Stephanie Carvin

The ISA Drinking Game

The Duck crew getting ready for their
annual meet-up in 2011.

We are now two weeks away from the start of the annual International Studies Association convention in sunny San Diego. In 2010 the Duck developed the APSA drinking game. Here is the ISA version for your conferencing pleasure. (Oh, and if Tom Volgy asks, you haven’t seen me.)


The following, unless otherwise specified, result in the taking of one drink for every observation/sighting at the Annual Conference of the International Studies Association. The Duck of Minerva is not responsible for any liver damage or unfortunate choice of panel questions that may result after participating in this game.

  1. Watching the Feminist and Gender Studies section pick a ‘turf war’ with the Women’s Caucus at the ISA General Counsel meeting. +2 if already 4:45pm.
  2. Less than 6 European scholars in the hotel bar after midnight. +1 if no Brits
  3. Hawaiian shirt.
  4. Kony2012 shirt.
  5. Observing someone take more than 5 chocolates/mints from Keesing’s booth and managing not to speak to anyone. +1 if entire bowl.
  6. Bumping into your former PhD student who now has more publications than you. +1 if still doing PhD.
  7. Panel with discussant who obviously hasn’t read any of the papers. +1 if obviously doesn’t care. +2 if uses time to plug own book.
  8. Invitation to Phi Beta Delta Honor Society event. +1 showing up, +2 showing up by accident.
  9. Someone throwing leftover beads from ISA New Orleans 2010 Conference. +1 if at John Mearsheimer.
  10. Panellist saying “Well, I actually haven’t read the book” and then proceeding to discuss said unread book.
  11. iPad. +1 Samsung Galaxy. +10 Blackberry Playbook. +100 Apple Newton
  12. Performance of Lady Gaga Song at talent cabaret. +1 if in costume
  13. Someone commenting/retorting with “Well, as I wrote on my blog…”. +1 if “as I wrote on my MySpace”, +2 if Brian Rathbun
  14. Watching someone dive behind a table to avoid editor to whom they owe an overdue manuscript. +1 if knock over pile of Cambridge University Press books doing so. +2 if still unsuccessful.
  15. If attendee looking for the International Society of Automation. +1 International Submariners Association (+2 if have own submarine)

San Diego Bonus Round!

  1. Someone proposes holding panel at the Del Coronado. +10 if Tijuana
  2. Presenter eating burrito. +1 if with umbrella drink
  3. Reference to Anchor Man (easy!)
  4. Reference to Demolition Man (hard!)
  5. Reference to Top Gun (sexy! But must include “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” and/or volleyball)
  6. Someone wearing their conference badge at 2am or more than a mile from the actual conference site. +1 if in Mexico.

International Women’s Day: Cupcakes and Hateraid

I did not make these to destroy feminism.

Duck readers, I have a confession. I bake cupcakes. Thousands of them. I love doing it, I love icing them, I love decorating them and I really like eating them.

This is not something that I would typically share with a blog on international politics. Normally I write about things that blow up or try to calmly argue that twitter is not going to stop a war lord. But you see I am compelled. I am compelled to write in defence of cupcakes for International Women’s day.

Apparently some people think my love of cupcakes makes me a bad feminist: real feminists hate cupcakes:

Cupcakes are just so twee-ly, coyly, ‘ooh no I really shouldn’t’-ly, pink and fluffily, everything that I think feminism is not. It’s feminism-lite, feminism as consumption and ‘me time’ (grr), rather than feminism as power and politics and equal pay.

You see, this “Bun fetish deals a blow to feminism”:

Because these cupcakes – mark my words, feminists – these trendy little cupcakes are the thin end of the wedge. It will start with cupcakes and it will end in vaginoplasty.

And so – maybe you thought the ideological battle was between men and women. Or even liberal feminists and radical feminists. You’re wrong. The real debate has moved to Cupcake Feminism.

This move is not deliberate – probably not even conscious. But the pop-culture image of feminism today – as perpetuated at Ladyfests, in BUST magazine and its Craftaculars, on so-called ‘ladyblogs’ and at freshers’ fairs – is ostensibly the direct opposite of the Hairy Dyke. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll call her the cupcake feminist….
Twee and retro have been seeping into feminism for a couple decades now, gaining potency. It’s all about cute dresses, felten rosettes from Etsy, knitting, kittens, vintage lamps shaped like owls, Lesley Gore. And yes – a lot of cupcakes.

Another problem with this trend towards the high-femme is that we inadvertently court the enemy. We inadvertently justify the vilification of the Hairy Dyke image, as if we were ashamed of it all along. Why are ‘fat’, ‘ugly’, ‘gay’ or ‘never-been-fucked’ still the first insults sent whistling towards the trench? What is their supposed import? To cry ‘We’re not all like that!’ only lends power. Some of us are fat/ugly/gay, some of us aren’t. So? Really, though, so what?
Mainstream society only finds cupcake feminism more palatable because it can lick off the icing and toss the rest.

These chickies want equal rights, darn it!

Look, I take these points seriously. Feminists who fought for the right to have equal pay, birth control and the idea that I could basically become whatever I wanted are uncomfortable with women “cooing” over pink fluffy things.

Tend to your cupcake lady-garden!

But I’ve never seen a woman “coo” over a cupcake. (Seriously? Who does this? Who are these anti-cupcake feminists hanging out with?! Get better friends!) I’ve seen an entire Department of Politics and International Relations devour 30 of them in under an hour. But I’ve never seen a woman making an intelligent point suddenly suffer a cupcake-lobotomy because of some buttercream.

In fact, the very reason I like baking cupcakes is that they are cheap, easy as hell and don’t take very long to make. I can make an entire batch in under an hour. It’s a fantastic way for me to be creative and then write about targeted killing. Or mark essays. Or reference letters for many of my excellent female (and male) students applying to do masters programs in their chosen fields.

Surely, the worst kind of feminism is the one that tells feminists what to do in uncompromising terms. Or the kind that perpetuates a “Hairy Dyke” vs “Cupcake Feminist” false dichotomy. Cupcakes, cupcake bakers and cupcake aficionados are not secretly trying to make feminism more palatable. To see cupcakes this way is to unthinkingly buy into the gendering of an activity – or wholeheartedly buying into a male-created stereotype without thinking about how the humble cupcake might be an act of liberation for those who partake in the cake.

I don’t consider myself to be a “Cupcake Feminist” – I’m just a feminist who likes cupcakes. I believe in questioning gender barriers AND unnecessary carbohydrates. But most importantly, I’m tired of individuals explaining to me what I am, who I am and what I can or can’t do on baseless, dated logic – whether they are feminist cupcake haters or Rick Santorum.

So I am asking you, Duck readers, this International Women’s Day – please consider ways we can rethink the gerontocratic patriarchy – and have a cupcake. These activities are not mutually exclusive. Plus I spent, like, an hour on these things.

EDIT: And for the love of cupcakes, read this excellent post by Sarah Duff at Tangerine and Cinnamon

Come to the Feminist Side! 

Invisible Children – Pretty Dang Visible

KONY, WE GON’ FIND YOU – as soon as I buy my bracelet!

Anyone who has been on Facebook and Twitter over the past 24 hours has probably seen impassioned pleas to watch a high-production video by Invisible Children, an American NGO (whose Board of Directors just happens to be entirely white American males). And anyone who is following many of the IR tweeters out there, you have also probably began to see the backlash.

