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The Paris Agreement: When is a treaty not a treaty?

Tomorrow is Earth Day, and there is a push in the climate community to encourage states to sign and ultimately ratify the Paris Agreement on climate change. With each of the last 11 months having been the hottest months on record and 93% of Australia’s Great Barrier reef experiencing “coral bleaching” from record-breaking hot ocean temperatures, the stakes for the world are high.

April 22 is the first day the Paris Agreement is open for signatures. In late March, on the margins of the recent nuclear security summit in DC, President Obama and President Xi of China  pledged publicly to sign the accord on April 22nd, upping the pressure on other states to do the same. Now, 150 countries are slated to sign the agreement tomorrow in a ceremony. That said, the agreement won’t enter into force until 55 countries representing 55% of global emissions ratify it.

This raises some interesting questions about what kind of accord the Paris Agreement is. Is it a new treaty? Don’t treaties have to go to the U.S. Senate for advice and consent? Continue reading

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“Bernie Sanders Doesn’t Know ‘Enough’ About Foreign Policy”? Who Does, Really?

bernieOn April Fool’s Day, Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders did an interview with the New York Daily News, perceived by many to have been a botched performance.  Yesterday, the New York Daily News followed up with a piece entitled “Bernie Sanders Doesn’t Know Enough About Foreign Policy, Pros Say.”  (The ‘pros’ cited  were not some representative sample of beltway illuminatis but rather various Clinton foreign policy advisers who will reportedly be circulating a letter saying as much in the next days.) As an IR educator I’m delighted that foreign affairs is looming large in a national primary – for once! But this also raises fascinating questions about how we evaluate Presidential candidates.

The need to do more homework on foreign affairs is a fair critique of Sanders, even if you’re not a Clinton endorser. But then again, it’s a fair critique of anybody seeking national office. None of us “knows enough” about foreign policy, not even the experts. Heck, I’m a Full Professor of International Relations and still consider myself only a true expert in a few areas, where I constantly work, like any specialist, to stay caught up with a rapidly changing world. If I were running for Commander-in-Chief I would surround myself, as all the candidates including Sanders have, with formal and informal advisers,* with different expertise, on different intersecting issues, to help weigh multiple foreign policy options and formulate agendas.

So on balance, I think it’s amusing that Sanders is taking such heat from foreign policy “pros” on his lack of early policy detail, for two reasons. First, the New York Daily News itself got a lot of details wrong, both in the way it reported on Sanders’ critics and the way it asked questions in the original interview. Second, Sanders’ answers – even on Gaza – were more appropriate and discerning than has been widely acknowledged, precisely because they hinge not on details but on the clarity of his wider principles and vision.

And that’s not a surprise: at an early stage of a Presidential campaign few candidates have sorted out all the details of their future policies. As James Joyner points out, it is unreasonable to expect a commitment to too much nuance too early on from Presidential candidates, due to the nature of the US electoral process and political system. President Bartlett may have played well on TV, but a US President in real-life does not need to be a walking encyclopedia of facts. In fact, voters don’t much like a know-it-all.

What matters more – and what should matter for any candidate in my mind – is a consistent and appropriate overall vision, and (crucially) a willingness to seek out and listen to her/his advisers about how to execute.  Sanders consistently demonstrated both these qualities in his NYDN interview.  Overall, this moment tells us more about his foreign policy chops than critics admit: that Sanders thinks before he decides, is not afraid to ask for information he doesn’t have, and sees foreign policy through a consistent lens of his core principles: restraint, diplomacy and shared humanity. Continue reading

Distance and Death: Lethal Autonomous Weapons and Force Protection

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.”

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Tweeted and Deleted by APSA: Gender and Race in the Academy

I’ve been wanting to write a Duck post about the experience of a woman with visible minority status in IR for quite some time now. I was waiting for the right moment.  So thanks to the American Political Science Association (APSA), the professional association for US-trained political scientists, the moment has come.

Yesterday morning, an email came from a friend with a screenshot.  The screenshot showed an attractive Asian woman in a frilly top who looks like she’s having a good time looking into the camera.  I was confused.  Then I read the blurb next to it: this was a promotion from PSNow, one of the official APSA dissemination bullhorns.  They were promoting my recent piece with Sarah Stroup in Perspectives on Politics on international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) and authority in global politics.  Instead of contacting us to request a photo, or choosing a stock photo that reflects the subject of our article, APSA decided to accompany this promotion with a photo of a random Asian woman.

I was stunned.

