Tag: security

The Value Alignment Problem’s Problem

Having recently attended a workshop and conference on beneficial artificial intelligence (AI), one of the overriding concerns is how to design beneficial AI.  To do this, the AI needs to be aligned with human values, and as such is known, pace Stuart Russell, as the “Value Alignment Problem.”  It is a “problem” in the sense that however one creates an AI, the AI may try to maximize a value to the detriment of other socially useful or even noninstrumental values given the way one has to specify a value function to a machine.

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Development and Security

For a range of reasons, I have been thinking lately about the relationship between development and security. At one level, the relationship is obvious, if somewhat banal: resources allocated for security (e.g. guns) cannot be used for development purposes (butter). I suspect that for many American IR scholars, and certainly most Americans in security studies, that is the limit of their thinking on the relationship.

If we think about security in material terms, then perhaps those limits make sense. But what if we think about security in social terms—as a socio-political logic—that organizes social/political activity, gives meaning to events in the world, and binds society together. After all, Tilly tells us in The Formation of National States in Western Europe that war made the state and the state made war. This point on security as a social logic emerges in Grand Duck Dan Nexon’s enlightening discussion of Tilly a couple years ago: Tilly’s work can be understood as an effort to introduce “different explanatory accounts of variation in the European topography within which bargaining around warfare and the mobilization for warfare took place.” Continue reading

It’s the Biggest National Threat and We Can’t Help You

The Department of Defense’s (DoD) new Cyber Strategy is a refinement of past attempts at codifying and understanding the “new terrain” of cybersecurity threats to the United States.   While I actually applaud many of the acknowledgements in the new Strategy, I am still highly skeptical of the DoD’s ability to translate words to deeds. In particular, I am so because the entire Strategy is premised on the fact that the “DoD cannot defend every network and system against every kind of intrusion” because the “total network attack surface is too large to defend against all threats and too vast to close all vulnerabilities (13).

Juxtapose this fact to the statement that “from 2013-2015, the Director of National Intelligence named the cyber threat as the number one strategic threat to the United States, placing it ahead of terrorism for the first time since the attacks of September 11, 2001.” (9).   What we have, then, is the admission that the cyber threat is the top “strategic” –not private, individual or criminal—threat to the United States, and it cannot defend against it. The Strategy thus requires partnerships with the private sector and key allies to aid in the DoD’s fight. Here is the rub though: private industry is skeptical of the US government’s attempt to court it and many of the US’s key allies do not trust much of what Washington says. Moreover, my skepticism is furthered by the simple fact that one cannot read the Strategy in isolation. Rather, one must take it in conjunction with other policies and measures, in particular Presidential Policy Directive 20 (PPD 20), H.R. 1560 “Protecting Cyber Networks Act”, and the sometimes forgotten Patriot Act.

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Stumbling Through Foreign Policy – Not History

Last week Joe Scarborough from Politico raised the question of why US foreign policy in the Middle East is in “disarray.” Citing all of the turmoil from the past 14 years, he posits that both Obama and Bush’s decisions for the region are driven by “blind ideology [rather] than sound reason.”   Scarborough wonders what historians will say about these policies in the future, but what he fails to realize is that observers of foreign policy and strategic studies need not wait for the future to explain the decisions of the past two sitting presidents.   The strategic considerations that shaped not merely US foreign policy, but also US grand strategy, reach back farther than Bush’s first term in office.

Understanding why George W. Bush (Bush 43) engaged US forces in Iraq is a complex history that many academics would say requires at least a foray into operational code analysis of his decision making (Renshon, 2008).   This position is certainly true, but it too would be insufficient to explain the current strategic setting faced by the US because it would ignore the Gulf War of 1991. What is more, understanding this war requires reaching back to the early 1980s and the US Cold War AirLand Battle strategy.   Thus for us to really answer Scarborough’s question about current US foreign policy, we must look back over 30 years to the beginnings of the Reagan administration.

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Once more unto the (climate) breach

I hope she brought her SCUBA gear.

I hope she brought her SCUBA gear.

I just happened upon a Foreign Policy piece from May 6 of this year framing climate change as a ‘Clear and Present Danger’. To summarize, the author argues that Obama’s plans to address climate change are a political non-starter in the US: Republicans are generally more opposed to carbon control policy than ever and the public is out to lunch on the subject. The solution, according to the author, is to invoke national security and get the military—a key Republican constituency—talking about how much climate change imperils national security. As a scholar of international security who does research on climate change (in collaboration with Janelle Knox-Hayes), my interest was immediately piqued.