For those of you who do not know what is going on, the video produced by Invisible Children discusses the conflict in Uganda with the Lord’s Resistance Army and in particular the crimes of the movement’s leader Joseph Kony – calling upon the world (particularly the United States) to act by signing a petition and, apparently, buying bracelets.

There is no doubt that Kony is – to put it mildly – a gigantic AAA asshole of the highest order, responsible for crimes that would make anyone’s stomach sick. And it is great that this video is spreading awareness of these crimes.

However, the solutions that Invisible Children (and other organisations, such as Human Rights Watch – now getting in on the #KONY2012 action) advocates are problematic. Others (see this article in Foreign Affairs) have pointed out that military humanitarian intervention in Uganda has been tried and tried again – always ultimately failing and managing to make matters a lot worse for civilians on the ground. Worse, in advocating for these policies, organisations such as Invisible Children, are giving a misleading and simplistic impression of what is actually happening on the ground:

In their campaigns, such organizations have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony — a brutal man, to be sure — as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil. They rarely refer to the Ugandan atrocities or those of Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians or looting of civilian homes and businesses, or the complicated regional politics fueling the conflict.

 Mark Kersten at Justice in Conflict writes along similar lines:

It is hard to respect any documentary on northern Uganda where a five year-old white boy features more prominently than any northern Ugandan victim or survivor. Incredibly, with the exception of the adolescent northern Ugandan victim, Jacob, the voices of northern Ugandans go almost completely unheard.
It isn’t hard to imagine why the views of northern Ugandans wouldn’t be considered: they don’t fit with the narrative produced and reproduced in the insulated echo chamber that produced the ‘Kony 2012′ film.
‘Kony 2012′, quite dubiously, avoids stepping into the ‘peace-justice’ question in northern Uganda precisely because it is a world of contesting and plural views, eloquently expressed by the northern Ugandans themselves. Some reports suggest that the majority of Acholi people continue to support the amnesty process whereby LRA combatants – including senior officials – return to the country in exchange for amnesty and entering a process of ‘traditional justice’. Many continue to support the Ugandan Amnesty law because of the reality that it is their own children who constitute the LRA. Once again, this issue is barely touched upon in the film. Yet the LRA poses a stark dilemma to the people of northern Uganda: it is now composed primarily of child soldiers, most of whom were abducted and forced to join the rebel ranks and commit atrocities. Labeling them “victims” or “perpetrators” becomes particularly problematic as they are often both.
Furthermore, the crisis in northern Ugandan is not seen by its citizens as one that is the result of the LRA. Yes, you read that right. The conflict in the region is viewed as one wherein both the Government of Uganda and the LRA, as well as their regional supporters (primarily South Sudan and Khartoum, respectively) have perpetrated and benefited from nearly twenty-five years of systemic and structural violence and displacement. This pattern is what Chris Dolan has eloquently and persuasively termed ‘social torture‘ wherein both the Ugandan Government and the LRA’s treatment of the population has resulted in symptoms of collective torture and the blurring of the perpetrator-victim binary.

Beyond this, I find the entire nature of the campaign to be problematic. As this excellent post at King’s of War argues:

Will simplistic explanations of long-running wars, delivered in a Facebook-friendly manner become the future of foreign policy? If the opinion of Rihanna and George Clooney is going to dislodge ‘technocrats’ who do things like read the Military Balance, then what’s to stop intervention in Syria? Pretty much everyone with a passing interest in military affairs says “that is a very bad idea and lots of people will die” but I’m pretty sure that a bright person with access to youtube can come up with a better argument for a brighter world in which taking Assad down is an expression of democratic empowerment. The point about war and military affairs is that at some point, it requires restraint. That restraint is entirely arbitrary (and unfair) but it stops people getting killed. If Angelina Jolie in combination with Condoleeza Rice are to dictate American strategy, then restraints to force will disappear into a blur of “Let’s go get the bad guy” activism that is almost entirely ignorant of the second and third order effects of those decisions.

Last year I wrote a post that was critical of those who are concerned about the use of media which re-emphasizes the idea of “Africans as victims”. I argued that in times of famine, pictures of said famine are useful for generating much needed donations for use by reputable organisations who are combating famine in, say, the Horn of Africa. But this is something altogether different. Invisible Children has been accused of manipulating numbers in order to generate money for its cause. Worse, the vast majority of the money is not actually put towards victims of the conflict, but for advocating military intervention in Western countries. This is basically Save Darfur 2.0.

To put it simply, the situation on the ground in Uganda is complex. Military humanitarian intervention has serious consequences. Ham-fistedly intervening in a conflict of which few have a nuanced understanding of the conditions on the ground, where local actors are already engaged in trying to bring about a peaceful resolution, is not going to help and may in fact serve to make a difficult situation worse. Buying a bracelet from an American run NGO will not change this.

I am increasingly getting the feeling that if this is the future of international politics and humanitarian intervention, there are high-definition troubled waters ahead.

Other interesting  posts on Invisible Children from around the web:


How Matters


Unmuted 


Visible Children – a no doubt hastily constructed Tumblr, but one that effectively critiques the Invisible Children video.


Washington Post’s slightly less critical take of the issue that highlights the different sides of the debate.


Edit: The very darkly humoured Kony 2012 drinking game! (via Alana Tiemessen)

Cyber Nerd Blogging: Neuroscience, Conflict and Security

Antoine Bousquet has a fascinating post at Disorder of Things on developments in neuroscience and how they are being used by militaries to 1) enhance their own soldiers and 2) degrade the abilities of their opponents. The post is in response to a report by The Royal Society on Neuroscience, Conflict and Security which outlines these developments, speculates on the future and the ethical implications of these developments.

As Bousquet notes, it’s some pretty hairy stuff:

Yet perhaps the most potentially consequential developments will be found in the area of neural interfacing and its efforts to bring the human nervous system and computing machines under a single informational architecture. The report’s authors note here the benefits that accrue from this research to the disabled in terms of improvements to the range of physical and social interactions available to them through a variety of neurally controlled prosthetic extensions. While this is indeed the case, there is a particular irony to the fact that the war mutilated (which the Afghan and Iraq conflicts have produced in abundance – according to one estimate, over 180,000 US veterans from these conflicts are on disability benefits) have become one of the main testing grounds for technologies that may in the future do much more than restore lost capabilities. Among one of the most striking suggestions is that:

electrode arrays implanted in the nervous system could provide a connection between the nervous system of an able-bodied individual and a specific hardware or software system. Since the human brain can process images, such as targets, much faster than the subject is consciously aware, a neurally interfaced weapons systems could provide significant advantages over other system control methods in terms of speed and accuracy. (p.40)

In other words, human brains may be harnessed within fire control systems to perform cognitive tasks before these even become conscious to them. Aside from the huge ethical and legal issues that it would raise, one cannot but observe that under such a scheme the functional distinction between human operator and machine seems to collapse entirely with the evaporation of any pretense of individual volition.

Noting scientific developments aimed at altering the sensory perception of enemies on the battlefield, Bousquet concludes: “The holy grail of military neuroscience is therefore nothing less than the ability to directly hack into and reprogram a target’s perceptions and beliefs, doing away even with the need for kinetic force. So that when neural warfare does truly arrive, we may not even know it.”