So it’s pretty obvious to me why this is offensive, but let me spell it out.

  • What does the Getty Image “Portrait of a young woman smiling” have to do with INGOs? Or authority?  Or politics?
  • What happened to my co-author?
  • What kind of search terms were being used to even generate such a photo that APSA found worthy of posting not just on PSNow, but tweeting?
  • Has all of my work on INGOs boiled down to some irrelevant stock image?
  • Is it that hard to Google “NGO” for images related to the work being advertised?
  • Yea, “all Asians look alike,” but REALLY?!

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Either DA-RT Works, or It Does Not

This is a guest post by Theo McLauchin (@TheoMcLauchlin), Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Université de Montréal

When is a norm not a norm? I ask this question when I read Colin Elman and Arthur Lupia’s vigorous defense of the Data Access & Research Transparency (DA-RT) initiative in APSA’s Comparative Politics section newsletter. I think Elman and Lupia try to have it both ways. Their piece argues, first, that journals need to adopt norms of openness. It then argues, in defense of DA-RT against a series of concerns that it will bring the editorial hammer down on many different forms of work, that DA-RT doesn’t change anything. Editors always could implement whatever policies they wanted to. But of course if the norms change, then the content of that editorial discretion – what decisions are actually made where the submission meets the desk – changes with it. Either DA-RT has an effect or it doesn’t; either the norms change or they don’t; either some articles become newly unpublishable at some journals or they don’t. If they don’t, then DA-RT cannot have the effect its creators hope for it.

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Speed Kills: Why we Need to Hit the Brakes on “Killer Robots”

 

This is a guest post by Juergen Altmann and Frank Sauer. Juergen Altmann is a Researcher and Lecturer at Technische Universität Dortmund, a specialist in military technology and preventive arms control and among the first scholars to study the military uses of nanotechnologyFrank Sauer is a Senior Research Fellow and Lecturer, Bundeswehr University Munich, a specialist in international security, and is the author of Atomic Anxiety: Deterrence, Taboo and the Non-Use of U.S. Nuclear Weapons.

Autonomous weapon systems: rarely has an issue gained the attention of the international arms control community as quickly as these so-called killer robots. “Once activated, they can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human operator“, according to the Pentagon. They are, judging from the skepticism prevalent in epistemic communities and public opinion alike, a controversial development.

Come next Monday, the United Nations in Geneva will begin its third informal experts meeting on this emerging arms technology. For the third year in a row, various technical, legal and ethical questions surrounding autonomous weapons will be discussed at the UN’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW): Where does autonomy begin, where does meaningful human control end? Can these systems function in compliance with international humanitarian law? Who is accountable if things go awry? Can “outsourcing” kill-decisions to machines be morally acceptable in the first place?

Depending on how CCW States Parties answer these questions, the still nascent social taboo that forbids the use of machines autonomously making kill-decisions might spawn a human security regime and be codified in a CCW protocol. In short, a ban might be in the cards for killer robots.

And in fact, there is an additional set of compelling reasons for preventive arms control that received comparably less attention so far (with notable exceptions, of course): the impact of killer robots on peace and stability.

Stability: not a Cold War relic

Stability became a key notion in Cold War international thought for two reasons. First, the arms race. Arms competition instability exists if the classic dynamic of one side deploying systems which lead adversaries to respond in kind and vice versa goes unchecked, with horizontal and vertical proliferation in tow. Crises were the second reason. Crisis instability exists if there are significant incentives to initiate an attack quickly. These can also arise when (conventional) war is already underway; hastening the escalation to higher levels of conflict, potentially even across the nuclear threshold due to a “use them or lose them”-situation.

The vicious cycle of an uncurbed arms race as well as the dangers of overboiling crises and deterrence failure – backed up by the accidental nuclear war scares caused by early-warning slipups and human error – provided cautionary tales and fueled the strive for stability via arms control during the Cold War, not only in the nuclear but also in the conventional realm with the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. IR and arms control literature documents these lessons. They carry over to the dawning age of autonomous weapons.

Proliferation and arms race instability

Strictly speaking, autonomous weapons do not exist yet. They are not to be confused with automatic defense systems capable of “firing without a human in the loop”. These are stationary or fixed on ships or trailers and mostly fire at inanimate targets such as incoming munitions. More importantly, they just repeatedly perform pre-programmed actions and operate in a comparably structured and controlled environment.

