Tag: Ethics

Morality matters: What the United debacle, the Pepsi ad, and Bill O’Reilly have in common

Social media was abuzz last week with three big missteps by major corporations. Pepsi unveiled a failed television advertisement intended to render homage to the social protest movement in the U.S. but that instead trivialized the protests and appropriated their imagery for financial gain; the New York Times revealed allegations of sexual harassment against Fox host Bill O’Reilly and that the host and Fox paid out nearly $13 million to five women in exchange for their silence; and United airlines dragged a boarded passenger, David Dao, off a plane in order to allow its staff to catch a flight to Louisville. It is tempting to think that the moral outrage expressed on social media was a fleeting fit of slacktivism with little purpose. But, it is more than that. 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.

Continue reading

Compensation for Kunduz and the Commodification of Civilian Casualties

The controversy surrounding the coalition airstrike in Kunduz continues to rumble on this week after military investigators drove an armoured personnel carrier into a hospital’s front gate. A spokesperson for the Pentagon was quick to apologise for any damage caused, telling reporters (without a hint of irony) that the team were simply trying to gain access to the facility so that they could assess the structural integrity of the buildings hit earlier in the month. This latest incident will do little to ease tensions between the United States and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which operates the hospital. Three separate investigations into the original attack are now underway but there is still a great deal of uncertainty about why the hospital was targeted. What we do know is that at least 22 people were killed when the AC-130 gunship opened fire on the building, including 12 medical staff and 10 patients.

The debate so far has largely focused on whether or not the attack was lawful, but what caught my attention was the response of the military officials and, in particular, their offer of compensation. After initially blaming ground troops for the mistake and then the Afghan Army, the Pentagon eventually admitted the decision was made further up the chain of command and President Obama has now offered a full-blown apology. What is more, it has since been confirmed that the United States will compensate the victims and help rebuild the hospital. As the Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook made clear, ‘the Department of Defense believes it is important to address the consequences of the tragic incident’. But the use of financial compensation to rectify these wrongs raises a number of important ethical questions: Do these payments actually make the perpetrator any more accountable for the harm they have caused? Is there a risk that they may end up normalising the horrors of war? And do they reflect a genuine concern for the pain and suffering experienced by those living on the frontline of today’s conflicts?

Continue reading

Citizens, Beasts or Gods?

Keeping up with the current engagement with artificial intelligence (AI) is a full time task. Today in the New York Times, two (here and here) lead articles in the technology section were about AI, and another discussed the future of robotics and AI and the workforce.   As I blogged last week, the coming economic future of robotics and AI is going to have to contend with some very weighty considerations that are making our society more and more economically, socially and racially divided.

Today, however, I’d like to think about how a society might view an AI, particularly one that is generally intelligent and economically productive.   To aid in this exercise I am employing one of my favorite and most helpful philosophers: Aristotle. For Aristotle man is the only animal that possesses logos. Logos, is the ability to use speech and reason. While other philosophers have challenged this conclusion, let’s just take Aristotle at his word.

Logos is what defines a human as a human, and because of Aristotle’s teleology, the use of logos is what makes a human a good human (Ethics, 1095a). Moreover, Aristotle also holds that man is by nature a political animal (Ethics 1097b, Politics, 1253a3). What he means by this is that man cannot live in isolation, and cannot be self-sufficient in isolation, but must live amongst other humans. The polis for him provides all that is necessary and makes life “desirable and deficient in nothing” (Ethics, 1097b).   If one lives outside of the polis, then he is doing so against his nature. As Aristotle explains, “anyone who lacks the capacity to share in community, or has not the need to because of his [own] self-sufficiency, is no part of the city and as a result is either a beast or a god” (Politics, 1253a29). In short, there are three classes of persons in Aristotle’s thinking: citizens, beasts or gods.

Citizens share in community, and according to his writings on friendship, they require a bond of some sort to hold them together (Ethics, 1156a). This bond, or philia, is something shared in common. Beasts, or those animals incapable of logos, cannot by definition be part of a polis, for they lack the requisite capacities to engage in deliberative speech and judgment.   Gods, for Aristotle, also do not require the polis for they are self-sufficient alone. Divine immortals have no need of others.

Yet, if we believe that AI is (nearly) upon us, or at least is worth commissioning a 100 year study to measure and evaluate its impact on the human condition, we have before us a new problem, one that Aristotle’s work helps to illuminate. We potentially have an entity that would possess logos but fail to be a citizen, a beast or a God.

What kind of entity is it? A generally artificially intelligent being would be capable of speech of some sort (that is communication), it could understand other’s speech (in either voice recognition or text), it would be capable of learning (potentially at very rapid speeds), and depending upon its use or function, it is could be very economically productive for the person or entity that owns it.   In fact, if we were to rely on Aristotle, this entity looks more akin to slaves. Though even this understanding is incomplete, for his argument is that the master and slave are mutually beneficial in their relationship, and that a slave is nothing more than “a tool for the purpose of life.”   Of course nothing in a relationship between an AI and its “owners” would make the relationship “beneficial” for the AI. Unless one viewed it as possible as giving an AI a teleological value structure that placed “benefit” as that which is good for its owner.

If we took this view, however, we would be granting that an AI will never really understand us humans.   From an Aristotelian perspective, what this means is that we would create machines that are generally intelligent and give them some sort of end value, but we would not “share” anything in common with the AI. We would not have “friendship;” we would have no common bond. Why does this matter, the skeptic asks?

It matters for the simple reason that if we create a generally intelligent AI, one that can learn, evolve and potentially act on and in the world, if it has no philia with us humans, we cannot understand it and it cannot understand us. So what, the objection goes. As long as it is doing what it is programmed to do, all the better for us.

I think this line of reasoning misses something fundamental about creating an AI. We desire to create an AI that is helpful or useful to us, but if it doesn’t understand us, and we fail to see how it is completely nonhuman and will not think or reason like a human, it might be “rational” but not “reasonable.” We would embark on creating a “friendly AI” that has no understanding of what “friend” means, or hold anything in common with us to form a friendship. The perverse effects of this would be astounding.
I will leave you with one example, and one of the ongoing problems of ethics. Utilitarians view ethics as a moral framework that states that one must maximize some sort of nonmoral good (like happiness or well-being) for one’s action to be considered moral. Deontologists claim that no amount of maximization will justify the violation of an innocent person’s rights. When faced with a situation where one must decide what value to ascribe to, ethicists hotly debate which moral framework to adopt. If an AI programmer says to herself, “well, utilitarianism often yields perverse outcomes, I think I will program a deontological AI,” then, the Kantian AI will ascribe to a strict deontic structure. So much so, that the AI programmer finds herself in another quagmire. The “fiat justitia ruat caelum” problem (let justice be done though the heavens fall), where rational begins to look very unreasonable.   Both moral theories ascribe and inform different values in our societies, but both are full of their own problems. There is no consensus on which framework to take, and there is no consensus on the meanings of the values within each framework.