A couple of thoughts:

First, The Royal Society Report is interesting for its inclusion of a relatively decent overview of the applicable law that would apply to such weapons. Ken Anderson at Lawfare disagrees – suggesting that “The legal and ethical issues are of course legion and barely explored.” However, considering the report is relatively brief, the legal and ethical section does proportionally take up a large chunk of it. in addition, the report includes no less than four recommendations for suggesting improvements to the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention regimes. Interestingly, they do not suggest any improvements for law of war/IHL as opposed to arms control. I find this surprising to a certain extent. While there are principles that always apply to ALL weaponry (distinction, proportionality and necessity – and, of course, prohibition of unnecessary suffering), I would argue that neuro-non-leathal weapons are a definite grey area. (As The Royal Society report notes, altering someone’s sensory perception has radical implications for notions of responsibility in the prosecution of war crimes.)

Second, Bousquet’s last point is interesting in that it reflects the constant quest over the last century and a half to develop weapons that would end the need for the use of kinetic force. I’m presently reading P.D. Smith’s Doomsday Men a social history of the application of science to warfare and weapons of mass destruction which traces the development and logic behind such weapons that were supposed to be so terrible that they could never be used – or if used, would be so terrible as to inspire an end to warfare. This was the case for chemical/gas weapons and eventually the atomic bomb – the thought behind many of their creators that their mere possession would be enough to stop countries from fighting one another full-stop because the consequences would be so terrible.

As Smith demonstrates in his book, such a theory of non-use of weapons was a frequent theme of the science fiction literature of the time, particularly that of HG Wells:

The United States of America entered World War I under the slogan of ‘the war to end all wars’. Never has idealism been so badly used. From Hollis’ Godfrey’s The Man Who Ended War (1908) to H.G. Wells’s The World Set Free (1914), the idea of fighting a final battle to win universal peace had gripped readers in Europe and America. Wells’s novel even introduced the phrase ‘war that will end war’.
Once again, science played a vital role in these stories. A new figure emerged in pre-war fiction – the saviour scientist, a Promethean genius who uses his scientific knowledge to save his country and banish war forever. It is the ultimate victory for Science and Progress…

As James writes, these works of science fiction promoted the idea that “through revolutionary science and the actions of an idealistic scientist, war could be made a thing of the past.” In some works a terrible war is required to win the peace through science, but it is clear that in the view of many of these pre-War “science romance” novels (which would go on to inspire many of the future atomic scientists working on the nuclear bomb) that super weapons could stop war.

Should we then read neuro-weapons in this light – as part of the constant scientific quest to develop weapons which will end the need to fight?

War Crimes and the Arab Spring. Again.

The direct targeting of actors protected under the laws of war has been one of the most disturbing trends arising out of the Arab Spring. For example, the targeting of medical workers and ambulance drivers was well documented and reported on last year. Additionally, here at the Duck we’ve been following the issue. In recent months Dan Nexon wrote about the targeting of doctors who treated protesters in Bahrain and I’ve bloged about the growing concern of the ICRC who have seen themselves and their workers targeted. Unfortunately, this trend has continued into 2012. In January, the vice-president of the Syrian Red Crescent Abdulrazak Jbeiro was shot and killed in circumstances described as “unclear” – an act that was widely condemned by the the ICRC and officials world wide.

The deaths of Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik are an example of another neutral actor in wartime that has frequently been targeted – the press. Accredited journalists are protected under the laws of war, specifically the 1949 Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I. If they are wounded, sick (GCI 13(4)) or shipwrecked (GCII 13(4)) they are given protections. If they are captured, accredited correspondents are to be given POW status. (GCIII 4A(4)). Additional Protocol I devotes an section to the protection of journalists:

Art 79. Measures or protection for journalists
1. Journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians within the meaning of Article 50, paragraph 1.
2. They shall be protected as such under the Conventions and this Protocol, provided that they take no action adversely affecting their status as civilians, and without prejudice to the right of war correspondents accredited to the armed forces to the status provided for in Article 4 (A) (4) of the Third Convention.
3. They may obtain an identity card similar to the model in Annex II of this Protocol. This card, which shall be issued by the government of the State of which the Journalist is a national or in whose territory he resides or in which the news medium employing him is located, shall attest to his status as a journalist.

(A good and longer summary of the rules may be found here.

It is true that these rules in the 1949 Geneva Conventions and API are for international (and not internal) armed conflict. But as non-combatants the direct targeting of these individuals would also be illegal under any legal framework. Further, it can be argued that directly targeting aid workers and journalists is a clear violation of customary international law for both international and non-international armed conflict.

This is, of course, on top of the relentless shelling, bombing and targeting of civilians by Syrian forces. While the deaths of these journalists once again highlight what is going on, we should not lose sight of the fact that it would seem, at best, thousands of civilians have died in the conflict since last year. The methods employed by the Syrian armed forces come nowhere near the standards by which we measure the conduct of hostilities.
Worse, it is clear that civilians are suffering great deprivations as a result of the uprising and crackdown. This has lead the ICRC to specifically request access to the civilian population in order to deliver food, water, medicine and fuel.

Last year the ICRC launched a campaign about that which impedes the delivery of assistance and aid in areas of hostilities and armed conflict. Certainly, a consequence of the Arab spring has been to highlight how fragile many of these international norms are. I am not going to pretend that I have any amazing solutions to the crisis in Syria – everything seems like a pretty terrible option. But there can be no doubt that we should be standing up for the laws of war and demanding that Syria’s ‘allies’ (Russia and China) place pressure on Syria to respect international law. At a minimum this is the very least we – and they – can do. The right to deliver humanitarian assistance and the protection of aid workers has long been established in international law. And significantly, this includes UN Security Council Resolution 1502 which (having been adopted unanimously) both Russia and China voted for in 2003.

More on Gotovina

Ante Gotovina

Last week I wrote about targeting and mentioned the Gotovina Case. This case has become interesting for those interested in international law and post-conflict justice because of the decision of the court (among other things) effectively states that a 4% error rate in targeting in a complex military operation was tantamount to a war crime.

As I said in the post, the decision prompted several laws of war scholars (many of whom were former JAGs) to have a roundtable at Emory University on the decision and subsequently write up an amicus brief  supported by 12 international law experts from the US, Canada and the UK which was submitted to the appeals chamber at the ICTY. This prompted a response from the prosecution which may be read here.

What I didn’t realize, however, was that the Court was deciding that day to reject the amicus. You can read their decision here.

I must admit that going through the Court’s decision does not inspire confidence. That the decision begins with a discussion about the word length is… like something I might write at the END of my comments on a student essay.

Next, in the brief “Discussion” of the merits of the arguments, the court briefly states that it is “not convinced that the applicants’ submissions would assist in determining the issues on appeal”, and invokes procedural rules for submitting evidence. It further states that the amicus brief is problematic because it does not identify the fact that one of the authors, Geoff Corn, was an expert witness for the defence. Given that this later point should have been pretty obvious and they are already lecturing the authors for going over the word limit, you wonder how this should have been done? Or why this is a matter of substance in deciding the merits of the worth of the amicus?

