Last week I was able to host and facilitate a multi-stakeholder meeting of governments, industry and academia to discuss the notions of “meaningful human control” and “appropriate human judgment” as they pertain to the development, deployment and use of autonomous weapons systems (AWS). These two concepts presently dominate discussion over whether to regulate or ban AWS, but neither concept is fully endorsed internationally, despite work from governments, academia and NGOs. On one side many prefer the notion of “control,” and on the other “judgment.”
Yet what has become apparent from many of these discussions, my workshop included, is that there is a need for an appropriate analogy to help policy makers understand the complexities of autonomous systems and how humans may still exert control over them. While some argue that there is no analogy to AWS, and that thinking in this manner is unhelpful, I disagree. There is one unique example that can help us to understand the nuance of AWS, as well how meaningful human control places limits on their use: marine mammal systems .
The joy of blogging is that one can come up with whatever title one wants. An agony of academic publishing is that one cannot do the same for articles published in academic journals. However, getting published is the thing, so I am mighty pleased that the first piece of the Phil/Dave/Steve project on legislatures and oversight over the armed forces of the world’s democracies is now published: “Public critic or secretive monitor: party objectives and legislative oversight of the military in Canada.”* The big question, of course, is how did a paper on Canada get into West European Politics? The answer: tis part of a special issue on executive-legislative relations and foreign/defence policy.
To commemorate the 70th anniversary of International Organization, the editorial team asked former editors of the journal to reflect on their time overseeing the journal as well as on the most significant articles published during their tenure. I recently read Stephen Krasner’s reflection and was surprised by a number of conclusions he draws regarding scholarship on ideas, norms and nonmaterial factors in international relations.
Starting with Peter Haas’ “Introduction: Epistemic Communities and International Policy Coordination,” one of the two most cited articles published during Krasner’s tenure as editor, Krasner argues that articles on nonmaterial factors
These papers, however, and others by scholars such as Martha Finnemore, Kathryn Sikkink, and Michael Barnett (who did not publish in International Organization during my tenure as editor but have under other editors), have not generated a research program, at least not in the United States, that is as robust as those associated with analyses of material well-being and power.
Given that ideology or beliefs that are not directly generated by concerns about physical power and material well-being play such a prominent role in many of the challenges faced by the United States and other industrialized countries, the relative absence of scholarly concern with such questions is striking.
These are provocative statements given that the authors he lists have generated scholarship that has spawned productive research agendas in numerous areas of international politics from the study of international organizations, to NGOs, to human rights and security. Let’s explore Krasner’s claims that research on nonmaterial factors is “not robust” and “absent” in international relations. Continue reading
Why don’t government officials respond to global health emergencies the same way that they respond to national security crises? This is the question Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) raised last week. She was speaking at the public launch of a new report by the Brenthurst Foundation on international society’s failure to respond to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in a timely manner—but much of the conversation focused on the current response to Zika.
If military officials said they needed $1.9 billion to prevent a global crisis, she argued, Congress would not hesitate to approve the money. Unfortunately, health emergencies don’t receive the same level of attention. “Why aren’t we listening to the generals of public health?” she asked. Instead of making the long-term investments to strengthen health systems and improve detection and treatment capabilities, DeLauro noted, we lurch from one crisis to another.
We’re not so different, you and I. We both dislike Hillary. It doesn’t really matter that she was among key players in the Russian reset policy back in 2009, we really don’t trust her – just like you! We also like a strong leader. Our leader is much better at doing business than yours though.
You have a misogynist pig for a presidential candidate? We’ll take that and raise you a foreign minister who jokes about female journalists on their knees. Not to mention a former children’s ombudsman who thinks that after 27 women shrivel up, and that it’s ok for a teenager to be married off as a second wife to a man 30 years her senior. We might be a bit behind on anti-abortion legislation, but we’re working on it.
What about the whole homophobic thing? One of your running mates, as well as numerous senators and governors believe in gay-conversion therapy, adopt anti-gay legislation, and force people to use bathrooms corresponding to the sex specified on their birth certificate. And you’re criticizing me for some ‘harmless’ gay propaganda law? As Russian people say in this kind of situation, and who are you to tell me not to pick my nose (it’s a real expression, unlike the one about a hibernating bear)?
So we broke into the DNC, big deal. For starters, it could have been that 400-pound guy in his bedroom. Or the Chinese. But what were we supposed to do when you were giving State Department’s cookies left and right, trying to start a revolution in 2011-2012? It’s not like people would go protesting electoral fraud on their own. Continue reading
What were you doing 15 years ago on 9/11? What do you remember? How should we remember that day, given the momentous impact the event had on the direction of U.S. foreign policy and global politics?