My point here is that Aristotle rightly understood that humans needed each other, and that we must educate and habituate them to moral habits. Politics is the domain where we discuss and deliberate and act on those moral precepts, and it is what makes us uniquely human. Creating an artificial intelligence that looks or reasons nothing like a human carries with it the worry that we have created a beast or a god, or something altogether different. We must tread carefully on this new road, fiat justitia

Should We Keep Hidden the Way People Behave When their Actions are Hidden?

In his most recent post, PTJ argues that “things like Freakonomics are basically corrosive and should be opposed whenever practicable”.  While he repeats in that post (and the comments section) a number of dubious claims about what sorts of behavior are possible within a decision-theoretic framework, I think we’re past the point in the conversation where it is useful to argue about the possibility of writing down a decision-theoretic model whose actors are capable of moral behavior and belonging to communities.1 In this post, I’d like to discuss the moral argument PTJ makes against decision-theoretic work.

Continue reading

From Snowden Crash to Anathem

Germany benefits from US signal intelligence. When we consider the widespread industrial espionage carried out by the Chinese, it is helpful to remember France’s extensive track record of stealing secrets from its friends and neighbors.* Israel is a major espionage threat to the United States. The British collect a lot of intelligence on allies and adversaries, even if deploying fake rocks in Russia might not have been the best idea in the history of spying. Russian and Chinese spying should require little in the way of elaboration: they both engage in a lot of it. There’s nothing unusual about all of this. International espionage implicates friends and foes in a web of  conflict and cooperation. In other words, US Secretary of State John Kerry is right:

Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday said he would look into claims the National Security Agency bugged offices of the European Union, but downplayed the reports, saying such spycraft is “not unusual.”

“Every country in the world that is engaged in international affairs of national security undertakes lots of activities to protect its national security and all kinds of information contributes to that,” Kerry said at a news conference in Brunei, according to the BBC.

“All I know is that is not unusual for lots of nations. But beyond that I’m not going to comment any further until I have all the facts and find out precisely what the situation is,” he added.

So what does it mean that EU and European officials are expressing outrage over the latest revelations from Ed Snowden? Continue reading

Rational Choice and Selfishness

In his latest post, PTJ moves us past the worst critiques of “rational choice theory” and focuses on a few more nuanced concerns.1  I’m glad to see the conversation progressing, and this type of exchange is one of the things I love most about academic blogging.  However, I find some of PTJ’s arguments problematic.

Continue reading

UnChristian Content

Christian conservative crusaders have targeted Electronic Arts for its inclusion of LGBT relationships in its games, including Bioware’s Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and Old Republic series. A notable feature of all three series is that they allow players to make “evil” choices: killing innocents, betraying comrades, profitting from illicit ventures, and even contributing to genocide.

So, in short, this is apparently worthy of protest:

 But this is not:

Happy day-after Easter.

“Sure I’m against war and exploitation- but don’t make me feel guilty about my diamond ring”


Wanna know a guaranteed conversation stopper- great for engagement parties or wedding receptions? Mention the politics of diamonds.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not into being a political Debbie Downer at social events. God knows I have the ammunition. Yet, in my experience women and men are more comfortable with discussions of wartime sexual violence, amputations, and children born as a result of rape than they are about clear gems.
So what gives?

This has been a question plaguing since I finished several months of field work in Sierra Leone in my late 20s- the same time that everyone around me was getting engaged and getting married. This also coincided with the peak (and, it turns out, the rapid decline) in attention to conflict/blood diamonds by human rights organizations and the media.

No one wants to be that self-righteous white girl who has just returned from the global south with lessons to impart on anyone who will listen- so I tried to reserve my rants about diamonds for my husband (bless him), my single friends (‘who wants diamonds anyway!’), or people who were already convinced that diamonds are a source of international exploitation.

To me, three main arguments against diamonds were clear and irrefutable.

  1. The obvious argument (to me, at least): many diamonds are blood diamonds or conflict diamonds. It has been shown time and time again that the money from the sales of diamonds has been used to buy arms, support rebel groups, and sustain oppressive leaders in places like Sierra Leone, Angola, and Liberia. Buying diamonds help support civil wars and continued exploitation.
  2. There is no such thing as ethical diamonds. I swear, the next time someone tells me they bought a 100% genuine conflict free diamond I will break my diamond rant silence. I’m Canadian. I know that there are diamonds that come from Canada and other parts of the world that are marketed as ethical. Here’s the Debbie Downer reality. De Beers owns over a 51% share in half of Canada’s diamond mines. This is the same cartel that was established by former colonizer Cecil Rhodes and that has been lilnked with supporting apartheid, allowing slave labor conditions, and price fixing (amongst other charges). The extra money someone pays for the ethical diamond still supports a cartel that also sells diamonds mined in conflict zones, and under conditions of exploitation and slave labor. So when someone buys an ethical diamond it is like they are buying a Lexus while those buying ‘non-ethical’ diamonds are choosing the Echo- either way, both are supporting Toyota. The ethical buyer just happen to be the high end client. Another bummer for diamond lovers is the fact that the majority of diamonds are cut and polished in India (yes even ethical diamonds); there is mounting evidence of child labor being used to do this. I know, it keeps getting worse….so it’s like buying a Lexus that was put together using child labor?…
  3. Finally. If the blood/conflict argument and the non-ethical arguments don’t work, there’s always the ‘you are just paying WAY too much money for a common stone marketed as a rare gem‘ argument. In other words- smart people are getting duped by the best ad campaign in history (more on that in another post).

So there is no shortage of arguments against diamonds. In fact, new ones seem to emerge all the time (have a look at a fantastic blog about this topic at Al Jazeera). For example, there have been recent discussions of the abuse of diamond miners in Zimbabwe. Why is Zimbabwe allowed to sell diamonds legally through the Kimberly process with thief Mugabe as a leader? Good question.

Despite all the arguments against diamonds, discussing any of them is still a social taboo of sorts. What is even more interesting has been watching- one by one- friends who were also passionate about this issue, people whom I know have worked in countries with the diamond resource curse, and friends who used to cheer ‘who needs diamonds?’ go to the dark side. That is, beam with joy and give me the ‘please don’t make me feel guilty about this’ look when they get a diamond engagement ring.