Either way, the Court uses these points to reject the amicus in a brief dismissal that I find wanting. Disappointingly, the amicus has been dismissed on rather procedural and technical grounds. And this is important: if international courts are going to be making controversial decisions suggesting that a 4% error rate is tantamount to a war crime and if they reject advice on this matter because someone didn’t explicitly attach a CV to an amicus that violated the 10% +/- rule, I am concerned. And you have to wonder what kind of message this send to countries thinking about signing up to war crimes courts/trials?

Regarding my post from last week, Geoff Corn responded in the comments to direct readers to his SSRN paper on the matter. I would definitely recommend interested Duck readers to take a look.

Clearly, Gotovina remains a case that should be closely watched. The man himself remains a controversial figure. Being concerned with his trial is not to say he is not guilty of some crimes. However, it is clear that many experts in this area are concerned about logic employed by the ICTY on several important aspects of the case and the future implications of war crimes trials.

I look forward to more reaction from the amicus authors and other scholars on this matter.

Targeting…targeting: What are reasonable expectations?

Blue moon, you targeted me standing alone…

Yesterday Charli wrote a post on whether or not those opposed to the use of drones should use the concept of “atrocity law” instead of “war crimes” or human rights violations.

I wonder if others who generally oppose “targeted killings” think the concept of “atrocity law” might be a more useful way of framing this problem publicly than talking about “war crimes” or “human rights” specifically – concepts that by their nature draw the listener’s attention to a legal regime that only partially bears on the activity in question and invites contrasting legal views drawn from contrasting legal regimes.

Charli asks this question given that:

I think there is significant and mounting evidence of normative opposition to the targeted killings campaign (regardless of arguments some may make about its technical legality under different legal traditions), and according to even the most conservative estimates it meets the other criteria of a significant number victims and large-scale damage. No one can doubt it’s highly orchestrated character.

I’m going to go with “no” on these questions. First, unlike Charli, I’m not certain there is “mounting evidence of normative opposition to the targeted killings campaign” in anything other than the protests of a relatively insular group of legal-academics-activists (Phil Alston et al) who tend to be critical of these kinds of things anyway. In previous posts I have raised doubts about whether or not we can determine if targeted killing is effective, and how some activities have challenged and changed legal framework for the War on Terror. However, if anything, I think there is growing consensus within the Obama administration that the program works, it is effective and I think it is popular.

Additionally, I do not see how invoking the term “atrocity” will get us beyond many of the political problems involved in invoking other terms like “human rights law” or “war crimes”. If anything, “atrocity” seems to be an even less precise, more political term.

However, I think this conversation points to a third, larger issue that Charli is mostly concerned with – civilian death in armed conflict. Or, to put it another way – What expectations may we reasonably seek to place on our states when they carry out military actions? Those who write, research and teach on international law typically anchor their discussions in the legal principles of proportionality, necessity and distinction. However, these are notoriously vague terms. And, as such, when it comes to drones, many argue that these legal principles are being undermined.

In thinking about this question, I’ve been reminded of the recent controversy over the decision of the International Criminal Tribunal of the former Yugoslavia in the Gotovina Case. In it, the Court ruled that a 4% error rate in targeting in a complex military operation was tantamount to a war crime. Four percent.

Was this a reasonably conclusion for the ICTY to make? Are militaries (and the military in question here was not a Western military dealing with high-tech military equipment) really expected to do better than a 96% accuracy rate when it comes to targeting? And if so, on what grounds can we (or the Court) say this is the case? And, bringing this back to Charli’s post, would we benefit from thinking about a 4% error rate in terms of “atrocity”?

There are two very good summaries of the case at Lawfare and IntLawGrrls for more background information on the case. Some concerned former military professionals (many of whom are now professors) – admittedly, another insular group of legal-academics-activists of a very different source – have put together an Amicus Brief for the Gotovina Appeal which is well worth reading.

However, immediate questions of legality aside, I think this raises a larger question as to what we can reasonably expect from military campaigns, especially what levels of accuracy. Are all civilian deaths “atrocity”? Historically, the laws of war have said no – that proportionality may sometimes render it permissible (if no less regrettable). And I believe that all but the most ardent activists would agree with this historically rooted position. But it is clear that our perceptions of reasonable death rates have changed since the Second World War. So the question is what governs our ideas about proportionality and civilian deaths in an age of instant satellite imagery, night vision and precision guided weaponry? Unfortunately, I’m not sure the drone debate has given us any useful answers nor the basis to produce them.

I appreciate that there are important differences here – the military is, in theory, a hierarchical chain of command that is obliged to follow the laws of war. The CIA (who carries out the drone program) are civilians who do not meet these expectations and their status in law is questionable. But status here is not the issue (at least for this blog post and how it relates to Charli’s concerns). Instead, it is whether and at what point civilian deaths may be considered “atrocity”, on what basis we can and should make that decision and whether that language would make any useful or practical difference.

There is no doubt that recent move to a “zero-civilian death” or high expectations of few casualties has been rapid. Certainly it is at least part of the increased legal activity by governments, IGOs and NGOs in the realms of international law and the laws of war. However, I think it is also the result of a false promise that better technology can allow us to have “clean” wars. It is a promise that is made by governments to their populations, but one that has also clearly influenced activists in terms of their expectations – whether they are set in terms of laws, rights or atrocity.

Visas and scholarship

Sarah Duff (who has contributed to this blog before) had a very interesting piece in the UK Guardian this week on the hurdles scholars in developing countries have to face in order to engage with scholars in the developed world. Rather than focusing on whether or not the visa system is fair, she describes exactly what she must do in order to present a paper in “the West” how this impacts on the development of her research:

I describe the expensive, time-consuming, and often quite invasive procedure of applying for a visa to explain why they influence my work. Because my American visa is valid until 2015, I jump at the chance of attending conferences in the US. Next year, I hope to present at a conference in Australia, but I will only attend if I manage to secure travel funds that will cover the cost of the visa (another £65). I recently presented a paper at a conference in London via Skype because I had neither the time nor the funds to apply for a British visa.

Given what we hear in the media (and how Europeans complain to me of lines at US airports) it’s interesting here that the US system (which can provide up to a 10 year visa) is almost enlightened by comparison. Certainly it is fairer to scholars who are trying to network and get their research noticed.

However, the point I want to raise is (writing as a Western academic) more selfish. While Duff’s article suggests the way that these expensive and complicated visa systems have an impact on scholars in the developing world and how they do research, it seems clear to me that these systems are also affecting, if not damaging, research in the West. If scholars “in the West” cannot get access to scholars in the developing world, surely this is also affecting our ability to carry out research and exchange information and ideas as well. Yes, of course there is the internet, Skype, online journals, etc. The research is there if you look for it. But don’t we learn more at conferences when we have better global representation and views? Additionally, aren’t our students (who may not have large grants /funds to travel) better off when they can meet with and speak to scholars from the developing world? These things just seem self-evident.

Given recent trends in the West, I don’t expect this visa situation to be changing any time soon. But I think it is important for scholars to consider the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that the absence of voices from the developing world because of their inability to engage and network is affecting the way both groups of scholars carry out research.

Kim Jung Il is Dead

In a week filled with the death of intellectuals and political activists, we now have the death of Kim Jung Il. Other than the fact that this destabilizes an already crazy country (and I mean ‘crazy’ in that professional IR kind of way), I can’t think much of us will miss him. Except maybe the creators of South Park.

