Month: October 2014

My 5 Secret 'Weapons' for Finishing a Book

There is all kinds of advice out there on how to write and finish a book. We are frequently advised to ‘Write everyday’, ‘write early in the morning,’ ‘workshop and present your work,’ among other things. Here is a great overview of 10 steps to writing a book and another fantastic post called “‘I’m writing a book no one will read’ and other reasons the PhD can get you down.'” It seems common knowledge that writers need time, space, and mental energy to complete any piece of work. But no one talks about the other types of daily tools that can be useful in getting words on a page. I’m no expert on writing books- in fact, I’ve only got one! But I’ve been hibernating for 8 months working on another project. Besides the obvious- coffee, sleep- here are a few unlikely ‘weapons’ I used to complete my recent book (unless I’m wrong, and I still have 2 chapters to write, which is a reoccurring nightmare)

1. IMG_3008‘Back in 5 or 45 minutes’ post it notes.
Ok, I’m outing myself to my colleagues on this one. I appreciate office socialization and I generally have an open-door policy and welcome staff and student drop-ins. However, when I start to get on a writing roll I try to get up, put up a ‘back in 5- or 45’ note, and close the door to ensure uninterrupted typing. Obviously, I don’t do this during office hours or other appointments. The result? I catch the inspiration while it is there, and open the door for chit chat when its not.

2. Retreats.
Over the course of this project, my partner and I organized 3 separate  writing retreats. They were scheduled at pivotal times (completing the theory chapter, writing the intro, and going over the complete manuscript a last time). I went to a Buddhist temple that has simple hotel rooms. There is not much to do besides write, meditate….and sneak in a few episodes of bad tv from the ipad. These blocks of time got me over major writing blocks and helped me get back on track when I had fallen far behind my own deadlines.

IMG_30103. Dragon Dictate (hands free microphone)
Sure it is a mega pain in the @ss to set up, but once you get the hang of using this program it can get you through some long days. It is particularly useful for ‘talking out’ sections of the manuscript, dictating longer quotes, or brainstorming ideas that you will go through and finesse later. Much of the conclusion chapter was ‘written’ by me pacing around my office with this plugged in my ear.

4. Grooveshark and Spotify. Namely, extended Prince playlists.

IMG_30095. New glasses. This seems obvious, but trying to write a book (or anything) with glasses from 3 years ago is not a good idea…as I figured out in month 2 of this project. These beauties make 8 hours of screen-staring bearable.

What are your weapons for getting work done? Continue reading

Disaster Politics and the American Red Cross

This is a guest post by Wendy Wong, Associate Professor of Political Science at University of Toronto, Director of the Trudeau Center for Peace, Conflict and Justice, and author of Internal Affairs: How the Structure of NGOs Transforms Human Rights.

When the great fall from grace (especially those who have built their reputations on being high-minded and altruistic), it makes a great story. And that’s exactly the view of the expose written by NPR and ProPublica that hits us with the punchline: the American Red Cross (ARC) is mismanaged, somewhat incompetent at its job, and misguided in its priorities!

In their lengthy story, the reporters document missteps in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac and make the case that the ARC has diverted funds that should be used for disaster relief for its own brand-promoting purposes. They use some ARC documents, but mostly base their claims on a handful interviews with external critics of the organization (current ARC representatives make cameo appearances).

To be frank, the ARC has had more than its fair share of high profile mess-ups, starting with 9/11 in the 2000s and more recently, with. There are real problems the ARC should deal with that the article does a good job pointing out: resource waste, sex offenders mingling with children in relief centers, slow response time unbecoming of the reputation of the organizations that was founded in 1881. But … is this really an expose, or are nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) at the forefront of trying to ameliorate overwhelming disaster conditions that no one, or even group, of actors could hope to address effectively?

Let’s put the report in perspective. Continue reading

The Responsibility to Protect & Fear of Foreign Policy Failure

Last week I had the opportunity to partake in a workshop on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) at The Hague Institute of Global Justice (the Institute). The Institute is preparing to launch a project on R2P, seeking to bring academics, civil society and government/policy makers together to formulate insightful and policy relevant findings on R2P.   As the workshop was governed by Chatham House rules, I will only here note a few of my insights from the workshop, primarily insights about the connections between political will to uphold R2P and the theoretical and practical realities of foreign policy.

R2P is a very broad agenda with multiple loci of responsibility. The first covers the responsibilities of states to protect their own populations against war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and ethnic cleansing. A second locus of responsibility is the “international community,” for when states cannot protect their peoples or prevent these crimes, then, it also has an obligation to aid states, through various capacity building and preventive mechanisms. Third and finally, the United Nations Security Council possesses a particular responsibility. When preventive measures fail (or are not forthcoming), then the international community as represented through the United Nations Security Council has the responsibility to use all peaceful means to protect people from the four R2P crimes. If or when those peaceful means fail, then the Security Council has the responsibility to take “timely and decisive” measures, in accordance with Chapter VII of the UN Charter, to protect populations. Such measures include military options, taken with or without the consent of a target state.

