Tag: deterrence

NATO Ministerial FAQ

This week is another NATO ministerial.  What is that?  Here’s a handy guide to the basics and why NATO is run like an academic conference.

Continue reading

The Most Important Corpses: Eastern Front Edition

I was on twitter NATO symbol movingtalking with some folks about what Canada might promise at the Warsaw Summit, with the focus on who is going to provide the troops for the four battalions that will be based in the Baltics and Poland.  The conversation went into a bunch of directions, so I had an epiphany while shopping–it is not about proximity or folks who have ties to the Baltics–it is about whose corpses would have the greatest international political relevance.

 

Continue reading

Is Russia a Paper Tiger?

Jeff Stacey has a new piece at Foreign Affairs that is basically a re-skinned version of his post at the Duck of Minerva. It should come as little surprise that I don’t find either piece particularly persuasive.

Overall, I agree with Jeff’s basic assessment of Russian moves as destabilizing. In Syria, where Moscow seeks to save the Assad regime, Russian intervention in a country that the US and its allies are already mounting military operations carries with it significant risks. Also, as Jeff writes:

Indeed, Russia has been playing a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with allied planes and ships across Eurasia for many months now. Among other things, it has been both flying in the flight paths of Western commercial and military aircraft and using ships and submarines to intermittently sail into Western countries’ territorial waters. In addition, Russia has staged a series of large-scale military exercises just across the border of Poland and several Baltic states, and its intelligence service actually seized an Estonian agent during last year’s NATO Summit and held him for several days.

I see this ‘muscle flexing’ as a mixture of ham-handed coercive diplomacy and reversion to Cold War great-power repertoires. It would obviously be better for everyone if Moscow stopped, insofar as they increase the risk of military and diplomatic incidents. But, as I noted a few days ago, these efforts have generally backfiredContinue reading

Russia, Syria, and the Costs of Inaction in Ukraine

SyriaRocketLaunchTruck-400x400

The ominous Russian military buildup in Syria represents the most significant projection of force beyond the territory of the former Soviet Union since the old Cold War. It will allow Russia to keep the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad in power in Syria, effectively negating the new diplomatic path toward resolution of the regional sectarian war that has been opened up by the Iran nuclear deal.

In addition it will further enable Russia to build and retain a major forward operating base for Russian military forces. At first it will be used to keep Assad in power. Then, as a cover, Russia likely will initiate sustained use of force ostensibly against ISIS, but actually to act as if Russia is in vanguard with the West and Middle Eastern powers in combating the world’s most dangerous insurgent group.

Beyond this, there is little guarantee that Russia won’t use its most high end military weaponry in other destabilizing ways that are contrary to western interests, such as attacking U.S.-backed opposition fighters (alarmingly, Russian drone flights have been scouting those areas, not ISIS areas). Offensive hardware including fixed wing Su-24, 25, and 27 fighter jets, attack helicopters, drone aircraft, main battle tanks, and SA-22 surface-to-air missile batteries have already been deployed at Russia’s new base in Latakia Syria in the backyard of Assad’s stronghold. Continue reading

The Future of Deterrence?

A long, long time ago, before I became a professor and even before I went to graduate school for my doctorate, I worked for a few years in the defense community. I was a Defense Analyst for the Strategic Assessment Center of Science Applications International Corporation (unfortunately, the SAC no longer exists), which was a small organization that dealt with issues of future war. We did much of our work for the Office of Net Assessment of the Defense Department under recently-retired Andrew Marshall. Our job, simply said, was to help DoD think about what war would look like 25 years or so down the line: What technologies might be around? How might those technologies change the way the US fights? How might potential adversaries respond? One of the weapon systems with which the office was particularly interested in was hypersonic projectiles. But, as this was in the mid- to late-1990s, most of what we were doing was mere speculation.

The future has arrived. Or is at least getting closer.

Continue reading

Deterrence in Cyberspace and the OPM Hack

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?

Continue reading

In Defense of Melting the Platinum Coin Option

Some prominent liberal commentators are upset that Treasury and the Fed have ruled out the “$1 trillion coin” option. The basic reasoning: the declaration weakens the President’s bargaining position and forecloses a way that it could have ameliorated the consequences of a failure to extend the debt limit.

I suspect that the reason for the declaration was sincere: key players believe that it is neither legal nor prudent. The second is Ezra Klein’s position. He also notes that the decision coheres what the administration has been arguing all along:

The administration’s position is that raising the debt limit is Congress’s responsibility until the day that Congress votes to make it the White House’s responsibility, which is a resolution the Obama administration would happily accept. Until then, White House officials say, they will not negotiate over the debt ceiling, and if congressional Republicans attempt to use it as leverage, then the consequences will be theirs to bear. As White HOuse Press Secretary Jay Carney put it, “there are only two options to deal with the debt limit: Congress can pay its bills or they can fail to act and put the nation into default.”

And, in fact, bargaining theory suggests that this move strengthens Obama’s hand. Continue reading

Why N Korea Gets Away with its Stunts: a Response to Jennifer Lind

NKl trajectory
Jennifer Lind has a good piece up on Foreign Affairs this week on why NK seems to regularly get away with with hijinks like last week’s rocket test (which directly contravenes UN Resolution 1874). She notes, correctly, that NK has been pulling unanswered, wild stunts like this for years – shootouts in the Yellow Sea, nuclear tests, kidnappings, etc. Further, the US particularly tends to hit back when hit. Indeed, looking at the GWoT, America’s problem is over-reaction rather than passivity. If we look at the Israelis, it’s similar. They have a well-established reputation of hitting back, hard, when provoked. So why don’t the democracies of the Six Party Talks (Korea, Japan, US) do the same here? They easily out weigh NK.