But who knew Juche could be so funky?

A View to Kill: Should states engage in assassination?

I have a lengthy piece on targeted killing/assassination up at the Canadian International Council’s Open Canada blog. It touches on some of the issues I’ve raised in previous posts here and here.

The short version is that targeted killing/assassination advocates tend to rest their arguments on three assumptions: first, that it is morally legitimate on the basis of reciprocity, that it is easier than launching full-scale invasions or sending in troops to difficult/hostile terrain, and finally that it is effective.

I question these assumptions – first, tit-for-tat/”Golden Rule” justification and logic has been rejected by Western military forces for many decades. Second, while drones may be a more viable option in areas such as the mountainous regions of Afghanistan/Pakistan, you can’t generalize a rule out of this one particular example. Finally, that there is no reliable evidence that targeted killing/assassination actually works (or, to be fair, that it doesn’t work.) And even if we wanted to evaluate whether or not targeted killing is effective, what criteria should be used? The actual elimination of terrorists? The subsequent numbers of operations.? Or should we look at second and third order effects: impact on morale, recruitment, etc. And how could these factors be measured? Further, given the wide variety of actors, circumstances and context, and the many different historical cases, it is virtually impossible to extrapolate from one case to another.

If 2011 is any indication, drone strikes, targeted killing and “assassination” will be here to stay for some time. As such, it is worth asking certain question of our political and military leaders to encourage democratic accountability. What are the criteria to render someone a target? To what degree are these decisions subject to judicial review? And under what framework of law are these operations considered to fall under?

Anwar al-Awlaki and Targeted Killing: A quick, first, and uneasy reaction

*post written with comments from fellow duck Ben O’Loughlin

The world media is reporting that Anwar al-Awlaki has been killed in Yemen – although details are very sketchy at this point.

It is very clear to me that Awlaki was not a particularly nice person – he advocated some rather terrible things (even before 9/11 supposedly radicalised him). His followers have been certainly linked to terrorism, including the Fort Hood shooting.

However, I must admit that I am somewhat troubled by this turn of events. Earlier this year I suggested that the targeted killing of bin Laden was acceptable under international law. He’s been linked to the financing and organising of terrorist attacks around the world and this was well established before his death.

But I have yet to see any reports that suggest that Awlaki has been tied to any material support for terrorist attacks. I think this changes the legal game substantially. It essentially is suggesting that *we* (whoever that is) are now targeting people for their ideas rather than they are actually doing. Pushed to its logical extreme, a person might unintentionally inspire others to commit violent acts. Should they be eliminated?

I’m no fan of Awlaki and I will certainly not mourn his passing, (really – he seems like a total jerk) but this raises serious questions about the targeted killing program, who is being targeted and why. Presumably, in the case of targeted killing, its important there is evidence BEFORE the killing, rather than a scrabble now to piece together a case, after the fact.

I hope there is evidence that he actually materially supported terrorism.

Edit: Will McCants has linked to an article at Foreign Policy from November 2010 which argues the case for taking out Awlaki. I still have mixed feelings about this. I will feel better if there is a case/dossier of evidence that can be brought forward – and I still maintain that this case should have been made before striking out at him. 

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.

Pornography and National Security: The ever expanding threat

In today’s ‘horrors of bad social science’, we have a piece by Jennifer S. Bryson, director of the Witherspoon Institute’s Islam and Civil Society Project, (which seems to be a conservative think-tank) who has written a piece for the Institute’s blog on the threat of pornography for national security. (No really.)

Bryson asks the question that no serious scholar has ever, ever addressed and comes up with an argument to be considered. In fact, she is getting right on top of this hard and pressing issue.She reaches around the boundaries of conventional thinking about terrorism and slowly but steadily penetrates the burning question as to whether pornography drives a serious challenge to National Security:

With the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks staring us in the face, we already know that our failure to have an approach to security that is robust and accurate has dire consequences. Pornography has long circulated nearly unbounded due to calls for “freedom,” but what if we are actually making ourselves less free by allowing pornography itself to be more freely accessible?
Are there security costs to the free-flow of pornography? If so, what are they? Are we as a society putting ourselves at risk by turning a blind eye to pornography proliferation?
I wonder further: Could it be that pornography drives some users to a desperate search for some sort of radical “purification” from the pornographic decay in their soul? Could it be that the greater the wedge pornography use drives between an individual’s religious aspirations and the individual’s actions, the more the desperation escalates, culminating in increasingly horrific public violence, even terrorism?

Let me tell you, now that we’ve been stirred to this threat – of young men somehow being converted to wicked, wicked ways – we need to act now, right here and now, damn it! Clearly the perpetrators of this filth have been very, very bad and need to be punished.

I believe that we all need to come together, scholars, government workers, NGOs, and throw caution to the wind. We need to straddle the division between us, fuse ourselves together and come up with an inspired solution. Let’s use each other to the very best of our abilities, and respond quickly to this vitally important need.

It’s Friday night so I’m just going to be at home thinking really long and hard about a solution to this problem. I’m just going to lie back right here by my lonesome self, thinking about nothing but pornography… for the sake of National Security.

Safeguarding medical workers in hostilities

Yesterday the ICRC released a report on the very scary and depressing trend of attacks on medical workers in situations of armed conflict and civil disturbances:

According to Dr Robin Coupland, who led the research carried out in 16 countries across the globe, millions could be spared if the delivery of health care were more widely respected. “The most shocking finding is that people die in large numbers not because they are direct victims of a roadside bomb or a shooting,” he said. “They die because the ambulance does not get there in time, because health-care personnel are prevented from doing their work, because hospitals are themselves targets of attacks or simply because the environment is too dangerous for effective health care to be delivered.”

This makes for some pretty grim and reading.

Yet the evidence is clear – whether it is the targeting of medical workers in Libya, the targeting of a hospital in Afghanistan by the Taliban, or the unwarranted persecution of doctors in Bahrain. (A problem that Dan Nexon highlighted earlier this year here at the Duck.)  Even the allegation that the CIA found Osama bin Laden using a vaccination program puts medical workers and vaccination teams at risk – a potential disaster for global health.

(Aisde: Most, if not all of these issues, are being followed by Christopher Albon at his excellent blog, Conflict Health. Go read it. Read it now!)

The neutrality of medical staff in all circumstances is a core tenant of the laws of war, and some of its oldest codified principles. There is, quite simply, no excuse for harming someone who is engages in these tasks. This was the genius of the 1864 Geneva Convention:

Article 1. Ambulances and military hospitals shall be recognized as neutral, and as such, protected and respected by the belligerents as long as they accommodate wounded and sick.
Neutrality shall end if the said ambulances or hospitals should be held by a military force.
Art. 2. Hospital and ambulance personnel, including the quarter-master’s staff, the medical, administrative and transport services, and the chaplains, shall have the benefit of the same neutrality when on duty, and while there remain any wounded to be brought in or assisted.