And I don’t say anything. But with recent developments in Zimbabwe, and a virtual closed door on discussions about diamonds and exploitation internationally I can’t help but send out my frustrations here and ask the questions again, that I have been asking myself for over a decade: How is it possible that gems linked to slave labor, wars, amputation, environmental destruction, and cartels continue to be the symbol of everlasting love? and Why does the personal desire for a symbol of wedding fairy tales trump any logical arguments about the reality behind diamonds? I’d love to hear your ideas and I’m going to try to tackle this question in a second blog….coming soon.

Targeting Targeted Killing

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

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


1.What are you people talking about?

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


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

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

2. Israel-Palestine is crazy sui generis

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

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

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

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

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

3. Assessment of effectiveness requires counterfactual history

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

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

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

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

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

Open Thread on Responding to Academic Dishonesty by Celebrity College Students Not At One’s Own Institution

So this email arrived my mailbox yesterday:

Hi Mr. Carpenter,

I am a fourth year college student and I have the honor of reading one of your books and I just had a few questions… I am very fascinated by your work and I am just trying to understand everything. Can you please address some of my questions? I would greatly appreciate it. It certainly help me understand your wonderful article better. Thank you very much! :)
Sincerely,

[NAME REDACTED]

The “questions”:

1. What is the fundamental purpose of your article?
2. What is your fundamental thesis?
3. What evidence do you use to support your thesis?
4. What is the overall conclusion?
5. Do you feel that you have a fair balance of opposing viewpoints?

My initial response (naturally):

Dear [NAME REDACTED],

If you’ve read my article, you should have answers to the first four of your questions. Why don’t you tell me what you think the answers are and if you’ve misunderstood in any way I’ll let you know.

Regarding your fifth question, I guess I need to know more about what you consider “fair balance” and “opposing viewpoints,” as it relates to my article.

Also, could you tell me a little more about your own research project?

Thanks.

Dr. Carpenter

I didn’t really expect a reply, but I actually got one!

Hi Dr. Carpenter,
Oh, the questions I had were out of my curiosity. English is a second language for me and I was just trying to understand your article. Thank you for your help.

Sincerely,

[NAME REDACTED]

Now at this point it occurs to me this student’s professor is probably someone I know (who else would assign this article?), and that I should try to figure out who s/he is (though the student didn’t give an institution or the prof’s name). Lo and behold identifying said student turned out to take all of three minutes once I started looking, because the individual with this particular name and email address is actually a public figure (at least in the state of which s/he is a resident). One who, incidentally, grew up in the US and certainly reads English – though obviously not all his/her college assignments.

Question to readers: what are my ethical responsibilities as a member of the academy in this matter?

Some thoughts:

If I knew the professor I would simply contact him/her immediately, but I don’t. I could guess and email a few profs at this university, hoping to identify the right one, or perhaps the Academic Dean, then let him/her take care of it. But I worry the administration of any university is likely to let it slide precisely because this student is well-connected. (I have personally seen this happen before.)

Alternatively, I could publicly shame the individual by writing about him/her – which strikes me as somehow the right thing to do when an individual is in the public eye and presenting themselves as a paragon of integrity (one of the criteria for the position this person holds – to be clear, this is not a child of a public figure, the student is an actual public figure).

Whether I’m the right person to do the writing I’m not sure.

I’m also not sure about another thing: my evidence is simply the above – a private email to myself. Associating that email with the individual’s name is not something I’m absolutely certain I should do.

But I’m not certain why I would feel so uncertain. Does my responsibility to protect anyone’s privacy really extend to helping them cover up the fact that they committed an unethical act? (As an intellectual, and someone who takes academic dishonesty quite seriously at my own institution, I feel like this would be no different than turning in a classmate who I saw preparing to cheat on an exam; and that not doing so would be tantamount to complicity.)

On the other hand, did they actually cheat or did they only attempt to do so?

And how much should it matter that this person is a near-celebrity? Am I wrong in thinking that public figures, people to whom other young people look up, should be held to a higher standard both because it is right and because it is effective, in terms of norm-setting, to make examples of them? Am I wrong in thinking that an individual holding a position for which “moral character” is a requirement should be exposed if they commit immoral acts? Am I wrong in thinking that if I choose not to speak out, I am somehow complicit?

Is the above even a clear-cut case of an immoral act or am I just being a stickler?

Etc.

So far, all I’ve done is send the student a stern email requesting the name of his/her professor. (We’ll see what happens.) But it occurred to me that there are a lot of unanswered questions here and that the discussion would be healthy. So have at it.

“An AQ/Taliban Executioner’s Dream.”

Quoting an anonymous former military intelligence officer, that is how Adam Swerer described the Wikileaks’ archive published Sunday in an op-ed earlier this week. Joshua Foust concurred in a PBS essay:

If I were a Taliban operative with access to a computer — and lots of them have access to computers — I’d start searching the WikiLeaks data for incident reports near my area of operation to see if I recognized anyone. And then I’d kill whomever I could identify. Those deaths would be directly attributable to WikiLeaks.

Even with the names removed from these reports, you know where they happened (many still have place names). You know when they happened. And you know an Afghan was speaking to a U.S. soldier or intelligence agent. If you have times, locations and half the participants, you don’t need names to identify who was involved in a conversation — with some very basic detective work, you can find out (and it’s much easier to do in Afghanistan, which loves gossip).

This morning, the New York Times confirmed that the presumably heavily redacted leaked reports contain numerous data-points, including specific names, that will identify Afghan informants who have provided intelligence to US forces. The Afghan government is rightly appalled:

“Whether those individuals acted legitimately or illegitimately in providing information to the NATO forces, their lives will be in danger now,” said Mr. Karzai, who spoke at a press conference just after he said he discussed the issue with his advisors. “Therefore we consider that extremely irresponsible and an act that one cannot overlook.”

While the government mulls options for prosecuting Assange (more thoughts on that shortly), consideration should probably be given to the legal or ethical culpability of the mainstream press as well. There are professional standards in most industries about the protection of sources. (As a political scientist, if I published my human subjects data in such a way as to put their lives at risk, I would face serious professional consequences.) Yet the paper is blithely oblivious to its own role in publicizing and legitimizing Wikileaks’ actions:

A search by The New York Times through a sampling of the documents released by the organization WikiLeaks found reports that gave the names or other identifying features of dozens of Afghan informants, potential defectors and others who were cooperating with American and NATO troops.

The Times and two other publications given access to the documents — the British newspaper The Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel — posted online only selected examples from documents that had been redacted to eliminate names and other information that could be used to identify people at risk. The news organizations did this to avoid jeopardizing the lives of informants.