Autonomous weapon systems, in contrast, would have their own means of propulsion and be able to operate without human control or supervision in dynamic, unstructured, open environments over an extended period of time, potentially learning and adapting their behavior on the go. The military advantages – compared to today’s remotely piloted systems – are obvious. Think future autonomous combat drone sent off to seek, identify, track and attack targets on its own, and you’re spot on. They are called killer robots for a reason.

The drone sector gives an indication of what to expect. Between 2001 and 2015, the number of countries with armed drones has increased from two to ten (add Hamas and Hezbollah to that), and at least 11 countries are currently developing them.

Meanwhile, everything points toward weapon autonomy as the next logical step. The US, with its newly stated third offset strategy explicitly embraces autonomy to achieve military-technological superiority and is consequently leading the way in the air, on the ground, on the sea and below it. And while the US is the only country to have introduced a doctrine for the deployment and use of autonomous weapon systems, claiming restraint, Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work just recently stated that the delegation of lethal authority will inexorably happen.

Absent an international ban, one would expect others to follow that lead. After all, who would allow a “killer robot gap”? Especially considering that implementing autonomy in already existing systems in a vibrant ecosystem of unmanned vehicles in various shapes and sizes is not the equivalent of starting a nuclear program from scratch – it’s a technical challenge, yes, but doable, particularly with significant portions of the hard- and software being dual-use. And we are not even considering technology export yet. In short, an unchecked robotics arms race is in the making – with weapons potentially proliferating to everyone, including oppressive regimes and non-state actors.

Crisis escalation and instability

Autonomous weapons are commonly projected as systems of systems operating in swarms. With that in mind, imagine a severe crisis, the swarms of adversaries operating in close proximity of each other. A coordinated attack of one could wipe out the other within missile flight time – that is seconds. The control software would have to react fast in order to use its weapons before they are lost. Sun glint in visual data misinterpreted as a rocket flame, sudden, unforeseen moves of the enemy swarm, a simple software bug could trigger an erroneous “counter”-attack. And while this could happen on a small scale at first, the sequence of events developing from two autonomous systems of systems interacting at rapid speed could never be trained nor tested nor, really, foreseen. The stock market provides cautionary tales of such unforeseeable algorithm interactions. Introducing algorithms in conflict bears an enormous risk of uncontrolled escalation from crisis to war.

In addition, swarms of autonomous weapons would generate new possibilities for disarming surprise attacks. Small, stealthy or extremely low-flying systems are difficult to detect, the absence of a remote-control radio link makes detection even harder. Russia already was not very amused when the idea of using stealthy drones for missile defense was floated in the US. It’s easy to see why. When nuclear weapons or strategic command-and-control systems are, or are perceived to be, put at risk by undetectable swarms that are hard to defend against, autonomous conventional capabilities end up causing instability at the strategic level.

Hitting the brakes

The case of autonomous weapon systems is not one of “we need them because they have them”. After all, no one has them – yet. We would be well-advised to keep it this way. Preventive arms control is prudent. Not only would it curb the looming arms race, a ban would prevent the excessive acceleration of battle that threatens to escape human understanding and the possibility of staying in control during crises. Sometimes humans make mistakes, and humans are slower than machines. But when things threaten to get out of hand, slow is good. That is why we need to hit the brakes now.

 

 

Friday Nerd Blogging: Does Cosplay at Conference Panels Render Pop-Culture Research Less Serious?

Star Wars
An argument broke out about this question after the “Star Wars and International Security” panel at ISA this month. A few people on Twitter and PSRM (or so rumors have it) say dressing up renders pop culture research more marginal than it already is. I suppose a TRIP survey could more conclusively answer the question about trends in the discipline.

Personally, I’d love to see that survey, since my new article in Perspectives is all about science fiction and global politics, so I have skin in the game of “taking pop culture research seriously.” In fact, perhaps we can conduct a natural experiment on this question by simply tracking citations / responses to this piece, which is the exact same piece I presented on the Star Wars panel while dressed as Princess Leia, and comparing them to my other work. If doubters are right, this will be one of my most marginalized papers ever and in fact will adversely affect my standing in the discipline (and perhaps the standing of pop culture research generally).

Ha! I doubt that will happen. I have no TRIP surveys under my belt, but my anecdotal experience says the opposite is true: dressing up to present pop culture research has no negative effect on people’s impression of pop culture research or researchers in IR. Rather, the ability to do so is an indicator of the reverse: pop culture scholarship has hit the IR mainstream.

Here’s what I’ve observed over the past several years of doing this: Continue reading

Gender, Rank and IR: Missing Role Models

Last week, I asked a question online that was asked of me and then I asked at the ISA two weeks ago:
Can you name women of color working in the US or Canada who do IR and are full professors?