Her argument is that NK manages to deter counter-strikes through a bizarre mixture of the ‘madman theory’ (what will the loopy, hard-drinking, megalomaniacal Kim family do next? so let’s just not provoke them), regional fear of what would follow a NK implosion (après moi le déluge), and traditional nuclear deterrence (if Saddam and Gaddafi had nukes, they’d still be alive, so we’ll never give them up!).

None of that is wrong, but I think she’s missing the big factor – SK domestic politics. Lots of countries and other international actors do wacky, crazy stuff; the question is whether the target wants to counterstrike and risk escalation. So it is SK ultimately (not the US or Japan) that decides whether or not to hit back. And SK doesn’t want to, because 1) South Korean population centers are extremely vulnerable to Northern aggression, and 2) South Koreans just don’t care that much about NK anymore.

I’ve written a lot before on the issue of SK’s extreme vulnerability and how this ties the Korean military’s hands (here is the full write-up, also here; this, picked up on Lawyers, Guns, and Money, is a long discussion thread of my argument). 50% of South Korea’s population lives northwestern SK, in the extremely dense Seoul-Kyeonggi-Incheon corridor. The southern most tip of this massive agglomeration is less than 70 miles from the DMZ. The extreme demographic concentration of the Seoul area is worsening too. Busan, the second city, where I live, is shrinking, even though we are a paltry 3.5 milllion, and Incheon, the site of a super-fancy new airport, is growing. This corridor is huge, proximate, defenseless city-hostage to the North. NK does not need nuclear weapons to jeopardize these inhabitants, which is why I remain skeptical of the hawk/neocon line that NK’s nukes change the balance in big way. (Lind herself has a made a similar point.)

I have brought this point up again and again at conferences here, and I have gotten no real response. Does it make any sense to hyper-centralize a country in a direct competition with a dangerous neighbor and place the grossly overpopulated national capital just 40 miles from the border? Who thought that would be a good idea? Look at what the West Germans did. But decentralization never happens because of the cost and resistance of Seoul-based elites who like the convenience.

Remember how Cold War planners used to say that the US had an advantage over the USSR, because its many federal layers of government and widely dispersed population meant it could absorb a Soviet strike better? By contrast, because the Soviets centralized everything in Moscow, they were very vulnerable to a decapitation strike. The logic is the same here. The ROK is extremely centralized (a legacy of the Park Chung Hee dictatorship), not just politically, but in just about every way – culturally, economically, demographically. And it’s all but impossible to shield these people from a NK rocket and artillery bombardment (even non-nuclear). That Korean urbanites live in towering apartment blocks vulnerable to World Trade Center-style collapse if bombarded only worsens the vulnerability. This dramatically ties the hands of the SK government. Even if none of Lind’s three variables applied, this huge risk alone is enough to prevent SK escalation/response (as is likely the case in the foregone retaliation after the Yeonpyeong incident in 2010).

Next, Lind does not address the growing disinterest in SK for retaliation, or even otherwise engaging NK. Several Korea-based western analysts (me, Brian Myers, Brendan Howe) have made this point. In a post-Yeonpyeong analysis for the Korean National Defense University, I argued that the most likely way to end the Korean stalemate is get greater South Korean commitment to ‘win’ rather than simply manage-when-necessary-and-ignore-when-possible, today’s current ‘strategy.’ And at the Korean Institute for Defense Analysis last year, I argued for a significant effort to ‘harden’ South Korea to withstand this competition. When Brendan and I suggested raising SK defense spending, which is a paltry 2.3% of GDP, the room roundly said it’s politically impossible.

In IR lingo, SK is not really a revisionist anymore; it is a status quo power. De jure, (i.e., in its constitution), the ROK is committed to unity, but as anyone who’s lived here for just a little while can tell you, most South Koreans are genuinely frightened of NK’s collapse – not of NK, mind you, but of its collapse: the huge amount of money it will cost, the massive, generations-spanning reconstruction it will require, internal ‘refugees’ from the north decamping in southern cities, loss of the hard-won OECD lifestyle in the name of national sacrifice, etc. South Koreans would much rather buy iPhones, travel, study in the West, move to Seoul, and get a cool job with Samsung.

I see this in my students all the time. We talk about reunification in class a lot naturally. It’s an unnerving abstraction to them; they certainly don’t get fired up about it. I have never seen a Korean get passionate, angry, or intensely patriotic about unification, even though they are a very nationalistic as a people. In my experience, South Koreans get more angry and emotional over the Liancourt Rocks dispute with Japanor or the Dongbei/Mt. Baektu flap with China than over NK . Just look at the lack of interest and care shown to North Koreans who make it here (a terrible moral failing, IMO). Or, I’ve had students tell me that my discussion of the 1990s famine in NK that killed maybe half a million people was just American propaganda I picked up from the US military in Korea.

If you’re wondering if this really strange, yes, it is. North Korea has probably the worst long-term human rights record of any country in the world, yet South Koreans don’t want to talk about it. I guess a parallel is Germans under 40 years old by the mid-1980s. They too increasingly saw the inter-German border as a real border, not a temporary division. Divide a community long enough, and I guess it slowly becomes two. That’s not too surprising. It’s rather uncomfortable that outsiders, usually Americans, are the ones who seem to push the NK issue and worry about NK human rights and nutrition. I am continuously mystified and moral discomforted that NK doesn’t dominate SK politics.