These principles continues today as is clear in the First Geneva Convention of 1949. At the risk of being long-winded:

Art 15. At all times, and particularly after an engagement, Parties to the conflict shall, without delay, take all possible measures to search for and collect the wounded and sick, to protect them against pillage and ill-treatment, to ensure their adequate care, and to search for the dead and prevent their being despoiled.
Art. 19. Fixed establishments and mobile medical units of the Medical Service may in no circumstances be attacked, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict. Should they fall into the hands of the adverse Party, their personnel shall be free to pursue their duties, as long as the capturing Power has not itself ensured the necessary care of the wounded and sick found in such establishments and units.
The responsible authorities shall ensure that the said medical establishments and units are, as far as possible, situated in such a manner that attacks against military objectives cannot imperil their safety.
Art. 20. Hospital ships entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea of 12 August 1949, shall not be attacked from the land.
Art. 21. The protection to which fixed establishments and mobile medical units of the Medical Service are entitled shall not cease unless they are used to commit, outside their humanitarian duties, acts harmful to the enemy. Protection may, however, cease only after a due warning has been given, naming, in all appropriate cases, a reasonable time limit, and after such warning has remained unheeded.

The idea behind this is that someone who is seriously injured is hors de combat – in other words, out of the fight, and can no pose a military threat. Allowing someone’s wounds to fester or get worse serves no military purpose once they are hors de combat; it only causes what is normally termed unnecessary suffering. (This is the same principle that bans poisoned weapons – there is no need to uselessly aggravate an injury on someone who is seriously wounded.) The individuals who treat these injured combatants (and civilians) of all sides must therefore be protected from attack. This is why they are allowed to wear the Red Cross/Red Crescent/Red Crystal symbols – it identifies them as neutral medical workers and helps to expedite the process of recovery and treatment. (Abusing these symbols, such as using them as a ruse to conduct an armed attack, is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions.)

Certainly, there is more law I could cite here. But the main point is that the ICRC is absolutely correct to highlight this as a growing problem.

Abdullah Khadr, Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism: Or what I was really trying to say

I was quoted in Canada’s Globe and Mail today about a trial involving a Canadian citizen, Abdullah Khadr, who the US has requested for extradition on terrorism charges. (This is the older brother of Omar Khadr who is still in Guantanamo prison.) It’s an interesting case for a variety of reasons so I thought I would expand upon my thoughts here – and the fact that I’m slightly concerned that the summary of my comments in the article were slightly crunched in a strange way.

The facts of the case seem to be that Khadr, operating in Afghanistan/Pakistan was sought by the United States in 2004. They placed a $500,000 bounty on his head and was captured by Pakistan and detained in a prison for 14 months. Khadr argues that during his time in Pakistani custody that he was routinely abused and tortured. He was interrogated for several days by US agents in Pakistan, before being released. Khadr was then repatriated to Canada in December 2005 and arrested a few days later by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on the basis of an indictment by a court in Boston Massachusetts on terrorism charges. 


Unsurprisingly, Khadr and his lawyers claim that he will not have a fair trial as the evidence garnered against him was obtained after he was tortured and his right of due process was seriously violated through his treatment. The case has been working its way through the Canadian justice system and earlier this year it was determined that he should be extradited to the US because of the way he was treated. Khadr then walked free. Yesterday, the Canadian government filed a ‘leave to appeal’ stating that “This case raises issues of national importance that require consideration by this court,” and that principles of fundamental justice “should not be used to impose the technicalities of our criminal law on a foreign partner.”

A couple of points that I made in my discussion with the reporter that didn’t quite make the story, but I think are important.

First, I think it that what the Courts are being asked to ultimately decide on is whether Canada’s obligation to fight international terrorism (found in various UN Security Council resolutions, etc) trumps its obligations to ensure the human rights of individuals, including the right to a fair trial and due process (found in Human Rights agreements). Fundamentlally, the right to a fair trial is a non-derogable  right. A state can’t suspend it, even in the wake of threats or emergencies, so I think the Court’s choice here is pretty clear. (Hence my comment about human rights taking precedence.)

Second, the part that may have gotten a bit mangled in editorial translation, is that this is an interesting case because Canadian courts have, by and large, been very sympathetic to the needs and concerns of the government/security service. For example, they have sided with the security service when it comes to not disclosing evidence that is of a sensitive/secretive nature in terrorism trials. However, in this case the Courts have effectively drawn a line in the sand and said that while they are sympathetic to the need to fight terrorism, that the treatment of Khadr is a step too far.

Third, a point I was really trying to get across but did not make it into the article, is that the Canadian government is in the position that it is in because of the terrible Bush administration policies on detention and enhanced interrogation. If the Bush administration had ensured that Khadr had fair treatment, this wouldn’t have been a problem – his due process would have been followed and he could have been extradited and prosecuted. And, perhaps if Canada had worked harder to ensure that his rights were being protected (though the historical record here is somewhat vague), they’d have an easier time mounting their case for extradition. 

Let’s face the facts – Khadr ain’t Mr. Rogers. He holds terrible views, probably did some terrible things and is not a great guy to be walking around on our streets. I would very much like to see him go on trial for the allegations that have been presented against him – but I know that ultimately he shouldn’t be sent because of the fact that his case was so incredibly poorly handled. It would be a complete and utter violation of everything the Western criminal justice system is supposed to be. 

Basically, without trying to sound like a poor man’s Human Rights Watch, the key lesson is that when stated do not following human rights, suspected terrorists can walk free. Not following human rights has made fighting terrorism in this case a lot harder. This is something that must constantly be borne in mind when the temptation to engage in “enhanced interrogation” exists. You often hear arguments about following human rights because ‘it’s the right thing to do’ or it reflects our values, etc. but this is a hard case which demonstrates the real national security interests at stake in ensuring the rights of terrorist suspects are accounted for.  

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

Is there a time and place for (humanitarian) shock and awe?

Don’t feel bad though. It’s disempowering.

Look. I get the whole ‘stop the portrayal of Africans as victims’ debate. I really do. Empowerment and portrays of empowerment are important.

But I can’t help but be slightly frustrated with this entry at UN Dispatch which discusses the “shock and awe” approach to fundraising for disasters.

Penelope Chester (apparently a professional Canadian humanitarian) quotes Peter Gill (who has written on the Ethiopian Famine) stating that the West :

certainly has no proper answers to the conflicts and dislocation that lead to starvation and deathIn northern Kenya, to which so many thousands of Somali pastoralists have fled in recent months, the West does have an answer of sorts – it can feed people in the world’s largest refugee camp, in the thin expectation of better times back across the border.

And that:

Ethiopia must keep addressing the image of destitution and the reality that too often underpins it, but it needs to promote other images as well. Instead of the risk of starvation, it also needs to be able to draw attention to impressive annual economic growth figures. Instead of food hand-outs, it also needs to be able to emphasise its big drive for inward investment.

She then comments:

In highlighting Gill’s argument, I’m not suggesting that the international community should eschew necessary emergency aid and interventions to help protect vulnerable populations. Instead, I think there is an important truth in the notion that images of Africa as a continent full of powerless victims are part of a vicious cycle of irresponsibility.
Aid and international organizations, western donors (governments and individuals) and African governments are caught in a western-centric approach to humanitarian relief, where the effective mobilization of funds and good will seems to be proportionate to the inevitability of a crisis. In other words, there is still a lot to be done to appropriately deal with threats and improve local capacity to prevent famines – whether it be through the development of strong early prevention systems, improved strategic food reserves or improving access to agricultural and pastoral technology. The Guardian’s concluding paragraph in an editorial on this issue captures the sentiment: “As it is, aid agencies race from one drought to another. And the fact that the shortfall in WFP funding is 42% in Somalia, and 67% in Ethiopia and Kenya, speaks volumes about the mentality of donors who are only moved to act when it is too late.”

