Tag: US (Page 1 of 2)

Should You Stay or Should You Go?

Brexit 2

As the summer is heating up, all the world’s eyes are on Britain. And that really is saying something for us Americans, what with the wild ride that Donald Trump is taking us all on. But even here, eyes are rapidly averting to the mother country and the high stakes of the debate as to whether it should remain a valued member of the European Union (EU) or leave. And now with this tragedy, the stakes are even higher.

Apparently the eyes of the British were fully on the presidential campaign here as well, til recently. Not only did the UK Parliament debate whether to bar Mr. Trump from entering the UK, but in addition he apparently had an outsized influence on the campaign for mayor of London. It appears Mr. Trump deserves credit for motivating a majority of Londoners to vote by wide margins in favor of the first Muslim mayor of Britain’s capital city.

It is the election of Sadiq Khan that gives foreign friends of Britain a little hope, as fears of immigration and alleged shenanigans in Brussels have heightened and thereby tempted Britons to exit from the most successful large-scale political experiment in history, aka Brexit. But the success of Mayor Khan bodes well for the British people keeping in mind the global leadership role the UK plays, and remaining forward-looking in voting to do what is best for Britain and stay engaged as a leading member of the EU. Continue reading


Play it Cool

Yesterday I had the great fortune to sit on a faculty panel discussing the Iran nuclear deal put on by my colleagues at Georgia Tech [I will link to the video when it is available]. A logic of thought that came up, in different formulations, related to the idea that the nuclear deal might transform US-Iran relations and/or change Iran’s domestic politics. Coincidentally, the New York Times reported yesterday the answer is apparently a resounding no from the Ayatollah Khamenei–Iran would not be having anything more to do with the US lest the Great Satan “sneak back in through the window.”  As a bonus, he predicted Israel will “not be around in 25 years’ time.” These comments are almost certain to provoke anxiety in Israel and give renewed strength to critics of the nuclear deal in the US. I would caution them to hold their fire.

Continue reading


India: The “Dispensable Nation” in Southeast Asia?

I remember once when I was exploring the Indian hill station of Shillong in Meghalaya, I read a random factoid in a guide book which said the town was geographically closer to Hanoi than Delhi.  It was not actually very difficult to believe that in the remote states of Northeast India, the gravitational pull begins to shift towards Southeast Asia. I also knew that India’s Nicobar Islands were less than 100 miles from the coast of Indonesia. Myanmar and Singapore were once part of British India. Etc., etc… Those random factoids make it seem that regional integration between India and some of the dynamic countries of ASEAN is both natural and inevitable. In reality, however, due to protracted insurgency in India’s northeast, a relatively closed regime in Myanmar, and a general focus on trade with Europe and America, the prospects for regional integration have seemed unrealistic for decades.  Nevertheless, with the adoption of India’s “Look East” policy in 1991, there have been some efforts to enhance ties between India and ASEAN over the years which are beginning to bear fruit — the real question is whether India will shift its posture to exploit these opportunities to shape the architecture of Southeast Asian regional integration.

The main goal of the 9th India-ASEAN Summit this year was to prioritize a services and investment pact set to be completed by March 2012, which would pave the way for an India-ASEAN Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement.  The 2009 India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement in goods has already come into effect; current trade between India and ASEAN is about $50 billion and rising very fast. Visa on arrival facilities in India for ASEAN nationals has also been established. Of course, as even intra-ASEAN trade is riddled with non-tariff barriers and financial investment impediments, these kinds of trade agreements may not be sufficient to open up markets until there is genuine support for free trade by states in the region. But from a long term perspective these kinds of agreements are essential to at least begin the process of integration. The 2005 Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement between Singapore and India, for example, has led to an exponential increase in investment and trade.
From a political perspective, there is increasing warmth between India and its ASEAN neighbors. It may be worth noting that India invited Susilo Bambang Yudhyono to be the guest of honor at India’s Republic Day parade this year. Some commentators believe that strong bi-lateral relationships with countries like Indonesia and Singapore may be benchmarks for India’s ability to engage with ASEAN states more broadly.
The reasons for India’s interest in these emerging markets and resource rich countries like Indonesia is perhaps obvious at a time when the West is in recession and the competition for access to energy is intense.  Indian energy firms and even some manufacturers are already heavily invested in ASEAN members like Indonesia and Singapore.
However, ASEAN members’ interest in India appears to mainly be driven by a desire to purchase additional insurance against China’s growing influence particularly in the South China Sea. India has a dog in the fight with China because Indian and Vietnamese firms have signed agreements for oil and gas exploration off the coast of Vietnam. There has even been tension in recent years between the PLAN and Indian Navy off the coast of Vietnam. But, of course, the real balancing occurred simply by inviting the US to participate in the East Asia Summit (EAS).  The US quickly helped to foreground security issues that highlight tensions between ASEAN states and China. India by contrast continues to appear indecisive as it remains concerned about being dragged into a confrontational American containment strategy directed against China. India’s fear about being used as a pawn in an American game are valid, but India needs to clearly decide the role that it wants to play in Southeast Asia. If ASEAN is vital to India as a source for energy and a market for Indian goods, then a more robust posture is required. While China will rightfully defend its own interests, it is quite sensitive to the limits of its power and has already demonstrated that it does not wish to trigger a hard containment strategy by alarming all of its neighbors (see Goldstein, Rising to the Challenge, 2005).
Of course, some ASEAN members also see India as a lucrative market. Singaporean firms, for example, have invested in India’s technology parks, telecommunications, and manage some of India’s infrastructure, including major seaports and airports.  Singapore is the second largest source of FDI in India with a cumulative investment of around $18 billion and it is India’s 8th largest trading partner.  India is Singapore’s 10th largest trading partner, and with $16 billion invested in Singapore, India is the second largest Asian investor after Japan (Business Times Singapore, 11/19/11). But Singapore’s relations with India remain exceptional for the most part.
Even with some progress on liberalizing trade with Pakistan in recent weeks, India future lies as much in the East as within South Asia given the lack luster integration within the Subcontinent so far. India needs to make its markets more attractive to a broader range of ASEAN members if it hopes to be able to have much influence in shaping the regional architecture. This is will probably require, at the very least, simplifying licensing requirements which act as Non-Tariff Barriers. Politically, India can free ride on America’s willingness to confront China for now, but a stronger level of leadership will be needed as the US declines. 
India remains “the dispensable nation” in Southeast Asia, but it probably cannot afford to be so.

[Cross-posted from Humayun]


The US Department of Defense Law of War Manual: An Update

They’re updating this.

I have a report in the 2009 (they’re a bit behind…just go with it) Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law on efforts to produce a new service-wide US Department of Defence Law of War Manual. This would replace FM 27-10 and (should it ever see the light of day…just go with it) will be an incredibly important statement of US practice on the laws of war.

I consulted on and observed this project from August-December 2009 and I keep in contact with some of the editors. The description of the Manual (and estimate of delivery) are now outdated, but there is a good description of the process and methodology behind it. I can’t go into any more details than that (there is a crazy on-going process) but it is “an update” for those who are interested. Here’s the abstract:

One of the major legal instruments the US Department of Defense (DoD) will be relying on in terms of planning and carrying out its activities in the near future is a new law of war military manual which is expected to be published sometime in 2011. While on the surface such a document may not seem of critical interest to those interested in security/strategic studies or to humanitarian activists seeking to ban rather than regulate violence, there are important reasons to place a certain amount of emphasis on this DoD product and to expect that it will have a significant impact, especially on issues that are presently widely debated within the humanitarian legal community.


Six Years of Gay Marriage in Canada and the World Did Not End

Fact: 6 years after gay marriage
Happy Cat is still happy.

It’s the 6th anniversary of gay marriage in Canada and – financial meltdowns in Europe and America aside – the world hasn’t ended. Society has remained intact. Babies are being born, flowers are blooming, a Canadian hockey team still can’t win the Stanley Cup and otters are still cute.

Actually, Canada is more than fine. In an article in the Calgary Herald, Naomi Lakritz argues:

While divorce rates have increased greatly since the introduction of Divorce Laws in 1968, actual divorce rates have been decreasing in Canada since the 1990s. The 50 per cent (failure rate) fallacy is false . . . In Nova Scotia, Ontario, British Columbia, the Yukon and Nunavut, the total number of new divorce cases has declined six per cent over the four-year period ending in 2008/2009,” says an IMF news release.
Indeed, while divorces per 100,000 population reached 362.3 in 1987, they were down to 220.7 per 100,000 in 2005, the year same-sex marriage became law. So much for the myth that same-sex marriage would aid the dissolution of straight marriages. They dissolve quite nicely on their own, thanks to their internal dynamics, such as domestic violence, alcoholism, gambling and infidelity. These figures, by the way, come from such eminent sources as the Vanier Institute of the Family and Statistics Canada.
And, according to Statistics Canada, “the number of marriages in the country was 149,236 in 2006, down nearly 2,000 from the previous year, but up from 148,585 in 2004.” Looks like some sort of minor demographic blip occurred there in 2006, but that figure is still up from 2004, when much of the silly fearmongering was taking place prior to Bill C-38 being passed.
Indeed, a November 2009 report entitled Divorce: Facts, Causes and Consequences, by Anne-Marie Ambert of York University in Toronto, found that “divorce rates have gone down substantially during the 1990s and have remained at a lower level since 1997, with minor yearly fluctuations.”