At the ISA, folks could only name one or two.  On twitter and facebook and my blog since then, the total has increased to eleven:

·  Neta Crawford of Boston University.
·  Condoleeza Rice, who was a full prof at Stanford before becoming provost and then worst National Security Adviser.
·  Jacqueline Braveboy Wagner, City College of New York.
·  Reeta Tremblay of U of Victoria.
·  L.H.M Ling of the New School.
·  Katherine Moon of Wellesley.
·  Zehra Arat of U of Connecticut
·  Christine Chin of American U
·  Saadia Pekkanen of U of Washington
·  Nazli Choucri of MIT
·  Sheila Nair of Northern Arizona U.

Not great.  Sure, we could be missing a few, but this short list demonstrates the point that my friend was making: there are damn few role models/mentors in US/Canada IR for women who are not white.

One can quibble with the various modifiers/restrictions in the question:

  • what is IR?  I tended to exclude a few names of those who are experts on one country or an area and do not do foreign policy/international relations type questions.  I am sure we could get the list to be significantly longer if we included women who do one area of the world.  Indeed, some of the women above can be considered area studies people but have done some IR-ish stuff.  While the ISA is
    broadly inclusive so that it includes area studies people, the point of this exercise was about whether women who do IR might have mentors, not whether there are women who do IR or comparative.  Also, in the conversation I had with my friend, her concern was in part about the implicit and sometimes explicit expectations to be an expert in the area of the world her family comes from rather than being an expert on general IR stuff.  There is a tendency to push people of color to study stuff like an area of the world or race and ethnicity, whereas white people can be expected to study anything.
  • why US/Canada?  Well, the friend is in US/Canada North America and was pondering the availability of mentors.  There was no intent to diminish the contributions of women of color at schools in other parts of the world.   While the internet makes it possible to confer with people around the world, one is likely to meet up with people in the same region 
  • why women of color?  That was the way it was put to me.  We could use other ways to talk about race, such as visible minority (the Canadian way to refer to these kinds of identities), but I stuck with the term that was most inclusive.  And identity is always tricky: are Arab Americans people of color?  Traditionally, not so much.  Since 9/11?  Maybe.  I asked a full prof I know whether she was a person of color and she said she was not, but understood how some might see her fit that category.  Anyhow, I was not aiming at perfect coding, but at getting a general idea, and the paucity of names is suggestive.

A quick look at this reveals a few patterns: no Latinas, three African-Americans and then Asian-Americans making the majority of the list.  So, yeah, there are few role models for African-American women and none for Latinas who want to do IR.  There are few women of color that undergraduates, grad students and junior profs can look to and think “well, they made it so maybe I can, too.””

Most of the women listed are post-positivist, which could mean either that women who do such work are more likely to make it through the leaky pipeline, or there might be an affinity for a particular kind of IR by women of color, or maybe sampling bias as one of my key sources of names knew these people because their work speaks to each other.

One Canadian, several in the Northeast/New England area, a few from the West Coast, and nothing in between or down south.  So, if you want to meet your mentor, it means traveling for most folks.

How do we “fix” this?  How do we have more women full professors of color in IR?  Obviously, whatever barriers exist to promoting women and people of color need to be broken down.  I used to work at a university where there was an apparent barrier between associate and full, and that helped to perpetuate the gender imbalance.  Indeed, in Canada anyway, it seems like the process to become tenured is far easier than becoming Full even though the former means lifetime employment and the latter might mean a raise.  In the US?   I don’t know.  But there has been stuff written on the leaky pipeline, so we need to find the leaks and plug them, including discrimination in citation patterns and in listings on syllabi and differential service obligations (women end up doing more service, which may not help them get promoted).

A different friend of mine told me at the ISA that none of the female associates have received outside offers, and all of the male associate profs in her department have received such offers even though the women have better research scores.  How does that happen?  Such a perfect (and awful) correlation of gender and opportunities?  Getting outside offers is one way for people to get promoted faster, and it seems at least in that one case (more survey work required) one key tool to fast promotion has been denied.  So, perhaps one way to deal with this problem is to make sure that senior searches take seriously the full range of candidates and not just the first names that come to mind?

The Question of Quantum

Tough as it is to follow Charli’s excellent post on terrorism, somebody has to do it and so I might as well. If this past ISA is any indication, quantum is a big deal. The panel on Alex Wendt’s new book linking quantum mechanics to the social sciences was standing room only (from what I hear, I could not be there). James Der Derian has Project Q at the University of Sydney. One of the papers I read as a discussant at ISA invoked the term superpositionality, much to my surprise. So, Newtonian World out, Quantum World in (not sure where Einstein fits).