These three loci of responsibility track the three Pillars of the doctrine. Pillar One refers to the domestic state’s responsibility as outlined above. Pillar Two addresses the international community’s obligation and commitment to encourage and assist states (through capacity building) to uphold their Pillar One responsibilities. Pillar Three highlights the range of tools, from peaceful to non-peaceful and less coercive to more coercive, available to the Security Council and regional organizations. The pillars, it is thought, are not sequential, and some cases may only invoke or require Pillars One or Two. Regrettably, much of the debate concerning R2P tends to distill to questions about forcible intervention under Pillar Three.

This brings us to last week’s workshop. The brute fact of the matter is that R2P is a state doctrine, and much of the reality in international affairs is that states will only voluntarily undertake actions. In R2P parlance, this means that there is an ongoing question about the “political will” to uphold R2P. The discussion about political will, however, becomes blurred due to several related aspects. First and more generally, when any discussion of political will raises its head, it seems that almost everyone is working from the assumption of the political will to intervene militarily (the Pillar Three responsibility). Yet R2P proponents are quick to point out that R2P is more than this, as it includes early warning and capacity building.

This leads to a second point. States seem quick to lend rhetorical support for early warning and capacity building, but the discussion ends there. It seems, at least to me, that we ought to press them then to make more explicit commitments on these fronts. Development is linked to prevention, and perhaps we ought to change the background assumptions about political will from intervention to state building.

If this is too strong, as many states are unwilling to engage in prolonged state building enterprises, then there ought to be an open and pressing discussion about peacekeeping. If states are unwilling or unable to open their wallets, then perhaps they would be willing to provide troops. For example, as Perry and Smith note, North America and Europe have the lowest levels of troop contributions compared to Asia and Africa. A keen example is the United Kingdom, which consistently contributes around .5% of peacekeepers worldwide. Some might think that these countries are already fulfilling their obligations through foreign aid, so they are under no other or further obligations to supply peacekeepers, but this logic is unsound for a variety of reasons. Least amongst them, it overlooks the sad fact that we have no way under the current R2P doctrine to say who and who has not fulfilled their obligations or even how those obligations could be fulfilled. (See here, here and here for some discussions about this issue.)

Moreover, the gendered division of peacekeepers is also noteworthy and ought to be pressed upon from an R2P perspective. If one is looking for a way to not only keep the peace, but also to build capacity, then it would seem that including more female peacekeepers could kill two birds with one stone.   The level of gender equality is seen as a factor in conflict emergence, and if one could mitigate at least small levels of gender inequality while simultaneously saving lives, then this seems like an obvious win. However, looking at the data for female troop contributions, Crawford, Lebovic and Macdonald find that between 2009-2011 “86 percent of countries contributed no female personnel to an average mission in all three years, and 99 percent of countries contributed no female personnel to an average mission in at least one of the three years, under consideration.” Capacity building and timely response seem inherently linked on this issue.

Though what is apparent from the discussions last week and the reality of R2P is that states are unwilling to commit themselves or their peoples to anything that may end up looking like foreign policy failure. Even if we can divide R2P along the three pillars, states implicitly understand that if they sign on to more than their own responsibility for R2P crimes, this may end up committing them to foreign policy agendas that they deem too risky or too costly.   As Feaver and Gelpi argue in their work, states are willing to take on costs, particularly costs in lives, if they are seen to be “winning.” Casualty aversion only becomes a key concern for states when they are losing their foreign policy battles. While the cases are different, Feaver and Gelpi’s findings are illustrative here. Whatever foreign policy goals states set for themselves, they must be able to formulate them in such a way that they can ultimately “win.” Given that R2P is so wide ranging, covering everything from developing constitutions, building infrastructure, advocating for open democracy, calling for inclusive education of citizens, as well as (non)coercive measures to force states to abide by their obligations, it is, in a sense, a foreign policy nightmare. No statesperson could adequately formulate a policy framework that could be operationalized in a way where states could show that they upheld their responsibilities, did what they could, as well as succeeded in their efforts, and were not also on the hook for more.

Some might object and say that there are R2P successes. To be sure, there are, but there are also so many “failures” that the variation in foreign policy responses as well as the success rate tell us very little about the conditions for states to act, let alone act and succeed. While states are willing to note that they and the international community have a responsibility to protect, they are unwilling to talk about the finer details, and it is my worry that this is because of the vast expanse of the doctrine itself. If states cannot be seen to win and succeed, then they will either refrain from embarking on an R2P activity, or they will choose to do so from the shadows. Risk of foreign policy failure is, then, inherently linked to the discussion of political will, and it is high time we see that the doctrine itself is breeding its own limitations.