But that’s how it is. And if we believe in democracy and self-determination, we have to respect Southern public opinion. We can’t get in front our own ally who will carry most of the costs if there’s a war or collapse. When I came to SK I shared the typical American hawk/neocon thinking regarding NK – on the axis of evil, the worst country on earth, run by power-mad lunatics, deserved to get punched in the face at the earliest opportunity, etc. All of that is still true of course, but the longer I live here, the more I have moderated on what that means for policy. South Koreans really don’t want a war or escalation, no matter how many times western IR and think-tank types tell them that NK is dangerous, erratic, terrifying, etc. (I’ve seen this so debate so many times here); they don’t want to risk much for regime change; they don’t want to ally with democratic Japan against communist NK and China, regardless of what structural realism and democratic peace liberalism say; SK is very vulnerable and neocon-John Boltonism looks reckless and scary to them; most don’t really believe in their hearts that their ethnic compatriots to the north will nuke them. Yes, there are demonstrations sometimes against NK, but look closely and you’ll notice that most of the demonstrations are small and the participants elderly. Washington may not like this (I don’t either), and it may feel morally uncomfortable, in that it effectively abandons North Koreans to the brutal status quo, but this is where Southern public opinion is.

So South Koreans seem increasingly comfortable letting NK go its own, bizarre way. I think this is why the conservative, anti-communist press here comes off so unhinged; they’re terrified that South Korea is effectively a status quo power now (which is true). President Lee’s post-Sunshine Policy return to confrontation is very unpopular here (even though lots of western analysts I meet here [me included] think it was a good idea to give it up). Even the conservatives in this year’s elections here are running as doves now. Lots of Koreas thought that the 2010 Cheonan sinking was a plot by the government or the even Americans, or that it illustrated the incompetence of the Lee administration; there was no post-9/11-style national outburst against NK. And a similar shrug greeted the 2010 Yeonpyeong shelling; there was no nation-wide outburst for war or even counterstrikes comparable to how, say, Americans would have responded to such an attack.  In the parliamentary elections that just concluded, NK wasn’t an issue, even though the rocket launch preparation was making global news during the campaign.

I don’t think I would call this appeasement of Lind’s ‘madman.’ That would imply a level of interest, if only to duck or hide from the North, that isn’t there. Appeasement would also suggest that SK would eventually spend more on defense so that it would have more choices against the madman next time. But as Brendan noted, SK isn’t doing any of this. The military is shrinking, the defense budget is astonishingly, irresponsibly low, and there’s no effort to generate force totals with the requisite skills even close to what Lind says is needed to pacify a unified Korea. And that’s because a unified Korea isn’t really on the public radar.

To my mind, the real reason SK doesn’t respond is simple disinterest; they don’t want to make the sacrifices and run the risks.  K-pop, climbing the social ladder, learning English, moving ‘up to Seoul,’ reducing the Gini-coefficient, going to school in the US, playing golf, Yuna Kim, the scandals of the Lee administration, etc. are far more common topics of conversation with my students, family, and colleagues. I am the one who brings up NK, and the answers just aren’t that passionate.

More than anything else, South Koreans just want NK to go away. The most scary implication of this is that if NK can hang on a few more decades, the South won’t even want unity.

Cross-posted on Asian Security Blog.

Impunity Slayer! ICC Convicts Lubanga of War Crimes

Thomas Lubanga Dyilo listens to the verdict in his trial on March 14, 2012.
(c) Photo courtesy of the ICC-CPI / Evert-Jan Daniel /ANP.

The verdict is in for the ICC’s first trial. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo has been judged guilty of the war crimes of conscripting, enlisting and using child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). An order of reparations and sentencing will be decided at a later date. Lubanga could possibly face life imprisonment.

The judgement was unanimous and there were several interesting elements in the summary statement, delivered by Judge Adrian Fulford.
1) The prosecution team was slammed for its “lack of proper oversight” in using intermediaries, which the judges determined influenced and manipulated vulnerable witnesses. The testimony of several prosecution witnesses was therefore discarded or not taken into consideration.
2) The judges re-characterized the conflict in Ituri as a non-international armed conflict, which invokes different provisions of the Rome Statute but the criminal conduct remains the same.
3) There was evidence of sexual violence and rape against girls conscripted into the UPC but the judges could not rule on this because Lubanga was not charged for such crimes.
4) Lubanga, as a co-perpetrator, had both intent and knowledge of the UPC’s common plan to conscript, enlist, and use child soldiers under the age of 15 in the Ituri conflict between 2002-2003.

Background: The ICC and the DRC Situation
It’s been seven years since Lubanga was arrested and more than three years since the start of his trial. As a State Party to the Rome Statute, the DRC government self-referred its conflict situation to the ICC in 2004. The prosecutorial team’s subsequent investigation focused in on the Ituri region of eastern Congo where civilians suffered from massacres and sexual violence perpetrated by rival militias and warlords competing for power, ethnic loyalties, and pillaging and enriching themselves.  In line with the prosecutorial strategy of selecting cases that meet the criteria of “sufficient gravity” and identifying those “most responsible” for such crimes, Lubanga’s leadership position in the UPC (Union of Congolese Patriots) militia drew the attention of the Court. He was unexpectedly detained by the DRC in March 2005, transferred to The Hague a year later, and his trial started in January 2009. The ICC has charged three other warlords in the DRC situation. Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui are presently and jointly on trial for charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Bosco Ntaganda, accused of war crimes for child soldiers, remains at large.