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Blogging the syllabus, international security edition: what is security?

With all of the focus on APSA, there’s been little discussion of another Labor Day ritual—the Revising of the Syllabus. In truth, I should have begun this ritual a few weeks ago.  Now that the panic dreams have kicked in—you know, the ones where you show up to class on the first day without a syllabus and thus lose all authority over your students for the rest of the semester…you do get those too, right?—I know I must take action.

My first task is to revise my introductory-level course on security studies and, luckily, it’s in pretty good shape, thanks to some major overhauls I did over the last two years.  But although I’m only engaged in minor tinkering, I at least try to reflect upon the major assumptions that shape the syllabus.  First and foremost, there is the mother of all assumptions: what is security, and what do we mean by security studies?

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Podcast No. 15: Interview with Barry Buzan

The fifteenth Duck of Minerva podcast features Barry Buzan. Professor Buzan discusses his academic and intellectual biography, his major works, and his ongoing projects. For additional background readers might consult the interview at Theory Talks or at the London School of Economics Department of International Relations blog.  In short, Buzan is a toweringly influential figure in international relations in general, and outside the US in particular. He is also, among numerous contributions to the discipline, a former editor of the European Journal of International Relations.

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Really Real: Take II on the Chicago IR Guys

In my last post, I offered a friendly critique of Nuno Monteiro’s piece on how unipolarity has been less peaceful than other periods (debatable) and that U.S. power alone explains why minor states feel insecure and trigger conflicts with the unipole (same – the domestic politics of the U.S. and minor states are important in my view).   

In this post, I want to provide a similar albeit friendlier critique to Rosato and Schuessler’s article (not least because Sebastian introduced me and my wife!). Rosato and Schuessler (R&S) make the case that realism can and should be taken as a prescriptive theory to guide U.S. foreign policy, and had their advice been followed, the U.S. might not have had to go to war in World War I and II (essentially a problem of underbalancing in both cases) and wouldn’t have gone to war in Vietnam and Iraq (basically both were unnecessary wars in either strategically unimportant places or areas where deterrence could have worked).

What’s more, R&S make the case that liberal theories held by policymakers (belief in international institutions, support for democracy, promotion of trade) actually made conflict more likely.

Let me offer a few reactions in this post, mostly dealing with their concept of security and controversial claims about World War II.
The starting premise of the article is based on familiar assumptions from structural realism including (1) anarchy (2) the inability to trust the intentions of other states and (3) the uncertainty of outcomes of wars, with weaker powers sometimes winning against stronger adversaries.

Balance, Ignore, Deter
Based on these assumptions, R&S make a number of claims that they suggest should guide U.S. foreign policy. Namely, that the U.S. should balance against potential rival states but ignore minor powers unless they are located in strategically important regions (i.e. those that have important industrial resources or oil). In those cases, the United States should make clear its red lines to deter minor powers from acting against its wishes. What this means in the case of Iran is interesting:

Given the power disparity between the two sides, containment should be a straight-forward matter, and it would be preferable to a preventive war that would at best delay Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons while inviting almost certain retaliation (813).

Of course, I think this is based on the Waltzian logic that leaders of nuclear weapons states would understand the gravity of the situation and embrace the logic of MAD and ensure the sorts of careful security mechanisms to prevent accidental or hasty first use. I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that Iran will be nondeterrable, but I’m not sure if containment will be as straightforward as R&S suggest (though mostly because the United States might not follow their prescriptions and overreact to Iran’s possible acquisition of nuclear weapons).

Before reading the piece, I worried that this would be one of those vacuous articles that suggests prudence and pragmatism are the essence of realism (A quick aside: As a nonrealist, that always drove me crazy that realists could claim pragmatism as their strategic advantage. I mean, who is against pragmatism? It’s like saying I support dumb power. Ok, rant over). There has always been a somewhat protean quality to realist-informed foreign policies, where one could make a good case for contrasting policies and still call oneself a realist. Fortunately, this piece is more consistent and substantive than that.

That said, I have a couple of concerns, stemming from a truncated view of security and a misreading of the WWII case. Let me tackle each of them in turn.