Groupthink and the Turkish Government

fearThe Turkish government’s unwillingness to intervene in Kobani has led to renewed violence across the country, claiming more than 30 lives. Turkey’s own Kurds demanded action, Ankara bulked, people died. The peace process between Ankara and the Kurds might now be in jeopardy. And the government is drafting a suspicious bill that, if passed, can restrict the civil rights and liberties of Turkish citizens and violate their fundamental human rights.

I was working on a post on the UN climate change summit (next post, promise) but the violence that erupted in Turkey hit home. Growing up in Turkey in the 80s and early 90s meant hearing news of bloodshed everyday. The thirty-year conflict between the government and the PKK claimed more than 40,000 lives, marring everybody… child and adult…Turkish and Kurdish.

Turkey is finally helping the Kurdish fighters in Kobani. But the government missed the historic opportunity to be the pivot of the fight against ISIS and to straighten its domestic affairs. Grupthink seems to be haunting the Turkish ruling elite.

Fearful of an autonomous Kurdish entity in Syria, the government failed to sensibly evaluate the short and long-term political repercussions of its Kobani policy and consider alternative courses of action. Turkey could have played a leading role in the fight against ISIS and revive its strategic importance in the Middle East.

Fearful of its own Kurdish population, the government failed to understand the normative implications of not helping the Kobani Kurds and grasp how its inaction would actually play into the hands of the PKK. The government could have used its assistance to the Kobani Kurds as a symbol of good faith to reach to the moderate Kurdish base in Turkey in the in the ongoing peace talks.

Fearful of conspiracies, the government stereotyped all opposition as weak-willed and disloyal to Turkey, rationalizing the anti-democratic draft defense bill.

As I reluctantly watch Turkish politics from the metroplex of Dallas-Forth Worth now, I am reconnected with the sadness I used to feel as a child as the prolonged conflict claimed many lives.

image source: rationalhub.com

The Future of Climate Governance: Lessons from Failure

As I mentioned in my previous post on climate and security, I went to Colorado College last week for two talks that Andrew Price-Smith organized. The second talk covered the theme of global climate governance (slides here). Last month, both Jennifer Hadden and I wrote about the People’s Climate March and the renewed optimism about possible international progress on climate change that accompanied the UN leaders meeting in New York.

I wanted to expand on the theme, not simply because of the talk in Colorado. The strategy for next year’s climate negotiations has been in the news of late. Just last week, U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern laid out in a talk at Yale the potential U.S. strategy for next year’s 2015 Paris climate negotiations, emphasizing that only parts of the agreement should be legally binding. Elsewhere, UCSD’s David Victor argued that the 2 degrees Celsius target that negotiators previously embraced as the ceiling for warming is unrealistic and unworkable. Both are provocative and potentially helpful ideas. Here’s why.
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Normative dilemma of writing policy?

This week, courtesy of my colleague Adam Stulberg and the Center for International Strategy, Technology, and Policy, our department hosted Matthew Kroenig. When I first learned of Kroenig’s visit, my initial thought was that it would be a great opportunity to do (yet another) take on his arguments regarding the possible use of force against Iran. But I think there is little value added to such an exercise. It has been done, not only here on the Duck but in other venues as well. What I think might be a more fruitful way to take advantage of Kroenig’s visit is to think about some of the challenges of bridging the gap between academics and policymakers.

 

Specifically, I am thinking here about the possible parallels with Jef Huysmans’ examination of the normative dilemma of writing security. Like myself, Huysmans is writing from a social constructivist perspective, and as such understands “the creation of a security problem as a social phenomenon.” Security then is the “result of a practice of definition: security is what agents make of it.” These insights inform discourse-oriented constructivist approaches to security like securitization theory. Turning issues into security then involves, among other things, “…a particular kind of knowledge (security knowledge)”. This is where the dilemma comes in: by analyzing and writing about the practices and discourses of security, scholars may in turn reinforce and reify those practices and discourses. This occurs not only through the repetition of the security claims, but also through the legitimacy imparted through association with the authority of academia. As Huysmans points out, in this discursive interpretation, “speaking and writing about security is never innocent.”

 

What if the normative dilemma of writing is not constrained to security, but to the larger interface between the academy and the policy world? That is, in seeking to influence/provide value to policymakers, scholars unavoidably shift themselves from the position of analyst to the position of political actors, and in the process create and reify policy dynamics. Which brings me back to Kroenig. A skim of his CV quickly reveals that he has built his career in a substantial way on bridging the gap between academia and policy. While I suspect that Kroenig does not accept the epistemological or ontological precursors to Huysmans’ arguments, I thought it worthwhile nonetheless to ask Kroenig what he thought of the dilemma. He answered, more or less, that he felt there was a substantial amount of misinformation regarding US policy (and policy options) toward Iran’s nuclear program, and he sought to rectify that misinformation. Therein I suspect lies a substantial part of the charm for academics regarding bridging the academy-policy gap. By contributing to the policy discussion, academics improve the marketplace of ideas that underpins policymaking. That is a powerful lure, and in some ways gets scholars out of the dilemma by reversing the normative dilemma into a normative imperative: it is a socially good and normatively desirable for scholars, with their carefully considered arguments, deep knowledge, emphasis on analytical and theoretical thinking, and focus on linking theory with empirics to enrich the public/policy discourses and as a consequence improve the store of ideas from which policymakers make their withdrawals.