So clearly ALL of the predictions of the religious right have come true…. in that they haven’t. At all.

Considering that less than 30 years ago that many people were arrested, committed or persecuted for homosexuality in many Western countries, the progress has been impressive, (no matter what might be coming out of the mouths of Tea-Partiers.) A list of countries/regions/areas/cities with same-sex marriage or civil unions is impressive and growing. Even if it is a little patchy in America, there is clear momentum in support for equal marriage rights. Obama supporting the Respect for Marriage Act is a positive (if slightly delayed) step forward.

Obviously, it’s not a totally rosy picture. It’s still a crime punishable by death in 7 countries and homosexual acts are outlawed by 113. The Uganda situation is particularly odious. But even the UN Human Rights Council has taken the step of passing its first resolution on LGBT persons in June. Even if there is still a lot of work to do, there seems to be a decent amount of momentum (and opposition).

And best wishes to New Yorkers getting ready to take the plunge!

Cross-posted at The Cana-Blog


The 2003 Iraq War will not be forgotten

The killing of Osama bin Laden allows political leaders to further disentangle Iraq, Afghanistan and the whole war on terror concept; to wind down some operations and refocus others; to bring some stories to light and push others aside, to be forgotten. But how do those who served in these wars feel about this? In today’s New York Times Captain Shannon P. Meehan, a US veteran of the 2003 Iraq War, published a powerful statement of alienation on this matter. Meehan felt no closure on hearing of bin Laden’s death. It only brought a sense of distance and disconnection. It reminded him he had been part of the bad war, the war whose meaning is already settled in what he calls the ‘shifting public memory of war’. And he must live with the severe injuries he suffered regardless. He writes: 

So, as much as I want to feel a part of this moment, to feel some sense that I contributed to it, I do not. As a veteran of the Iraq war, I do not feel entitled to any sort of meaningful connection to this achievement. Years of political and public criticism of the Iraq war has pushed me to believe that I did not fight terror, but rather a phantom.
With all the physical, mental and emotional pains I still have, I feel like a dying man who fought in a dying war, and that my body braces and hearing aids serve as a reminder that my greatest “achievement” in life will be remembered as a mistake.
This same week the last British male veteran of WW1 died. Claude Choules, who went on to spend most of his life in Australia, also seemed to remember his war with critical distance. In its public notice of Choules’ death, the UK Ministry of Defence noted, ‘Despite his impressive military career, Mr Choules became a pacifist. He was known to have disagreed with the celebration of Australia’s most important war memorial holiday, Anzac Day, and refused to march in the annual commemoration parades.’ Although WW1 is settled in public memory as the ‘Great War’, Choules resisted this interpretation. What is interesting, today, is that Meehan is publicly reflecting on such a settled narrative. His challenging article is in mainstream media and being spread through social media. Choules had no such opportunity in his day. The new media ecology seems to accelerate both the creation and the contestation of war memory.
But memory is not just about media. Meehan draws attention to his physical pain, to injuries that remind him daily of the Iraq War. In Diffused War Andrew Hoskins and I explored Jay Winter’s concept of ‘embodied memory’ as something that is shared by the body of the sufferer and the gaze of the onlooker. If we have an obligation to remember, we must also look at veterans’ bodies and not just war films, news photos and milblogs. War memory is inscribed on bodies, and there are a lot of bodies from Iraq.
The killing of bin Laden and drawing back from Iraq won’t make the Iraq War disappear. The US and its allies will have to decide how they want to remember it, what memorials will be built, and how to deal with the ambiguities and divisions within the shifting public memory of the war.

North Waziristan: Drones and Compellence

North Waziristan has witnessed 20 drone strikes in the first four months of this year, which is a relatively lower number than the previous year (in 2010 there were a record setting 104 drone strikes in North Waziristan or 8.67 strikes per month). The relative “silence of the drones” this year is mainly attributed to a lull following the imprisonment of a CIA agent, Raymond Davis, who was accused of murdering two men in Pakistan on 27 January. One day after the US paid diyya (thereby implicitly reinforcing sharia in Pakistan) to have Davis released there was a drone attack which killed 40-50 tribesmen attending a jirga near Datta Khel in March. Another 25 people were killed (reportedly including 3 women and 5 children) a few days ago. Yesterday, NATO helicopters violated North Waziristan’s airspace creating panic amongst the residents according to Khyber TV.

In addition to targeting militants, these actions may be part of an attempt to once again increase pressure on the Pakistani military. The US would like to see a full scale military assault on North Waziristan led by the Pakistani army in order to root out the Haqqani Network, Al Qaeda, Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) and other militants fighting along side or under the Taliban banner. The Pakistani government, military, and intelligence services are all reluctant for a host of logistical, tactical, strategic, and political reasons.

If America is trying to use drone strikes to pressure Pakistan’s military, then this may help to explain Pakistan’s unusual reversal of position in early March when the military claimed that drone strikes were actually remarkably effective in killing Al Qaeda and Taliban militants. In other words, the surprising “admission” (which now appears to have been largely forgotten by Pakistani officials) may have just been a tactical attempt to take away US leverage by eliminating the argument that a ground invasion is the only way to root out militants effectively. The real question is why the Pakistani government abandoned its clever new tactic and returned to public denunciations of “intolerable” drone strikes (which rely on complicit support from Pakistan’s intelligence services). Was the original shift a miscommunication or an external manifestation of an intra-bureaucratic dispute? Did the reported slaughter of influential tribesmen as well as unarmed women and children force Pakistani elites to shift back to a denunciation posture for domestic political reasons? And/or did the US simply indicate that drone and other militarized forms of compellence would continue to escalate regardless of Pakistan’s new found acceptance of drones or the actual amount of collateral damage until Pakistan’s army invades North Waziristan?


Does the Arab Spring show how strategic narratives work?

Nobody has come close to explaining how strategic narratives work in international relations, despite the term being banded about. Monroe Price wrote a great article in the Huffington Post yesterday that moves the debate forward. As I have already writtenstrategic narratives are state-led projections of a sequence of events and identities, a tool through which political leaders try to give meaning to past, present and future in a way that justifies what they want to do. Getting others at home or abroad to accept or align with your narrative is a way to influence their behaviour. But like soft power, we have not yet demonstrated how strategic narratives work. We are documenting how great powers project narratives about the direction of the international system and their identities within that. We see the investments in public diplomacy and norm-promotion. We have not yet demonstrated that these projections have altered the behaviour of other states or publics. Does the Arab Spring show these narratives at work?

Many leaders in the West and protestors taking part in the Arab Spring promoted a narrative about the spread of freedom, often conflating this with the hope and vigour of youth and emancipatory potential of social media. Of course this narrative may be bogus, as Jean-Marie Guéhenno argues in yesterday’s New York Times. However, the key point Price makes is that narratives set expectations, regardless of their veracity. Narratives defined what NOME leaders were expected to do: step aside! We can see the power of narratives by seeing what happens to those who defy them. Mubarak and Saif Gaddafi both gave speeches where they were expected to align with the narrative. The narrative set the context and expectation for how they should behave. But they did the opposite of what was expected. Price writes:

From a perspective of “strategic narratives,” Mubarak and young Gaddafi were speaking as players in an episode, set by key actors, international and domestic, who had the expectation that their wishes as to the playing out of the drama would be fulfilled. Their speeches did not match the sufficiently accepted script, in the case of Mubarak, or the incomplete outlines of one, as in the case of young Gaddafi.
Who has successfully promoted an overarching narrative? Obama, Cameron, Sarkozy? Where did the ‘Arab Spring’ narrative come from? How does an overarching narrative play out in each country? What room does it leave for individual governments and public to create their own destinies? In the next year, building up to a debate at the International Studies Association (ISA) convention in San Diego in April, we will be exploring this. 
Cross posted from: https://newpolcom.rhul.ac.uk/npcu-blog/ 

India: Choosing between America and Iran

India appears to be continuing to shift its West Asia policy away from a once budding partnership with Iran, which aimed among other things to stabilize Afghanistan. It is rumored that in late March, the Indian National Security Adviser, Shiv Shanker Menon, delicately delivered a message to the Islamic Republic that India’s PM would not be making a state visit later this year (Telegraph [Kolkata] 3/10/11).

If the news reports are correct, the diplomatic maneuver comes only a few months after India abandoned the practice of paying for its crude oil imports from Iran through the Tehran based Asian Clearing Union, a central bank clearing mechanism, apparently under direct pressure from President Obama. India was so hasty in acceding to US demands that it failed to set an alternate mechanism in place or even to consult private petroleum importers. India asked Iran to find a set of banks that were not under US sanctions in order to reroute financial payments. For its part, Iran did not retaliate and continued to supply crude oil on credit to India until a new payment arrangement was agreed through branches of both countries’ state owned banks in Germany. Iran is the largest single supplier of crude oil to India (importing ~$12 billion / per year), and India still has plans to invest heavily in Iranian oil and gas fields.