 

This is all fascinating. Quantum mechanics has been around for a while, and for a while physicists have struggled to reconcile the strange subatomic world, characterized by phenomena like superpositionality (the state or location of a particle are probabilistic and exist in multiple states/conditions at the same time, and according to one interpretation only collapsed to a point upon observation), quantum tunneling (when a particle passes through a barrier without having to surmount it) and quantum entanglement (quantum states of two particles are linked such that changes in one are immediately reflected in the other, regardless of distance), with the macroscopic world we see, which is characterized by none of these things. Continue reading

On The Terror and Feeding of Trolls: Or, Why I Aim to be an Equal-Opportunity Non-Reporter of DAESH-Inspired Terrorist Incidents

solidarityI was among those last week, after hearing about the events in Brussels, who tweeted or Facebooked in solidarity with Belgium… but also in solidarity with civilians killed in Ankara, Baghdad, Yemen, later that week Cote d’Ivoire and (as of yesterday) in Lahore, Pakistan. I took some flak for this on Twitter and in my personal email. Why can’t we just focus on Belgium on a week like this? some people ask? Don’t you care about this country and its allies? they say. I do, of course, but I also care about accuracy in my contributions to the media discourse, and about not helping the terrorists.

The problem with an over-focus on European victims of DAESH-inspired terrorism is that DAESH then looms larger as a threat to the West than it actually is to anyone. The attacks in Belgium weren’t Muslims against the West: they were DAESH against the world – as evidenced by the fact that DAESH targets more Muslims, and more people in Muslim majority countries, than Westerners. Victims of indiscriminate violence everywhere deserve our sympathy, solidarity and support – whether killed by suicide vests or aerial bombs.

But, does this mean we should be tweeting / posting about DAESH-sponsored attacks in Pakistan, Ankara, Baghdad, Grand Bassam, as often as we in the West post about Belgium? At first I think I was buying that, but after more thought actually I would say the opposite: we should tweet about Belgium, or attacks here in the West, about as often as we post/tweet about specific terror attacks in Pakistan, Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Cote d’Ivoire: That is, sparingly.

And the reason we should do this is so as not to feed the trolls. That is, the terrorists.

Terrorism is all about media attention. To work, terrorism must generate fear beyond its targets, and fear is amplified when it goes viral. And that viral media attention (including social media attention) makes terrorism look a lot more prevalent than it really is – as Nicholas Kristof reminds us – in the scheme of things. When we fill our feeds with a constant barrage of terror attack news – which will only be exponentially greater if we seek to be more inclusive – we highlight terrorist activity to the exclusion of far more important trends happening in the world.

That’s not a popular view. “Easy for you to say,” some people will write me, “Your town wasn’t just attacked.” So let me be clear: I have as much skin in the “protection from terrorists” game as anybody – because the aim of terrorists is not just to kill people but to terrorise those watching.

And I am terrified. I am mother to an elite soccer player who travels internationally. I just put him on a plane this weekend to a soccer tournament abroad, and he’ll be traveling again – to Europe – with his team in just a few weeks; then again, this summer; and constantly, really for the rest of his childhood. I think about my child all the time right now when I read stories of terror abroad. That the attacks in Belgium targeted airports did nothing to make me, as a mother, feel safe packing my child off unaccompanied on an international flight no matter where he’s headed.

But it was the news out of Baghdad this week that hit me the hardest: a suicide bomb killed 60 and wounded over 100 at the end of a soccer match, in a stadium, as trophies were being handed out. I can picture myself there. I can picture my son, receiving his trophy one minute and obliterated or worse the next. My heart aches for those families as surely as they ache for those who lost loved ones in Brussels. I cringe at the pointlessness of it all.

Am I afraid? Absolutely. I’m also angry. But instead of acting on those feelings, I choose to remind myself that they are both natural and overblown, and that giving in to them means DAESH wins.