I woke up in my Adams Morgan basement room in the house where I was living to the sound on the radio of a hip hop station. Suddenly, they broke into news about the attack of the first plane on the World Trade Center. And, given that this station’s morning programming was kind of joke-y programming, I was at first incredulous. I think I soon after turned on the TV and then woke up one of my roommates.
I don’t have specific memories of watching the towers fall. I have a faint sense that I was watching television when the second plane crashed into tower two, which confirmed that this wasn’t some kind of accident.
Even after I’d heard about the attack on the Pentagon, I don’t think the gravity of the events really sunk in. I was still in graduate school, and I was getting ready for the 2pm class I had at Georgetown with John Ikenberry on the Logic of the West. For some reason, I thought classes would go on that afternoon, and I got ready to ride my my bike to campus, which I think I did. Classes of course were cancelled. Continue reading
The publication of the long-awaited Chilcot Report on Britain’s role in the Iraq War last week produced a flurry of activity, with journalists desperately skimming through the 2.6m words within the three hours they were allocated prior to full publication. Perhaps not surprisingly, much of their attention was focused on whether or not Tony Blair could be held legally and morally culpable for the chaos that has ensued since the invasion back in 2003. And despite fears that it would be a whitewash, the report was pretty damning in its assessment of both the justifications for war and its execution. Amongst its key findings, the report found that Blair deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, the case for war was presented with ‘a certainty which was not justified’, the intelligence was flawed and often went unchallenged, advice about the possibility of sectarian violence was ignored and post-war planning was described as being ‘wholly inadequate’. Crucially, the report also concludes that the ‘peaceful options for disarmament had not been exhausted’ and the war was ‘not a last resort’.
Reactions to the report have been pretty incredible, with The Guardian describing it as ‘an unprecedented, devastating indictment of how a prime minister was allowed to make decisions by discarding all pretence at cabinet government, subverting the intelligence agencies, and making exaggerated claims about threats to Britain’s national security’ and The New York Times arguing that the ‘inquiry’s verdict on the planning and conduct of British military involvement in Iraq was withering, rejecting Mr. Blair’s contention that the difficulties encountered after the invasion could not have been foreseen’. But what has been largely ignored in all the furore is the inquiry’s scathing critique of the government’s attitude towards civilian casualties. Given that the discussion on collateral damage is the last section of a twelve volume report, nestled between a chapter on the welfare of service personnel and an annex on the history of Iraq from 1583 to 1960, it is perhaps not surprisingly that there has been little discussion of its findings. But it is well-worth looking at its conclusion because they reveal a lot of about how civilian casualties were framed, why the government was so reluctant to count the dead and how it perceived the data collected by other organisations, such as the Iraq Body Count.
A common argument made in favor of the use of robotics to deliver (lethal) force is that the violence used is mediated in such a way that it naturally de-escalates a situation. In some versions, this is due to the fact that the “robot doesn’t feel emotions,” and so is not subject to fear or anger. In other strands, the argument is that due to distance in time and space, human operators are able to take in more information and make better judgments, including to use less than lethal or nonlethal force. These debates have, up until now, mostly occurred with regards to armed conflict. However, with the Dallas police chief’s decision to use a bomb disposal robot to deliver lethal force to the Dallas gunman, we are now at a new dimension of this discussion: domestic policing.
Now, I am not privy to all of the details of the Dallas police force, nor am I going to argue that the decision to use lethal force against Micah Johnson was not justified. The ethics of self- and other-defense would argue that the Mr. Johnson’s actions and continued posturing of a lethal and imminent threat meant that officers were justified in using lethal force to protect themselves and the wider community. Moreover, state and federal law allows officers to use “reasonable” amounts of force, and not merely the minimal amount of force to carry out their duties. Thus I am not going to argue the ethics or the legality of the use of a robot to deliver a lethal blast to an imminent threat.
What is of concern, however, is how the arguments used in favor of increased use of robotics in situations of policing (or war) fail to take into consideration psychological and empirical facts. If we take these into account, what we might glean is that the trend actually goes in the other direction: that the availability and use of robotics may actually escalate the level of force used by officers.