India has also abstained from voting on Iran’s human rights situation in the UN Human Rights Council and it voted in 2010 in support of the IAEA censure of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. The latter vote elicited a “nasty” letter from the Iranian government even though India had tried to indicate that it did not support punitive sanctions and favored dialog (PTI, 5/17/2010). The censure vote reinforced a decision in 2005 by India to support taking the issue of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program to the UN Security Council. Although India might ideally prefer to retain its friendship with Iran, India appears to be signalling a shift toward further alignment within the American orbit at the expense of its ties to Iran.

A portion of the tension between India and Iran may also relate to technical details in the proposed IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India Pipeline) project. India wanted Iran should to guarantee delivery of gas across Pakistani territory and Iran has been unresponsive (Doordarshan, 5/15/2010). However, these disputes are likely to be a consequences of India’s position at the IAEA rather a completely separate point of contention.

In addition to the fact that India’s partnership with the US has already begun to provide dividends, India’s foreign policy establishment must also weigh the value of its growing security ties with Israel as well as robust economic relations with the Persian Gulf countries relative to the value of potential future energy imports from Iran. Indian non-oil trade with the GCC countries (~$24 billion) dwarfs its non-oil trade with Iran (~$5 billion). The GCC countries also supply approximately 2/3 of India’s oil imports and are a major source of remittance income (Indian Express 8/9/2007).  Finally, as a permanent member of the IAEA Board of Governors, India has a strong interest to defend its own reputation as a responsible nuclear power in order to legitimate its own questionable entry into the nuclear armed club.

If the shift in Indian foreign policy continues, it will be tantamount to a retreat from its considerable efforts to stabilize Afghanistan (India is the 5th largest donor to Afghanistan). It is already evident that the Delaram-Zaranj road built by Indian paramilitary forces at considerable risk and cost in Western Afghanistan to reduce Afghanistan’s dependence on Pakistan has been taken over by Taliban militants. Lowering India’s profile in Afghanistan marginally harms America’s objective of stabilizing Afghanistan, particularly as India remains one of the most favored donor countries among Afghans.

American policy toward Iran, which is almost exclusively a reflection of the interests of allies in West Asia, may come at the expense of stability in South Asia. Although Iran has no interest in destabilizing its eastern neighbor, American attempts to isolate Iran diplomatically mean that an opportunity to use the stabilizing influence of a Muslim majority state which has historically had tremendous influence among Dari speaking Afghans and a strong anti-Taliban disposition are being squandered.

The US and Iran were able to work together in 2001 to help overthrow the Taliban. And despite some reports of munitions from Iran being shipped to insurgents (none of which have been successfully traced back to the Iranian government), Iran has mostly acted as a stabilizing force in Afghanistan — even allegedly supplying direct cash support to the Karzai regime. In fact, as Ambassador James Dobbins has recounted, it was the Iranians who reminded the Americans at the Bonn conference that the new Afghan constitution really ought to mention the word “democracy” at least once. And for all of the moralizing American rhetoric about women’s rights, it is also worth recalling that in the early years of the Taliban, when the US sought to cozy up to the brutal movement to secure pipeline contracts, only the Iranians championed the rights of Afghan women which were being trampled. This is not to argue that the Iranian regime’s record on democratic governance, human rights, and civil rights is without very serious problems, but it is to show that Iran is not America’s “other.”

A more balanced US foreign policy toward Iran (which would also give India greater political and diplomatic room for maneuver), despite decades of animosity and the potential for further horizontal nuclear proliferation, is most likely in the best interest of the US and most of the regional players in South and Central Asia. Iran could also contribute by climbing down from its current position on nuclear enrichment.


Of Lords and Flies

The release of the first three of a reported 4,000 photos and videos from an American “kill team” in Afghanistan threatens to become the next “Abu Ghraib.”  The horrific images of civilian corpses being photographed with grinning American troops raises important questions about the American military’s ability to maintain professional standards and discipline; soldiers’ (racialized) understanding of and ability to engage with foreign societies; and the underside of military culture. In other words, contrary to the military’s spin machine, these images are not an aberration or simply the product of one “rogue” unit. Moreover, the central issue is not how to manage the “fall out” of (righteous) Muslim rage but how to encourage Americans to take a hard look at military culture in a time of unrelenting affective militarism.

Not An Exception or an Aberration

Another alleged kill team was caught in Iraq under the command of Col. Michael D. Steele in 2005.  Steele’s brigade allegedly murdered at least 8 unarmed Iraqi men and intended to murder more civilians when a soldier finally disobeyed illegal orders (New Yorker, 7/6/2009).  Steele’s Charlie Company (a.k.a. “Kill Company”) kept a kill board (a dry erase board) in which they tallied all kills, whether civilian or militant, as a way of keeping score in a game between platoons. Notably Steele was praised by his superiors for “combating terrorism” at the same time as he was being investigated by the US military for committing a massacre.

Reports by Iraq War veterans of the practice of carrying “drop weapons” and “drop shovels” to plant on dead civilians leads one to suspect that the murder of civilians may have been more widespread than just one brigade. Aaron Glantz and Iraq Veterans Against War have described the practice of desecrating corpses (including running over them with humvees) and taking “trophy photos” of the dead in Iraq (IPS, 9/16/2008).

Although taking a large number of photos and videos of trophies is a relatively recent phenomenon, there are precedents at least going back to WWII. We know that the practice of taking physical trophies by defiling corpses has been a persistent feature of modern warfare. However, American troops seem to have abandoned their practice of beheading their enemies which was documented in the Pacific theater during WWII.

Of course, the US is not unique in having its soldiers accused of this subset of atrocity.  The Israeli army in October 2001 found photos of its soldiers gloating over the mutilated corpses of Palestinians (Sunday Telegraph, 10/14/2001).  The IDF denied reports that the ritualized practice of taking “trophy” photos of “big game” was widespread. However news reports stated that company commanders used such photos to motivate their troops and regularly carried such photos with them. The practice of collecting trophy photos had become so widespread that the “leisure and society” section of an unofficial Israeli army site carried photos of defiled corpses from the Lebanon war.

Bosnian Serbs were accused of collecting the ears of their victims and mixing animal parts and bones in with human remains in the mid-nineties. The Serbs tended to take photos of their victims prior to killing them in order to sell the photos to desperate family members seeking signs that their loved ones were still alive (USA Today, 8/3/1995).

In the Rape of Nanking, Japanese soldiers took photos of the atrocities and even the rapes they committed… One could go on with examples, but the point is that the practice of collecting physical and photographic trophies is not new to the US nor is it exclusive to the American military.  Given the prevalence of this type of behavior one could speculate that aspects of military culture incite such violations of norms and that the military may at times even benefit from illegal tactics.

Snuff Films in the State of Nature

But what do the photos actually tell us about military culture? The photos and accounts of the American kill team’s exploits in Afghanistan reveal soldiers who seem to have believed that they had entered into a kind of tribalized state of nature or at least a lawless zone. The 12 soldiers who composed the “kill team” allegedly murdered civilian targets at random, abused corpses, and collected body parts (including teeth and fingers of their civilian victims) as trophies.

According to Der Spiegel, the murders of Afghan civilians were “tightly scripted” and highly staged to fit particular standard narratives — as if these men thought they were repeatedly playing video games. One of the American soldiers told his father in a Facebook chat that his buddies had detonated a grenade to stage a plausible scenario before “mowing” down their innocent victim.  The scenario was again enacted to slaughter Mullah Allah Dad who was ordered to kneel in a ditch before throwing a grenade at him, shooting him and then collecting their “trophies”…

Why did these men so extensively document their crimes?  Were these intended as actual snuff films? With whom did the soldiers hope to share their documents? The answers are not yet known.

What we do know is that the soldiers in this unit were consuming large amounts of illicit and prescription drugs. A lawyer for one soldier has argued the unit should not have been allowed into the battle-space given the pervasive use of drugs and medications. Of course, while pervasive drug use may explain some of the soldiers’ distorted judgment and paint a picture of lax institutional discipline, it does not explain the specific content of the ritualized crimes or the desire to create documentary evidence of the atrocities.

What is needed is a theorization of the images taken by kill teams. If, as Michael Shapiro argues, the photograph is considered a simulacrum of the real, then the photograph carries with it an evidentiary function. The photo captures and reinforces existing structures of power relations (William Callaghan, “Trauma and Community,” Theory & Event 10, no. 4, 2007). One wonders if the intent is not to freeze in time a state of exception; to capture the space of the state of nature. If this line of speculation is at all correct, it reveals a desire to capture a moment of overwhelming power.  In essence it reveals a persistent anxiety about a return to an ordinary and generally powerless life.  The problem is that these photos are clearly staged in a ritualized fashion. Perhaps the aestheticization of brutality anesthetizes the viewer, and in a manner similar to pornography, requires the perpetual collection of documentary evidence to achieve the effect of the first viewing.  What else can explain the need to collect over 4,000 photos and videos? 