What helps me do that is to keep my mind on the odds:

  • According to the US State Department, my son’s greatest risk of death when traveling abroad isn’t from terrorists, it’s by far from car accidents.
  • According to the Global Terrorist Database, my son’s greatest risk of death from terrorists in Europe, even in the age of DAESH, is down significantly from what it was in 1988.
  • According to the Economist (crunching Interpol numbers), my son’s greatest risk of death from terrorists in Europe doesn’t come from DAESH or any other so-called “jihadist” terrorist group, rather it comes from secular separatist terrorism.
  • BUT, according to Snopes.com, fact-checker of Internet memes, my son is still far likelier to be shot by a toddler here in the US – or crushed by furniture – than he is to be killed by a terrorist here, traveling in Europe to a soccer game, or anywhere else in the world. And that is what I remind my son when he watches the news. Terrorism is scary, but unlikely in any given place and time.

You know what probably does increase the risk of  DAESH-sponsored terrorism? Strengthening DAESH by over-reporting DAESH-inspired incidents, thus fanning the flames of terror. Continue reading

Hostile Intent: Civilian Casualties and the Politics of Killing

Tackling Tough CallsThe 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.

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Building social science knowledge on public attitudes and autonomous weapons

This is a guest post from Michael C. Horowitz (@mchorowitz), Associate Professor of Political Science and Associate Director of Perry World House, University of Pennsylvania

Last week, Charli Carpenter published an important piece advancing the conversation about public attitudes, public conscience, and autonomous weapons. Her post critiqued my recent article in Research & Politics on public opinion and autonomous weapons. As a former Duck contributor, I am excited to return and further the dialogue (for a longer version of this post that contains more detailed responses to some other parts of Carpenter’s piece, go here).

Carpenter’s path-breaking survey on public opinion and autonomous weapons was the departure point for my Research & Politics article. She persuasively showed widespread public opposition to autonomous weapon systems (AWS), in principle. My research builds on hers, as I seek to find out how likely political frames would affect public opposition to autonomous weapons. Carpenter and I actually agree on a lot about public attitudes concerning autonomous weapons, and even about what my own research shows, though we have some disagreements about survey methodology.

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Autonomous Weapons and Incentives for Oppression

Much of the present debate over autonomous weapons systems (AWS) focuses on their use in war. On one side, scholars argue that AWS will make war more inhumane (Asaro, 2012), that the decision to kill must be a human being’s choice (Sharkey, 2010), or that they will make war more likely because conflict will be less costly to wage with them (Sparrow, 2009). On the other side, scholars argue that AWS will make war more humane, as the weapons will be greater at upholding the principles of distinction and proportionality (Müller and Simpson, 2014), as well as providing greater force protection (Arkin, 2009). I would, however, like to look at different dimension: authoritarian regimes’ use of AWS for internal oppression and political survival.

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How (Not) to Measure the “Public Conscience”

A couple of years ago, Human Rights Watch launched a report arguing for a treaty ban on fully autonomous weapons, claiming military robots who target and kill human beings would violate international law. Among other arguments, the report Losing Humanity cited the Marten’s Clause of the Hague Convention, which encourages states to consider the “dictates of the public conscience” in determining whether as-yet-ungoverned activities were morally permissible among civilized nations.

Intrigued by this advocacy claim, I conducted a survey in 2013 to test whether public revulsion at the idea of “killer robots” was as widespread as Human Rights Watch claimed. I found that indeed a majority of Americans – include a majority of military personnel – oppose the idea of such weapons. And those who were “not sure” how they felt also leaned in favor of a precautionary principle.

In Research and Politics this month, Michael Horowitz presents new survey data purporting to prove that public opinion is not quite so “against” the idea of fully autonomous weapons as it first appeared. In his paper, “Public Opinion and the Killer Robot Debate,” he replicates a version of my earlier question but also adds a couple of experimental conditions, prompting users to assume that US troops will be protected from attack, and to assume that autonomous weapons would more effective than other alternatives in such a scenario. After priming the respondents in this way, Horowitz reports that in fact, “rather than being widespread, public opposition to autonomous weapons is contextual, as with nuclear weapons”: that is, respondents who were “primed” were somewhat less averse to killer robots. From this rather unsurprising finding, he then infers that the “public conscience” is less opposed to autonomous weapons than believed and therefore the Martens clause argument may not apply: “It is too early,” Horowitz pronounces, “to argue that AWS violate the public conscience provision of the Martens clause because of public opposition.”

I’m delighted to see folks taking replication seriously, and building on my earlier and very preliminary study.  But in my view Horowitz’ finding does not support his wider claim, for three reasons.  Continue reading

The Anthropocene and the End of Large Fauna? Will Political Scientists Show Up?

Geologists now say that humans have had such an impact on the earth that we have entered in to a new age, what has been termed the Anthropocene. On some level, this is a political statement, but on another level, it could be an observable layer in the physical surface of the earth that future generations will excavate to find plastics and garbage.

