The expectation that civilians should be protected from the worst excesses of war is traditionally viewed as a moral or legal restraint, moderating the kind of violence that can be inflicted on the battlefield. But the shift towards counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq and its emphasis on population-centric warfare called for a radical rethink in how civilian casualties are framed. Rather than simply viewing them as the tragic but inevitable side-effect of military operations, civilian casualties were now seen as a ‘strategic setback’ that could jeopardise the overall success of campaign. In his 2011 tactical directive, Gen. John R. Allen stated that he was ‘absolutely committed to eliminating the tragic waste of human life amongst the law-abiding citizens of Afghanistan’, reminding soldiers that ‘every civilian casualty is a detriment to our interests’. Gen. Stanley McChrystal was equally adamant about the need to reduce civilian harm, insisting that coalition forces try to ‘avoid the trap of winning tactical victories – but suffering strategic defeats – by causing civilian casualties or excessive damage’.
Concerned about alienating the local population, the military introduced a number of measures to reduce the number of civilians killed, limiting its reliance on deadly airstrikes and controversial night raids whilst encouraging troops to exercise greater ‘tactical patience’ when dealing with locals. Data collected by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan suggests that these changes did have a positive impact on civilian harm, with deaths caused by pro-government forces falling from 828 in 2008 to 341 in 2013. As Neta Crawford argues in her recent book, ‘when the United States perceived the harm to civilians as posing a political-military problem, it attempted and succeeded in decreasing collateral damage deaths’ (see also). But a new report from the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) raises some important questions about the protection of civilians during this period, criticising the vague, unclear and imprecise language used to justify certain deaths (see also). In particular, it warns that conceptual flaws in the standing rules of engagement (SROE), combined with poor application in the field, resulted in ‘erroneous determinations of hostile intent’. To put it simply, civilians were killed and injured because soldiers mistook perfectly innocent behaviour as a threat to their safety.
This is a guest post from Tana Johnson, an Assistant Professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. I had the pleasure of editing a reviews exchange on her important new book, Organizational Progeny. The exchange just came out in the latest issue of International Politics Reviews and features reviews from me (Josh), Tanisha Fazal, and Alexandru Grigorescu, as well as a response from Johnson herself. Ungated access here.
I’ve recently returned from Geneva, home to scores of international intergovernmental organizations (IGOs). It’s an intriguing place: unlike New York, which is overrun by international politics for a just a few weeks each autumn, in Geneva international politics play out on every corner, on every day. The city is a hub for international policymaking in health, trade, human rights, labor, and countless other issue areas. So, can the IGOs that operate there, and elsewhere, act independently of their members? Or are they simply robots, mechanically doing what states want? Continue reading
Building on Josh’s excellent post calling out Donald Trump as a vile racist, the popularity of Trump has been troubling me for some time. As a professor who takes seriously the job of educating students how to think as opposed to what to think, I strive in class not to be partisan or allow my students to know my personal political opinions, lest it affect what they believe or argue in an attempt to curry favor. I have been struggling for sometime to find ways to analyze the Trumpian rhetoric (and to a lesser degree that of Ben Carson) to help students arrive at their own conclusions about the content of his speech.
But no more.
This is a guest post from Nathan Paxton, Professorial Lecturer in the School of International Service at American University and a 2015-2016 APSA Congressional Fellow.
Now that Pope Francis has jetted back to the Vatican on “Shepherd One”, we have the chance to talk about the theoretical underpinnings of the pope’s international politics. I hope you’re as excited to have a political theory discussion as I am. Primarily, I want to discuss what I think the papal view of politics is, how it fits in with liberation theology, and what that means to those of us who care about international and comparative politics.
Pope Francis’s message to Congress was shot through with the idea that politics can at its best be a means for the flourishing of each individual human person. That flourishing is the end of human community, and the goal of all human society should be to maximize the common good. Importantly, however, politics is a mean, not an end per se.
Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. (Address to Congress)
The emphasis on community and personalism is one of the best indicators that we have that the pope is not a liberal, either in the classic political theory sense nor in the impoverished contemporary American political discourse sense. He’s a pre-Burkean conservative, in that his emphasis is on the traditional, the communal, and what historian Brian Porter-Szücs calls “harmonious social relations.” Because “classic liberalism” promotes both individual liberty and free-market capitalism, it is an atomizing force, prizing and exalting the individual above the ensconcing community and so providing the basis for eventually breaking down that community as every individual pursues what seems to them their own good. Continue reading
We are witnessing the horror of war. We see it every day, with fresh pictures of refugees risking their lives on the sea, rather than risking death by shrapnel, bombs, assassination or enslavement. For the past four years, over 11 million Syrians have left their homes; 4 million of them have left Syria altogether. Each day thousands attempt to get to a safer place, a better life for themselves and their children. Each day, the politics of resettlement and the fear of terrorism play their part.
The last major resettlement campaign in the US came after the Vietnam War. Over a 20-year period 2 million people from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam were resettled into the US. The overall number of resettled refugees from this period is roughly about 3 million. Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, Turkey alone has taken 2 million Syrian refugees within its borders. In short, Turkey has absorbed the same amount of war refugees in a four-year period that the US absorbed in five times the amount of time.