Critique I: Security is More than Deterring Armed Attack by Great Powers
First, I think the piece has an overly restrictive view of what constitutes security, for which balancing behavior and self-help may not be sufficient and for which cooperation, support for trade, multilateral institutions, and cooperation might be necessary.

While I think this piece does a good job laying out what approach states ought to take vis a vis potential state challengers, it doesn’t say much about the kinds of problems that liberals and constructivists frequently write about, economics, health, the environment, or even terrorism. For these kinds of issues, self-help is generally inadequate advice. Indeed, states have to be careful to protect their own national security (narrowly defined as protecting their territorial integrity from armed external attack) while also thinking about other processes that give them long-run material wherewithal to survive, namely economic development.

The structural logic of modern interdependence and capitalism make the economy as if not more important for security as self-help. States need to collaborate through international institutions and multilateral approaches to ensure an open trading regime and financial stability and to protect the commons from pandemic disease, environmental damage, piracy, and terrorism. For these kinds of things, which may not always pose existential threats, unilateral self-help will simply not do. About these things, the piece is largely silent.

What you do about China is not simply about self-help and balancing but also about ensuring the health of the international economic order. There may be trade-offs between the promotion of state security and the stability and vibrancy of the global economy. How to manage such challenges  before China makes its intentions clear about becoming a peer competitor is the essence of grand strategy today.

In the case of terrorism, for domestic political reasons, it won’t be sufficient to downplay the threat as a nuisance that hardly rises to the level of the Soviet Union. That still doesn’t inform policymakers with a coherent strategy of what to do.

Critique II: Was World War II Really Caused by Insufficient Realism?
Second, I think the claim that World War II was caused by underbalancing misses the earlier problem in which insufficient recognition of liberal insights created the conditions for Hitler’s rise. Beggar-thy-neighbor policies on trade made everyone worse off and deepened the Depression, creating possibilities for the emergence of demagogues. Overly punitive German reparations weakened the Weimar Republic and its creaky democracy. Failure by the United States to provide liquidity led to a weak financial system and also contributed to tough economic times (these are familiar arguments for readers of Ruggie, Ikenberry, Kindleberger, among others).

So, while later underbalancing could be said to be a function of insufficient recognition of realist insights, the problem had as much to do with the prior failure to embrace liberal insights.

In sum, while the piece has much to recommend it as policy-relevant scholarship that is theoretically informed and provocative, it still tries to stay too wedded to a rigid defense of a particular -ism, which I think is helpful for creating intellectual distance from others but may be limiting as a guide to actual foreign policy in the 21st century. 

Get Real! Chicago IR guys out in force

In light of the recent exchange on the Duck about Matthew Kroenig’s work on Iran and policy-relevant research, I thought I’d flag a couple of articles from three University of Chicago alums from International Security (where Nuno Monteiro has a piece on unipolarity) and Perspectives on Politics (where Sebastian Rosato and John Schuessler have an article [Ed: behind paywall] prescribing a realist foreign policy for the United States).

While I disagree with a number of their conclusions and theoretical observations, these are the kind of pieces that I think will generate a lot of healthy discussion in the discipline because they are accessible, address important topics in the real world, and yet are theory-driven inquiries. Kudos to them for that!

For our Duck readers, in summarizing their main arguments and conclusions, I wanted to throw out a couple of concerns that stuck out for me. As is my wont on this blog, this is going to take a couple of posts to get out.

Both of these pieces are structural if not in Monteiro’s case unabashedly realist inquiries into the nature of unipolarity and implicitly U.S. foreign policy.

Monteiro’s piece  “Unrest Assured: Why Unipolarity Is Not Peaceful” basically takes issue with Bill Wohlforth’s earlier work on unipolarity and tries to ask a slightly different question. Rather than assess whether unipolarity is stable, he tries to evaluate whether it is peaceful. And his answer is that unipolarity is not at all peaceful and much less peaceful than other periods and then seeks to explain why.

Is Unipolarity Peaceful?
As evidence, Monteiro provides metrics of the number of years during which great powers have been at war. For the unipolar era since the end of the Cold War, the United States has been at war 13 of those 22 years or 59% (see his Table 2 below).

Now, I’ve been following some of the discussion by and about Steven Pinker and Joshua Goldstein’s work that suggests the world is becoming more peaceful with interstate wars and intrastate wars becoming more rare.