They may have redacted names in their print versions, but they publicized the archive and linked to it, ensuring its contents maximum exposure. Does this fall within the bounds of appropriate conduct for professional journalists? Based on a reading of the “minimize harm” rules in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, I have my doubts.

Even if there’s no legal requirement, it seems to me that the mainstream news media could and should play a significant role in cases like this in disseminating rights-based norms for reporting and sourcing to online journalists. There is no professional association for bloggers, no oversight for users who generate content on YouTube, Facebook or other social networking sites, no codes of conduct for one-URL entities who make it their business to raise awareness of specific issues. However, when mainstream news organizations cover the actions of those organizations or individuals in a way that raises their influence and profile, they have an ethical responsibility to consider the fall out to vulnerable individuals of that coverage.

I would argue this extends to negotiating terms with people like Assange that make cooperation contingent on guarantees of certain ethical standards in their own work. Most likely such a socialization process would have helped an amateur like Assange avoid what he himself admits were mistakes, and resulted in a set of wikileaks that minimized the “collateral damage” to Afghan citizens.

In the absence of such guarantees, the mainstream news media could have published a different story, as soon as they understood the contents of the archive: a story about the evolving relationship between new media and human security, perhaps headlined “Wikileaks Founder Poised to Endanger Civilian Lives in Afghanistan.”

Instead, they treated him as a fellow journalist without holding him to any journalistic standards. Whatever the merits of the rest of the archive, The Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel dropped the ball by cooperating fully with Assange instead of reining him in.

I wonder if an outcome of this fiasco might be the establishment of offices within mainstream news outlets specifically designed to review the ethics of complicity in publishing stories like this, staffed by individuals with human rights and ethics training whose job is to liase in a responsible manner with new media information sources upon which mainstream news reporting has increasingly come to rely.

The Ethics of State Involvement in Women’s Health

I have been fortunate to be a part of a number of interesting conversations over the last few weeks, and am currently attending the conference linked above, hosted by the Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics, the University of Southern California Global Health Institute, and the Center for International Studies at the University of Southern California. Conversations are centering around global norms and international agreements on women’s health, health aid, human trafficking, economic empowerment, violence and war, and medicine distribution. These conversations are extremely interesting to me, and just outside of my research agenda enough that I’m learning a lot without having preconceived notions of what I should be thinking on particular topics.

When I was invited to be a part of this conference, I decided to revive my interest in legal research and discrimination law, and pair that with my interest in gender in global politics. My presentation discussed the differential impacts of different grounds on which abortion is legalized in providing the expected women’s health benefits from legalization. A couple of themes in my paper have come up in other panels, and lead me to be more generally interested in researching the role of taboo in the protection of rights and the provision of goods and services to women. I’ll provide a skeleton of what I’m thinking about …


When abortion is illegal, illegal abortions take place frequently. The complication rate for illegal abortions is much higher than for legal abortion, where fully 1% of people who have illegal abortions die from complications and almost 5% have permanent health complications, while legal abortion is actually less likely to cause fatalities than childbirth. Worldwide, almost 80000 women die every year from complications from illegal abortions, and abortion-related deaths drop around 90% in the first five years of legality.
Fully half of abortions that take place every year are illegal and most of those take place places where abortion is illegal.

I couldn’t help but wonder if there is more to it. While legalizing abortions is necessary to decreasing the death rate from unsafe abortions, it is not sufficient. Particularly, I approached it by thinking about the grounds on which abortion is legalized.

Whether abortion is made legal by a court case (as in the United States) or by legislative process, a “grounds” on which abortion is legal almost always accompanies the jurisprudence or legislation. For example, in the United States, privacy is the grounds for abortion legality. Other places, involuntariness of the pregnancy, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, “maternal” health, and other grounds maintain the general taboo against abortion but make exceptions for certain circumstances understood as extreme. Other grounds for the legality of abortion eschew the taboo, characterizing abortion as generally acceptable behavior rather than acceptable only in extreme circumstances. These grounds include women’s rights and women’s labor arguments.

It is easy to say that the grounds don’t matter, abortion is legal or it is not. But practically, that’s not true at the most basic level because the grounds impact to whom abortions are available and when. Still, the grounds also affect availability in other ways …both in terms of the ease of obtaining abortions and the permissiveness (or lack thereof) of social norms and social culture surrounding the obtaining of abortions.

In theory, the “taboo-maintaining” grounds for legalizing abortion relegate women’s abortions specifically and their bodies generally to the private sphere of social and political life, a reification of the personal/political divide that feminists have always found both insidious and materially harmful to women. The division of the political and social world into ‘public’ and ‘private’ marginalizes those interests which are in private places, like inside the home, or inside their bodies. When issues fall on the “private” side of the public/private dichotomy, they are considered rights of individual bodies, which are often negative rights and even more often subject to situational enforcement.

On the other hand, grounds for the legality of abortion that remove it from the private sphere argue that it is a gender-based right, either in terms of equal protection of the laws or in terms of inequities in labor performed or the labor market. In countries where these are the grounds, the interconnections in women’s inequality between forced sex, economic deprivation, and reproduction are recognized as a matter of law.

In the early results of my study on these issues, controlling for poverty and the degree of abortion legality, the grounds on which abortion is legal are a significant predictor of the marginal effects of legality on women’s health as a result of abortion – abortions are safer places where the grounds lift the abortion taboo in addition to legalizing abortion. This is significant at the .001 level in a number of different coding variations.

The question of the “abortion taboo” has come up elsewhere today, and I have spent most of the morning thinking about the potentially fruitful relationship between feminist theorizing in IR/comparative politics and the study of (sexual and gendered) stigma and taboo in IR. What are the functional impacts of taboos? How are they gender-differential? And is a taboo a norm like we talk about in the literature on norms, norm diffusion, and norm entrepreneurs in IR? Or do we need some other framework through which to evaluate the idea of a stigma or taboo and its influence in global political and social relations?

Truth or Travesty? A Fallen Marine’s Last Moments

The Associated Press has sparked a controversy by publishing these graphic photos of Marine Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard’s death in Afghanistan, against the wishes of his parents and the Pentagon.

Forgetting the fact that we never seem too concerned about representations of dismembered or dying people from other countries, let’s review the two key issues in the debate:

1) Should the DoD be bullying the press into sitting on war photos that render war as ugly as it is? In reviewing the coverage on blogs, most comments I’ve seen by military personnel argue no.* But they also think it’s bunk to assume that a) the public doesn’t ‘get it’ and b) that the war is ‘senseless’ and c) that the public will turn against the war if they see ‘what it’s really like.’ On all three points, I agree (that it’s bunk).