Anti-Iran Protests in Afghanistan

In 1991, with the Soviet Union on the verge of collapse, the rump regime of Mohammad Najibullah finally cut a deal with Iran. The Iranians were allowed to supply the Hazarajat in central Afghanistan with armaments and other goods through direct flights to Bamiyan in exchange for supplying petroleum to western Afghanistan, including to the Kabul regime’s military forces. The arrangement provided Tehran with unfettered access to an area which since 1981 was increasingly under its patronage. The Iranians hoped that they would be able to use this access to strengthen their proxies (i.e. Hezb-i Wahdat) in the conflict against Saudi backed Sunni groups (see Rubin 1995, p. 264). Throughout the tumultuous period that followed, Iran continued to expand its influence in western and central Afghanistan.

The deal highlighted the dependency of the Kabul regime on Tehran for petroleum and Iran’s stake in the character of the government in Afghanistan. Twenty years later, Iran is again flexing its muscles in Afghanistan through petroleum politics. Iran’s decision to block (at least) 700 Afghan owned fuel trucks from transiting to western Afghanistan has resulted in a major spike in fuel prices just as winter sets in.  Fuel prices in Herat are at an eight year high. Afghanistan has witnessed several protests directed against Iran in recent days.

Why is Iran doing this now?

Professor Juan Cole argues that Iran’s decision is a response to the US led sanctions regime imposed through the United Nations. Through Iran’s chairmanship of OPEC and its supply links to western Afghanistan, Iran can directly punish the Americans and reap a windfall profit. Iran will not allow OPEC to meet to revise production quotas which might ease the current price of petroleum. By halting fuel supplies to western Afghanistan through a virtual blockade, Afghanistan will have to rely primarily on a supply route through Pakistan which is vulnerable to Taliban attacks. Some supplies could also come through Uzbekistan, but Iranian officials have apparently also limited shipment through that route according to Afghan traders. Iran assumes that this will further impair the American occupation. And while ordinary Afghans will also suffer, Iran does not appear to be intentionally targeting the civilian population (although there are some speculative arguments that Iran is unhappy that the TAPI pipeline was not also routed through its territory). As Cole points out the Iranian strategy is brilliant: American consumers will compensate Iran for the sanctions regime and Iran will have the added bonus of making life difficult for the US in Afghanistan.

The only problem with the strategy is that if Iran persists in blocking fuel supplies, it will lose influence within Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry has warned that it will seek to cut trade ties with Iran if the fuel trucks are not allowed to enter Afghanistan. Afghans argue that by international law, since much of the fuel was apparently purchased in Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan, the Iranians do not have the right to stop the flow of these goods particularly as they do not constitute a direct threat to Iran’s security. However, Afghanistan remains reliant on the goodwill of its neighbors to keep supply routes open.  Afghanistan is again caught in the struggle between foreign powers and ordinary Afghans will bear the brunt of the suffering.

[Cross-posted from my Afghan Notebook]


Russia’s Return to Afghanistan

The participation of four Russian counter-narcotics agents in a US/ISAF raid on four heroin labs in Afghanistan has left many pundits wondering whether the war in Afghanistan as well as US/NATO/ISAF–Russian relations are entering a new phase.  However, before one can speculate, there are a few misconceptions in news reports that I think should be clarified and corrected in order to place the story into its proper context.

First, several news papers have adopted the narrative that the Soviet military was “defeated” in Afghanistan. The NY Times report (10/29/2010) states,

“The operation, in which four opium refining laboratories and over 2,000 pounds of high-quality heroin were destroyed, was the first to include Russian agents. It also indicated a tentative willingness among Russian officials to become more deeply involved in Afghanistan two decades after American-backed Afghan fighters defeated the Soviet military there.” 

The notion that the mujahideen defeated the Soviet military in Afghanistan is a rather odd interpretation of history. (It seems part of the same myth which claims a decisive role for Stinger missiles while ignoring the neutralization of that technology through the transfer of SCUD missiles to the Kabul regime). The Afghan insurgents never overran a single Soviet military base from 1979 to 1989. And while parts of Afghanistan were not stabilized, it is important to keep in mind that Soviet strategy sought to destabilize and depopulate areas which were firmly under insurgent control. The Soviets did suffer heavy casualties during a nearly decade long occupation, but the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was part of a larger strategy by Mikhail Gorbachev to gain trust and breathing room from the West in order to restructure the Soviet economy.  In any case, the insurgents were not able to overthrow the Soviet backed Najibullah regime in Afghanistan until 1992, three years after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.  In large part the reason that the insurgents were unable to overwhelm the Kabul regime was evident in the Battle of Jalabad shortly after the Soviets withdrew in 1989 — the insurgents were simply unable to transition form a guerrilla force to a coordinated military force.  If the insurgents (backed by US and Pakistani intelligence) could not even overthrow the Kabul regime, it can hardly be argued that they defeated the USSR.  It is important to realize that the Soviets were not defeated so as to avoid a simplistic narrative arc which portrays the Russian interest in Afghanistan as either vengeful or foolish.

Second, it is worth noting (as several news articles correctly point out) that Russia has been cooperating with US/ISAF for some time by permitting logistics operations across Russian territory. Russian cooperation is obviously shaped by its own interests. Russia’s immediate interests in Afghanistan is quite clearly the need to stem the flow of heroin, which they have not been able to curtail through the demand side of the equation.  In essence, the (alleged) violation of Afghan sovereignty is a means of reasserting Russian sovereignty.  (I am saying that the violation of Afghan sovereignty is “alleged” because I do not accept the explanation by the Karzai regime’s media advisor, Rafi Ferdows, that even Afghans on the raid were unaware that Russians were accompanying them since all “yellow-skinned Angreez” look alike.)  Of course, this individual raid is unlikely to have much impact on the drug (and related HIV/AIDS problem) in Russia even in the short term. From a broader perspective, Russia is also concerned about the stability of Central Asia as a region, and Russia is not merely a passive player in regional security.  Russia has been in discussions with Tajikistan about using the Ayni airbase for the CSTO and beefing up security on the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border.

Third, while the international media tends to emphasize those elements in a story which seem to produce sparks, conflict, and tension between states, there is little reason to accept the notion that Afghans as a people or their government are inherently opposed to Russian involvement in counter-narcotics. Despite denouncing the (supposedly) unauthorized Russian involvement, the Government of Afghanistan also stated that a bilateral agreement might be a possible route to future cooperation in counter-narcotics.  Afghanistan has cooperated with its regional neighbors to close drug labs in the past. The most recent case prior to the Russian raid was a nine month cooperative mission with Tajikistan’s Drug Control Agency which resulted in the closure of 12 drug labs in Afghanistan and the arrest of 50 drug dealers in the first nine months of this year.  In fact, there was apparently some discussion at last year’s SCO meeting of a quadrilateral counter-narcotics initiative involving the “quartet”: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Russia. Moreover, President Karzai had indicated only a couple weeks ago that Afghanistan seeks the best possible relations and trade transactions with China, India, and Russia.  Similarly, Azizollah Karzai, the Afghan ambassador to Russia (and Hamid Karzai’s uncle), mentioned a few weeks ago that the two countries share a commitment to fighting terrorism and narcotics.

Placed into context, it is likely that Russian counter-narcotics activity in Afghanistan will probably increase in the future.  However, this activity is not likely to be tense or conflictual (particularly because of something like Soviet era animosity); there are ample mutual interests and diplomatic mechanisms to ensure cooperation between the two countries. Finally, in terms of Russia’s relations with the US/NATO/ISAF, the involvement of Russians in the recent anti-narcotics operation does not seem to be a major deviation away from an already established pattern of cooperation on selective issues of vital interest to all the parties involved.


Indian Pro-Americanism

Since the Nineties, Indian elites have been increasingly described as “pro-American.” While attending a mini-conference of a segment of India’s foreign policy and security elite in New Delhi last week, I kept noting how widespread the “pro-American” sentiment seemed to be. In fact, I heard one of the intellectuals argue that India’s rise would naturally be assisted by other secular, pluralistic, constitutional democracies and resisted by states which adhered to the principle of harmony. Such a statement would have been unthinkable in the recent past (although it may still be terribly naive). And yet this general warmth toward the US and the West does not seem to have translated into a significant shift in the commitment of India’s military resources.

(Now of course I need to state at the outset that there is still a segment of the political and intellectual spectrum in India which remains reflexively anti-American, but they are a distinct minority among decision makers and policy pundits today.)

So the real issue is what does it mean when Indian elites say that they are pro-American? I would argue that being pro-American in the Indian context means primarily a lack of hostility toward the foreign policies and economic influence of the United States in the developing world and South Asia in particular. What it does not necessarily mean is open or overt support for the American agenda in the region or in international fora except where American and Indian interests directly converge. In other words, Indians have no plans to displace the British lapdog (or the ever-purring Israeli lap-kitten).

Indian elites increasingly take what they describe as a “business-like” attitude toward the US. It is well understood that America will look out for its own interests and India does not expect the US to protect Indian interests. Indians know that they must engage actors and issues on their own to safeguard their national interests, but there is no longer an assumption that the US is hostile to the rise of India (although some strong suspicions remain that the US is trying to use India in a soft containment policy targeted at China). Similarly, India does not necessarily view the presence of great powers in its backyard with fear or anger as it once did. There is no longer a strong desire to proclaim a “Monroe Doctrine” for South Asia, from what I have seen. Naturally, there is concern that resources contributed to America’s partners in the war on terror or militants mobilized against the US may be directed against India once the US withdraws,but it is also acknowledged that in a globalized world terrorism will not be so easily confined to one region through a “forward policy.” So the US is not seen as a stabilizing force in the region, but few question the need for the US to fight the war on terror — although many question the way it is fighting that war and the partners the US chooses to work with.