I was struck by the graphic that Pinker used in a Wall Street Journal piece back in September that drew on the Uppsala Conflict Data, which shows a steep decline in the number of deaths per 100,000 people. 
How do we square this account by Monteiro of a unipolar world that is not peaceful (with the U.S. at war during this period in Iraq twice, Afghanistan, Kosovo) and Pinker’s account which suggests declining violence in the contemporary period?
Where Pinker is focused on systemic outcomes, Monteiro’s measure merely reflect years during which the great powers are at war. Under unipolarity, there is only one great power so the measure is partial and not systemic. However, Monteiro’s theory aims to be systemic rather than partial. In critiquing Wohlforth’s early work on unipolarity stability, Monteiro notes: 

Wohlforth’s argument does not exclude all kinds of war. Although power preponderance allows the unipole to manage conflicts globally, this argument is not meant to apply to relations between major and minor powers, or among the latter (17).

So presumably, a more adequate test of the peacefulness or not of unipolarity (at least for Monteiro) is not the number of years the great power has been at war but whether the system as a whole is becoming more peaceful under unipolarity compared to previous eras, including wars between major and minor powers or wars between minor powers and whether the wars that do happen are as violent as the ones that came before.

Now, as Ross Douthat pointed out, Pinker’s argument isn’t based on a logic of benign hegemony. It could be that even if the present era is more peaceful, unipolarity has nothing to do with it. Moreover, Pinker may be wrong. Maybe the world isn’t all that peaceful. I keep thinking about the places I don’t want to go to anymore because they are violent (Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Nigeria, Pakistan, etc.)

As Tyler Cowen noted, the measure Pinker uses to suggest violence is a per capita one, which doesn’t get at the absolute level of violence perpetrated in an era of a greater world population. But, if my read of other reports based on Uppsala data is right, war is becoming more rare and less deadly (though later data suggests lower level armed conflict may be increasing again since the mid-2000s).

The apparent violence of the contemporary era may be something of a presentist bias and reflect our own lived experience and the ubiquity of news media. Even if the U.S. has been at war for the better part of unipolarity, the deadliness is declining, even compared with Vietnam, let alone World War II.

Does Unipolarity Drive Conflict?
So, I kind of took issue with the Monteiro’s premise that unipolarity is not peaceful. What about his argument that unipolarity drives conflict? Monteiro suggests that the unipole has three available strategies – defensive dominance, offensive dominance and disengagement – though is less likely to use the third. Like Rosato and Schuessler, Monteiro suggests because other states cannot trust the intentions of other states, namely the unipole, that minor states won’t merely bandwagon with the unipole. Some “recalcitrant” minor powers will attempt to see what they can get away with and try to build up their capabilities. As an aside, in Rosato and Schuessler world, unless these are located in strategically important areas (i.e. places where there is oil), then the unipole (the United States) should disengage.

In Monteiro’s world, disengagement would inexorably lead to instability and draw in the U.S. again (though I’m not sure this necessarily follows), but neither defensive or offensive dominance offer much possibility for peace either since it is U.S. power in and of itself that makes other states insecure, even though they can’t balance against it.

US troops in Afghanistan
Source: GORAN TOMASEVIC/REUTERS

A brief version of Monteiro’s argument was posted on Steve Walt’s blog, and I was surprised the piece did not do more to reference balance of threat theory. In Walt’s view, the United States is violence prone because we can be; there is no countervailing power to dissuade us from using our power. Like John Ikenberry, Walt has counseled that we restrain ourselves and moderate our behavior, lest we encourage the kind of balancing behavior that revisionist powers have traditionally inspired. But, Walt’s argument isn’t based on power alone, a host of largely domestic factors have made the U.S. more willing to use force in the unipolar era.

However, in Monteiro’s view, the U.S. power position alone, even where the U.S. seeks to defend the status quo, is enough to generate conflict with “recalcitrant” minor powers. Here, “recalcitrance” seems to be cover for some domestic-level variables, either quixotic or idiosyncratic leadership characteristics by the likes of Saddam and Milosevic or attributes of authoritarian regimes. I’m not sure that U.S. power is doing the work for Monteiro.

Rather, I suspect that aspects of U.S. domestic politics (a la Walt) intersecting with domestic attributes of “recalcitrant” regimes are doing much of the heavy lifting. If we were or become different (practice restraint, focus on the home economic front for a bit) and if the regimes we face become less recalcitrant (post Arab-spring if we’re lucky, post-Kim Jong Il if we’re really lucky and something different in Iran if we’re really, really lucky), then unipolarity is not structurally determined to be violent.