Turning to the Syrian case, which has produced the most refugees in any war in the past 70 years, we find a very dismal record of other than near neighbor resettlement. The Syrian conflict began in early 2011, and while the violence quickly escalated, I am taking the numbers of admitted Syrian refugees to the US starting in 2012. In 2012, the US admitted 35 Syrian refugees. In 2013, it admitted 48; in 2014, it admitted 1307. For 2015, the US is estimating admitting somewhere between 1000-2000 refugees. Even Canada, who tends to be more open with regard to resettlement and aid, has only admitted about 1300 refugees, pledging to admit 10,000 more by 2017. In short, since the beginning of this war, one of the most powerful countries in the world, with ample space and the economic capacity to admit more people, has admitted an estimated total of 2400 people, and its neighbor, a defender of human rights, has admitted about half that. Thinking the other way around, the US has agreed to take in .0006 % of the current population of Syrian refugees, and this number does not does not take into consideration the 7 million internally displaced people of Syria, or the simple fact that one country (Turkey) has absorbed 45%.
Photo of Manuela Picq being arrested. Photo used with permission.
Over the weekend news came from Ecuador that Dr Manuela Picq of Universidad San Francisco de Quito, had been beaten and arrested while participating in a legal protest over indigenous rights as a journalist. Initially hospitalised as a result of injuries sustained at the hands of police, she was informed that her visa had been cancelled due to her having engaged in “political activity” and that she would be deported from Ecuador, where she has lived and worked for the past eight years. She is currently being held in a hotel that is used to detain illegal immigrants until her case is heard this afternoon.
[UPDATE: Manuela has been released after the judge ruled that her arrest was not justified and detention unreasonable.]
Once news had broken, the reaction has been swift and condemnatory from activists and academics alike. A petition on Change.org calling for Manuela’s deportation to be halted has gathered more than 6,000 signatures at the time of writing, letters of support are being sent to President Correa and his government, and a protest has been held in Ecuador.
Gamification is “is the application of game elements and digital game design techniques to non-game problems, such as business and social impact challenges”, to borrow the course description from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania’s Gamification MOOC.
The approach has been used to try and improve employee productivity, facilitate risk prevention education (and indeed many other forms of education) , resolve social conflict, and, perhaps less surprisingly, in marketing. And just in case you thought there were any contexts in which gamification couldn’t be used, militaries are already in on the act, with both the US military and the Israeli Defence Force using it to try and cultivate favourable attitudes and support and get their message out to target audiences. Gamifiying conflict by militaries was always going to be controversial, especially when they’re actively engaged in warfare as the IDF discovered in 2012, although gamification guru Yu-kai Chou argues that this is actually just coming full circle given that most games are predicated on mimicking the essential characteristics of war in the first place.
But if trying to make war appealing and “fun” will strike many people as a negative (or at least highly pragmatic) use of gamification, what about efforts aimed at highlighting the horrors of war? Helen Berents recently responded to the release of a viral advert from UK charity War Child that is designed to raise awareness of children’s experiences of conflict. Using Storify, this post presents the debate that ensued (minus the bit that happened on Facebook, which I’ll leave Helen to summarise), and considers the role and efficacy of emotion in trying to mobilize people in support of a particular cause.
[As two fellow NGO researchers, Wendy and Maryam are going to collaborate on some posts to provide contrasting views on hot-button issues related to NGOs. Think of us as the Siskel and Ebert of
NGOs – we definitely agree on certain things, but clearly not on others (and don’t ask who’s who). Our points of view will not always reflect what we personally think of an issue–we need drama and suspense!–but we will always provide food for thought.]
By now everyone is well aware of the recent tragic killing of Cecil the lion by Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer. Josh shared a post about this incident here on the Duck, as have countless others. One opinion from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA), no stranger to controversial statement, has caught plenty of attention:
“If, as has been reported, this dentist and his guides lured Cecil out of the park with food so as to shoot him on private property, because shooting him in the park would have been illegal, he needs to be extradited, charged, and, preferably, hanged.”
Needless to say, calling for Palmer to be hanged has generated a public outcry of its own. We weigh in here.
It’s All About Strategy and Positioning
PETA calls for Walter Palmer to be hanged. Offensive? Yes. But it is doing what we expect groups like PETA to do. The PETAs of the world play a very important role in the world of global activism and international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) – they make some outlandish statements, they embark on ambitious (perhaps even wacky) projects, but these actions mark clear distinctions between types of INGOs: even if INGOs are a class of actor, they often adopt very different means to approach the same concern. PETA’s role is to stay outside of the mainstream, to do what other INGOs won’t do. Continue reading
I never thought that when I started grad school I’d be relocating to another country. Then again, when I got the job in Canada, it did not really occur to me that I was “really” leaving the US – on my previous visits to Toronto, everything felt pretty familiar. Plus, as a scholar of transnational activism, borders were supposed to be made increasingly irrelevant. I still remember the moment the border agent stamped my passport and glued the work permit into its folds. I had actually crossed a border for my job – politically, socially, and culturally.