Targeting Lubanga
The Lubanga case, given it was the first trial, exposed the ICC to a new barrage of skepticism and frustration among international observers and Congolese. There was some legal bungling that caused delays and threatened a trial dismissal and release of Lubanga. Legal scholars have expressed concern that this did not result in a more divided decision among the judges. But the more significant criticism focused on the justifications for the prosecutorial strategy and charges. Many, including the Chief Prosecutor, readily acknowledge that Lubanga is likely responsible for a broader array of crimes that go well beyond using child soldiers, specifically crimes against humanity including massacres, killing of peacekeepers, and sexual violence in Ituri. Ocampo contends, however, that at the time of Lubanga’s arrest the OTP only had enough evidence to proceed with these limited war crimes charges. A related concern is whether he is most responsible for the crimes he was charged with. One of the key arguments for the defense was that Lubanga was not in a position of command responsibility for the military affairs of the UPC, and thus cannot be held accountable for the use of child soldiers.

And what of other perpetrators in the DRC? There are bigger fish. Jason Stearns, author of Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, argues that Lubanga was a “convenient first case” because, while a key actor in the Ituri region, he was expendable to the Congolese and Ugandan militaries engaged in the region. The ICC has been criticized for strategically avoiding any serious investigation or charges for crimes committed under the authority of the DRC, Ugandan, or Rwandan governments for fear of the political fallout or losing their cooperation in ongoing cases. The OTP has made statements that it will not prosecute crimes on all sides simply for the sake of appearing balanced and the uses the gravity criteria to justify its selections – a justification that doesn’t hold up in the broader scope of crimes in the central African region.

Two other cases underscore that the political interests of the DRC government have been unintentionally safeguarded by the ICC. First, as Stearns also mentions, Jean Pierre Bemba was a significant source of opposition in the DRC and with broad public support – that is – until his arrest and transfer to the ICC for his crimes in the Central African Republic. While a justifiable target, Bemba’s arrest has affirmed perceptions among some Congolese that the Court is biased. Second, Ntaganda is still “at large” because he’s protected by the government and therefore “untouchable.” Indicted while still a bad guy warlord (aka “The Terminator”), his potential arrest has become a political problem now that he’s been co-opted by President Kabila into the military (as a commander) under the pre-text of ensuring stability. This article by Mac McClelland for Mother Jones details Ntaganda’s crimes, that go well beyond the use of child soldiers, and why he can enjoy impunity and dinner parties in Goma instead of a prison cell in The Hague. Lubanga’s trial evidence will play a role in any future trial of Ntaganda as he is a co-perpetrator of the same crimes, and was identified as such in the summary statement of the verdict.

Marc Bleasdale/VII (c) 2009

Deterrence Effects?
One possible positive outcome of Lubanga’s trial is the education and deterrence effects on using child soldiers, especially by warlords and non-state armed groups. Human Rights Watch reported, in Selling Justice Short, that the notoriety of Lubanga’s trial has made such individuals aware that using child soldiers is a war crime punishable the ICC. But beyond this, the case has also brought more attention to the instrumental victimization of child soldiers and potentially affected a shift from the use of child soldiers as common place to taboo among non-state armed groups, especially in the DRC. A programme advisor for REDRESS said in January 2011 that there’s “no doubt in eastern DRC about the fact that child soldiering is a crime. Previously people thought that children were doing military service that was somehow legitimized by the state of conflict.”

But broader deterrence effects in the DRC or to prevent atrocities more generally will not result from this case alone nor does it address, in any way, the underlying causes of violence in Ituri. A few lessons can be highlighted from the Lubanga trial if the ICC is to have such an impact. First, the Court needs to counter perceptions that it is unjustly selective in its prosecutions by ensuring that crimes on all sides of a conflict are duly investigated and persons “most responsible” indicted if warranted. Arguably, it has done a better job of this in the Kenya situation. It can also counter these perceptions by increasing its outreach activities – explaining not only the limits on the Court’s capacity and jurisdiction but also its selection of cases. Second, the ICC is not empowered with the capacity to really affect more “positive complementarity,” specifically local capacity building of the rule of law. But international justice advocacy, media attention and donor support can be more focused on ensuring that a broader range of perpetrators are addressed by fair mechanisms of accountability at the national and local level.

Despite the deterrence skepticism, this is a major milestone for the International Criminal Court and a significance contribution to fight against impunity for atrocities.

The ICC and Kenya: In the Thick of Deterrence

Antony Njuguna / Nairobi

The big news out of the ICC today was the confirmation of charges against four of the “Ocampo Six” Kenyan elites accused of orchestrating and inciting the country’s post-election violence in 2007-2008. Ruto, Arap Sang, Muthaura and Kenyatta had their charges confirmed and are expected to appeal; charges against Kosgey and Ali were dismissed by the Court’s judges because of a lack of evidence.

The decision comes four years after the violence and almost two years after the investigation was opened by the Chief Prosecutor. In that sense it is an underwhelming “milestone” but it is nevertheless an important reminder of the potential significance of ICC justice for Kenyan politics and stability.

The Court is mindful of its impact on stability. In its summary statement today it expressed that

“The chamber is mindful of concerns regarding the precarious security situation in parts of the country. It is also attentive of its responsibility to maintain stability in Kenya, and to fulfill its duty vis-a-vis the protection of victims and witnesses….It is our utmost desire that the decisions issued by this Chamber today, bring peace to the people of the Republic of Kenya and prevent any sort of hostility.”