 

I don’t know if there is an answer to the dilemma of writing policy or security. And perhaps the dilemma for policy broadly is less problematic than for security specifically. Or perhaps the dilemma of writing security does not translate at all to policy writ large. Nonetheless, I am left with a nagging concern. As I watched Kroenig’s public talk (which is impressive) I found myself analyzing him as a securitizing actor. How was he making his arguments about Iran as a threat to the United States? What social and discursive tools was he drawing on? Therein lies the source of my concern. In bridging the gap, at least on this security related issue, Kroenig (perhaps unavoidably) goes from being a security analyst to a security actor. He is in his own way creating a specific security knowledge, of Iran and its nuclear program (and possible nuclear weapons) as a threat to the United States. I suspect for Kroenig that is not a problem because he does not share my or Huysmans theoretical orientation. But for those that do, it becomes very challenging to think about how to bridge the gap without becoming a part of the very security/policy practices we seek to examine, uncover, and problematize.

Iraq's Chemical Arsenal: Justification for War?

Yesterday, a student asked me about the recent news reports indicating that Iraq did, in fact, have “weapons of mass destruction” back in 2002 and 2003 when the U.S. was attempting to justify a “preemptive” war. The New York Times reported that American soldiers were injured in the past decade by chemically-armed munitions found in Iraq.

Already, a slew of articles in the media have debunked the claim that this vindicates George W. Bush and his Iraq misadventure. This Washington Post piece is perhaps the best since it primarily quotes Bush administration claims from the pre-war period.

The Times piece certainly does not try to claim that Bush is vindicated:

Continue reading

Conversation Hijacking: How Not To Insert Yourself into a Conversation by Pushing a Woman Out of It

This is a guest post from Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham, an associate professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland.  She is the author of Inside the Politics of Self-determination (Oxford University Press, 2014).

I was recently at a relatively small academic conference, one that I’ve been attending for years whenever I can. The size of the meeting encourages engagement between big names and small names, grad students and professors, and across genders. It is a classic academic mixer, filled with slightly awkward people, many of whom are slightly disheveled, talking about things that are really interesting in really boring ways (to outsiders).

I started attending as a grad student and have made a number of critical personal and professional connections. In addition to getting useful feedback on my own work, this venue is a great opportunity to reconnect with people in my field and get to know some new ones. While I began as a young grad student, I am now at place where I am a (newly) senior member in the field.

After the final session one day, while people trickled out of the room, I sat down with a colleague I hadn’t seen for years. I was just hearing about a fascinating research project he’s working on when another person (another senior man in the field, though I’m not sure that matters) walked up and sat down, smiled at me but did not introduce himself and started a totally independent conversation with my colleague. I got up a few minutes later to make another meeting, but this small event stayed with me.

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Under Review: Cite This!

The boon and bane of our academic enterprise is that we get feedback all the time on our work.  Our work is better for it–that the hack-iest stuff I read is always stuff that is not submitted to any kind of refereeing process and relies instead on editors who seem to be blind to the hack-ness.   The bane is that, well, rejection and criticism can not only delay publication but also hurt feelings.  When well done, reviews further the enterprise.  However, sometimes, reviews seem to make the authors dance in relatively unproductive ways.  There have been lots of tweets and posts complaining about robustness checks–that reviewers have been asking authors to submit dozens (sometimes hundreds) of additional analyses.

My grievance du jour is something else–reviews that focus on stuff that one “should have cited.”

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Climate and Security Revisited

I made two presentations yesterday at Colorado College where I first talked about climate and security and then spoke about global climate governance. I’ll post about each issue in turn. With the Pentagon this week releasing its new strategy on climate change adaptation, this is a timely moment to revisit how far we have come with climate and security (slides from my presentation here).

In the mid-2000s, climate activists began casting about for new ways to frame climate change as a way to broaden their coalition. One way was to frame climate change as a security threat. Tom Friedman and others were some of the early proponents of this framing, linking fossil fuel dependence on unsavory regimes and also highlighting the connections between climate change and security outcomes at home and abroad. Continue reading

Cyber Letters of Marque and Reprisal: "Hacking Back"

In the thirteenth century, before the rise of the “modern” state, private enforcement mechanisms reigned supreme. In fact, because monarchs of the time had difficulties enforcing laws within their jurisdictions, the practice of private individuals enforcing their rights was so widespread that for the sovereign to be able to “reign supreme” while his subjects simultaneously acted as judge, jury and executioner, the practice of issuing “letters of marque and reprisal” arose. Merchants traveling from town to town or even on the high seas often became the victims of pirates, brigands and thieves. Yet these merchants had no means of redress, especially when they were outside the jurisdiction of their states. Thus the victim of a robbery often sought to take back some measure of what was lost, usually in like property or in proportionate value.

