Daniel McIntosh

My plans for the weekend

Would you like to map a pandemic?

SupraMap is an on-line tool that traces the mutation and spread of virues around the world. Fascinating.

Going to court

Serbia is going to the World Court today to ask for an advisory opinion on the independence of Kosovo. The US and most of the EU has recognized a new Kosovar state; Russia, Serbia, and most of the rest of the world has not. The Serbian Foreign Minister observed that the decision to go to court marked a “paradigm shift…the first time in the history of the Balkans that somebody

has decided to resolve an issue of significance using exclusively peaceful means.” That’s a bit of a stretch. Serbia’s ambassador to France said that Kosovo’s declaration, as well as its recognition, “is a challenge to the international legal order, based as it is on the principles of state sovereignty and territorial integrity.” He’s right.

That’s really what’s at issue here. A Serbian friend of mine constantly reminded me during the Kosovo War that what NATO was doing was a violation of fundamental legal norms, and while he was right he never quite grasped that his point may be increasingly irrelevant. The norms are changing. What are the new norms, and how will they emerge? An advisory opinion of the ICJ isn’t going to settle these issues, but it might have some influence on the debate. Keep watching.

China: democracy and warlords

A reporter for OpenDemocracy spent the month of August touring China, looking for signs of democratization. He finds more than he bargained for:

Indeed, in interviewing people from various organisations and from very different perspectives, I was struck by a consistent undertone of worry about the prospect of a regime change (even a “colour revolution”) along the lines of those in the post-Soviet states in the early 2000s – which culminated in the governing communist or reformed-communist parties being ejected from office. elections China’s clear official aim is to ensure that it doesn’t make the same mistake. But in a country undergoing rapid change, how much of the political course of events and outcome can the party still control?

But that’s the cities. I imagine most of the conversations were with the intelligensia. Out in the countryside, a far different picture emerges:

In China’s northeast, quasi-mafia groups have made entire rural areas their fiefdoms, which they run according to their extensive business interests. In the southeast province of Fujian, similar elite economic groups have established control of villages via local representatives who ruthlessly pursue the groups’ private interests with no regard for broader social goals. In the central provinces of Hunan, Henan and Hebei, most evidence I saw showed a clear battle between party operatives and other increasingly powerful groups (from specific clans in one area, to economic or ethnic or social groups in another). Such tense and uneven situations help put in perspective Hu Jintao’s emphasis, in the aftermath of the Xinjiang disturbances, on the need to have “one law for everyone”.

Lots of luck on that, Hu.

Use it or lose it

A recent paper from Brookings, Georgetown and Hoover discusses the international legal aspects of targeted killing. As you would expect, American policy isn’t in sync with the emerging global norm. An idealist might argue that the US is in the wrong (and they have a very strong case under the International Convention on Human Rights); a Realist might argue that the US needs the latitude to kill because it (or somebody–and nobody else is available) has the responsibility to combat enemies of the legal regime that everyone else assumes. The point that I hadn’t thought of before is the conclusion that the US might want to be open about what it is doing and assert–as a legal principle–that this is as it should be.

The ultimate lesson for Congress and the Obama Administration about targeted killings is “Use it or lose it.” This is as true of its legal rationale as it is of the tool itself. Targeted killings conducted from standoff platforms, with improving technologies in surveillance and targeting, are a vital strategic, but also humanitarian, tool in long-term counterterrorism. War will always be important as an option; so will the tools of law enforcement, as well as all the other non-force aspects of intelligence work: diplomacy and coordination with friends and allies. But the long-standing legal authority to use force covertly, as part of the writ of the intelligence community, remains a crucial tool—one the new administration will need and evidently knows it will need. So will administrations beyond it.


The death of Osama bin Laden and his top aides by Predator strike tomorrow would alter national security counterterrorism calculations rather less than we might all hope. As new terrorist enemies emerge, so long as they are “jihadist” in character, we might continue referring to them as “affiliated” with al Qaeda and therefore co-belligerent. But the label will eventually become a mere legalism in order to bring them under the umbrella of an AUMF passed after September 11. Looking even further into the future, terrorism will not always be about something plausibly tied to September 11 or al Qaeda at all. Circumstances alone, in other words, will put enormous pressure on—and ultimately render obsolete—the legal framework we currently employ to justify these operations.

What we can do is to insist on defining armed conflict self-defense broadly enough, and human rights law narrowly enough—as the United States has traditionally done—to avoid exacerbating the problem and making it acute sooner, or even immediately.