Stability concerns are related to the upcoming presidential election. Two of those now set to stand trial – Kenyatta and Ruto – have both expressed their intention to run in the election but it’s now unclear if that will be possible. But their rival ethnic and political factions are more likely to use domestic and international attempts to mete out justice as political engineering.

The International Crisis Group recently released an important briefing on these issues with several recommendation to the Court and Kenyan government:

“These cases have enormous political consequences for both the 2012 elections and the country’s stability. During the course of the year, rulings and procedures will inevitably either lower or increase communal tensions. If the ICC process is to contribute to the deterrence of future political violence in Kenya, the court and its friends must explain its work and limitations better to the public. Furthermore, Kenya’s government must complement that ICC process with a national process aimed at countering impunity and punishing ethnic hate speech and violence.”

With respect to views on the ground, two recent polls show relatively divided, but declining, support for the ICC among Kenyans and notably increasing concerns about the impact of trials on security.

The link between human rights prosecutions and specific and/or general deterrence has been hashed out by various notable academics (see Vinjamuri and Kim and Sikkink). But the Kenya situation will provide for an excellent test case of such deterrence claims for several reasons. First, there is strong and active local civil society support for the ICC. This increases the chance that future potential human rights violations will be monitored and evidence can be collected and thus make prosecutions more credible. Second, the Kenya situation came to the ICC at the initiation of the Prosecutor after years of stalling by the Kenyan government – this underscores the Court’s “court of last resort” moniker and that justice is possible in spite of politics. Third, those considered “most responsible” are high level political elites yet their domestic power has not prevented their trial. Of all the situations before the ICC, this will be the one to watch for deterrence effects.

International Justice Scholars and Advocates: One Big Happy Principled Family?

David Bosco posted “The Case for Impunity” today on his Foreign Policy blog, The Multilateralist. The central issue in the post is whether the ICC’s intervention in Libya has prolonged the conflict, by taking away Gaddafi’s option to go into exile, and whether international justice can credibly deter war criminals. I nodded my way through the first few paragraphs, until I got to the end. Bosco makes a sweeping claim about “international justice advocates”:

“It’s a bit disconcerting that international justice advocates rarely acknowledge the possible downsides of international judicial intervention or grapple with the evidence that cuts against their predictions. In sectors of the human rights community, there’s a messianic faith in the value of international justice. And that’s fine if the argument is essentially based on principle: justice is right, impunity is wrong, consequences be damned. But the justice movement makes the argument both on principled grounds and on consequentialist grounds. They have an obligation to honestly confront some of the possible negative consequences.”

I don’t completely disagree, but these statements are goading.

First, who are we talking about here? Are advocates only NGOs and human rights activists, or are scholars also advocates? Whether you call it a “field,” “network,” or “epistemic community,” there’s some sort of community of NGOs, policy experts, scholars, etc. that has coalesced around this central issue of international or transitional justice. But we’re not all on the same page and the fissures are cross-cutting.

Of course, the likes of Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) fall more in the principles camp. See HRW’s Selling Justice Short report, which counters arguments that justice has negative consequences for peace. Also, see the ICTJ’s recent short video on “Peace vs. Justice: A False Dilemma” (and my response to it here).

But we can’t ignore local level advocacy. Take civil society actors in Northern Uganda and Kenya. In Uganda, local religious organizations and human rights advocates have been highly skeptical of the ICC as it arguably has entrenched conflict by removing incentives for the LRA to negotiate. In contrast, Kenya’s strong civil society has been actively supporting the ICC and has pressured both the Court and national political elites for trials of the “Ocampo Six,” arguing that without such trials violence could resume around the next presidential election.

The United Nations, the central policy and negotiating forum for international justice, discursively promotes that peace and justice are mutually reinforcing, but in practice (and thanks to Security Council politics) takes an ad hoc and selective approach that belies any consistent commitment to principles or consequences.

In terms of scholarship, the principles vs. consequences dichotomy has mirrored the justice vs. peace dichotomy and overlaps with arguments about deterrence effects. For example, the scholarship of Jack Snyder and Leslie Vinjamuri (see here and here) is illustrative of the consequentialist side, and the work of Kathryn Sikkink and others who argue there is a “justice cascade”(see here, here, and here) is illustrative of the principles side. The few that make the case that international justice can deter, such as Payam Akahvan, do so arguing that if we commit to justice in principle it will have the desired consequences of preventing and ending conflict. But certainly these and other international justice scholars have shown empirical evidence that actors pursue, or not pursue, justice for both principled and consequentialist reasons.

Second, the potential negative consequences that advocates should confront need not be conflated with instability writ large. The when, where, and how of international justice can have a variety of perverse and unintended consequences. For example, international trials can displace or delegitimize local judicial processes and actors, reinforce collective guilt and innocence (if both sides are not held accountable), forestall reconciliation (if low-level perpetrators are not held accountable), and reinforce perceptions of judicial colonialism.

So we’re not one big happy principled family.

(cross-posted at Global Transitional Justice)

No Nukes: Arms Division

In February, Bill Clinton’s second Secretary of Defense, William Perry, spoke at Harvard’s Belfer Center and continued his ongoing campaign against nuclear weapons. With former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger and former Senator Sam Nunn, Perry has for many years been seeking a “world free of nuclear weapons.