2) Should the press respect the preferences of those it represents and their families even if it means suppressing the full truth? This is by far the more important issue in my mind, for Bernard’s family (not just the Pentagon) twice asked the AP not to publish photos of his death. I tend to come down on victims’ rights in these cases, and ironically, so do progressives most of the time. A lot of the same liberals who are supporting the AP in this case, because they believe in the political agenda behind its decision, would have criticized war journalists in Bosnia for publishing photographs of rape victims against their request, no matter how useful this would have been in bringing attention to the horrors of war. If I were in the reporter’s shoes in either case, I’d have respected such a request.

On the other hand, if the US government wished to lend support to the family’s cause, it could not have chosen a worse spokesperson than the Secretary of Defense. Now this family’s genuine wish for privacy has been associated in the public’s mind with the DoD’s agenda to maintain war’s legitimacy – and has undermined both.

________________________________________

*Those who identify themselves as having served are saying things like the following in comments on the Denver Post article that broke these photos:

“I am a 3rd generation combat arms soldier. I have several good friends buried at Arlington. I feel for this young amn’s family and honor his sacrifice and his memory. But I have no qualms about publishing photographs of my death or my friends death as death is part of war and we must be able to comprehend that every death is a horrible thing and a great sacrifice to a family and friends back home. Recall the shot of the rotting corpse of a soldier in a shell hole that is one of the “classic” images of WWI…the photo showing the washed up bodies of dead Marines on a beach in the Pacific, etc etc…yes, the images are graphic, but unfortunately they are also necessary. A photo can mobilize a nation to fight when necessary, or it can serve to start the dialogue needed to end an unjust one. Free society requires a free press. You don’t have to like it, just honor it. That is what we are/were fighting for after all people…freedom.”

“I’m glad the photos were published. As a Marine, I’m far from disgusted by them. I am appalled that such “hoopla” is being raised over it. This is war, it’s not pretty or fun. It’s not all parades and fireworks.”

“I am a Corpsman (the medics that take care of the Marines) currently deployed to Iraq. People dont fully untderstand what is going on over here and in Afghanistan. We see it everyday. If you guys want to send us to war and not come along for the fun, well you better not complain when you have to look at how ugly it really is.”

Modeling Torture, and the Ethical Dilemma of the Results

A few months ago fellow NYU inhabitant Joshua Tucker of The Monkey Cage asked what, if any, social science research had been done on the effectiveness of torture in obtaining valuable intelligence? Josh’s primary question was an ethical one, that being if a researcher had a personal objection to the use of torture, but through an empirical analysis of data found that it in fact did extract valuable data, should the researcher attempt to get it published despite his or her personal objection? This touched off a very interesting discussion among Monkey readers, and I recommend it to all.

Today, Josh revisits the topic, but this time with a bit of relevant research in hand. In “Interrogational Torture: Or How Good Guys Get Bad Information with Ugly Methods,” John Schiemann presents a theoretical model of an interrogation.
Briefly, the model has two players, the detainee and the state, where the state is uncertain about the value of the detainee’s knowledge and the detainee is uncertain as to the state’s willingness to use torture. The state moves first, by either asking leading questions (uninformative signal) or objective questioning. The detainee must then decide to send a valuable message, or not. Finally, the state evaluates this message to ascertain the detainees type, and from this decides whether to use torture to extract additional information (for a full description of the game see the paper).

In approaching this research, Schiemann struggled with the exact ethical dilemma hypothesized by Josh in his first post, and after deciding to research the the topic he concluded:

…even in a worst case scenario in which torture is shown to be effective under some limited circumstances, we would want to know that. What is the alternative? The alternative is to do nothing and help preserve a status quo in which torture is unrestrained. As difficult as it would be to swallow a result showing some limited effectiveness of torture, I’d rather live with that than what the U.S. has been doing – and perhaps is continuing to do.

There are two interesting points of discussion that fall from this discussion. First, do we believe the model presented above is an accurate or useful interpretation of the decision process of a state to use torture? One weakness to note is the presumed equality of uncertainty between the players. The state is rarely completely uncertain as to the value of a detainee’s knowledge. Presumably some amount of intelligence collection went into the decision to capture and interrogate a detainee, therefore, the state can (and does) have the ability to rank the value of detainees. Likewise, unless a detainee is the first of a given conflict, the game is clearly repeated; consequently, all subsequent detainees will be able to update their beliefs about a state’s type. It may be more valuable, and easier to model, to make this a repeated game of one-way uncertainty, where a state is known to use torture, but the type of detainee is unknown by adding noise to the intelligence collected on a detainee prior to capture.

The second point of interest are Schiemann’s thoughts on how social scientists should approach researching ethically sensitive topics (for his full remarks see the Monkey post). My opinion is that all finding should be disclosed; first because it is a fundamental principle of scientific endeavor, but more to the point, it can expose false assumptions and promote more accurate models to be built and explored. For example, the model above is an excellent first step toward building a theory of how a state decides to use torture. As we can clearly see, however, it is in no way the definitive model on the topic. If the results from this model show that torture is effective that does not mean it should be used. On the contrary, it means that under the assumptions of this particular model, in some cases, it is shown to be effective. Improving the model, and generating new results, may alter the conclusion completely (or not). This iterative process is the only way to contribute valuable knowledge to a discipline.

I am interested in other’s thoughts, both in terms of the model, but also how to approach research on these kinds of topics. Particularly from practitioners (not necessarily of torture) within the defense community. How is this model getting at the dynamics of interrogation, and where does it fail? How might it be improved? Also, as consumers of social science research, how do you think the community should handle these ethical concerns?

Photo: Wikimedia

War and punishment

Ethics and pragmatism sometimes align in matters of war and peace, and other times they work at cross purposes. Two recent examples illustrate this rather banal point:

1. Brian Ulrich calls attention to what might be charitably described as a misguided Israeli tactic for dealing with Hamas in the West Bank:

It’s long been said that Hamas is popular because of its social services. Israel’s defense establishment is now on the case:

“Israeli military officials have identified Hamas’s civilian infrastructure in the West Bank as a major source of the Islamic group’s popularity, and have begun raiding and shutting down these institutions in cities like Hebron, Nablus and Qalqilyah.

“Last week, troops focused their efforts in Nablus, raiding the city hall and confiscating computers. They also stormed into a shopping mall and posted closure notices on the shop windows. A girls’ school and a medical centre were shut down in the city, and a charitable association had its computers impounded and documents seized.