The common understanding in military circles is that the more data one has, the more information one possess. More information leads to better intelligence, and better intelligence produces greater situational awareness. Sun Tzu rightly understood this cycle two millennia ago: “Intelligence is the essence in warfare—it is what the armies depend upon in their every move.” Of course, for him, intelligence could only come from people, not from various types of sensor data, such as radar signatures or ship’s pings.
Pursuing the data-information-intelligence chain is the intuition behind the newly espoused “Kill Web” concept. Unfortunately, however, there is scant discussion about what the Kill Web actually is or entails. We have glimpses of the technologies that will comprise it, such as integrating sensors and weapons systems, but we do not know how it will function or the scope of its vulnerabilities.
This is a guest post from Barry Buzan, Emeritus Professor at the LSE
For the past decade or so, China has been in the grip of a growing contradiction (in the classical Marxist sense) between a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) still deeply Leninist in its outlook, and the increasingly capitalist society that the CCP’s highly successful economic reforms have created. As Jonathan Fenby has argued, the CCP remains unbendingly committed to remaining in power in perpetuity. Yet as knowledge, wealth, organization, information and connectivity spread through Chinese society, that society becomes increasingly diverse, opinionated, and able and willing to mobilise in its own interests.
The CCP increasingly, and correctly, feels threatened by this society, which it does not understand, and does not like. As a consequence, China’s domestic and foreign policies are extremely closely linked, with the insecurity of the CCP as the central concern (see work by Susan Shirk and David Shambaugh). Its paranoia is indicated by the increasing resources it devotes to domestic security, now outweighing what it spends on national defence (Jian Zhang makes this argument; see also Wang and Minzner and Bader).
This contradiction was set up by Deng Xiaoping’s reforms from the late 1970s, which were aimed at saving the country from poverty and the Party from self-destruction. Having abandoned the core of Marxist political economy, these reforms necessitated that the CCP base its legitimacy on spreading prosperity to the masses and cultivating a backward-looking nationalism that constructed the CCP as necessary for the ‘New China’. Prosperity could only be spread to the masses by adopting market economics, and that in turn quickly generated what Michael Witt argued is the Chinese variety of capitalism that is now obvious in any major Chinese city.
This contradiction has now ripened to breaking point. Given the lack of alternatives to the CCP, and the deep conservatism of Chinese society about wanting to avoid any return to revolution, national division, and weakness in the face of foreigners, there were always only two possible dialectical resolutions to it. Continue reading
As many who read this blog will note, I am often concerned with the impact of weapons development on international security, human rights and international law. I’ve spent much time considering whether autonomous weapons violate international law, or will run us head long into arms races, or will give some incentives to oppress their peoples. Recently, however, I’ve started to think a bit less about future (autonomous) weapons and a bit more about new configurations of existing (semi-autonomous) weapons, and what those new configurations may portend. One article that came out this week in Defense One really piqued my interest in this regard: “Why the US Needs More Weapons that can be Quickly and Easily Modified.”
On April 13th, the Centers for Disease Control reported 358 travel-associated Zika virus disease cases in the U.S. spanning 40 states and the District of Colombia. The U.S. territories of American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico reported 471 locally acquired cases and 4 travel-associated cases. Since Zika is primarily transmitted by the Aedes species mosquito, the numbers of Zika virus disease cases are anticipated to rise once mosquito season is in full swing in the U.S. Yet, Congress has thus far refused to approve the $1.8 billion in emergency funding President Barack Obama requested in February. The House Appropriations Committee has instead asked the President to redirect funds previously designated for the fight against Ebola to the Zika outbreak.
It is puzzling why Zika has not garnered the same policy attention from Congress as the Ebola outbreak. Viewed through a security lens, the Zika outbreak more readily meets the attributes of a “threat” in its proximity to the U.S., in its pervasiveness, and in the fact that it poses a high risk for global transmission. Moreover, mobilization in response to humanitarian crises is generally more likely to occur when it strikes communities in close proximity to us (i.e. South America) or with whom we can identify (i.e. Americans).
Partisan politics might explain some of the Congressional stall tactics, though this would be a high stakes game to play. So, what’s going on? I think the “emergency imaginary” has both enabled and constrained policy responses. First, because the Zika outbreak does not conform to conventional understandings of an “emergency,” policy action has been slow despite the demonstrated threats to the U.S. population. Second, because the Zika crisis is nonetheless viewed as an emergency, policymakers feel justified in diverting resources from other emergencies, even though it might produce mediocre results in both cases. Continue reading
In 1941 Heinrich Himmler, one of the most notorious war criminals and mass murders, was faced with an unexpected problem: he could not keep using SS soldiers to murder the Jewish population because the SS soldiers were breaking psychologically. As August Becker, a member of the Nazi gas-vans, recalls,
“Himmler wanted to deploy people who had become available as a result of the suspension of the euthanasia programme, and who, like me, were specialists in extermination by gassing, for the large-scale gassing operations in the East which were just beginning. The reason for this was that the men in charge of the Einsatzgruppen [SS] in the East were increasingly complaining that the firing squads could not cope with the psychological and moral stress of the mass shootings indefinitely. I know that a number of members of these squads were themselves committed to mental asylums and for this reason a new and better method of killing had to be found.”