This era, and soon, may also spell the end of large fauna. Elephants. Rhinos. Giraffes. Vultures. Lions. Tigers. Leopards. Polar bears. These could be all be extinct before I die. And that would be an unimaginable travesty against nature.

I’ve written about this topic before on this blog, but in this post, I want to lay down a marker for why this is an important area for political science that extends well beyond scholars of environmental politics. Continue reading

Is it possible to be a realist?

Some weeks ago, Stephen Walt lamented the absence of realist commentators in the American media space. What was striking to me at the time was Walt’s claim that realism is a ‘well-known approach to foreign policy.’ That claim—that realism is a foreign policy approach—makes sense in the context of Walt’s dirge, which focuses on the role of policy makers and media in shaping state behavior. But putting realism into a foreign policy context does not come without theoretical costs. Indeed, the grandee of modern realism in IR Kenneth Waltz rejected the idea that realism was a foreign policy framework.

By taking analysis down to the policymaker level, Walt (and others) introduce a tension into analysis that is irreconcilable. The problem lies in the objectivist foundations of realism. For Waltz, the strictures of the system were independent of human perception, beliefs, or ideas. Waltz is never quite clear how systemic forces actually produce state behavior—he discusses socialization, but who is socialized, how that socialization is carried through time, and how it translates into actual policy outcomes is never very clear (in modern parlance, his microfoundations needed work). But, for the objectivist ontology and epistemology that formed the lynchpin of a now ‘scientific’ realism (e.g. balance of power as a timeless law governing international politics), Waltz’s neglect of microfoundations was useful for reasons that I hope are clear by the end of this post.

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Why is Paypal Blocking Aid to Syrian Refugees?

Our prize winning creation, on left.*

Last December, on “Giving Tuesday,” I encouraged friends and family to send donations to three of my favorite charitable causes in lieu of birthday presents: low-income housing, domestic violence, and Syrian refugee relief. My son and I had signed up to compete that week in the Habitat for Humanity Gingerbread Build (see our prize-winning creation in the photo!),* the Safe Passage 5K run, and a UMass benefit dinner for Syrian refugees being organized by the student Amnesty International chapter.

Safe Passage had an online portal for collecting donations, but for the two other organizations we collected money directly from neighbors, family and friends, and turned it in to the non-profits directly. And of course, since many of our family and friends don’t live in Amherst, we also used Paypal as a crowd-funding portal.

A few days later, one of my sisters received a sinister note from Paypal, demanding to know about the transaction labeled “for Syria.” (Paypal did not question any family members who sent donations through the site to support Habitat for Humanity.)

My sister answered all of Paypal’s questions politely and referred Lawrence, the Compliance Officer to me. I immediately explained to Paypal all the relevant information about my sister’s gift to me, and where the money had gone, mentioning not just the student organization at UMass but also the humanitarian organization, Jusoor Syria, a US-registered non-profit based in Michigan, to whom the student group had said they would pass our donation.

Nonetheless, Paypal has suspended my account and seized my sister’s $50 gift to me, pending my “cooperation” with their “investigation” into whether I may be “buying or selling goods or services that are regulated or prohibited by the U.S. government.” What they have said they want me to do is track down an official letter from Jusoor Syria, stating that I am authorized to collect money on their behalf (even though I was technically collecting money on my own behalf, and gave it to a student group, not to Jusoor Syria directly).

Currently, as documented over at Lawyers, Guns and Money, I am refusing to cooperate with this request – it seems unethical to demand that a humanitarian NGO divert its attention from assisting war-affected civilians to accommodate a policy that appears to be based on racial profiling, and I won’t be part of that. Instead I have asked Paypal to justify its intrusive behavior on the basis of some “reasonableness” criteria governing its right to review user transactions. To date, I have not yet received any kind of answer to my questions from Paypal’s Resolution Centre, nor has Dan Schulman, Paypal’s CEO, replied to my tweet.

Based on their official correspondence plus some online research, here is my best and most charitable sense of what is going on – all of which raises some very fascinating questions in terms of contract law, administrative law and national security law. Continue reading

Interventionism and Restraint in Democratic Foreign Policy

At War on the Rocks, Mieke Eoyong intervenes in the Sanders-Clinton foreign-policy debate. Although the case made for Sanders’ foreign policy by those she critiques—including Sean Kay—is much broader, she focuses on three arguments: that “Sanders has superior judgment because he opposed the Iraq War and Clinton didn’t; Sanders would exercise restraint in intervention, where Clinton is on record supporting U.S. intervention in a number of cases; [and] Sanders would restrain defense spending.”