And:

In recent months, the army has also closed down an orphanage, a bakery and other institutions in Hebron, which Israel believes are associated with Hamas. In Gaza, meanwhile, Israel and the Islamic group are observing a truce, but this does not pertain to the West Bank where the Israeli military operates freely.”

Are they serious? Having Israel attack Hamas orphanages and medical centers is supposed to make Palestinians turn against Hamas?

Robert Farley lodges an additional objection:

The motivating concept behind strategic bombing in World War II was that enemy morale would be crushed by the destruction of the infrastructure of civilian life; the Japanese, it was thought, would stop supporting their government when the United States Army Air Force destroyed the ability of that government to supply civilian services. Essentially, the point is to make the people blame their own government for their hardships.”

Rob contines

The Israelis aren’t actually blowing anything up, but the concept seems to be the same — close an orphanage, and hope that the Palestinians blame Hamas instead of Israel. Good luck with that…

I think Rob misses the point. The Israeli campaign isn’t designed to make the Palestinians blame Hamas for a loss of social services, but to deny Hamas the ability to provide social services. Now Rob is right that a major problem with the strategy is that it risks creating more of a rally-around Hamas effect; another is that it further undermines Fatah.

Writing in the daily Haaretz newspaper this week, columnist Gideon Levy calls the move against Hamas-related institutions “ludicrous.” Residents of the West Bank, he concludes, “cannot be simultaneously imprisoned, prohibited from earning a living and offered no social welfare assistance while we strike at those who are trying to do so, whatever their motives. If Israel wants to fight the charitable associations, it must at least offer alternative services. On whose back are we fighting terror? Widows? Orphans? It’s shameful.”

By moving against Hamas institutions, Israel runs the risk of increasing the popularity of the Islamic movement and, at the same time, undermining that of Abbas and his Fatah party, who are perceived, correctly or not, as the intended beneficiaries — even if unwitting and unwilling ones — of this policy.

What’s more, Hamas’s popularity does not derive only from its network of schools and charities, but is also very much a direct function of the deep disillusionment among the Palestinian people with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority and its inability to deliver on its key promises, the central one being an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza. Some in Israel argue that the best way for Israel to block Hamas and bolster Abbas would be to halt construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, ease travel restrictions there and, most importantly, ensure there is progress in negotiations with the Palestinian leader.

To be blunt, the Israelis need to demonstrate to the Palestinian people that the peace process–and those advocating peace–will bring material improvement to their lives. Israeli counter-terrorism strategy, however, often does just the opposite.

The frustrating thing is how little anyone interested in peace has learned since the breakdown of Oslo, when the Israeli far right Palestinian extremists de facto conspired to torpedo the peace process. They did so not only by polarizing the environment, but by forcing policies that destroyed the hope of material benefit from the peace process.

So this is a case where moral action–responding to the plight of the Palestinian people–is also pragmatic action.

2. The opposite, unfortunately, is true in Sudan. Recall that the ICC has issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of genocide. China, an increasingly close ally of Sudan, is part of an effort to suspend the ICC indictment.

But the indictment should be suspended, as it complicates already struggling attempts to deal with the situation in Darfur. Proceeding with the indictment backs Bashir into a corner, reduces whatever incentive he has to sign onto any future agreement, and renders such negotiations even more difficult. The African Union is basically right that:

“hard-won gains made in the search for peace and reconciliation in the Sudan” could be jeopardised.

Foreign ministers of the 15 countries currently serving on the AU’s Peace and Security Council are expected to meet in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital where the AU is based, next week.

The charges against President Bashir put African countries in an acutely difficult position, says the BBC’s Liz Blunt in Addis Ababa.

They supply almost all the troops for the joint AU/UN peacekeeping force in Darfur, and are also the countries most likely to be called upon to carry out any arrest warrant, she says.

It also threatens to undermine the ICC itself, as it can’t do much of anything to enforce its writ.

Human Rights and Responsibilities

John Knox has published a long and dense yet fascinating article, “Horizontal Human Rights Law” in January’s issue of the American Journal of International Law. In it, he asks considers whether international human rights law, designed to prescribe how states may and must treat their citizens, also impose human responsibilities on citizens themselves?

Thinking that it maybe should, the now-defunct Human Rights Commission took up the issue before it disbanded in 2006, an effort which culminated in a Draft Declaration on Human Social Responsibilities that aimed to lay out both the horizontal duties that individuals own one another as members of society, and the vertical duties owed to their states and governments (like the duty to obey the law or serve the nation).

Knox points out that existing human rights law already enshrines correlative duties – that is, duties to one another – in the limits it allows states to place on the exercise of individual rights, and the requirement that states pass and enforce laws criminalizing the abuse of human rights by private actors like corporations or family members.

What earlier multilateral negotiations rejected, however, and what the Draft Declaration would also promote if adopted, is a set of converse duties – duties owed by individuals to the state itself. Knox argues against the Declaration on these grounds: if rights, which are designed to curtail how the state may treat its citizens, are contingent on human duties owed to the state, then this would undermine the entire concept of non-derogable human rights:

“Correlative duties are truly horizontal… they run between actors on the same legal plane, and, unlike converse duties, they appear to further, rather than undermine, the enjoyment of human rights. Converse duties ahve the potential ot undermine human rights because the government may rely on them to offset the duties it owes to the individual under human rights law.

Human rights law should do more to develop specific private duties to promote and protect human rights. But advocates of new proposals for private duties should ensure that their proposals strengthen, rather than weaken, the existing system of horizontal human rights law.

The Draft Declaration on Human Social Responsibilities fails. It is a collection of converse duties that raise the very concerns that led to the rejection of lists of private duties in human rights agreements.”

I generally agree with Knox’s broad argument. However I’m not certain I can agree with his reading of the Draft Declaration, at least on the basis of some of the examples he gives. (I have not yet had time to read the declaration closely myself.) An example that caught my eye was this one:

“Rather that attempt to delineate duties that the right of freedom might place on private actors, the draft declaration would limit that right: ‘Ever person linked to the mass media has the duty to provide information with due objectivity and discretion based on sounds reasoning, the verified truth of the information give and absolute fidelity to what is said by the sources consulted about it.'”

I’m not certain I see how this example represents a converse duty to be feared rather than a correlative duty to be embraced. It could be enumerated as a media informant’s right not to be misquoted or to have their experiences sensationalized for profit. But it’s expressed as a corresponding duty.