After describing his personal experience working behind the scenes during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Perry recounted another nuclear scare:

16 years later, when he was Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. He was awakened at 3 a.m. by a phone call from the watch officer at North American Aerospace Defense Command.

“The general got right to the point, telling me that his computers were indicating 200 missiles were on the way from the Soviet Union to the United States. I immediately woke up, “ Perry said. “The computer alert of course was a false alarm. The general was calling me in the hopes that I might help him help him figure out what the hell had gone wrong with his computers so that he’d have something to tell the president the next morning.”

Perry said that was one of three false alarms he knows of in which Soviet missiles were thought to be screaming toward the United States, “and I don’t know how many more might have occurred in the Soviet Union.”

“So I had a close personal experience with the possibility of a nuclear catastrophe that could have resulted in no less than the end of civilization,” Perry said. “And to this day, I believe that we avoided nuclear catastrophe as much by good luck as by good management.”

In other words, Perry does not apparently believe that nuclear deterrence had much to do with the “long peace” of the cold war.

I’ve previously blogged about my academic work in this area. In my view, these former US officials are acting as norm entrepreneurs, contesting the norm of nuclear deterrence by calling for nuclear disarmament. Perry’s Harvard address specifically asks if “we” have “reached the nuclear tipping point.”

That’s norm life cycle-talk 101.

New Nuclear Posture

Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Defense presented its latest Nuclear Posture Review Report. I haven’t had a chance to read the entire document yet, but media reports have focused on a new policy declaration that is of great interest to states and scholars alike.

The statement garnering the greatest attention is included in the “Executive Summary” of the NPR (p. viii):

The United States will continue to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks.

To that end, the United States is now prepared to strengthen its long-standing “negative security assurance” by declaring that the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.

Essentially, the U.S. is reversing longstanding nuclear policy by promising merely to employ “devastating conventional military response” against threats it previously used nuclear weapons to deter: potential chemical or biological weapons (CBW) attacks against the U.S. or its allies. The document makes this explicit, noting that even though the U.S. had abandoned its own CBW programs, it “reserved the right to employ nuclear weapons to deter CBW attack on the United States and its allies and partners.”

Among scholars, this development is interesting because it potentially contributes to strengthening a norm (or perhaps tradition or taboo) of non-use of nuclear weapons. As McGill’s T.V. Paul argues in the book that I just linked, the U.S. refusal to preclude the threat of nuclear retaliation against states using CBW had long weakened the tradition — to the dismay of non-nuclear weapons states everywhere. In fact, during the last decade other nuclear-armed states had followed the U.S. lead and weakened prior non-use pledges in the face of CBW threats in the post-9/11 era.

By excluding the threat of nuclear retaliation against CBW attack, the U.S. is now potentially strengthening the tradition (or norm or taboo) and could serve as a role model for other states that emulated its more threatening previous posture.

Non-nuclear weapons states are likely to be pleased by the new U.S. declaratory strategy since many of them have been arguing since the 1960s for these kinds of “negative security assurances.” It was a point of contention even in the original NPT debates.

Before anyone gets too excited about the U.S. announcement, it should be noted that Iran and North Korea are excluded from the U.S. promise. These states, now apparently called “outliers” rather than “rogue states” by the U.S., have now been explicitly warned that they could still suffer a nuclear blow if they used CBW against the U.S. or its allies.

Indeed, even as the NPR reduced the number of nuclear threats the U.S. is making, Defense Secretary Robert Gates also arguably increased them. By isolating and highlighting the “outliers,” the U.S. is essentially trying to leverage a nuclear threat for counterproliferation purposes:

“If there is a message for Iran and North Korea here, it is that if you’re going to play by the rules, if you’re going to join the international community, then we will undertake certain obligations to you. But if you’re not going to play by the rules, if you’re going to be a proliferator, then all options are on the table in terms of how we deal with you,” said the secretary of defense.

Still, Gates called the use of nuclear weapons a “last resort.”

This statement amounts to a renewal of the Bush Doctrine, linking the potential first use of military force — in this case nuclear weapons — to counterproliferation aims. As Phil McCauley and I recently warned, the fears about biological weapons proliferation are sufficiently strong that they render the current taboo against their use illogical by classic arms control standards as they increase the risk of war.

The U.S. needs to couple the new policy with active efforts to strengthen the chemical and biological arms control and disarmament regimes as well. It was the U.S. after all, that blocked the negotiated verification protocol to the Biological Weapons convention just months after the 9/11 attacks.

Nuclear news

I’m beginning to think that a number of important people in the Obama administration must have read the Keir Lieber and Daryl Press piece in Foreign Affairs, March/April 2006, which explained burgeoning U.S. nuclear primacy, and have taken seriously the potential risks of primacy.

Just more than 10 months since George W. Bush left office, the new administration in Washington has already taken a couple of important steps to reassure other states that the U.S. is trying to reduce the risks.

Duck readers may recall that Bill blogged about the Lieber-Press thesis two and a half years ago — and then Dan mentioned a practical application in summer 2008. Also, I typically assign the reading in my film class during the week we view “Dr. Strangelove.”

Nonetheless, I should briefly explain the argument for those who are just joining the discussion. Essentially, the scholars claim that the U.S. is undermining classic notions of deterrence by pursuing nuclear first-strike capabilities versus Russia, China and other lesser nuclear powers. They point to modernization of various American weapons, as well as deterioration (or negligence) of potential rival arsenals. New burrowing weapons and missile defense technologies contribute to the problem as they magnify nuclear war-fighting capabilities.

