Tag: maritime security

NSA Reform or Foreign Policy Signaling? Maritime Provisions in Title VIII of the USA Freedom Act

With much attention being given to the passage of the 2015 USA Freedom Act, there is some odd silence about what the bill actually contains. Pundits from every corner identify the demise of section 215 of the Patriot Act (the section that permits the government to acquire and obtain bulk telephony meta data). While the bill does in fact do this, now requiring a “specific selection term” to be utilized instead of bulk general trolling, and it hands over the holding of such data to the agents who hold it anyway (the private companies).   Indeed, the new Freedom Act even “permits” amicus curiae for the Foreign Surveillance and Intelligence Court, though the judges of the court are not required to have the curiae present and can block their participation if they deem it reasonable.   In any event, while some ring in the “win” for Edward Snowden and privacy rights, another interesting piece of this bill has passed virtually unnoticed: extending “maritime safety” rights and enacting specific provisions against nuclear terrorism.

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Is the “Women and Children First” Norm a Myth?

In commemoration of the Titanic disaster, researchers at Uppsala University have released a report analyzing the evolution and impact of the “women and children first” rule guiding evacuations from sinking ships. They examined 18 historical cases of peace-time maritime disasters involving passenger ships and concluded:

Women have a distinct survival disadvantage compared to men. Captains and crew survive at a significantly higher rate than passengers. We also find that the captain has the power to enforce normative behavior, that the gender gap in survival rates has declined, that women have a larger disadvantage in British shipwrecks, and that there seems to be no association between duration of a disaster and the impact of social norms.

The Global Post reports, thus, that “the women and children rule is a myth.” If valid, this finding would be interesting on a number of levels, not least because perceptions that this norm exists are so strong many people were surprised to learn it it not actually inscribed in maritime law after the sinking of the Costa Concordia in January. It would also correspond with data from air disasters, which shows that being male drastically increases one’s likelihood of survival.

However, there are problems with this interpretation. One is that the sample is non-random and suffers from missing data. This is beyond the authors’ control of course, but eighteen cases is too few to conduct a meaningful regression analysis… particularly with a non-random sample and particularly if you are attempting to generalize to a wider set of cases. A research method designed for medium-N cases (like fuzzy-set QCA) is probably more appropriate.

The descriptive statistics themselves are certainly interesting. But I’m also concerned about the coding: it seems that particularly in investigating the role of captains in enforcing a “WCF” rule (as opposed to the rule having an internalized influence over male crew-members and passengers), the authors would have needed to distinguish between wrecks where the order was given and enforced (eg the Titanic), versus where it was given but not enforced (the SS Arctic) as opposed to the many wrecks where it was apparently not given at all. Yet it appears that a ship gets the “WCF” code in either case, which is why the Arctic is considered one of the five exemplary wrecks even though not a single woman or child survived… meanwhile presumably if there were any cases of internalized normative conduct in evacuations not mandated by the captain (that is, where the norm had become internalized so that the crew followed it automatically without an order), it would not be reflected in the coding.

So while the evidence of the gender gap in survival rates is clear and striking, I think it’s hard to actually determine whether and how norm-based behavior affected this, other than to say that in the presence of a norm we would have expected to see more women and children to survive. In sum, the “myth” documented here is not that such a norm “exists” but rather that it has the effect we have been taught to think it does. Another good reason not to make generalized arguments on the basis of single case studies: they may turn out to be outliers.

The Indo-Pacific

The term “Indo-Pacific” has been used since the mid-seventies, mainly to refer to a biological ecosystem. In the last few years, however, “Indo-Pacific” has come to describe a set of interrelated maritime security challenges from the East China Sea to the Arabian Sea — particularly as India’s Navy makes forays into the South China Sea and China seeks to protect its supply routes through the Indian Ocean. But the geopolitics brought into focus by this “45 degree tilt” of the map is not restricted to India and China; it also includes the US, Australia, Japan, and the rising powers of Southeast Asia.  As with the notion of “AfPak” that shaped the last decade, India is not the architect of this new cartography that displaces the notion of South Asia as a unified strategic space inherited from the British Raj, but India need not necessarily object to this new imagining.