While I expect Knox’s general argument about the dangers of converse duties are valid, it’s too bad he used this particular example to make his point, since this seems like precisely the kind of correlative duty the human rights system should be finding ways to promote. It’s often amazed me at how strict the standards of confidentiality, informed consent and fidelity are for social scientists, and how lax the standards and oversight are for journalists. Since human lives can in fact be lost when journalists act unethically (which sometimes give the state an excuse to clamp down on press freedom per se), it seems that the human rights regime perhaps should be able to reach and punish such harms directly. That way, journalists would have their own set of incentives to police themselves, and any excuse for blanket repression of press freedoms by the state would be eliminated.

Perhaps a more nuanced argument would be not to oppose the Draft entirely, but simply oppose converse duties. I think we need a clearer discussion than Knox provides of how to distinguish one kind of duty from another, however.

A Protection Paradox

It is always wonderful, at this time of year, when grading a student’s paper teaches a professor something and leaves him/her thinking anew about ethical ironies in world politics.

My MPIA student, Christopher Farnsworth, who is now being recruited by the US Department of Defense, just wrote a fascinating analysis of Congressional policy on the sale of precision-guided munitions for my class on the “Rules of War.” (The paper, which is still in draft form as these things go, nonetheless contains a wealth of information on this issue, and is available here for those who know as little about this policy process as I did before I read it.)

Here’s the ethical irony his analysis raises. The US is generally committed to more bloodless war for primarily humanitarian reasons (hence the development of smart bombs and non-lethal weapons to avoid killing enemy civilians) but is highly selective as to which governments it will share this technology with so that they, too, can avoid hitting foreign civilians in their various wars. Why?

Farnsworth points out that humanitarianism would be better served by relaxing the rules for the dissemination of smart bomb technology. Yet he concludes it this option – selling our most precise weapons to those governments we trust least – would be politically unpopular. Americans, he thinks, are unlikely to support handing our potential adversaries advanced weapons, merely on the grounds it might save innocent lives elsewhere.

But I wonder. Why shouldn’t the US public support open sales of PGMs – that is, putting smart-bombs in the hands not only of our allies but also our enemies, out o sel-interest? Why would we (civilian voters) want to prevent our adversaries from having the capacity to avoid hitting our homes in an assault if someday they so chose? Shouldn’t our government want to extend us this protection?

Instead, the Presidential criteria for a country’s eligibility for Foreign Military Sales includes “strengthens the security of the United States and promotes world peace.” (World peace being very unlike jusr war.) In other words, we sell smart bombs to our allies (sometimes) but want our enemies – those likeliest to attack us – to use dumb bombs; and we associate this policy with national security and world peace. Why?

The paper (which is mostly about whether to ban dumb bomb sales) only speculates as to the logic here, but to me it seems like a puzzle that could be thoughtully investigated.

Expediency vs. Ideals or Intrinsic vs. Reputational Interests in Uzbekistan?

[Cross posted at “Discord and Elaboration“]

I think Patrick is on to something when he writes that the current dilemma facing the US in Uzbekistan isn’t strictly one of security-vs-morality. Of course, one could (and many have) frame the issue in this way. However I think there is another way to look at the issue. I see the problem as strategy-vs-strategy, or more specifically, intrinsic interests-vs-reputational interests. The Defense Department sees the K2 airbase (K2 is shorthand for Karshi-Khanabad) as an intrinsic interest, one that is vital operationally to fighting the GWOT (Greater War on Terror) and for maintaining the US ability to project power in the region. The State Department on the other hand sees the Andijan massacre and US actions regarding K2 as a reputational interest, one that is important not for its immediate strategic value but rather for the inferences others will draw about the US.

The current situation in Uzbekistan offers a wonderful example of the dilemma that statesmen face from time to time between intrinsic and reputational interests. It also illustrates the difficulties in implementing a grand strategy that includes a component as amorphous as spreading democracy. A little background (if you already read Patrick’s post you can skip this):

Back on May 13th an estimated 200 Uzbek protestors were gunned down by government troops as a result of a massive protest in Andijan’s main square (another 500 reportedly fled across the border into Kyrgstan). The Uzbek government has claimed that less than 200 protestors died and the bulk of those were Islamic militants. However, eyewitness accounts and NGO investigations have put the official account into question. Human Rights Watch issued a report about the incident in which they claim that the protests were in no way connected to Islamic militants or calls for an Islamic theocracy. The report said in part:

Interviews with numerous people present at the demonstrations consistently revealed that the protesters spoke about economic conditions in Andijan, government repression, and unfair trials–and not the creation of an Islamic state. People were shouting ‘Ozodliq!’ [‘Freedom’] and not ‘Allahu Akbar’ [‘God is Great’].

At last week’s meeting of defense ministers in Brussels, Russia and the United States collaborated to kill any joint demand by NATO for an international probe into the events in Andijan. Several sources told the Washington Post that the eventual wording of the joint communique regarding the meeting (which merely stated that “issues of security and stability in Central Asia, including Uzbekistan” had been discussed) was the result of a fierce battle between “U.S. defense officials, who emphasized the importance of the base, and others, including State Department representatives at NATO headquarters, who favored language calling for a transparent, independent and international probe into the killings of Uzbekistan civilians by police and soldiers”. There was some debate as to whether Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was openly opposing stated US and State Department policy towards the Andijan massacre (as Secretary Rice and President Bush have both openly denounced the action and called for an investigation) or simply being noncommittal because he was not involved in recent high-level discussions regarding the issue.

In either case it is clear that the US faces a dilemma in Uzbekistan specifically and with the democratization strategy in
general. The Washington Post has a nice quote that sums up the problem:

It’s like the dilemma we have in the democracy agenda in many places. We have to both press the democracy agenda and still, for example, cooperate when we need to on the war on terror,” another senior U.S. official said.

Patrick is right when he notes that the debate within the Administration is not between ‘narrow defenders of the national interest’ and ‘idealistic proponents of a normative consensus’. Both are in fact making value-judgements regarding security policy. The way I see it is that each side is, for whatever reason, placing a greater emphasis on one of two interests—either instrinsic or reputational—both of which are critical to US grand strategy.

What is the exact difference between these two types of interests? First espoused by Glenn Snyder and Paul Deising in Conflict Among Nations (and echoed by Robert Jervis), intrinsic interests are defined as those that are valued for their inherent and immediate material/military quality (e.g. a strategically located airbase, energy resources, high ground, etc.). Reputational interests differ from intrinsic interests in that they are valued not for their immediate value but for how they affect an actor’s later bargaining position and the image that other actors will have of a state (e.g. a resolved, powerful actor that cannot be threatened).