If Leiber and Press are right, the U.S. might think the unthinkable in some future political crisis and attempt a “splendid” nuclear first strike against a weaker foe — including Russia. Even if the U.S. is not tempted to attack, potential adversaries might believe that Washington could attack. Therefore, such a state might think it has to “use ’em or lose ’em” and would thus be tempted to launch a preemptive strike in a crisis situation. Nuclear primacy isn’t good for crisis stability, even if its advocates think that it might provide the U.S. with tangible advantages.

Arguably, policy signals and moves by the Obama administration reduce the risks of nuclear primacy somewhat dramatically. Most prominently, several months ago, the President called out “clearly and with conviction, America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” The U.S. is a long way from eliminating weapons, of course, but embracing an abolitionist goal stands in stark contrast to the idea of nuclear primacy. Obviously, concrete followup would be needed to ameliorate the risks outlined by Leiber and Press. The signal itself may have some value.

More tangibly, this past month the administration announced that it was scrapping the Bush-era plans to deploy extensive missile defenses in Europe. While the planned system was ostensibly designed to reduce threats from Iranian nuclear missiles, most Eastern European (and Russian) foreign policy elites saw the defenses as a way to reduce Russian nuclear threats. Missile defenses might be virtually useless against a large Russian missile attack, but they arguably have much greater utility against a so-called “ragged” retaliatory capability that would exist after an American counterforce attack. Again, Lieber and Press specifically point to missile defenses as an element of American nuclear primacy and there’s good evidence that Russian genuinely feared US systems.

Already, the announced new missile defense plans look far less threatening to Russia. The replacement systems have the added bonus of potentially being more effective against Iranian threats — and the altered plan has not unduly hurt relations with Eastern European NATO partners.

I should note that the Pentagon is hastening the pace of the “bunker buster” bombs developed potentially to strike underground nuclear facilities in countries like Iran or North Korea. While this arguably moves the U.S. towards nuclear primacy, it seems to be a much greater threat to new proliferants than to the Russian arsenal.

Compellence

Pakistani Taliban Leader Threatens Attack on Washington

Compellence in its purest form: a threat to inflict pain if an adversary does not alter their current behavior. Is the threat credible? It’s unclear at this time, although US officials are publicly dismissing it. Other threats of late seem more credible–although the FedEx strategy is an example of deterrence, not compellence.

And no, I am not morally equating FedEx and Mehsud–just pointing out examples of strategy.

I haven’t actually seen a study which looks at the success rate of terrorist or non-state deterrent/compellent threats against states (then again, I haven’t looked through the literature for a while). Would be interesting to see…

Nuclear umbrella

Last week, in the much-maligned Democratic debate in Pennsylvania, Senator Hillary Clinton said that she would greatly expand the US nuclear umbrella in the Middle East:

Well, in fact, George [Stephanopoulos], I think that we should be looking to create an umbrella of deterrence that goes much further than just Israel. Of course I would make it clear to the Iranians that an attack on Israel would incur massive retaliation from the United States, but I would do the same with other countries in the region.

You know, we are at a very dangerous point with Iran. The Bush policy has failed. Iran has not been deterred. They continue to try to not only obtain the fissile material for nuclear weapons but they are intent upon and using their efforts to intimidate the region and to have their way when it comes to the support of terrorism in Lebanon and elsewhere.

…we’ve got to deter other countries from feeling that they have to acquire nuclear weapons. You can’t go to the Saudis or the Kuwaitis or UAE and others who have a legitimate concern about Iran and say: Well, don’t acquire these weapons to defend yourself unless you’re also willing to say we will provide a deterrent backup and we will let the Iranians know that, yes, an attack on Israel would trigger massive retaliation, but so would an attack on those countries that are willing to go under this security umbrella and forswear their own nuclear ambitions.

I was very surprised to hear about this statement — and puzzled that it did not lead to a followup question.

Obama’s line on this was somewhat more ambiguous — but still remarkable:

I will take no options off the table when it comes to preventing them [Iran] from using nuclear weapons or obtaining nuclear weapons, and that would include any threats directed at Israel or any of our allies in the region.

The questioner and the candidates seem to have forgotten that the latest NIE (2007) says Iran abandoned its nuclear program in 2003.

Where’s the media frenzy about this topic? It is potentially a hell of a lot more important than some of the personal stuff and verbal gaffes that have dominated the campaign in recent weeks.

The Russians have NUKES! and they’re willing to use them!

OK, so things are tense between Britain and Russia these days. But this breathless headline from the BBC is really over the top: “Russia warns of nuclear defence“.

The meat of the article is only a little less hysterical:

Russia’s military chief of staff has said Moscow is ready to use force, including pre-emptively and with nuclear weapons, to defend itself.

Under what conditions would Russia use nuclear weapons?

In a speech to a military conference broadcast on state-run cable TV, Gen Baluyevsky said there were potential threats to Russia from international terrorism or countries seeking global or regional hegemony.

“We do not intend to attack anyone, but we consider it necessary for all our partners in the world community to clearly understand … that to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia and its allies, military forces will be used, including preventively, including with the use of nuclear weapons,” he said.

Now, where have I heard this before?

Oh, right:

The Pentagon has drafted a revised doctrine for the use of nuclear weapons that envisions commanders requesting presidential approval to use them to preempt an attack by a nation or a terrorist group using weapons of mass destruction. The draft also includes the option of using nuclear arms to destroy known enemy stockpiles of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

The document, written by the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs staff but not yet finally approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, would update rules and procedures governing use of nuclear weapons to reflect a preemption strategy first announced by the Bush White House in December 2002. The strategy was outlined in more detail at the time in classified national security directives.