So who is shaping this relatively new conceptualization? The origins of this new focus apparently date back to a 2009 speech by Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd at the Asia Foundation in San Francisco.  (He may have been influenced in part by the recent writing of Robert Kaplan). Rudd argued that in the future, the Indian Ocean would become as central to maritime security thinking and defense planning for powers like the US and Australia as the Pacific is currently.  Essentially, Rudd advocated replacing the notion of  the “Asia-Pacific” theater, which is partly a legacy of WWII and Cold War era strategic thinking, with the concept of “Indo-Pacific” as an integrated theater of operation to focus on emerging security challenges. The new conceptualization anticipates the rise of India as a major naval power — an idea which is sure to flatter New Delhi — and as another counterweight to China.

Rudd’s articulation was also an attempt to persuade the Americans to prioritize long term engagement with Asia (Weekend Australian, 17 September 2011). With no major maritime security threats in the Atlantic, and serious challenges from the Horn of Africa to the Korean peninsula, it is not surprising that the US would agree with Australia’s framing and seek greater engagement with the Indo-Pacific region — a framework which has the added benefits of not being wedded to any existing regional organization and of pivoting at the strategic choke points which are the domain of strong American allies: Singapore and Australia. Hence President Obama’s announcement a couple weeks ago that the US had agreed to deploy 2,500 marines to Darwin, Australia, just south of the Timor Sea. A move that the NY Times called “The first long term expansion of America’s military presence in the Pacific since the end of the Vietnam War.”

A cartographic reorientation on this scale is not something which can be achieved by fiat. It will require regional powers to embrace and integrate this new framing of the map. Indian security elites, for example, have only recently begun to think strategically from an “upside down” map or an “ant hill” perspective of South Asia. The reflexive desire is to prioritize immediate and long-standing security challenges over emerging challenges. And these reflexes may not be ill placed for countries like India and China which have long unsettled borders and a history of conflict (as well as cooperation). Moreover, an overemphasis on the potential for conflict in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea ignores the ways in which Chinese infrastructural investment in Pakistan may help China to circumvent the long sea route for a portion of its imports and exports — although China will still have an interest in new sources of energy off its coast.  There is also the risk of overplaying the growing strength of China while ignoring the ways in which it is also becoming more vulnerable.

Even though India did not invent this new conceptual map, it need not view it in a hostile light. India’s maritime priority will always rest in Indian Ocean, but its ships will increasingly need to move freely outside the Indian Ocean to maintain India’s access to resources and markets. As such, India will benefit from a stable and uniform order that extends well beyond the Straits of Malacca. An Anglophone dominated order in the Indo-Pacific may be more comfortable for India given its regime type, distrust of China, and growing ties with the US and Australia. Expanding ties with other rising powers in the Indo-Pacific that share some of India’s concerns about China is also prudent since America cannot be relied upon to retain its attention in the region over the long term.

[Cross-posted from Humanyun]

On the Israeli Convoy Raid – briefly

I wanted to write/post something about the Israeli-Turkish ship incident but this post here on Information Dissemination pretty much sums up everything I wanted to say: the attack was legal… but this doesn’t mean it was in any way intelligent or a clever thing to do. (Hat tip to LGM’s Robert Farley’s Twitter for pointing out the post.)