We stand at a curious moment in which the strategic trend is toward reliance upon targeted killing; and within broad U.S. political circles even across party lines, a political trend toward legitimization; and yet the international legal trend is also severely and sharply to contain it within a narrow conception of either the law of armed conflict under IHL or human rights and law enforcement, rather than its traditional conception as self-defense in international law and regulation as covert action under domestic intelligence law. Many in the world of ideas and policy have already concluded that targeted killing as a category, even if proffered as self-defense, is unacceptable and indeed all but per se illegal. If the United States wishes to preserve its traditional powers and practices in this area, it had better assert them. Else it will find that as a practical matter they have dissipated through desuetude.

Does the US (or someone) have the right to target individuals? In States where the US is not formally at war? Inside the US?

I suspect that someone has to have the job of playing cop in the international system. I don’t see anyone but the US who is able and willing to do it. A UN force is a possibility, but it still comes down to great power politics and capabilities. On the other hand, I don’t want to give the cops–any cops–the right to target whoever they choose. Even if they start with the best of intentions, that’s a structure that corrupts the cop, alientates the community, and kills the innocent.

Why I don’t expect I’ll ever be Secretary of State

..or much of any other government-related position. Stephen Walt gives a list of the 10 Commandments–the 10 “thou shalt not hold or even consider” positions that are considered outside of “acceptable” foreign policy discourse. I’ve given serious consideration to ALL of them at one time or another. Probably about half of them are things I believe today.

This reminds me of when I was a very young research analyst, and after handing in a report I had out a lot of work into, my boss (for whom I had and still have the greatest respect) returned it with the comment

“Well thought out. Almost certainly true. Don’t ever say it again.”

I think that was the point I decided I’d get out of professional consulting and focus on the university. University political science departments have their own taboos, but once you get tenure you are less vulnerable to sanction. And officially, at least, every idea is supposed to be considered on its merits–even the “unacceptable” ones.

Taboo Topics on Contemporary Foreign Policy Discourse | Stephen M. Walt

Bernanke op-ed in the Wall Street Journal

Ben Bernanke wants to assure people that the Fed isn’t just throwing money at the current problems, unaware of the long-term impact on inflation.

My colleagues and I believe that accomodative policies will likely be warranted for an extended period. At some point, however, as economic recovery takes hold, we will need to tighten monetary policy to prevent the emergence of an inflation problem down the road. The Federal Open Market Committee, which is responsible for setting U.S. monetary policy, has devoted considerable time to issues relating to an exit strategy. We are confident we have the necessary tools to withdraw policy accommodation, when that becomes appropriate, in a smooth and timely manner.

Gee–is everybody confident now? He goes on to tell how it will be done. A few observations:

1) The chairman of the Federal Reserve Board is worried enough about confidence that he chooses to make this statement.

2) He does so in a form that allows no questioning or rebuttal.

3) To the extent that he discusses the tools to contract the money supply, it’s all pretty much the same as before. They aren’t nearly as all-powerful as he wants us to believe.

4) Bernanke says almost nothing about the international dimension–including foreign exchange and the impact on what has been the world’s reserve currency.

5) All his promises miss the political dimension altogether. Are we really to believe that those who have been personally helped by recent policies–bailed out banks, investment houses, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, etc.–are going to sit by and watch the Fed crank up the pain? The relation of Congress and State governments to the stimulus package is similar to that of an addict to cocaine. The American people will want their freebies, and they won’t want to pay for them.

I’m supposed to feel more confident after reading this?

Bernanke Op-ed in WSJ: The Fed’s Exit Strategy – WSJ.com

Voting with their feet

Here’s an interesting factoid: For the first time since the Great Depression, the migration of people from the less-developed to developed countries may have reversed. Remittances are expected to be dropping next year by 8 percent. On the other hand, many of the returnees have skills and capital, and that may help back home.

Rethinking liberal arts

What does a citizen need to know? What skills and knowledge should we assume in our interactions with others? What makes a person a well-rounded person? The issues go back for centuries, and every so often some suggests modifications to the list of “liberal arts.” I teach at a university with a “liberal arts” requirement, and I know from experience the battles to have a class listed as required (or optional) include issues of academic politics and teaching philosophy. The outcomes of those battles can make or break particular classes, or entire programs.

A group of scholars has published a new reconsideration (PDF) of “liberal arts” (note: not the liberal arts). What began as a series of conversations on a blog has been refined to a short book. The contributors go out out of their way to declare their list is not canonical, but here’s their table of contents:So, what do you think? What needs to be added to the list of liberal arts? What needs to be dropped? Is there a place for what we teach?

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