In any case, I enjoyed this piece and understand how difficult it is to draw theoretically and empirically informed conclusions from a single episode in world history. In my next post, I’ll address Rosato and Schuessler’s equally provocative piece that suggests acting more realist might have prevented World War II!

Cyber-War: Emerging Threat or Phantom Menace?

Apparently the ruckus between Google and China amounts to a “cyber war.”

This sounds familiar. In late February, former director of national intelligence Michael McConnell declared on the WAPO opinion pages that we are losing some sort of “cyberwar.” Then earlier this month Obama administration cyber-czar Howard Schmidt announced “there is no cyberwar” at the RSA Security Conference in San Francisco.

At Government Computer News, William Jackson asks a useful question: “How can we be at cyberwar if we don’t know what it is?”

Words have consequences. War entails specific risks and responsibilities and should not be entered into lightly. The Constitution lays out requirements for engaging in war, and the United States is a signatory to treaties that impose legal restrictions on conducting warfare, such as distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants and military and non-military targets. And once a nation engages in an act of war, it invites retaliation, regardless of its motives.

As of now, we have no workable definition of what constitutes cyberwar, and more often than not we lack the ability to accurately distinguish it from act of online vandalism.

For what it’s worth, Ronald J Diebert and Rafal Rohozinski have a new article in International Political Sociology on the concept of cyber-security in which they analyze the parameters of the debate over what concepts like “cyberwar” or “cybersecurity” mean. They point out there there are two sets of rhetoric here – one about risks to cyberspace, and one about risks through cyberspace.
They also argue that governance may be emerging more clearly in the former arena than in the latter, which essentially remains contested.

Perhaps the conceptual corollary is helpful: genuine acts of cyber-war might be understood as efforts to target infrastructure, whereas much of what we critique as cyber-war “hype” are simply concerns over conventional forms of espionage or sabotage using new media.

It’s hard to see how Google’s withdrawal from China fits either category, though. In fact, at Wired, Ryan Singer argues that the cyber-war hype like this itself night be “the biggest threat to the internet” as the hype encourages citizens to imagine that increased government surveillance or control over web traffic would be a public good. To draw on Diebert and Rohozinski’s typology (of cyber-war as risks to cyber-infrastructure), cyber-war hype might itself constitute a form of cyber-war – or at least, cyber-war-propaganda.

Well, one thing’s for sure: I smell some interesting dissertations in the near future to organize our thinking around these concepts.

[cross-posted at LGM]

Gates Grilled at Pakistan’s National Defense University

[Crossposted from my Notebook]

The Defense Department has pulled from its website the transcript of the Q and A session last month between Secretary of Defense Gates and Pakistani military officers.  The frank talk was apparently a bit heated. At one point, one of the Pakistani military officers asked Secretary Gates point blank: “Are you with us or against us?”

The transcript reveals a deep level of distrust between the US and the Pakistani military.  It also shows that some junior officers of the Pakistani military do not take ownership of their government’s current offensives against militants in the North West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.

Comments on the transcript have made their rounds in the press and the blogosphere, and are still circulating in Pakistan, but many have not had access to the original document.  I think the transcript is quite important for those trying to understand the anger against the United States not just among ordinary Pakistani citizens but within the Pakistani military establishment.

I am posting the original transcript for the benefit of other researchers:

January 22, 2010 Friday

SECTION: DEPARTMENT DEFENSE BRIEFING

QUESTION-AND-ANSWER SESSION WITH SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT GATES FOLLOWING HIS REMARKS AT NATIONAL DEFENCE UNIVERSITY (NDU) IN PAKISTAN LOCATION: NATIONAL DEFENCE UNIVERSITY, ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN DATE: FRIDAY, JANUARY 22, 2010

Q (Inaudible) — from Nigerian Navy. So what you did in Iraq is working because Iraq has the resources to sustain the armed forces. What is the strategy for sustaining — (inaudible) — in Afghanistan when, not if, you — (inaudible).

SEC. GATES: I think that’s a very legitimate question, and I would say that, clearly, one of the advantages that Iraq had and has is that it’s a very wealthy country. But the reality is that before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, during the period, for example, from about 1934 until about 1974 or so, Afghanistan was a relatively peaceful place as well. It exported agricultural products and it was by no means a rich country, but it offered a decent economy and a decent living for its people.