Pro-Americanism does not imply significant responsibility for India, at least in the mind of Indian elites. In other words, Indians do not feel much pressure to help support US foreign policies through troop deployments. In most cases, overt Indian military involvement (e.g. in Afghanistan) would not be welcome by third party actors anyway. Moreover, any external troop deployment would have to confront a strong domestic bias against deploying troops abroad outside of the UN umbrella, not to mention a complex legacy from the disastrous Indian mission in Sri Lanka which culminated in the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Retired military officials with whom I spoke stated that India has the capability to project power into countries like Afghanistan, but other policy experts were skeptical of that claim. India is willing to give financially (for example it is the largest regional donor to Afghanistan and one of the top five internationally), but this is realtively painless compared to sending troops.

Pro-Americanism also does not imply any serious constraints on Indian policies. For example, Indians will continue to work with Iran on most issues regardless of US pressure. While India can be convinced that a nuclear armed Iran might be against its interests, a general policy of isolating and demonizing Iran will be quietly rejected.

Thus, when an Indian says they are “pro-American” what this really means is that they are not reflexively hostile to American policies and influence. There is a sense of affinity based on the similarities between the regime types and common threats, but India is not likely to simply bandwagon with the hegemon.



I am in New Delhi doing research on elite perceptions of India’s strategy in Afghanistan. I just thought I would share a few quick observations from conversations with Indian security experts…

One of the greatest benefits of coming all the way out here is to help situate research questions within a broader political discourse. Here is what I have noted so far:

First, one quickly realizes that the voices which are most accessible to us in the US are often the ones which are the flashiest and most aggressive in the local context. However, these personalities are not necessarily the most influential or thoughtful. Like the barking of stray dogs which is clearly discernible in the night, the incessant voices of security policy hawks becomes less audible once the city wakes from its light slumber. Foreign policy issues are one of only a myriad of pressing concerns and they are hardly the most prominent concern for much of the population. Thus, inverting the gaze, one has to wonder about the representativity of the American voices which are most readily accessible to Indian analysts sitting in Delhi.

Second, we make a great mistake when we assume that the security policy community in a foreign country is as influential or central as the security policy community in the United States. The body of the Indian state has multiple heads (political, security, economic, etc), and while the voice of the remarkably small security community is occasionally given a hearing it is not necessarily prioritized by the politicians who adhere to a very different logic (as evidenced by the politician’s (non-) response to a series of major terrorist attacks in recent years). The voices of the security community is also not in dialog with the economic community. One might say that one head looks with anxiety to India’s unstable western neighbors while the other head looks east to lucrative trade opportunities and emerging markets. Using economics to achieve security objectives (and vice versa) is not highly developed.

Third, the security community is not static. There is clearly a rapid evolution underway here. In part the growth of the policy community is being fueled externally by the US (and to a lesser extent the European) defense industry which is keen to expand its business in India. The security community circuit visited by American defense contractors tends to inflate the voice of those who concur with an American vision of what a great power’s military looks like. In the long run this may lead to great influence for this community in the national dialog.

Fourth, it is well known that Americans are not skilled in the art of diplomacy — this is one of the greatest shortcomings of the way IR is taught in the US. Representatives of the US, both official and semi-official, tend not to be very self aware about how their words are received in the local context. Americans do not seem to realize how sensitive issues of sovereignty can be in a post-colonial country. Thus, telling Indian elites that “the world is watching” how they will vote at the UN on Iranian sanctions is treated as deeply offensive and intrusive. It would be refreshing if Americans did not openly attempt to twist the arms of friendly nations without an appreciation of the priorities and interests of these countries. It would be ideal if Americans on the security community circuit came to listen instead of lecture.

Well, I’ve got more listening to do….


From QIZ to ROZ

In 2008, after kicking around the idea for a couple of years, the US formally proposed to create Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) in remote parts of Pakistan (FATA, NWFP, earthquake affected areas of Kashmir, a part of Balochistan province) and all of Afghanistan. The idea was modeled on the Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZ) preferential free trade agreement set up to help forge a liberal-economic peace between Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and the neighboring Arab states.


The 2004 Egyptian-Israeli QIZ agreement, which I researched extensively while I was teaching at the American University in Cairo, did spark some cooperative ventures, particularly in the textile industry. However, the agreement was riddled with problems and often the subject of bitter complaints particularly from Egyptian merchants who felt they were being overcharged for raw materials by their Israeli counterparts. The Egyptian general public was not highly supportive (and in some quarters there was active hostility) of the QIZ agreement; although there were a few protests by workers whose factories were excluded from the agreements to be allowed into the agreement.

The way these preferential free trade agreements (PFTAs) work is that a certain percentage of the specified goods produced in a designated area must include value added by country X and/or country Y before it will be granted duty free access to the United States. These are technically non-reciprocal agreements, so while country X and/or country Y can export duty free to the US, the US may not export items duty free to those countries. (It should be noted though that Congress added provisions to the ROZ bill such that participating countries must be moving toward a market economy, protecting intellectual property, and removing trade barriers against the US as certified by the US President.) Despite the label “preferential free trade agreement,” these are not free trade agreements strictly speaking, in fact they may create perverse and distortionary incentives to use inputs from parties to the agreement rather than searching for the cheapest global supplier of an input.

In the Egyptian-Israeli case, the agreement stipulated that goods needed to contain at least 11.7% Israeli components and 11.7% Egyptian components in order to gain duty free access to the US. A joint commission was set up to monitor compliance. While the QIZs did spark a modest boost in exports and help to partially break the taboo against doing business with Israel, the Egyptian government viewed the agreement primarily through an economic rather than a political lens. Hence, Egypt did not see the agreement as a mechanism to help thaw the Cold Peace as the Americans had hoped. Egypt resisted opportunities to allow the trade agreement to help foster greater social links between its citizens and Israel. And as Israel’s relations with Hamas and Hezbollah worsened, the opportunity for thawing the Cold Peace receded…


Like the QIZ, the ROZ requires that 35% of the value of the final products produced in the ROZ must be from a SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) member country to be eligible for duty-free export status to the United States (until the year 2023). In other words, the ROZ cannot merely be used as a front by non-South Asian countries to pry open US markets. The agreement is mainly designed to assist manufacturers of textiles, leather, carpets, marble, furniture, etc. According to the Congressional Research Service, those manufacturers would see tariffs reduced from an average of 8% to 0%. Apparel manufacturers, who pay an average tariff of 15%, would generally not benefit from this agreement.

Unlike the QIZ agreement, however, there is no joint-production provision. So Pakistani manufacturers are not being asked to work with Afghan suppliers or vice versa.

The official stated aim of the ROZ is to spur economic development and create jobs in areas rife with Taliban insurgents. The logic is that economic opportunities might help to curb some of the financial lure of fighting for the Taliban and thus help the US military to hold territory it has cleared of insurgents. The agreement is feasible because neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan is a significant trade partner for the US (combined exports and imports from each country is less than 1% of US total trade).


Unfortunately for South Asian businessmen, the ROZ idea has been idling in the US Congress for over a year. The House passed a bill which included the ROZs last summer, but the Senate approved an aid bill for Pakistan (S. 1707) that did not include the ROZ language. The Republican party is opposed to the labor protection measures added to the bill by House Democrats. The fear among Republicans is that this piece of legislation may set a precedent for adding similar labor protection provisions in other preferential free trade agreements. Naturally, pro-labor Democrats do not see a reason to allow duty free imports that might compete with products produced by union workers in the US. Beneath the ideological rhetoric, there are also some remaining protectionist concerns for America’s dying textile (and apparel) industry. Although the ROZ concept was part of the Obama’s administration’s Af-Pak policy (March 2009), the White House has not apparently prioritized overcoming this deadlock in the Senate.

Of course, even if the ROZ provisions were passed by the Senate tomorrow, Afghanistan and the relevant parts of Pakistan are still active battlefields with a raging insurgency. Thus, one has to question the actual intention and design of the legislation. The notion that a reconstruction zone must be located in remote parts of Pakistan in order to generate employment within those regions is questionable since labor is mobile and sending home remittance income is a commonplace practice throughout South Asia. One could easily use Pakistan’s existing textile plants and encourage laborers from FATA and NWFP (now called Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) to migrate to those areas. This would create jobs faster and thus make a greater impact on the lives of people in the border areas.

Locating ROZ’s in remote areas rather than port cities also hinders the ability of the manufacturers to rapidly export to the US market. Some of these problems, particularly for landlocked Afghanistan, may be made easier if the 2010 Afghanistan-Pakistan Tranist Trade Agreement (APTTA – see previous post) is actualized.

The addition of labor protection measures to the ROZ bill may be superfluous. American and European private firms have been quite willing in recent years to conduct their own inspections of labor conditions among contractors in order to avoid embarrassing publicity and activist campaigns. Similarly, the requirement that Afghanistan and Pakistan make good faith efforts to protect US intellectual property rights is a poor misallocation of priorities and resources when one is attempting to spur development in highly impoverished countries.

