate and some political imagination tempered by the evidence of history.


Meanwhile, Off the Coast of Somalia…

AP reports, in an article titled “Somali Pirates Stare Down Superpowers”:

With a Russian frigate closing in and a half-dozen U.S. warships within shouting distance, the pirates holding a tanker off Somalia’s coast might appear to have no other choice than to wave the white flag. But that’s not how it works in Somalia, a failed state where a quarter of children die before they turn 5, where anybody with a gun controls the streets and where every public institution has crumbled. The 11-day standoff aboard the Ukrainian MV Faina begs the question: How can a bunch of criminals from one of the poorest and most wretched countries on Earth face off with some of the world’s richest and well-armed superpowers?

In Somalia, pirates are better-funded, better-organized and better-armed than one might imagine in a country that has been in tatters for nearly two decades. They have the support of their communities and rogue members of the government — some pirates even promise to put ransom money toward building roads and schools. With most attacks ending with million-dollar payouts, piracy is considered the biggest economy in Somalia. Pirates rarely hurt their hostages, instead holding out for a huge payday.

The pirates are demanding $20 million ransom, and say they will not lower the price. “We only need money and if we are paid, then everything will be OK,” he said. “No one can tell us what to do.” Ali’s bold words come even though his dozens of fighters are surrounded by U.S. warships and American helicopters buzz overhead. Moscow has sent a frigate, which should arrive within days.

Good that the reporter is focusing on the root causes of piracy, not just the need for an immediate response. But I don’t know about this US/Russian Goliath held at bay by David Scallywag narrative. All that’s holding the US back is casualty aversion and the desire not to step on Moscow’s toes. Any guesses as to how this will go down when the Russians show up?


Bestir Yourselves, Ye Councils of Nations, and Smartly

International Talk Like a Pirate Day ends at midnight, and once again pirate lovers around the world are gleefully splicing the mainbrace with their mateys and poking fun at the bilge rats who don’t get that it’s, well, Talk Like a Pirate Day. (Pirate Dictionary here for the uninitiated; a superior and more scholarly resource is George Choundas’ A Pirate Primer.)

While that’s all in good fun, the time seems right to remind ourselves that maritime piracy is resurgent globally (the International Maritime Bureau reported rates of four attacks per week in April) and that it represents a scourge, not something to be romanticized. Also an interesting case for those interested in how the international community attempts to solve its common pool resource problems, like how to secure the lawless seas.

Some news stories to this effect from just the past week or so:

Piracy is particularly notorious off the coast of Somalia, where ocean-going robbers are not only threatening the lives of seafarers in a geopolitically important shipping lane, but have been looting aid intended to stem the humanitarian catastrophe in the Horn of Africa. 55 vessels have been attacked this year; 11 were being held hostage simultaneously last week alone.

After rescuing several of its own nationals held hostage earlier this week, France has recently called for “a global effort” to combat piracy; but what is meant by this is not clear: a global effort or an effort globally? The International Shipping Association’s Round Table joined this call today, but it seems they want a global effort to protect specific shipping lanes, demanding:

“real and immediate action against brazen acts of piracy, kidnapping and armed robbery, carried out with increasing frequency against ships in the Gulf of Aden, by pirates based in Somalia.”

My two pieces of eight:

1) The effort needs to occur globally and not focus piecemeal on patching together regional regimes to protect specific shipping lanes. Piracy hotspots move. Four years ago the Straits of Malacca were the most dangerous shipping lanes in the world, but a coordination regime between Indonesia, Malasia and Singapore reduced the incidence markedly. It has been during the same period, however, that pirate attacks in the Horn of Africa have increased as maritime marauders have sought a more lawless region to ply their trade. And Somalia is not the only hotspot today; piracy remains a problem around in South Asia and off the coast of Nigeria, in particular.

2) The efforts need to be global (that is multilateral) but that doesn’t mean the UN is the right body to do the work, as shippers claim. The UN has no global police force, and was designed to prevent territorial aggression among middle powers, not solve transnational security threats. In fact the Charter regime is part of the problem: ships on the high seas cannot legally pursue pirate boats into the territorial waters of sovereign countries; and some littoral states are ill-equipped to themselves police their shorelines. On a case by case basis, the UN Security Council can authorize exceptions to this rule, but this approach hasn’t worked well in Somalia, partly because governments also need to be required to actually do the policing. As TFS Magnum writes: “It seems just ridiculous to think the UN will solve this problem.” But governments acting together on this specific issue can. Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore have already shown that to be the case, at least in the Straits of Malacca. Given that, there’s little excuse for failing to take this seriously. Diodotus points out that an alternative forum for a discussion of new rule-sets might be next year’s World Oceans Conference.

3) Meantime, in Somalia, if Western powers want to solve the immediate problem, they might consider recognizing Puntland and Somaliland as legitimate political entities, which will strengthen their ability to bring rule of law to the region; and addressing the sources of the pirates’ legitimacy within Somalia itself. For more on both these arguments, see here.


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