What has happened in Afghanistan is that 30 years of war have largely destroyed the economy of Afghanistan. And so a big part of our strategy actually is to provide a little agriculture in Afghanistan, as well as industries. There are huge opportunities in mining in Afghanistan. There are a lot of mineral resources in Afghanistan that have never really been exploited.

So central to this process is reviving the economy of Afghanistan. Obviously, it requires a secure environment for that to happen and that’s part of the international strategy.

I would say that one of the advantages that Afghanistan has at this point is that there are now dozens and dozens of countries, as well as non-governmental organizations, all committed to trying to help rebuild Afghanistan.

And so this is a broad international effort under the auspices of the United Nations. And I think there’s great promise. Afghanistan had the largest wheat crop last year than it has had in several decades, and, in fact, the wheat crop was so good and the demand was so high that the price of wheat was almost as high as the price of poppies.

So the way to get rid of the narcotics problem or reduce it and the way to rebuild the economy starts with the agricultural economy, but also the international community figuring out how to help Afghanistan take advantage of the natural resources that it has for extraction.
The Chinese are very interested in these opportunities; in fact, they’ve cited a copper mine that they’re interested in and clearly are prepared to mine once the security environment is satisfactory.

So the economic component of this is every bit as important as the political component, and we fully understand that. And one of the benefits that we have is many nations and many organizations who are all working to the same end in this respect.

Q (Inaudible). You gave a statement with regard to some future terrorist threat or action that may take place over there. And you said that India may run out patience. The Pakistan army’s resolve against terrorism — (inaudible).

You have predisposed Pakistan as perhaps siding with the terrorists. So could you please tell us with regard to fighting against terrorism are you with us or against us? Thank you. (Applause.)

SEC. GATES: We’re very much with you. What I was trying to identify in India was the fact that there are a number of terrorist groups that have the common objective of destabilizing Afghanistan, Pakistan and India and trying to destabilize the entire region. And the point I was trying to make is that you have al Qaeda, you have the Taliban in Afghanistan. You have the Taliban in Pakistan. You have the Haqqani Network. You have the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

All of these are terrorist groups and they are all working together. They are not commonly operated from one command post, but they share objectives. They share planning. And we know, for example, that al Qaeda is working with Taliban in Pakistan in planning the attacks that have taken place here in Pakistan.

So these groups have a common objective and that is destabilizing all of the countries in this region. And the message I was trying to make in India was that the nations, those nations all have to work together to avoid having these terrorists be able to make them their pawns in the terror struggle.

There has to be a level of cooperation in countering the terrorist threat in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States and others to prevent the terrorists from doing exactly what their objective is. Believe me, there should be no mistake; these terrorists want to destabilize Pakistan. They would like to see Pakistan become an extremist state and that is their objective. And if they think they can provoke a conflict with India, that’s what they will try to do.
And all I was saying when I was in India was we all have to work together to prevent that kind of an outcome. We all have a common enemy. We all have a common purpose.

I know there are long time historic issues between Pakistan and India, but in this case, there is a common enemy that we all have to work together against it.

Q (Inaudible) — political and military relationships. The sense which I got from your remarks is that you are again conducting the same kind of relationship with the future. With the thought of that particular relationship the last two years, and we have seen — (inaudible) — $7.5 billion, what other steps or measures you are — (inaudible) — to increase this particular relationship because this relationship between military and military has not fared well in the past. And I just want — (inaudible). Thanks.

SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I actually do believe that the military-to-military relationship will continue and it will grow. As I indicated in my remarks, I think the United States has made a couple of strategic mistakes of real consequence in our relationship.

The first was when we turned our backs on Afghanistan in 1989 after the Soviets left and we also left Pakistan, if you will, holding the bag as Afghanistan descended into civil war.

The second strategic mistake was when the Pressler Amendment required us to break off our military-to-military relationships, and I think that was a serious mistake.
The truth of the matter is many of your more senior officers, those who have worked with Americans in the past, those that have gone to American service schools, those who have worked with Americans here in Pakistan had a different view of the United States and of our military than younger officers who have not had that kind of exposure to us.

So the first thing we have to do is communicate our conviction and our intention that going forward, this is a reliable relationship and that we are — will be a reliable partner for Pakistan for years and years to come. We will not make — we will not repeat the mistakes of the past.