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.
Now that Canada has decided to continue to train and support the Kurds in Iraq along with the Iraqi government, the question of the future of the Kurds is being questioned. Indeed, yesterday, I received a phone call from a magazine in Kurdistan asking me about referendums and why some secessionist movements get to become states and others do not. My short answer: “fair ain’t got nothing to do with it” which could probably use a bit of nuance. This is not just a Canadian issue but one for all of the countries intervening (or not intervening) in Iraq and Syria.
The one thing I do know and am very confident about is this: vulnerability to secession does not deter other countries from recognizing an independent Kurdish state. Sorry, I know this is the conventional wisdom (as presented in this piece), but the conventional wisdom has always been wrong and always will be wrong. How do I know that? Well, see my first book, see this article, and this one, too. Perhaps notice which countries recognized Kosovo (hint: Canada). Oh, and check out Russia’s foreign policy, given that it is vulnerable to secession yet have been sponsoring separatists frequently and enthusiastically. And yes, countries can be irredentist even as they face separatist movements at home.
This is a guest post by Risa Brooks, Associate Professor at Marquette University
Americans’ relationship with the military exhibits an odd paradox: the country’s citizens profess to hold deep regard for the military, while in fact knowing little about it and paying minimal attention to its activities at home or abroad. Analysts of U.S. civil-military relations remain seriously concerned about this peculiar mix of societal reverence and indifference toward the military.
Less clear is why Americans remain so disengaged from an institution that has such a profound role in the country’s political and economic life. The greater than $500 billion defense budget consumes more than half of the federal government’s discretionary spending. Although the Obama administration has officially declared an end to combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, sizable forces remain deployed in both countries and more may soon be sent. If ever there was an institution that would seem a natural magnet for public attention, it is the United States military.
This is a guest post from Eric Van Rythoven and Ty Solomon. Eric Van Rythoven is a PhD candidate at Carleton University studying emotion, world politics, and securitization. His work is published in Security Dialogue and European Journal of International Relations. Ty Solomon is a Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Glasgow. He is the author of The Politics of Subjectivity in American Foreign Policy Discourses (2015, University of Michigan Press), and articles in International Studies Quarterly, European Journal of International Relations, and Review of International Studies, among others.
Two weeks ago, one of IR’s most respected and publicly visible intellectuals wrote a piece lamenting the absence of realist voices in American foreign policy discourse. In case you missed it Stephen Walt’s piece is worth reading in full, but here’s the money quote:
why is a distinguished and well-known approach to foreign policy confined to the margins of public discourse, especially in the pages of our leading newspapers, when its recent track record is arguably superior to the main alternatives?
Most of the praise (and snark) has sunk to the bottom of Twitter, but you can still see some of the popular responses here and here. As two academics who study realist political advocacy and American foreign policy discourse, we agree with Walt that realism is marginalized in public debates, at least in comparison to liberal internationalism or neoconservatism. But we’re also struck by how this discussion has missed the one of the most obvious answers as to why.
Realist discourse is marginalized because it’s not powerful.
In early September, the circulation of the now iconic picture of Alan Kurdi, the little Syrian Kurdish boy who drowned along with his mother and brother in the attempt to cross the Aegean Sea, prompted me to write a post reflecting on what ‘we’ as academics might do. I argued that we could, possibly, use “our knowledge of global affairs to connect the dots and lay bare how Alan’s story” is emblematic of so many themes we touch upon in our research – and indeed, the moment created by the (ethically difficult) circulation of the picture became an opening to provide depth and nuance for those willing to listen.
I suggested that, if academics wanted to do ‘something’ in response, this something might include telling “the stories of all the children who died crossing the Mediterranean – and their parents and grandparents, and aunts, and uncles.” Now, it would be presumptuous to think that Anne Barnard of the New York Times read my post (and she is not an academic either), but imagine my delight to see her piece on the Kurdi family’s journeys published yesterday.