While many things are the same, functionally, between the US and Canada in terms of academic life, here are a few things that I’ve noticed in my time in Toronto, some of which perhaps resonate with other abroad-Americans here and elsewhere. Continue reading
I have yet to weigh in on the recent hack on the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Mostly this is due to two reasons. First is the obvious one for an academic: it is summer! But the second, well, that is due to the fact that as most cyber events go, this one continues to unfold. When we learned of the OPM hack earlier this month, the initial figures were 4 million records. That is, 4 million present and former government employees’ personal records were compromised. This week, we’ve learned that it is more like 18 million. While some argue that this hack is not something to be worried about, others are less sanguine. The truth of the matter is, we really don’t know. Coming out on one side or the other is a bit premature. The hack could be state-sponsored, where the data is squirreled away in a foreign intelligence agency. Or it could be state-sponsored, but the data could be sold off to high bidders on the darknet. Right now, it is too early to tell.
What I would like to discuss, however, is what the OPM hack—and many recent others like the Anthem hack—show in relation to thinking about cybersecurity and cyber “deterrence.” Deterrence as any IR scholar knows is about getting one’s adversary to not undertake some action or behavior. It’s about keeping the status quo. When it comes to cyber-deterrence, though, we are left with serious questions about this simple concept. Foremost amongst them is: Deterrence from what? All hacking? Data theft? Infrastructure damage? Critical infrastructure damage? What is the status quo? The new cybersecurity strategy released by the DoD in April is of little help. It merely states that the DoD wants to deter states and non-state actors from conducting “cyberattacks against U.S. interests” (10). Yet this is pretty vague. What counts as a U.S. interest?
With much attention being given to the passage of the 2015 USA Freedom Act, there is some odd silence about what the bill actually contains. Pundits from every corner identify the demise of section 215 of the Patriot Act (the section that permits the government to acquire and obtain bulk telephony meta data). While the bill does in fact do this, now requiring a “specific selection term” to be utilized instead of bulk general trolling, and it hands over the holding of such data to the agents who hold it anyway (the private companies). Indeed, the new Freedom Act even “permits” amicus curiae for the Foreign Surveillance and Intelligence Court, though the judges of the court are not required to have the curiae present and can block their participation if they deem it reasonable. In any event, while some ring in the “win” for Edward Snowden and privacy rights, another interesting piece of this bill has passed virtually unnoticed: extending “maritime safety” rights and enacting specific provisions against nuclear terrorism.
The Department of Defense’s (DoD) new Cyber Strategy is a refinement of past attempts at codifying and understanding the “new terrain” of cybersecurity threats to the United States. While I actually applaud many of the acknowledgements in the new Strategy, I am still highly skeptical of the DoD’s ability to translate words to deeds. In particular, I am so because the entire Strategy is premised on the fact that the “DoD cannot defend every network and system against every kind of intrusion” because the “total network attack surface is too large to defend against all threats and too vast to close all vulnerabilities (13).
Juxtapose this fact to the statement that “from 2013-2015, the Director of National Intelligence named the cyber threat as the number one strategic threat to the United States, placing it ahead of terrorism for the first time since the attacks of September 11, 2001.” (9). What we have, then, is the admission that the cyber threat is the top “strategic” –not private, individual or criminal—threat to the United States, and it cannot defend against it. The Strategy thus requires partnerships with the private sector and key allies to aid in the DoD’s fight. Here is the rub though: private industry is skeptical of the US government’s attempt to court it and many of the US’s key allies do not trust much of what Washington says. Moreover, my skepticism is furthered by the simple fact that one cannot read the Strategy in isolation. Rather, one must take it in conjunction with other policies and measures, in particular Presidential Policy Directive 20 (PPD 20), H.R. 1560 “Protecting Cyber Networks Act”, and the sometimes forgotten Patriot Act.
Last week Joe Scarborough from Politico raised the question of why US foreign policy in the Middle East is in “disarray.” Citing all of the turmoil from the past 14 years, he posits that both Obama and Bush’s decisions for the region are driven by “blind ideology [rather] than sound reason.” Scarborough wonders what historians will say about these policies in the future, but what he fails to realize is that observers of foreign policy and strategic studies need not wait for the future to explain the decisions of the past two sitting presidents. The strategic considerations that shaped not merely US foreign policy, but also US grand strategy, reach back farther than Bush’s first term in office.
Understanding why George W. Bush (Bush 43) engaged US forces in Iraq is a complex history that many academics would say requires at least a foray into operational code analysis of his decision making (Renshon, 2008). This position is certainly true, but it too would be insufficient to explain the current strategic setting faced by the US because it would ignore the Gulf War of 1991. What is more, understanding this war requires reaching back to the early 1980s and the US Cold War AirLand Battle strategy. Thus for us to really answer Scarborough’s question about current US foreign policy, we must look back over 30 years to the beginnings of the Reagan administration.