An example of a reputational interest is the US concern over Taiwan. Most observers agree that the US gains little strategic (i.e. military) advantage by maintaining the status quo in the Taiwan Straight. Some have noted that we might value our informal alliance with a relatively (if not juridically) independent Taiwan because it allows us to develop naval choke points against the Chinese, but this is not a view that is widely held. Maintaining Taiwan’s present status is viewed as a reputational interest because of what inferences we believe others draw from our behavior on this issue. The US believes that other actors (including the Chinese, but also other potential adversaries and current allies) use Taiwan as an index or metric from which to deduce information about the US–our resolve, commitment to allies, credibility, etc. If we were to abandon or sell-out Taiwan in the face of Chinese threats the belief is that others would draw the inference that the US lacks resolve in the face of threats and that we are not reliable allies.

So how does this apply to the current case of Uzbekistan? In my estimation the Defense Department views the Karshi-Khanabad airbase in Uzbekistan as a critical logistical hub in the region for both NATO and US operations. In this sense, DOD views the situation as one were the immediate strategic (i.e. military) value of K2 is of utmost importance. In contrast, a group of US Senators (including John McCain who wrote an opinion piece in the FT yesterday on this very topic), the State Department, and probably a number of other foreign policy officials within the administration view our response to the massacre in Andijan as pertaining to our reputational interests.

Reputation matters a great deal for our current grand strategy because of our stated commitment to democratization. Rhetorically and strategically, the administration’s grand strategy views the spread of democracy as a critical component (as I have argued here). The key word is “spread”. Actors in the second camp are concerned about the inferences current and potential allies (as well as those regimes we are trying to coerce into democratizing) will draw about our commitment to democracy depending upon our response to Andijan. Morality does not have to play a role in the State Department’s calls for an open, international investigation into the massacre. Rather, it is how the State Department conceptualizes the interests that are at stake that is most likely determining its position on this issue.

The inferences others draw about our commitment to democracy are of critical importance for a number of reasons. First, if the US is going to convince citizens in target countries that it is committed to democracy above all else. Ignoring the massacre in Andijan because of our intrinsic interest in K2 will certainly work against that goal. The conclusion citizens will (or may) draw is that the US is only committed to democracy in those countries where our strategic/military interests are minimal or that we deem immediate security threats (i.e. Iran and North Korea—cite post article from this morning). Second, despotic rulers who do not wish to democratize may draw the same inference. These rulers may decide that one way to maintain their rule without being pressured to democratize is to provide some vital strategic “good” (such as military basing or intelligence) to the US. Third, appearing to be uncommitted to the spread of democracy may disrupt support from existing allies (and potentially recruiting new ones), especially if those allies have legitimized their aid to the US to their citizens in terms of democratization. If US actions seem to signal that they are only rhetorically committed to democratization allies may have to cut off support.

This certainly isn’t the first intrinsic/reputational dilemma a state has found itself in. In fact, one could argue the US is perpetually facing such choices. My guess is that this one will be resolved more by the actions being taken by the Uzbek government than by the US. In response to recent criticism by Secretary Rice about the incident the Uzbekistan government has limited US access to K2. The US has already began re-routing air traffic to Bagram airbase in Kabul (post article). Additionally, the US today issued a statement denying that the Pentagon was trying to obstruct an investigation in order to maintain access to K2 and noting that $11 million of US assistance was being witheld from Uzbekistan. My guess is that the longer the Uzbekistan government refuses to allow an investigation as well as restricts access to K2 the US will simply adjust its logistic needs and thereby sink costs into some of these other (more sub-optimal at the moment) bases. But don’t quote me on that…

Filed as:, ,

Security vs. morality?

The Washington Post reports today on the recent NATO-Russia joint communique, which among other points stated that “issues of security and stability in Central Asia, including the recent tragic events in Uzbekistan, was also discussed.” According to the Post, this rather bland language papered over an intra-agency dispute within the US government about how best to handle the situation stemming from the 13 May crackdown against a failed uprising in the city of Andijon. The crackdown, which Human Rights Watch has labeled a “massacre,” involved the deployment of armed troops to respond to an antigovernment protest; witnesses reported numerous human rights violations, including a systematic effort to kill wounded survivors of the initial clash.

The intra-agency dispute here is a rather traditional tug-of-war between the State and Defense Departments, with the State Department pressing for an international investigation into the events in Andijon while the Defense Department, worried about preserving US access to Uzbek air bases, is less willing to antagonize the Uzbek government and thus endanger current US military strategy and tactics in the region. Given this split, and the reluctance of Russia to assent to any kind of international inquiry about human rights violations on its borders, the NATO-Russia communique couldn’t very well take a stronger stance.

It would be tempting to regard this disagreement as a case of national security versus global morality, with the Defense Department playing the role of the narrow defender of the national interest and the State Department playing the role of the expansive, idealistic proponent of a normative consensus. But this would be a mistake, I think. Especially given that the Defense Department’s position is intimately tied up with the prosecution of the War on Terror — a project that is certainly some distance removed from a clear-cut defense of the territorial integrity and physical security of the United States.

What we have here instead is a disagreement about conceptions of security, and not a clash between a security orientation and a morality orientation. Defense’s position is that prosecuting the War on Terror justifies paying somewhat less attention to an event that seems very much like an egregious violation of human rights, while State seems to be arguing instead that security is achievable primarily by insisting on uniform standards of conduct for all US countries. The people at State are not starry-eyed idealists, and the people at Defense are not hard-nosed realists; both are acting with a complex mix of ideological and practical considerations at hand.

This ought not to be surprising, especially if we keep in mind Arnold Wolfers’ 1949 observation that

The “necessities” in international politics, and for that matter in all spheres of life, do not push decision and action beyond the realm of moral judgment; they rest on moral choice themselves. If a statesman decides that the dangers to the security of his country are so great as to make necessary a course of action that may lead to war, he has placed an exceedingly high value on an increment of national security.

Appealing to security considerations, as the Defense Department seems to have done in opposing a more thorough and invasive investigation of the Andijon situation, is just as much a value-laden stance as an appeal to human rights. Neither are an ultimate trump card in the debate, and neither should be able to silence their opposition definitively. Unfortunately, appeals to “national security” often have this effect, and lead us to ignore the real moral choices that they obscure.

The point here is that security is one value among others. We have to be careful not to allow that value to supersede all others by fiat, and not to forget that in acting so as to advance security concerns in this case we would be in effect condoning violent repression. I’m not sure whether we should or shouldn’t be pressing harder for an international investigation, but in either case we should be honest about what we are doing. We should take responsibility for the choice, and not hide behind protestations of “strategic necessity.”

Filed as: , .

Technorati Tags:

© 2017 Duck of Minerva

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