One must also question the narrow scope of the agreement. If the Congressional Research Service is correct, apparel manufacturers are all generally unlikely to benefit from the ROZ scheme. While the ROZ does extend the Generalized System of Preferences to include textiles, it does not go far enough to encourage some of the types of economic activity which South Asian manufacturers could capitalize upon. During the Cold War, the US prioritized its security over economic self-interest and extended generous access to its markets for allied economies in East Asia (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan). Certainly, if the US is interested in actually spurring economic development as a means to enhance its own national security, then it should be willing to sacrifice some domestic jobs in sunset industries for this purpose.

What the ROZ program seems to reveal is that American policymakers are mainly interested in creating the appearance of a comprehensive Af-Pak strategy that goes beyond the massive investment in the military occupation and counter-insurgency campaign. However, there is very little political will to make the sacrifices and compromises necessary to actually spur rapid economic development if it comes at the expense of American jobs. This may be an indication that despite the general rhetoric to the contrary, American lawmakers do not believe that an unstable and economically underdeveoped Af-Pak region poses a serious threat to US national security. Either that or they do believe that the region is “the most dangerous place on Earth” but they cannot overcome stale ideological debates and creatively design an ROZ scheme that would bring rapid and tangible economic benefits to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

[Cross-posted from my Afghan Notebook]


Turning up the heat on Iran

In case you’re like most American academics and are on vacation, you may have missed the fact that America is seriously turning up the heat on Iran.

The US has begun squeezing Iran’s fuel imports and access to financial markets in response to Iran’s refusal to halt its alleged nuclear enrichment activities. A controversial new US law has been signed by President Obama which will sanction any company (regardless of national origin) that exports refined petroleum products or provides financing to Iran.

Corporations and financial firms have already begun to comply with the new US law which goes well beyond the mandate of the United Nations sanctions regime:

First, reports emerged yesterday that BP was refusing to refuel Iranian passenger airplanes in the UAE (and later Germany and Britain). BP was under no obligations to refuse service to Iran Air under the laws or policies of the Emirates or Great Britain. It appears that BP was acting on its own to curry favor with the US government.

Second, the EU announced today that some planes from Iran Air are banned from European airspace, although the EU indicated that this ban was unrelated to UN sanctions. The timing of the announcement however appears suspicious in the eyes of Iranians.

Third, for the last few weeks a large number of companies have begun cutting back on sales of gasoline to Iran.

Fourth, the central bank of the UAE has frozen the assets of entities blacklisted by the UN for assisting Iran’s nuclear program.

America’s application of extraterritorial laws on foreign firms conducting business with a foreign power, is a rather bold effort (although hardly unprecedented, particularly in the area of international finance) to force global corporations to choose sides. The test of this approach will come when the US actually has to retaliate against a major corporation from a major power that refuses to play ball even after being given a few years to unwind the corporation’s exposure to Iran. Given Iran’s status in global politics, it is unlikely that European powers will resist this blatant violation of their sovereignty by the US; however, China may actively resist or at least lodge a complaint against the US at the World Trade Organization. China has already stated publicly that the US has overstepped UN sanctions. Whether the US would actually be willing to sanction a Chinese firm that does business with Iran is unclear since the US needs China’s continuing support for the sanctions regime and any future actions at the UN Security Council. (In the past, the US did sanction 46 Chinese firms under the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000.)

Iranian Reactions

Iran has mainly reacted to these developments defensively. Ayatollah Khameni urged Iranian citizens to conserve on electricity and imported goods. The head of the Iran-UAE Chamber of Commerce has stated that Iran will cut back trade ties with the UAE in response to its actions. Iran’s President has stated his country will defend its interests if Iranian ships are inspected in accordance with the latest round of UN sanctions.

Israel also confirmed this week that Iran moved radar equipment to Syria (although the movement may have occurred in mid-2009) in an effort to gain early warning if Israel launches a preventive attack on Iran. However, both Iran and Syria have denied the Israeli reports. Israel also accuses Iran and Syria of transferring short range and anti-aircraft missiles to the armed wing of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Not So Grim?

So the situation looks tense, but I don’t think things are actually as grim as they appear.

If the past is a reliable guide, it is highly unlikely that these new US laws and the latest round of UN sanctions will produce policy changes in Iran or trigger a popular uprising leading to regime change. Iran is unlikely to be destabilized in this manner, although its citizens will undoubtedly suffer econmically. My hunch is that American diplomats realize this and that the real aim of the US strategy is to pinch Iran enough to bring it back to the negotiating table and to persuade Israel not to attempt a preventive attack while non-military options are being explored. Iran will probably return to negotiations as this buys time for their policy objective, which is likely to be the attainment of “nuclear latency” rather than actually building or testing a nuclear device. I am also skeptical that Israel would launch a preventive strike at this time given its disastrous diplomacy over the last year and its military’s poor performance in the 2006 War. Finally, the Iran issue is not very useful for the Obama administration. Managing another war would be a disaster for the current government both politically and economically. So a prolonged process of negotiation that regulates (as opposed to resolving) the tensions between Israel and Iran is probably the ideal solution for the US, at least until the President and his party are politically less vulnerable.

Of course, this is all just my hunch and I’d love to know what others think about these developments…


The ICC Review Conference : The Belgium Amendment

For those of you who are international law junkies (– and really, who isn’t?) ASIL has a very interesting blog on the ICC Review Conference that took place over the last two weeks in Kampala, Uganda. David Scheffer, a notable scholar on both the ICC and international criminal justice, has a really interesting post summarizing most of the decisions that were made.

Of course one of the most interesting developments is, of course, the crime of aggression. However, what I find to be more interesting is the expansion of the prohibition of weapons banned in international armed conflict (including expanding bullets) in non-international armed conflicts, or NIAC – the so-called “Belgium amendment”.

This may seem relatively straightforward – the law of armed conflict has had regulation of bullets since 1868. As Scheffer himself writes:

These weapons already are included in Article 8(2)(b) for international armed conflicts, without anyone raising any real fuss, and this amendment is a logical extension of such weapons to non-international armed conflicts. So they are barely considered “new” weapons; rather they are long-standing weapons in the Rome Statute now introduced into an additional scenario of armed conflicts.

Yet, in areas of conflict such as Iraq and Afghanistan – where whether one is fighting an international or non-international armed conflict seems to change daily, this could have very serious consequences. It might affect sniper and counter-terrorism operations not only in these areas, but also within states, where the need to have one-shot/one-kill is important for security.

Additionally, incorporating the development of weapons law into the ICC Statute is an interesting new tactic for humanitarian groups. While the Belgium Amendment was formally supported by Austria, Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Cyprus, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mauritius, Mexico, Romania, Samoa, Slovenia and Switzerland, there also has been clear support and lobbying from humanitarian organizations, particularly the ICRC.

This development also confirms the trend whereby humanitarians, unable to affect the kind of change they want to see through the ICRC Customary Law Study or the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) Review Process (of which there will be a conference next year), are increasingly turning to alternative international fora. These fora have real binding powers and operate largely two-thirds majority voting system, like the voting proceedure in the General Assembly. This was the general approach of the process that lead to the Ottawa Treaty and Cluster Munitions Treaty. Western countries and militarily affected states have, by and large, favoured consensus approaches over this later system for rather obvious reasons.

It has been my understanding that the US is to issue a statement of understanding on the ICC soon (I’m a little surprised it hasn’t been out already – but perhaps they were waiting for the outcome of the Conference?) However, I have to believe that these kinds of approaches are not helping to bring the US any closer to ratifying – but perhaps the state-parties to the ICC are simply no longer inclined to care or bother trying.


Brutality and Counter-insurgency

Recently, while discussing the war in Afghanistan with a conflict studies program in the mid-west, I had a rather odd debate with a leftist professor who was devil’s advocating what he claimed was a “neo-conservative” position (based on some of his recent interaction with naval officers and RAND researchers).

His main argument revived the “stabbed in the back” hypothesis from the Vietnam era. The argument essentially posits that counter-insurgency is a cumulative body of knowledge first pioneered by the Britons. According to this position, Americans have been remarkably successful at applying and refining this knowledge to defeat insurgencies from Vietnam to Colombia. The main problem (again according this narrative) is that squeamish liberals have too often helped to undercut support for the US military just as it was on the verge of “winning” or defeating the insurgency.

Specifically in regard to Afghanistan, he argued that the US is not making repeated mistakes when it botches night raids, shoots civilians at checkpoints, or strafes a bus load of civilians on the highway. He reasoned that the real purpose of US counter insurgency was to terrorize the Afghan population.

Honestly, I was not quite sure what to make of the argument since I am not a military strategist or an expert on the history of counter-insurgency, particularly as that strategy was applied in Southeast Asia or Latin America. So I simply asked what the purpose of terrorizing the population would be. Initially, he evaded the question by describing the effects of a brutal occuption (e.g. widespread panic and fear in civilians). I continued to repeat the same question several times. Finally, he stated that the use terror was obviously to pacify the civilian population.