I think that the willingness to look beyond the military-to- military relationship is evidenced in the legislation that was passed by our Congress that provides over $1.5 billion worth of economic assistance to Pakistan over a five-year period. The dollar figure is one thing, but the fact that it’s a five-year-long commitment is indicative of the United States’ desire to have a longstanding relationship with Pakistan far into the future.

The United States was a principal sponsor of the Tokyo Summit where a number of nations came together to raise money to help Pakistan in its economic circumstances.

So I think there are a number of efforts underway internationally and bilaterally to try and build relationships with Pakistan and to build those relationships in arenas outside the military or I would say in addition to the military.

That said, relationships between our professional militaries is not a bad foundation, but it clearly is not enough, and the relationship needs to expand to these other areas. And I think that the legislation and the assistance that’s been passed to programs that are being put in place are all intended to do that.

Yes, sir, in the back. Way in the back.

Q I am Rear Admiral — (inaudible) — National Security Workshop. Sir, there’s a large section of the Pakistani population who feel that the present mess that Pakistan finds itself today in, in large part, is due to the United States. The war on our Western borders in which not only the army but the whole country is embroiled in, and there’s no end in sight, initially was not our war but now it has become our war. So what is your message to these people, sir?

SEC. GATES: My message is as long as al Qaeda found safe haven on either the Afghan or the Pakistani side of the border, Pakistan was ultimately going to become a target.

The Taliban, as long as they hosted al Qaeda, created a nest. And from that nest only dangerous things could happen for the entire region. So as long as the Taliban was in power, perhaps there was peace on that border, but the fact is that with the nature of the regime that the Taliban represented, I believe that it was an unstable situation and one that could not last.

The reality is these violent extremists do not want to see a democratic government in Pakistan. They do not want to see a secular government in Pakistan. They want to see a violent overthrow of the legitimate institutions of this country and putting in place an extremist group of people. You don’t want that. Nobody in the region wants it. We certainly don’t want it.

So I would say to you that their attack on us from that safe haven in September 2011 (sic\2001) — remember, it wasn’t the first time they attacked us from that safe haven. They attacked the World Trade Center in 1993. They attacked our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1995 (sic\1998). They attacked our warship, the Cole in 2000. These guys declared war on us within four years after the Soviets left Afghanistan. And that war was never going to be limited just to us in terms of their ambition. And if you read their writings and you read what they say and their desire to form a caliphate, it is clear that their ambitions are not limited just to creating — putting the Taliban back in power in Afghanistan, their ambition is to extend to Pakistan and elsewhere in the region as well.

So the war may have come to you later, but it would have come, in my view, inevitably.

I think we have time for one more question. Yes sir.

Q Sir, this is — (inaudible). Since you are taking questions — (inaudible).

Sir, it’s an established fact that the — (inaudible) — party always seeks — (inaudible) — investment where — (background noise). And I’m referring to, again, Pakistan.

So during the run to the elections, Mr. Obama — in other statements, he mentioned that there was an understanding now that — (inaudible) — problem, India and Pakistan, particularly, their — (inaudible) — connection with extremism and also from — (inaudible) — Afghanistan.

Now after — (off mike) — same old thing. The United States is refusing to mediate between India and Pakistan since the war — (inaudible). And India was even taken out of — (off mike). My question with this — (inaudible) — first, is the United States administration unable to see how hollow is the Indian argument that the India-Pakistan problem can be resolved only through dialogue — (inaudible). Secondly, is the U.S. policy of India subject — (inaudible). And third is is the U.S. unable to see that its policy of propping up India — (inaudible) — especially with reference to Aghanistan because if there’s one sure guaranteed way of ensuring the eastern region of Afghanistan — (off mike)?

SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I would tell you that the United States clearly has not or has ever propped up India. India has not needed us for that purpose and, in fact, those familiar with the history would know that our relationship with India was fairly strained until not too many years ago.