Drezner also has a post on this last point (ie: that it wasn’t really clever) at FP and brings up the the North Korean angle:

Indeed, the parallels between Israel and — gulp — North Korea are becoming pretty eerie. True, Israel’s economy is thriving and North Korea’s is not. That said, both countries are diplomatically isolated except for their ties to a great power benefactor. Both countries are pursuing autarkic policies that immiserate millions of people. The majority of the populaion in both countries seem blithely unaware of what the rest of the world thinks. Both countries face hostile regional environments. Both countries keep getting referred to the United Nations. And, in the past month, the great power benefactor is finding it more and more difficult to defend their behavior to the rest of the world.
He’s taking some flack in the comments section for comparing the two countries, (not that I really put a lot of stock into the FP comment section) but I think he’s correct. North Korea’s sinking of the South Korean ship was one of the first things I thought of when I heard about the incident (and not only because they both invovled boats). The US’s initial response – a call for more information – was exactly the same as China’s. More importantly, can the US garner support for condemning one without condemning the other?
Regardless of the comparison, Obama now has to find a balance between two important US allies (Turkey and Israel) – right at the same time it is trying to improve relations with the Netanyahu Government after several unfortunate incidents (such as announcing new settlements at the same time Biden was in the country) AND trying to sort out new sanctions on Iran. Methinks life just got a lot harder for Susan Rice at the UN.
UPDATE: Drezner responds to criticism of his comparison to North Korea and Israel. Again, I pretty much agree….
UPDATE 2: The Israeli Foreign Ministry actually tweeted me a response to this. (Really?!!) They sent this link of a shaky video cam on a MFA International Law expert talking about the whole thing. Watch it if you want their take on the legality. (Although, as I pointed out above, I have no problems with the legality…)

This Just In: Somali Pirates Are Definitely Human

No sooner did I blog about the growing security threat posed by maritime piracy than several powerful militaries took notice… not because I was particularly persuasive, but because a Ukranian freighter loaded down with $30 million worth of tanks, grenade launchers and other military equipment was captured by marauders off the coast of Somalia.

Two dozen crew members are still hostage aboard the MV Faina, now anchored off the Somali coast, while the pirates repeatedly isuse a series of ransom demands – though it’s not obvious to me to whom. (Also, their demands have fallen, like the global stock market, since Sunday: down to $20 mil from an original demand of $35 mil.) Both the US and Russia have sent vessels to intercept the MV Faina – Russia because many of her crew members are Russian; the US because of intel that the arms shipment may have been heading not to Kenya, as claimed by both Nairobi and Kiev, but rather to Khartoum. (The plot thickens.) Neither country wants the pirates to sell the weapons to Islamist warlords in Somalia, although it is quite unclear whether they would even be in any position to offload such heavy machinery.

In an mildly entertaining twist on the story, a spokesperson for the pirate crew was interviewed today by the NY Times.

The Somali pirates who hijacked a Ukrainian freighter loaded with tanks, artillery, grenade launchers and ammunition said in an interview on Tuesday that they had no idea the ship was carrying arms when they seized it on the high seas. “We just saw a big ship,” the pirates’ spokesman, Sugule Ali, said in a telephone interview. “So we stopped it.” In a 45-minute interview, Mr. Sugule spoke on everything from what the pirates wanted (“just money”) to why they were doing this (“to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters”) to what they had to eat on board (rice, meat, bread, spaghetti, “you know, normal human-being food”).

(Interesting how he feels the need to stress his shipmates’ human-being-ness, as if he wants us fend off misconceptions that he and his brethren are actually akin to those under the curse of the Black Pearl.)

He said that so far, in the eyes of the world, the pirates had been misunderstood. “We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits,” he said. “We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard.”

Though Adam Blickstein reminds us we can hardly take his rhetoric at face value, it does show him to be a skilled and savvy diplomat more than a common criminal. He manages to make a principled claim justifying his behavior on nationalist grounds, while claiming to side-step any political motives that would link him or his crew to US or Russian security interests in the region. Not that the superpowers are buying it for a moment – though neither are they storming the ship. Yet.

Meanwhile, pirate afficionados can take a certain guilty pleasure in admiring the swashbuckling bravado of the envoy, who, poking fun at Western humanitarian norms, told the reporter obligingly:

““Killing is not in our plans… We only want money so we can protect ourselves from hunger.” When asked why the pirates needed $20 million to protect themselves from hunger, Mr. Sugule laughed and said, “Because we have a lot of men.”


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