OK, so the Pentagon document doesn’t mention “territorial integrity” (which means that this statement may be a veiled warning to Georgia to cut out the hanky panky in the Caucasus). But, as we all know, the value of a nuclear deterrent rests on one’s willingness to actually use the nukes in the circumstance you want to deter–what’s the point of a Doomsday Device if you keep it a secret?

Bush on WW 3

Did President Bush, at his October 17, 2007, press conference, threaten the world with war?

You decide:

Q But you definitively believe Iran wants to build a nuclear weapon?

THE PRESIDENT: I think so long — until they suspend and/or make it clear that they — that their statements aren’t real, yeah, I believe they want to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon. And I know it’s in the world’s interest to prevent them from doing so. I believe that the Iranian — if Iran had a nuclear weapon, it would be a dangerous threat to world peace.

But this — we got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel. So I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously.

And we’ll continue to work with all nations about the seriousness of this threat. Plus we’ll continue working the financial measures that we’re in the process of doing. In other words, I think — the whole strategy is, is that at some point in time, leaders or responsible folks inside of Iran may get tired of isolation and say, this isn’t worth it. And to me, it’s worth the effort to keep the pressure on this government.

And secondly, it’s important for the Iranian people to know we harbor no resentment to them. We’re disappointed in the Iranian government’s actions, as should they be. Inflation is way too high; isolation is causing economic pain. This is a country that has got a much better future, people have got a much better — should have better hope inside Iran than this current government is providing them.

So it’s — look, it’s a complex issue, no question about it. But my intent is to continue to rally the world to send a focused signal to the Iranian government that we will continue to work to isolate you, in the hopes that at some point in time, somebody else shows up and says it’s not worth the isolation.

Surely Bush doesn’t think Iran would use a nuclear weapon against the US, does he?

If American and Israeli nuclear arms cannot deter feared threats from small new nuclear powers (like Iran would be), then these states should get rid of their nuclear weapons. They serve virtually no purpose other than deterrence against nuclear threats.

Film class — week 11

Film #11 “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964). We viewed it Tuesday.

Readings for Thursday: Lee Butler, “The Risks of Nuclear Deterrence: From Superpowers to Rogue Leaders” National Press Club, February 2, 1998.

Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, “The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2006.

“Dr. Strangelove” is one of my all-time favorite films and its powerful 40-year old critique of American nuclear deterrence strategy continues to resonate today — even though the cold war is over and contemporary nuclear delivery technologies are much more accurate and deadly.

In the 1998 speech noted above, retired Air Force General Lee Butler — who served as commander-in-chief of the Strategic Air Command — argues that the comical and absurd premises of “Dr. Strangelove” were all too real throughout the cold war:

I was present at the creation of many of these systems, directly responsible for prescribing and justifying the requirements and technology that made them possible. I saw the arms race from the inside, watched as intercontinental ballistic missiles ushered in mutual assured destruction and multiple warhead missiles introduced genuine fear of a nuclear first strike. I participated in the elaboration of basing schemes that bordered on the comical and force levels that in retrospect defied reason. I was responsible for war plans with over 12,000 targets, many struck with repeated nuclear blows, some to the point of complete absurdity.

Butler adds that American nuclear retaliation against post-cold war threats is “inconceivable;” deterrence itself “serves the ends of evil.”

Given the “stakes of miscalculation” or “of crisis spun out of control,” some of which are emphasized in the film classic, Butler arrived at “a set of deeply unsettling judgements” about nuclear deterrence:

That from the earliest days of the nuclear era, the risks and consequences of nuclear war have never been properly weighed by those who brandished it. That the stakes of nuclear war engage not just the survival of the antagonists, but the fate of mankind. That the likely consequences of nuclear war have no politically, militarily or morally acceptable justification. And therefore, that the threat to use nuclear weapons is indefensible.

Butler’s call for a “reasoned path toward abolition” of nuclear weapons was affirmed by 60 retired generals and admirals, as well as more than 100 current and former heads of state and other senior civilian leaders. See the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons for a report in defense of this conclusion.

Lieber and Press make an argument about nuclear strategy that has been discussed previously here at the Duck of Minerva. Essentially, these scholars warn that the American force posture has nearly achieved nuclear primacy against both Russia and China, which is political science jargon that means a viable first-strike capability.

In the film, of course, General Buck Turgidson makes an argument for launching an “all out and coordinated” nuclear attack against the Soviet Union in the midst of the crisis featured in the film. He considers 20 million dead Americans, killed in response to this action, “modest and acceptable civilian casualties.”

Lieber and Press note that the original US nuclear primacy ended about the time “Dr. Strangelove” was made. But because of American techological advancements as well as deterioration in Russian capability, the US may now be able to “think the unthinkable” again.

In “Dr. Strangelove” and in Butler’s account of the cold war, the risk of any nuclear war is doomsday. Lieber and Press worry that American nuclear primacy might invite “crisis instability,” which means that Russian and Chinese leaders might be forced to use their limited nuclear arsenals in any crisis situation. It would be a case of “use ’em or lose ’em,” as was often discussed during the cold war.

A relatively small nuclear strike launched by Russia or China might not invite the doomsday scenario of mutual suicide feared (and perversely, revered) during the cold war, but it would trigger an unprecedented catastrophe.

Filed as:

© 2017 Duck of Minerva

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