(It should be noted that the argument therefore defines the purpose of counter-insurgency as restoring order rather than facilitating a political solution to a violent conflict. In many cases, this would seem to change the yardstick for defining a successful operation.)

While I have no doubt that brutality can occasionally pacify a civilian population, I expressed my sincere doubts that this was the actual policy of the US/ISAF in Afghanistan. If terrorizing civilians is the intentional underlying goal of the counter-insurgency strategy, then the US/ISAF would probably be guilty of perpetrating war crimes. As a professional set of military institutions, ISAF is highly unlikely to endorse such a Machiavellian strategy.

Moreover, I argued that even if this were the actual policy of the US/ISAF in Afghanistan, it is not working. There have been repeated protests, some of which have been violent, against US/ISAF. In other words, the killing of innocent civilians in agitating, not pacifying the population.

Although I found the argument absurd, racially tinged (i.e this is a version of the “they only understand brute force” argument) and reliant on deference to military authority, I began to wonder how a rational person might come to believe such an argument. I assume that proponents are simply unaware that the Afghan population has not been “pacified” because they have limited access to news reports. In other words, the perception of non-events in response to the killing of civilians is thought to support the hypothesis that terrorizing civilians leads to pacification.

In case there are individuals who believe that terrorizing the Afghan people is pacifying the population, here is a basic summary of public protest demonstrations in just the last two years which may have been missed by those who are not following the news carefully. This list is not comprehensive, but I think this adequately makes the point. I should note that most of these accounts are covered in the UK press, but only infrequently in the US press, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me…:

13 April 2010 – Approximately two hundred protest after NATO convoy opened fire on a bus load of civilians killing four and injuring eighteen. Protesters chanted “Death to America.”

12 April 2010 – Hundreds protest in Kandahar blocking the highway to Herat after four civilians were killed by foreign forces.

29 January 2010 – Brief protests in Kabul after a local Imam was shot by a military convoy which had (apparently) mistaken the imam for a suicide bomber. Brig. General Tremblay of NATO apologized for the incident.

12 January 2010 – Six to ten protesters (varied accounts) were killed and approximately 25 wounded when Afghan forces opened fire on a large demonstration of several thousand people. Protesters were angry about the killing of three civilians by foreign forces during a night time operation in Helmand Province. There were also wild rumors (perhaps instigated by Taliban representatives) that American forces had abused a woman and desecrated a copy of the Quran during a night raid.

9 January 2010 – Approximately five thousand individuals protested the 7 January incident (see below) in Nangarhar along the Kabul – Jalalabad highway. Protesters chanted “Death to Obama” and burned him in effigy.

7 January 2010 – An IED exploded while American troops were handing out candy to children in Nangarhar province. Five Afghans were killed (including two school children) and nine US servicemen were wounded in the explosion. The deaths sparked angry protests, as crowds accused the Americans of deliberately setting off the explosion.

31 December 2009 – Protests in Kabul and Jalalabad over the killing of civilians in Kunar province on 24 December. Protesters chanted “Obama, take your troops out!” General McChrystal meets with President Karzai in response to growing protests. ISAF denies the claims that those killed were civilians, the UN supports the Afghan account that

30 December 2009 – Students and faculty in Nangarhar province protest the killing of civilians in Kunar province.

28 December 2009 – MPs representing Kunar province staged a walkout in protest of the killing of four to ten civilians (allegedly mostly young students) by coalition forces four days earlier.

9 December 2009 – Another mass demonstration in Laghman to protest the killing of protesters by Afghan soldiers the day before.

8 December 2009 – Afghan soldiers opened fire on protesters in Laghman province. The protesters had denounced President Karzai and foreign troops. Protests had been sparked by news of the killing of between six to thirteen civilians (including women and children) by coalition forces. One or two protester(s) were killed – accounts varied.

25 October 2009 – Small student protest in Kabul against the killing of four civilians in Kandahar and the alleged burning of a Quran. The students called for an end to foreign occupation. Demonstrators were beaten by the police and one student was wounded as protests turned violent.

12 July 2009 – Anti-US demonstrations took place in Kunar province after coalition troops killed and injured several members of a family during a firefight with insurgents.

10 May 2009 – Students in Kabul protested near Kabul University against the apparent killing of over 100 civilians in Farah province by foreign forces a couple days earlier.

8 May 2009 – Hundreds protest in Farah province after coalition air strikes kill over 100 civilians. Protests turned violent and four protesters were wounded. Protesters shouted “Death to America” and “Death to the Government.”

10 April 2009 – The Khost, Laghman, Logar, and Zabol provincial councils close in protest for one month after five civilians (including three women and one newborn) are killed by coalition forces. Two days later, a number of Afghan senators also staged a walk out in protest of the same incident.

22 March 2009 – Hundreds protest the killing of the Mayor’s staff and security guards by coalition forces in the Imam Saheb district of Kunduz province.

17 March 2009 – More than one hundred protesters paraded three of the five bodies of civilians purportedly killed by US forces near Kandahar.

14 March 2009 – Hundreds stage a demonstration in Loghar province after five civilians are killed in air strikes. Protesters attempted to break into the district headquarters. Two protesters were wounded by police attempting to disperse the crowd.

8 March 2009 – Protesters in Khost block a US military convoy and throw rocks at it after an overnight raid kills four Afghans.

27 February 2009 – Thousands protest in Ghazni at the alleged desecration of a mosque by a US soldier who reportedly opened fire in a mosque. There were also rumors that copies of the Koran were desecrated. Afghan security forces fired bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd.

24 February 2009 – Villagers chant “Death to Canada” and parade the bodies of two children apparently killed by Canadian shelling in Kandahar.

21 February 2009 – Two thousand demonstrators (some armed) staged a “massive protest” (which closed the highway for six hours) in Loghar province against foreign forces after one villager is killed and five others arrested in a night raid. Protesters threw rocks at the local police.

26 January 2009 – Thousands protest the killing of 16 civilians.

9 January 2009 – Protest in Laghman province after 17 to 23 civilians are killed in an airstrike.

27 December 2008 – Protesters block Kandahar to Herat highway after 8 militants and 4 civilians are killed in a raid by coalition troops.

17 October 2008 – Protestors bring the bodies of 25 to 30 civilians (including a 6 month old baby) killed in a NATO airstrike in Lashkar Gah to the provincial governor’s compound.

5 September 2008 – National day of mourning called for the civilians killed in Herat on 25 August.

1 September 2008 – Small protest in Kabul at the killing of four men by coalition and Afghan forces. The bodies of the killed were brought to the protest.

25 August 2008 – Massive protests occur. Local protestors set fire to vehicles and chant “Death to America” in response the killing of 90 civilians (including 60 children) in a village near Herat by US forces.

20 July 2008 – Protests in Badakhshan province against the slaughter of civilians over the previous two weeks.

24 June 2008 – Hundreds took to the streets in Jalalabad to protest the alleged killing of a father and son by coalition troops.

15 June 2008 – Hundreds protested NATO airstrikes in Paktia province which killed 20 civilians. Afghan security forces opened fire on the protestors, 2 were killed and 13 wounded.

22 May 2008 – Approximately one to two thousand Afghan protesters attacked a NATO base run by Lithuanians in Ghor province after reports surfaced that an American soldier in Iraq had used the Koran for target practice. Protesters were chanting anti-American slogans. Two civilians and one Lithuanian soldier were killed during the protest. The Afghan Parliament also walked out in protest of the actions by the American soldier in Iraq.

11 May 2008 – Protests were staged against the killing of three civilians by coalition forces in Nangarhar Province. Police opened fire on the protesters, killing one and wounding three. ISAF rejected the allegation that civilians were killed but local police confirmed that three members of the same family were killed.

To conclude, if a goal of counter-insurgency is to use Machiavellian tactics to subdue a civilian population, then by Machiavelli’s own standards the current counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan is failing as violence is being applied repeatedly and only enraging the civilian population.

[Cross-posted from my Afghan Notebook]


After the Surge

Washington and its “partner” in Kabul are simultaneously pursuing different strategies to try to bring the war in Afghanistan to a conclusion. While the US has opted to pursue a “whack-a-mole” military strategy across Southern Afghanistan that drives the Taliban from one district only to have them pop up in the next one, the Karzai regime is moving forward with its reconciliation strategy. In essence, the Americans have foregrounded a military strategy while the Karzai regime (with some support from the UN) is promoting a political strategy.

The US has sidelined the “grand reconciliation” approach because they think it is simply not viable — particularly since the leadership of the parties with which a reconciliation deal would need to be made are considered war criminals and terrorists.  The US prefers instead to pay lip service to a rather anemic economic “reintegration” package for ordinary fighters, which has not worked well and is unlikely to sway the majority of Taliban fighters.  Contrary to US propaganda, the majority of Taliban appear to be ideologically rather than economically motivated.  The current US military surge does not have much of a political strategy beside attempting to clear an area of the Taliban and transfer authority to a pre-fabricated local government.  Although the US claims to be building up governance capacity in the state bureaucracy and security forces there is very little reason to believe that the US is doing much more than expediting an exit strategy.  Political science is simply not sufficiently advanced as a discipline to teach the Americans how to build a strong state in Afghanistan by 2011.