I’m going to respond to the first two. I do so as a recovering liberal hawk. In the 1990s, my views on foreign policy were profoundly shaped by the pages of The New Republic. But over the last fifteen years, I’ve moved further and further away from liberal interventionism. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still more of a ‘strong defense’ type than most people on the left. But the problems that I see with Eoyong’s case reflect the reasons for my own evolution.

Indeed, Eoyong’s first argument is that the real test of judgment is learning from mistakes. As she writes:

A candidate’s ability to admit he or she has made a mistake and take corrective action is far more important in the world where imperfect information and changed circumstance may render initial judgments as poor decisions. No one gets it right all the time. How do candidates cope when they get it wrong? What lessons do they learn? What steps do they take to address the problems?

Fair enough. And this is one reason why I don’t worry about a possible Clinton presidency the way that many on the Democratic left do (indeed, if and when Clinton wins the nomination my pocketbook will open up to her campaign and I will do everything I can to support it). But I think it telling that Eoyong has nothing to say about the actual lessons learned by liberal interventionists from Iraq. Continue reading

Happy Anniversary, Canada!

This week is the 10th anniversary of the start of Canada’s combat mission in KandahaAdapting coverr.  This was the most stressful Canadian “expedition” since the Korean War, as Canada skipped Iraq 2003 and Vietnam.  Today also happens to be the third anniversary of the rejection of an access to information request (Canadian for FOIA)–I had asked for the report detailing the Lessons Learned from the war.  While armed forces create such reports all the time, this was a first for the government to consider how the various agencies performed.  The report got buried, not just so that I couldn’t see it, but that no one in the Canadian government could see it.  And that is a problem because lessons learning requires not just research and analysis but also dissemination of those lessons.

 

 

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A New Plan B for Syria

Syrian_refugee_camp_on_theTurkish_border

Syria’s civil-proxy war is on the cusp of turning into an all-out regional war, with negative repercussions for all involved in the conflict. The humanitarian disaster is at its most acute to date, with Russian forces systematically attacking the Syrian opposition and on the verge of a rout of Aleppo—and now Turkish ground forces engaging Kurdish forces across its border. With the U.S.-Russian ceasefire accord appearing unlikely to alter much on the ground, the time has come for the U.S., Europe, and the Saudi-led Gulf countries to make a decisive move to take the initiative back from Russia, contain Turkey, and stabilize the conflict.

Anti-ISIS efforts in northeastern Syria and Iraq aside, the pressure point at present is in northwestern Syria. Conventional wisdom suggests that there are no good options for the allies: 1) Attempting to implement the loophole-ridden ceasefire accord, 2) allowing Russia to continue bombing “terrorist groups” i.e. the opposition forces, or 3) taking more direct military action directly against the Syrian military, for which there is zero appetite in the U.S. and Europe. Nonetheless, putting a safe/no fly zone option back on the table would not only meet the joint interests of Western and Gulf allies, but also prove viable on the ground. Not only has Turkey called for this, but so have Germany and France–not to mention Hillary Clinton.

While Turkey will be critical for getting to an eventual endgame in Syria, at this crucial juncture this key western ally needs to be contained itself. Turkey has been shelling Kurdish YPG militia forces for the last week, and now that one of its operatives is being blamed for the successful attack in Ankara, Turkey is on the verge of a highly destabilizing escalation. Turkey legitimately needs the U.S. to press the YPG to back off, and Turkey itself has called for the establishment of a Safe Zone. The U.S. and its western allies need to act fast, also to ensure that the YPG does not “defect” and transfer its allegiance to Russia—which would be another coup for Russia.

Having ceded the initiative to Russia, not seizing it back would be an additional strategic error. Already the Russian action proves that conventional deterrence against it remains lost, even after announcement of a major U.S. effort to shore up western capabilities in Central Eastern Europe. Even before it could be enacted, it is falling short of one of its major objectives: the intended deterrent effect is stillborn. Russia has already wiped out the efforts of allied intelligence agencies on the ground in Syria. And at the Munich Security Conference it just took the mask off in claiming it is in “a new Cold War” with the West. To begin restoring deterrence, western allies need to act. It was a mistake to publicly declare that military options in Syria were off the table, indicating the diplomacy track is now the basket holding all the Administration’s eggs. The allies need to pursue a different option in order to regain their lost leverage. Continue reading

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