I suppose my biggest frustrations with the argument are twofold.

First, I can’t figure out who this is aimed at. The West? The media? Aid agencies? Donors? Who? Who is supposed to change this? And how and when?

Second, the “world weary” humanitarian lecturing tone to people that I can only assume are actually trying to feed some starving people. Yes, you think you’re doing a good thing, but really you’re not. You’re perpetuating an evil stereotype when you feel bad for those people on television.

It’s true – the West has a very strange view of Africa and famine. I need only look at my family, the people around me and my own memories to see this. Noting someone’s thinness, my Grandmother comments that they look like a “Biafran”. Some of my first memories are listening to “The Tears are Not Enough” on the radio to raise funds for the Ethiopian Famine in the 1980s. (It was Canada’s “We are the World”. It’s terrible, but had the cast of Les Miserables!). And one of my students made a comment about someone looking like a starving Darfurian a few months back. It’s like we can trace generations via the famines that have been marketed to them by aid agencies.

I also accept, that as Alana Tiemessen blogged here earlier this year that photos without context and understanding can strip individuals of their dignity. As she points out, the pictures (like the one used in this post) do not help us “understand the causes and conditions of state failure and nor do they prescribe solutions. They simply invite shock and awe.”

So I’m not saying this isn’t an issue. But as these aid agencies trying to raise funds in an emergency situation/impending famine, is it really the time to start explaining to my parents the dynamics of African development? Or give narratives of empowerment? Would these same narratives have raised £6 million in a few days? I’m all for re-thinking our portrayal of Africa, but I don’t think Chester’s arguments really answers these questions.

Is this a simplification of her argument? Possibly. In defence of Chester I suspect that she is thinking in the mid-to-long term rather than the immediate present. But there is also a real note of hypocrisy in the air: Oxfam’s internal reports may say: “The world is moving away from a western-inspired, UN-centric model of humanitarian action to one which is much more diverse and localised, and sustainable. This is both a trend and a desirable outcome.” But a visit to its website today said in gigantic red banner: “The worst food crisis of the century has left more than 12 million people in East Africa in desperate need of food and water. Support our biggest ever emergency appeal for Africa”. Not so much empowerment then, just trying to feed people.

Which is probably what they should be doing.

PS: I’m not a famine/African expert so happy to hear why I’m very, very wrong on this by Duck readers. 

R2P, Louise Arbour and the Responsibility to Reality

She’s cool, but she’s wrong.

I have a short piece on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in the October 2010 Review of International Studies Special Supplement on “Evaluating Global Orders” (that came out last week? I don’t get journals). It’s basically a reply to Louise Arbour, former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) who argued in 2008 that R2P was becoming “a duty of care in international law and practice”.

For those of you who don’t have access to the journal (or just want a brief description) my argument is that Arbour’s line of reasoning is flawed.  Arbour rests her argument on the 1948 Genocide Convention and the 2007 Bosnian Genocide Case at the International Court of Justice. She suggests that because the Article 1 of the Convention states that states have a duty to prevent and punish genocide, and that Serbia and Montenegro were found to be in breach of this obligation, that stopping genocide/mass atrocity is becoming a legally enforceable norm.  Further, she argues that this does not only suggest that neighbouring states should intervene, but any state that has the ability to intervene (Psst: she’s looking at you, Western states!) is legally obliged to do so. (Clearly, I’m simplifying here. If you’re interested, read her article for the full argument.)

I found this argument problematic for a number of reasons – all well pre-Côte D’Ivoire and Libya. (I wrote this in March 2009, revised it in spring 2010.)

The first set of critiques has to do with Arbour’s reliance on the 1948 Genocide Convention and the decision in the 2007 Bosnian Genocide Case.

First, the decision in the Bosnian Genocide Case states that states are only obliged to intervene if genocide has actually occurred or there is a plausible risk of it occurring. Fair enough, but how do we know if/when genocide is happening or likely to happen? The ICC was unable to bring genocide charges against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on its first attempt because there wasn’t enough evidence that a genocide (which has a very particular legal definition requiring evidence of intent) was taking place. (The ICC prosecutor was successful in having these charges laid against Bashir on appeal.)

Secondly, the Court’s decision in the Bosnian Genocide Case was far more limited than what Arbour suggests in her article. The decision states that the Court did not “purport to establish a general jurisprudence applicable to all cases where a treaty instrument, or other binding legal norm, includes an obligation for States to prevent certain acts.” Yet this is exactly what Arbour is doing. She’s extrapolating from this case to make the case for a general obligation despite the fact that the Court was clear on where it put the limits of its judgement.

Thirdly, even if such a norm could be established, there is little guidance in either the ICJ’s decision or Arbour’s argument as to what “prevent” actually is. There is also no guidance as to who should make the determination that genocide is taking place (if states are to be held legally accountable, does it matter if there is international recognition at the emergence of a risk of a genocide occurring?) In fact, the only guidance offered in the Court’s decision is that something should be done “at the instant that the State learns of, or should normally have learned of, the existence of a serious risk that genocide will be committed.” Not exactly a clear road map to action.

The second major set of critiques I have for Arbour relate to the fact that even if we could establish an obligation or “duty of care” in the international community, that this still doesn’t get to the “hard part” of R2P: actually getting states to do things. It is one thing to establish a law, principle or even a norm – it is quite another to change practices. If we have learned anything about international law in the last few decades, it is that its existence rarely delivers consensus.

In other words, even if everyone can agree that R2P as a legal obligation exists, this does not mean there will be agreement as to how it should be implemented. For example, should it be done through sanctions? Direct military intervention? Monitoring? There is no answer – and that is because these are the hard questions of R2P for which there is no easy answer. More importantly, these are the complicated issues which cannot be solved through law like Arbour seems to hope. Establishing an obligation does not help us to answer the much more difficult questions related to authorization and execution.

The third part of the article (somewhat rhetorically) suggests that we need to think about R2P with a “responsibility to reality”. In other words, while there can be no question that R2P is a revolution in the notion of ‘sovereignty’, translating this into a legally enforceable responsibility is, politically speaking, taking R2P to a whole new and probably unrealistic level. R2P ultimately comes down to a difficult political discussion between states. This means it is applied inconsistently, and where more powerful states believe there is an interest. Ultimately, as mentioned above, trying to solve this political problem with law is not going to work. Lawyers may want to remove themselves from the icky world of politics so that they may establish norms and principles from above, but the “reality” is that the future of R2P will not be decided at the ICJ, but in the closed door-meetings of NATO and the UN Security Council. At the very least, R2P’s future will not be decided through law, but the imperfect political international political institutions. Perhaps the best that international lawyers like Arbour can hope for is that R2P gives us the common language in which action may be debated and plans to help solve some of the world’s worst problems may be asserted. R2P may actually work – but it is difficult to imagine that it will work in such a way as to effectively trap states into obligations into which they have not given their consent.

Short version: Arbour is wrong, I’m right. HA!

Targeting Targeted Killing

I was asked to step-in at the last minute to write a chapter on targeted killing for a textbook on isses in the War on Terror. Given the recent OBL killing and debate about raids, etc, I was surprisingly excited at the prospect of engaging with the issue.