The sovereign saw this practice of private enforcement as a threat to his sovereign powers, and so regulated the practice through the letters of marque. A subject would appeal to his sovereign, giving a description of what transpired and then asking permission to go on a counterattack against the offending party. The trouble was, however, that often the offending party was nowhere to be found. Thus what ended up happening is that the reprisals carried out against an “offending” party usually ended up being carried out against the population or community from which the brigand originated. The effect of this practice, interestingly, was to foster greater communal bonds and ties and cement the rise of the modern state.

One might ask at this point, what do letters of marque and reprisal have to do with cybersecurity? A lot, I think. Recently, the Washington Post reported that there is increasing interest in condoning “hacking back” against cyber attackers. Hacking back, or “active defense,” is basically attempting to trace the origins of an attack, and then gain access to that network or system. With all of the growing concern about the massive amounts of data stolen from the likes of Microsoft, Target, Home Depot, JPMorgan Chase and nameless others, the ability to “hack back” and potentially do malicious harm to those responsible for data theft appears attractive.   Indeed Patrick Lin argues we ought to consider a cyber version of “stand your ground” where an individual is authorized to defend her network, data or computer. Lin also thinks that such a law may reduce the likelihood of cyberwar because one would not need to engage or even to consult with the state, thereby implicating it in “war crimes.” As Lin states “a key virtue of “Stand Your Cyberground” is that it avoids the unsolved and paralyzing question of what a state’s response can be, legally and ethically, against foreign-based attacks.”

Yet this seems to be the opposite approach to take, especially given the nature of private enforcement, state sovereignty and responsibility. States may be interested in private companies defending their own networks, but one of the primary purposes of a state is to provide for public—not private—law enforcement.   John Locke famously quipped in his 2nd Treatise that the problem of who shall judge becomes an “inconvenience” in the state of nature, thereby giving rise to increased uses of force, then war, and ultimately requires the institution of public civil authority to judge disputes and enforce the law. Cyber “stand your ground” or private hack backs places us squarely back in Locke’s inconvenient state.

Moreover, it runs contrary to the notion of state sovereignty. While many might claim that the Internet and the cyber domain show the weakness in sovereignty, they do not do away with it. Indeed, if we are to learn anything from the history of private enforcement and state jurisdiction, sovereignty requires that the state sanction such behavior. The state would have to issue something tantamount to a letter of marque and reprisal. It would have to permit a private individual or company to seek recompense for its damage or data lost. Yet this is, of course, increasingly difficult for at least two reasons. The first is attribution. I will not belabor the point about the difficulty of attribution, which Lin seems to dismiss by stating that “the identities of even true pirates and robbers–or even enemy snipers in wartime–aren’t usually determined before the counterattack; so insisting on attribution before use of force appears to be an impossible standard.” True attribution for cyber attacks is a lengthy and time-consuming process, often requiring human agents on the ground, and it is not merely about tracing an IP address to a botnet.  True identities are hard to come by, and equating a large cyber attack to a sniper is unhelpful. We may not need to know the social security number of a sniper, but we are clear that the person with the gun in the bell-tower is the one shooting at us, and this permits us to use force in defense.   With a botnet or a spoofed IP address, we are uncertain where the shots are really coming from. Indeed, it makes more sense to think of it like hiring a string of hit men, each hiring a subcontractor, and we are trying to find out who we have a right of self-defense against; is it the person hiring or the hit men or both?

Second, even if we could engage a cyber letter of marque we would have to have some metric to establish a proportionate cyber counter-attack.   Yet what are identities, credit card numbers, or other types of “sensitive data” worth? What if they never get used? Is it then merely the intrusion? Proportionality in this case is not a cut and dry issue.

Finally, if we have learned anything about the history or letters of marque and reprisal, then it is that they went out of favor. States realized that private enforcement, which then turned to public reprisals during the 18th to early 20th centuries, merely encouraged more force in international affairs. Currently the modern international legal system calls acts that are coercive, but not uses of force (i.e. acts that would violate Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter), countermeasures. The international community and individual states not longer issue letters of marque and reprisal. Instead, when states have their rights violated (or an ‘internationally wrongful act’ taken against them), they utilize arbitration or countermeasures to seek redress. For a state to take lawful countermeasures, however, requires that it determine the responsible state for the wrongful act in question. Yet cyber attacks, if we are to rely on what the professional cybersecurity experts tell us, are sophisticated in that they hide their identities and origins. Moreover, even if one finds out the origin of the attack, this may be insufficient to ground a state’s responsibility for the act. There is always the deniability that the state issued a command or hired a “cyber criminal gang.” Thus countermeasures against a state in this framework may be illegal.