The US-led military surge in Afghanistan is based, at least in part, on a mistaken understanding of the surge in Iraq.  In the run up to the 2008 US presidential elections, it was candidate Obama who properly understood that the “Anbar Awakening” began several months before the announcement of a troop surge by President Bush.  (The role of Muqtada al-Sadr in reigning in his “Mahdi Army” was also critical.) It was candidate McCain who falsely asserted that the surge created a safe space for the Anbar Awakening (see New York Times, 24 July 2008).  When McCain was called out for his mistaken chronology, he argued that he meant it was the overall counterinsurgency strategy that created space for the Anbar Awakening by providing protection for tribal leaders.  Of course, the surge was unable to prevent “Al Qaeda in Iraq” from  assassinating Sheikh  Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, who led the Anbar Salvation Council.  The sheikh died only ten days after he met with President Bush, General Petraeus, Secretary Gates and Ambassador Crocker.  While the troop surge in Iraq may have provided a measure of additional security, it did not create the conditions for a political solution.

Nevertheless, it is McCain’s mistaken history which has been adopted (de facto) by President Obama, even though candidate Obama had argued in 2008 that he still would not have supported the surge in Iraq even if had the foresight to see how it would play out. Since outlining a new strategy in December 2009, President Obama seems to believe that a military surge will create space for a political solution to emerge.  If a political solution does not emerge, the US will still attempt to hand over “responsibility” to the Karzai regime as soon as possible.  If the Karzai regime falters, which it undoubtedly will once foreign forces retreat, the US will blame the regime for not having sufficiently tackled corruption.  (The idea that corruption could be substantially improved in one of the most impoverished and war ravaged societies in the world — where one’s personal security and livelihood is still contingent to a large degree on social networks — is utterly absurd.)

Meanwhile, the Karzai regime has announced plans for a National Peace Jirga [Assembly] in April and he has hinted at a grand reconciliation bargain.  Of course, Karzai has been desperately offering vague reconciliation packages to the Taliban since December 2001.  So in a sense, none of this is new — although there has been a renewed vigor to these efforts since the January 2010 donor conference in London.  What is new is the willingness of a significant (albeit increasingly weak) militant group to enter into negotiations (reports of negotiations with other resistance leaders is disputed by the core Taliban organization).

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i-Islami offered the following peace plan to the Karzai regime last week (Summary based on the report by Tolo TV, 31 March 2010):

  • Withdraw US/ISAF from Afghanistan beginning in July 2010 and complete by January 2011;
  • Transfer security to the ANA and ANP.  Foreign forces may not take part in any military and search operations; or have any prison in Afghanistan;
  • Form an interim government after six months; the current government and parliament should be dissolved after six months;
  • Hold presidential, parliamentary and provincial council elections simultaneously in the spring of 2012;
  • Form a seven-member national security council with the authority to make final decisions on important national issues;
  • An electoral council should have authority to consider the constitution, which is proposed by the three judicial, legislative and executive powers and make the final decision about it;
  • Persons tainted by charges of embezzlement, drug trafficking, seizure of national properties and war criminals should be handed over to a Shari’ah court;
  • All hostilities should be halted and all political detainees should be released;
  • The rights of women should be guaranteed;
  • Talks should begin with all other parties fighting against the government.

The proposal did not make much headway with the Karzai regime, particularly since it calls for the complete dissolution of his regime and the removal of the foreign forces that are propping up that regime.

There are a few points about Hekmatyar’s proposal which should be noted.  First, Hizb-e-Islami has slightly shifted from the standard Taliban party line which states that there will be no negotiations until foreign forces quit Afghanistan.  Instead of a complete withdrawal, Hekmatyar is willing to accept a six month time table.  Second, as pointed out in Hasht-e-Sobh newspaper (30 March 2010), Hekmatyar supports holding elections.  This is a major difference between Hizb-e-Islami and the core Taliban organization which rejects elections.

Despite the failure of Hekmatyar’s proposal, Karzai has a strong interest to continue to seek a political solution since he can clearly see that the US will likely depart in the near future, leaving  his regime very vulnerable.  Karzai would also like to limit any intermediary role in future peace negotiations by the Government of Pakistan and the only way to do this is to take the initiative.

There seems to be support among Afghans for some sort of political compromise solution with the resistance forces, but the devil is in the details. For example, a member of the Wolasi Jirga (Lower House), Mohammad Daud Soltanzai, stated on the state owned National Afghanistan TV (30 March 2010): “We want reconciliation which should not be against the constitution, democracy and the basic structure.”

Some Afghan newspapers are more critical of reconciliation efforts.  For example, Daily Afghanistan (29 March 2010) quoted one Kabul resident as saying, “They say the government is negotiating with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar these days. We have known for a long time that Hekmatyar sides with the party that ensures his interests. Although our people want peace in their country, the person who has tortured our people should not be allowed to come back so easily and be imposed on our people.”

The official US position on Karzai’s negotiations is that this strategy is premature (as stated by Secretary Gates), but that the US supports efforts as long as the reconciled groups accept the constitution, renounce violence and Al Qaeda. The US would prefer to have the Karzai regime bargain from a position of strength once it breaks the momentum of the insurgency.  Ultimately, however, US policy is based on the narrow pursuit of America’s national interest which is increasingly defined as exiting the war in Afghanistan as soon as possible regardless of the viability of the client regime.

The difference in strategy is leading to ever harsher rhetoric from Kabul, since the US military strategy clearly undermines Karzai’s political strategy.  As an editorial in Hewad (a state owned newspaper, published in Dari out of Kabul) noted on 31 March 2010:

“Afghanistan does not need military operations, it needs peace efforts. Under instructions from president Hamed Karzai, preparations are under way for National Peace Jirga which is scheduled to take place one month later in Kabul. Accelerating military operations ahead of this Jirga definitely undermines peace efforts and hurts the trust and hopes of the people about this Jirga. If everyone supports the reconciliation process and accelerates peace efforts, then we are sure that there will be no need for military operations anywhere in the country and war will be ended through negotiations.”

It is not at all surprising in this context that President Karzai has begun publicly denouncing American envoys.  On the other hand, the idea that Karzai might pardon some of the most notorious leaders of the resistance, including Mullah Mohammad Omar, alarms the US.  Instead of lecturing and denouncing one another, the “partners” need to re-engage in a dialog about how to end the war.

[Cross-posted from Afghan Notebook]


Peace Talks and Terror Tactics

Video Source: Channel 4 (UK)

One day after peace talks between India and Pakistan, there has been an attack targeting Indian nationals on a goodwill mission in Afghanistan. I don’t think anyone seriously doubts that these Taliban-led attacks in Afghanistan are being directed from Pakistani soil. (In general, the Afghan and Indian people have quite warm relations and Afghan nationalists have gravitated toward seeking a strategic partnership with India as both countries share territorial disputes with Pakistan.) Moreover, there are strong suspicions that a Pakistani extremist organization is to blame for the terrorist attack in Pune (India) a few days before the peace talks began.

The Government of India is convinced that the militant organizations attacking Indian citizens and interests are linked to elements within the Pakistani state. In the latest peace negotiations, India requested the extradition of 33 Pakistani nationals, including two currently serving Pakistani military officers, who are alleged to be involved in the Mumbai attacks of 2008. India provided Pakistan three dossiers with evidence to support their request. Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary responded that he “did not want to be sermoned on terrorism.” It became readily apparent that these talks, which had been urged by the United States, did not reflect a changed disposition toward the use of terror tactics by the Pakistani state.

In a forthcoming article in Pragati magazine, my co-author and I predict that the use of terror tactics by elements linked to the Pakistani state against India will increase in the coming years. Echoing the recent work of C. Christine Fair, we argue that more than a fear of further dismemberment, the real reason why a nuclear armed Pakistan continues to use terror is that it cannot compete economically or militarily with a rising India. In essence, the deployment of militants using terror tactics is not defensive in nature, nor is it a negotiating tactic; Pakistan’s use of terror is preventive. The main objective is to prevent peace in the subcontinent which would clear a pathway for India’s rise on the global stage. Unfortunately, Pakistan can delay but not prevent the inevitable rise of India.

American policymakers need to engage this issue in greater depth. Urging peace talks between India and Pakistan in order to free up Pakistani troops to fight America’s War on the Taliban is a pointless exercise if Americans haven’t laid the groundwork for successful talks. If the United States is serious about creating peace, it needs to force Pakistan to rethink its grand strategy. This can only be done by convincing the people of Pakistan that the quest for military and economic parity with a much larger and economically more dynamic India is a fantasy that undermines their own goals of democracy, regional peace & prosperity, and sovereignty. The Pakistani state and people must be encouraged to review their strategy in light of the 1998 nuclear tests. While Pakistan has had good reason to fear Indian aggression in the past, the strategic context has changed. It is only by re-evaluating their strategy that Pakistanis will realize that the goal of military parity is outdated, unnecessary, and harmful to their own national aspirations.

It will be argued that I am not asking India to change its behavior. That is correct. India can facilitate peace by continuing to show restraint in response to militant provocations emanating from Pakistan. Ultimately, India will need to make more sacrifices, particularly in Srinagar, but that can only come after Pakistan abandons the use of terror tactics and eliminates the militant organizations on its soil.

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