Although my chapter is almost done (no really, Richard, it’s on its way!) I’ve noticed some problems with researching the topic and trying to draw general conclusions as to whether or not it is a good or a bad policy.


1.What are you people talking about?

When talking about “targeted killing”, everyone means something different. Some are talking about assassination (Michael Gross for example), some specifically are talking about the Israeli policy used against alleged Palestinian militants post-November 2002 (such as Steven David); some are talking about the targeting of terrorist leaders generally (decapitation in Audrey Kurth Cronin’s book How Terrorism Ends). Nils Melzer on the other hand seems to be talking about every kind of state killing in and out of warfare from the CIA in Vietnam, to US tactics against Gaddafi in the 1980s to Israel-Palestine post-2000.


And yet all of these things are radically different policies from each other. While decapitation refers to the removal of the leadership of a group, Israel’s policy targeted anyone who was seen as part of the upper-to-middle management of terrorist organizations. It’s not just the leadership that was targeted, but the bomb-makers, planners, etc. The US drone policy seems to target “militants” generally and is done in the context of ongoing armed conflict (although I concede this is up for debate). Whereas the OBL raid was clearly targeting just OBL.

Yet many (like Dershowitz in this post here or Byman here) conflate ALL of these kinds of killing where it is convenient for his/her argument. For example, shorter Dershowitz: the US has killed Osama, ergo Israel’s tactics are legitimate. Leaving the legitimacy issue aside for a moment, these operations were two INCREDIBLY different things. You simply can’t compare one to the other – which leads me to my next point…

2. Israel-Palestine is crazy sui generis

To put it mildly, the Israel-Palestinian situation is unlike any other situation in the world. Basically, you have a well-armed democratic country in a state of confused hostilities with an internationally recognized movement (with some branches that engage in politically violent acts) directly beside it that is engaged in a struggle for independence. This is pretty much the opposite of the United State’s drone tactics in the Af-Pak region, where drones are being controlled from far away (military bases or mainland USA) against territories that are also far away to combat a threat that is, again, far away.

To draw conclusions from one and to apply it to the other simply does not make any sense. The policies are carried out in very different ways, justified very differently (Israel has a process involving courts, political figures, etc; the US president seems to be the sole authorizing force on many of the attacks against militants/terrorists). Comparing targeted killing apples and drone oranges doesn’t really seem to work.

And yet, almost all of the work on targeted killing from which assessments are made has been based on Israel’s policy in Palestine. The three major studies I can find are: Kaplan, et al. 2005; Hafez and Hatfield, 2006; Mannes 2008.

The one exception I have is the Cronin book, How Terrorism Ends where she also looks at the policy of targeting and killing militants in the Philippines and Russia. As a popular-ish book, it doesn’t go into a lot of methodological detail, but just states what happened to various movements/organisations after their leaders were killed. (Cronin is also sceptical that it works though she does admit of the Israeli policy that it may have saved some Israeli lives.)

So, while it might be the only model we have decent statistics on, but I don’t think the Israeli policy of targeted killing is appropriate one for building a comprehensive argument on targeting leaders generally.

3. Assessment of effectiveness requires counterfactual history

Many of the studies above make assessments of the Israeli-Palestinian policy by saying that it basically has no effect whatsoever. Statistics don’t lie, I suppose. But I can’t help feeling that something is missing here. While these studies don’t show a significant decrease in attacks, they don’t show a significant increase either. Who knows what would have happened without the policy. There could have been more attacks. There could have been fewer attacks. It could have stayed the same. The problem that defenders and detractors of targeted killing encounter is that we don’t really know what would have happened otherwise. So drawing conclusions about success/failure seems to necessarily involve guessing what would have or would not have happened when it reality we don’t actually know and have to rely on assumptions and guesswork.

In summary, it seems to me that 1) there is a dearth of evidence from which to draw reasonable conclusions 2) the policies are so different that a comparison is impossible – as is the extension of the lessons of one case study to another.

In this case I wonder if such policies should be justified (David, 2003) or denounced (Stein 2003; Gross 2003 and 2006) on a normative basis. For example, David justifies the policy as fulfilling a need for revenge (which he sees as morally justifiable) and Gross argues against because the use of collaborators in gathering the necessary intelligence is immoral.

This isn’t to say that quantitative studies on the issue are useless – on the contrary, we desperately need more information. But to me this seems to be a case where a discussion of morality may actually be more effective than discussing an almost impossible to measure effectiveness – at least for the immediate future.

I would be most grateful for any suggestions of further qual/quant studies on the topic from Duck readers. (I see that CATO has a speciall issue out on the US and targeted killing. However as it does not appear that it will be fully uploaded until 13 June, I’m kind of out of luck for my chapter and this post.)

Making me Mlad: Why you can’t compare the Mladic and Osama bin Laden raids

Charli has been writing about international justice, arguing against ‘myths’ – and comparing the efforts to bring Mladic to justice as opposed to the rush to shoot Osama bin Laden in the face. Others, such as John Feffner at Foriegn Policy in Focus have made similar arguments.

I agree and disagree with some of the points being made. However I am concerned that that many of these arguments seem to completely ignore or fail to appreciate the different context of the Mladic and OBL raids. I just don’t think we can pretend these are at all similar situations – even looking beyond “status” issues, (who was/is a combatant/civilian etc). Rather, I think the core issue here is time and context.

For lack of a better term, bin Laden was caught and killed “during” the War on Terror, a period of active hostilities between the US and al-Qaeda. Mladic was captured over a decade and half after the Dayton Accords. The situation in the Balkans is far from perfect, but it’s certainly calmer. People have been able to get on with their lives as they rebuilding their homes, villages – even if scars can never perfectly heal.
The ICTY was established in 1993 (- a great way for the West/UN/European countries to look like they were doing something about the ethnic slaughter when they really weren’t). Mladic was indicted in July 1995 and surely was eligible to be captured and extradited from that point on.


There’s no question that it’s been a painful and horrible wait, but I wonder if it is also one that has allowed cooler heads to prevail? There have been protests in Serbia, of course. But they have not been on a truly significant scale. Mladic has been caught, charged, extradited (despite appeals) in under a week. Would this have actually been possible in 1995? Possible without tearing apart a freshly signed peace treaty? Aggravating a tense situation? And an angry population?

I’m not saying that international justice does not work – but I do not think 1) it always needs to take the form of an international court 2) that it should be done immediately.

Although it’s been nearly a decade since 9/11, the fact that the War on Terror has been ongoing makes the OBL situation different. bin Laden was a leader of a terrorist group actively planning attacks against the United States and other targets. Mladic, clearly a jerk of international proportions, was guilty of crimes but had returned to civilian life – and so have many others. The Hague will not become the centre of terrorist attacks or even protests. I’m not sure the same could have been said for OBL. Does this mean a trial for both was impossible? No. Does this mean the circumstances were very, very different? Yes.

The bottom line – you can’t make a fair comparison between Mladic and bin Laden when it comes to international justice.

The other reason this consideration is important is that the UN has released a report saying that both sides have conducted war crimes in Libya. Is it the best idea to indict individuals now? Or wait until the conflict is over, the country has a chance to catch its breath and then begin to take a good hard look at what has happened on its territory? Time may or may not tell.

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