What all this means is that if we do not want ignore current international law, or the teachings of history, we cannot condone private companies “hacking back.” The only way one could condone it is for the state to legalize it, and if this were the case, then it would be just like the state issuing letters of marque and reprisal. Yet by legalizing such a practice, it may open up those states to countermeasures by other states. Given that most of the Internet traffic goes through the United States (US), that means that many “attributable” attacks will look like they are coming from the US.   This in turn means that many states would then have reason to cyber attack the US, thereby increasing and not decreasing the likelihood of cyberwar.   Any proposal to condone retaliatory private enforcement in cyberspace should, therefore, be met with caution.

Networking "Toxic Remnants of War" on the Disarmament Agenda

With the United Nations First Committee on Disarmament and International Security convening in New York this month, one point of debate will be the potential health risks of depleted uranium weapons in post-conflict zones. And rightly so: depleted uranium is a byproduct of nuclear enrichment processes used in armor-piercing incendiary projectiles to penetrate tanks, and correspondingly to harden armor against attack. Since the Gulf War, veterans groups, doctors and civil society groups have raised concerns about the possible health effects on humans of radioactive DU dust left in the environment. Now, A10 gunships are headed back to Iraq, a nation that has already absorbed 400,000kg of DU contamination, according to the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons.  This month’s discussion at the UN follows a UNGA report released earlier this year, in which Iraq, not so surprisingly, joined a handful of other nations in calling for an outright ban of these weapons.

Early in my research for my new book ‘Lost’ Causes, I considered depleted uranium as an interesting case of agenda-vetting in the humanitarian disarmament NGO arena. A far-flung network of organizations has been lobbying for a ban since 2003, and language has been percolating in General Assembly First Committee resolutions since 2007, culminating most recently in the Secretary-General’s report on the topic this summer. In short, the issue is gaining momentum in non-binding “soft law.” But the DU issue has not been as prominent to date in disarmament circles of NGOs pushing treaty prohibitions on weapons in general, and major organizations like the International Committee for the Red Cross and Human Rights Watch have not prioritized the issue of DU on their formal agendas. Instead the most prominent issues on the NGO disarmament agenda since 2005 have included cluster munitions, small arms, autonomous weapons and, to a more limited degree, incendiary and explosive weapons. As this graph of NGO campaign affiliations from 2012 shows, organizations associated with the ICBUW are relatively disconnected from other disarmament campaigns, with more ties to the nuclear and environmental movements than to the humanitarian disarmament mainstream.*

weapons1
In many respects, this is not at all surprising given the nature of the DU issue, which cuts across health, environment and arms control. My research has found that highly inter-sectional issues often have the hardest time finding a foothold in existing advocacy terrain. Also, elite advocacy NGOs gravitate for strategic reasons toward campaigns where they can a) combine testimonial and statistical evidence, and b) identify a clear causal link between the cause and effect of a humanitarian problem. Testimonial evidence is abundant here – much anecdotal evidence points to carcinogenic effects, including increased birth defects in areas exposed to DU. But generalizable scientific evidence is less so: few large-scale epidemiological studies have been carried out.  “We know without a doubt that DU in humans is harmful and that contamination needs to be cleaned-up,” ICBUW Coordinator Doug Weir told me. “The main question is to what extent are civilians being exposed to it.”

Despite these obstacles, in recent years the ICBUW has made some noticeable strides in messaging and networking its issue in transnational civil society.   Continue reading

Experiencing the Ebola Crisis: a perspective from inside Sierra Leone

This is a guest post by Dehunge Shiaka, Researcher and gender expert in Freetown Sierra Leone

There has been increased international attention to the Ebola Viral Disease (EVD) and its spread in West Africa. However, for those living in the region, the reports, meetings, and fears associated with the virus seem to have come too late. The international community should send aid, supplies, and experts, but it should also listen to the experiences, advice, and wisdom of locals. Those living amidst the epidemic have a first-hand view of why the disease has spreading so quickly, and how it can be managed and contained. This post contains my own view about the current Ebola outbreak. Overall, the disease has slowed down much of our activities and movement and this is bound to spread hardship among the population, most of whom are poor already. Here, I focus on what I see as the number one reason as to why the outbreak has been difficult to contain, as well as a host of practical (and easy) mechanisms for halting the virus.

To start, it is useful to know that EVD first attacked some residents of Kailahun District in May this year. This is the same district where the 11-year civil war in Sierra Leone began in the early 1990s, along the border with Liberia. Today, the disease is present in 13 out of the 14 districts in the country (only Koinadugu District has yet to record any infected case). While the first hit districts of Kailahun and Kenema (the district I hail from) are recording diminishing infection rates, rather unfortunately, the districts of Bombali, Port Loko and the Western Area (where the capital, Freetown, is located) have increasing infection rates. This is because our health system appears to be buckling.

One of the greatest contributors to the spread of the virus has been misinformation and miseducation about the virus. Continue reading

U.S. Options Limited Due to Will and Not Lack of Drones

Today, Kate Brannen’s piece in Foreign Policy sent mixed messages with regard to the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS).  She reports that the US is balancing demands “For intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets across Iraq and Syria with keeping an eye on Afghanistan”. The implication, which the title of her piece implies, is that if the US just had more “drones” over Syria, it would be able to fight IS more adeptly.   The problem, however, is that her argument is not only misleading, it is also dismissive of the Arab allies’ human intelligence contributions.

While Brannen is right to note that the US has many of its unmanned assets in Afghanistan and that this will certainly change with the upcoming troop draw down there, it is not at all clear why moving those assets to Syria will yield any better advantage against IS. Remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) are only useful in permissive air environments, or an environment where one’s air assets will not face any obstructions or attacks. The US’s recent experience with its drone operations abroad have been mostly all permissive environments, and as such, it is able to fly ISR missions – and combat ones as well – without interference from an adversary.   The fight against IS, however, is not a permissive environment. It may range from non-permissive to hostile, depending upon the area and the capabilities of IS at the time.   We know that IS has air defense capabilities, and so these may interfere with operations.   What is more, we also know that RPAs are highly vulnerable to air defense systems and are inappropriate for hostile and contested air spaces. NATO recently published a report outlining the details of this fact.   Thus before we claim that more “drones” will help the fight against IS, we ought to look very carefully at the operational appropriateness of them.

A secondary, but equally important, the point in Brannen’s argument concerns the exportation of unmanned technology. She writes,

“According to the senior Defense Department official, members of the coalition against the Islamic State are making small contributions in terms of ISR capabilities, but it’s going to take time to get them more fully integrated. U.S. export policy is partly to blame for the limits on coalition members when it comes to airborne surveillance, Scharre said. ‘The U.S. has been very reluctant to export its unmanned aircraft, even with close allies.’ ‘There are countries we will export the Joint Strike Fighter to, but that we will not sell an armed Reaper to,’ [Scharre] said.”

The shift from discussing ISR capabilities to exportation of armed unmanned systems may go unnoticed by many, but it is a very important point. We might bemoan the fact that the US’s Arab partners are making “small [ISR] contributions” to the fight against IS, but providing them with unarmed, let alone armed, unmanned platforms may not fix the situation. As I noted above, they may be shot down if flown in inappropriate circumstances.   Moreover, if the US wants to remain dominant in the unmanned systems arena, then it will want to be very selective about exporting it. Drone proliferation is already occurring, with the majority of the world’s countries in possession of some type of unmanned system. While those states may not possess medium or high altitude armed systems, there is worry that it is only a matter of time until they do. For example, arming the Kurds with Global Hawks or Reapers will not fix this situation, and may only upset an already delicate balance between the allies.

Proliferation and technological superiority remain a constant concern for the US. Which is why, taken in conjunction with the known limitations of existing unmanned platforms, there has not been a rush to either export or move the remaining drone fleet in Afghanistan to Syria and Iraq. IS is a different enemy than the Taliban in Afghanistan or the “terrorists” in Yemen, Pakistan or Somalia.  IS possess US military hardware, they are battle hardened, have a will to fight and die, and are capable of tactical and operational strategizing. Engagement with them will require forces up close and on the ground, and supporting that kind of fighting from the air is better done with close air support. Thus it is telling that the US is sending in Apache helicopters to aid the fight but not moving more drones.

ISR is of course a necessity. No one denies this. However, to claim that this can only be achieved from 60,000 feet is misleading. ISR comes from a range of sources, from human ones to satellite images.  Implying that our Arab allies are merely contributing a “small amount” to ISR dismisses their well-placed intelligence capabilities. Jordan, for example, can provide better on the ground assessment than the US can, as the US lacks the will to put “boots on the ground” to gather those sources.  Such claims also send a message to these states that their efforts and lives are not enough. When in fact, the US is relying just as heavily on those boots as they are relying on our ISR.

 

Tweets of the week #4

This was another busy week in global politics and I’m going to highlight some of the best tweets in my Twitter feed. Before starting, however, I will acknowledge that this post is late.

I believe my excuse is pretty good as it involves lots of late night baseball. I grew up in Kansas rooting for the local team — and the Kansas City Royals are in the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 1985. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, the Royals won three consecutive extra inning games. All ended after 1 am Eastern Time. I then had to read for 30 to 45 minutes after the long and exciting games just to unwind enough to sleep.

None of those victories featured  the longest game of the week. As DC residents know, the Washington Nationals lost to the San Francisco Giants 2-1 in the 18th inning. I caught a bit of that contest:

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The Strange Death of Liberal Zionism

This is a guest post from Ariel I. Ahram (@ariel_ahram), an assistant professor of government and international affairs in Virginia Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs in Alexandria, Va. He is the author of Proxy Warriors: The Rise and Fall of State Sponsored Militias (Stanford University Press, 2011).

Laments over the state of Israel have become increasingly common. Especially in the midst of this summer’s war in Gaza, Israel’s erstwhile sympathizers and supporters have come forward questioning the Jewish state’s viability and morality. Israel, they claim, has lost the pretense of liberal democracy and is careening toward a kind of Jewish ethnocracy, an apartheid state ruling over millions of Arabs between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Though this discourse often takes a tone of Jewish ritual atonement, it has ramifications far beyond the Diaspora-Israel relations. A common commitment to liberal democratic principles is a key component of the cultural linkages underpinning the special U.S.-Israel relationship. Israel’s perceived rightward seems to have dire implications for the possibilities of peace as well. Many believe that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has effectively ruled out the possibility of relinquishing territory to a Palestinian state. But the problem is deeper that leadership. Ugly displays of racism, such as when right-wing Jewish thugs abducted and murdered a sixteen year old Palestinian boy in Jerusalem this July, seem to indict Israeli society as a whole. Liberal Zionism is, in a word, dead. Continue reading

Thursday Ebola Linkage

Well, this has been a very difficult period to watch as we see the unfolding tragedy of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. We have seen dire warnings for the region, with a dramatic uptick in reported infections and some heartbreaking (and problematic) images from hospitals. There have been credible projections that left unchecked Ebola could have as many 1.4 million infections by early 2015 in Liberia and Sierra Leone, which would amount to more than 10% of the population of those two countries. With President Obama’s announcement of $500 million (perhaps up to $1 billion) and the deployment of 3000 soldiers, help may be arriving and more on the way, but it is unclear if this belated scale-up of attention and resources will arrive to stave off the worst in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Fortunately, the spread in neighboring Nigeria seems very well-contained.

We have also seen the first diagnosed Ebola patient outside the continent, in my own state of Texas, by a Liberian who travelled here and became symptomatic upon arrival. The situation appears to be under control but questions remain, as the patient was initially sent home after his first visit to the hospital. Here are some news and comments from around the web. I had some exchanges with WSJ and NYT reporters about airport fever monitoring as well as the ethics of the images the NYT had of suffering children on their pages. Read on for more. Continue reading

A Strategy of Appeasement: Winning the Revise and Resubmit

You hear the “ping” of an incoming email and quickly check the subject – oh, crap, it’s from a journal![1]  This could make or break your day.  You open the  email and quickly scan for the word “reject.”  Wait? What!? No “reject”?  No “Unfortunately, their assessments do not provide us with sufficient support to continue the review process”?  Does this mean what you think it means?  You now read the letter closely, your pulse starting to rise.  It is!  A revise and resubmit!

I remember when I started sending things out for review – I didn’t actually realize that the goal of a first round submission was not an “accept” but a “revise and resubmit” – an “R&R” in professor-speak.  Acceptances on the first round are extremely rare.  An R&R is the decision you should be hoping for; it’s the first step – and the hardest step – in the process to a peer-reviewed publication in our discipline.  Unfortunately, I don’t think this is a step we talk about much or actively advise graduate students on.  I’ve been shocked to find out that some of my students have resubmitted things without their advisor’s input at all.  An R&R is not just an intermittent stop on the road to a publication.  It’s a crucial junction: a misstep can cost you years of further anguish at getting the manuscript published.

After dealing with almost 30 R&Rs[2], I think there is a method or a strategy that works for revise and resubmits: appeasement.  The goal of the R&R stage is to make at least two reviewers 100% convinced that the manuscript is worthy of publication while not angering the other reviewer(s).  I know this advice is unsolicited – however, I thought I’d share 5 tips to ease in converting R&Rs into acceptances.

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“and Elinor?”: when winning a Nobel Prize isn’t enough…

This is a guest post from Leslie Johns, an Assistant Professor of political science at UCLA. 

The Public Choice Society—an academic organization of scholars who study the interaction of politics and economics—recently announced that it has created a new award for scholarly research: the Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Prize.  The announcement of this prize is provoking an intense reaction because of its name: “The Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Prize”?

Elinor Ostrom was well-known to political scientists, policy analysts, and economists.  As a graduate student during the 1960s in the Political Science Department at UCLA, where I work, Ostrom overcame tremendous odds and blatant discrimination to earn her Ph.D.  Her reward for this work was being offered a job as a secretary.  After decades of climbing the academic ladder and publishing path-breaking scholarship on the regulation of shared resources, it seemed as though Ostrom had finally been recognized for her courage and intellect.  Despite the fact that she never received a degree from or a faculty appointment in an economics department, Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009. She was the first, and remains the only, woman to win this prize. Continue reading

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