The reality is I have some experience with this. The first President Bush sent me to Islamabad and to New Delhi in the spring of 1990 when there was great concern about rising tensions between the two powers and the risk of war. We at that time, worked with the sides not only since then, but from before. But it has been made clear to us by both sides that they prefer to deal with this matter bilaterally. But I was clear to the Indians and I’ll be clear today — if we can be of help and if the two parties want us to be of help, we will do what we can. We are prepared to play a constructive role, but only if both parties want us to be involved.
The final thing I would say is that the other message that I had in India, both privately and publicly, was to describe to them your suspicions of their activities in Afghanistan, and they clearly described to me their suspicions of what you were doing in Afghanistan, to which I responded the best way to deal with those suspicions is, as part of the back channel discussions between the two countries, to have a complete transparency about what both sides are doing. Because the truth of the matter is, stability in Afghanistan is in both India and Pakistan’s interests. And having an open and candid and completely transparent dialogue about that seems to be the best way to avoid misunderstanding.

Thank you all very much for your courtesy and for your time.

Q Thank you very much for being — (inaudible) — to this discussion, which — (inaudible) — of the commitments of the — (inaudible). So we would like to thank you very much for being here with us this morning and for — (off mike). (Applause.)

The Short Career of Hakimullah Mehsud

In the latest round of the ongoing blood feud between the US military/intelligence agencies and the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan or TTP), it appears that the TTP’s leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed by a Predator drone attack in mid-January. The assassination was apparently in “revenge” for the murder of seven CIA operatives at a forward operating base in Afghanistan by Hakimullah’s associate and Jordanian double agent, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi. Of course, Al-Balawi had claimed that his suicide bombing was in retaliation for the assassination of the former leader of the TTP, Baitullah Mehsud, by a CIA drone in August 2009. The US and Pakistan targeted Baitullah Mehsud because he was allegedly behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 and a series of suicide bombings and armed attacks in Pakistan. Baitullah had claimed that his attacks were only in retaliation for US drone attacks facilitated by the American puppet regime in Pakistan… Thus the origins of this blood feud recede into a murky history of drone attacks and suicide bombing counter-attacks.

To understand the feud, one needs to appreciate that the relatively precise and virtually unstoppable suicide bomber is considered the military equivalent of the predator drone in the eyes of the Taliban. Hence, there is a cycle of carnage unleashed with each drone attack.

So who was this latest target, Hakimullah Mehsud? Should his death be considered a significant victory in the war?

Haikmullah (also known as Zulfiqar; real name: Jamshed) Mehsud was reportedly first captured and interrogated by Western forces (either NATO or CIA) in the Shawal district of North Waziristan in a raid on March 9th, 2007 according to Pakistani and Chinese media agencies. The illegal incursion by two military helicopters into Pakistani territory led to the ritualized faint murmurs of protest and indignation from the Pakistani government. NATO would later deny any involvement in the kidnapping without denying that the incident may have happened. At the time, Hakimullah was merely known as a cousin and confidante of Baitullah Mehsud, the head of the TTP. Through an apparent “catch and release” policy for junior terrorists, Hakimullah was let go.

Although he was most likely illiterate, the young and handsome (in a swashbuckling, Captain Jack Sparrow-ish sort of way) Mehsud became a spokesman for the TTP organization. He appeared on a local news station (Khyber News) in October 2008 to refute rumors of the death of his cousin. He then transferred from the Taliban’s communications desk to become a commander in the field. By November 2008, he rose to become the head of the Taliban in the Orakzai, Khyber, and Kurram Agencies of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). However, even as he rose in the ranks of the Taliban, he continued to hold press conferences and grant interviews to local journalists — a sharp contrast with his introverted cousin, Baitullah. The brash commander particularly enjoyed showing off the Humvee he had captured from NATO forces by raiding their supply lines.

Despite his oddly charming personality, it was clear that Hakimullah was also ruthless. He claimed to have had several men beheaded for spying on the Taliban. He instituted a strict interpretation of sharia’ and enforced a ban on the movement of women outside of their homes in the Orakzai Agency.

The first attempt by the US to kill Hakimullah with a Predator drone was in April 2009. In revenge for this failed attempt, Mehsud unleashed a wave of suicide attacks and threatened that there would be at least two suicide bombings per week in retaliation.

Hakimullah was appointed to head the TTP network by a shura (council) after the assassination of his cousin by a drone in August 2009. Notably, Hakimullah held a press conference flanked by his new lieutenants to announce his promotion and he vowed to avenge the drone attack … a vow that his associate, al-Balawi, helped him to fulfill on the last day of 2009. Hakimullah would live for only one more month as American drones narrowed in on him.

At the end of the day the short three year career of the brash and ruthless Mehsud is relatively inconsequential in the broader war. The contrast between Hakimullah and his predecessor only illustrates the wide range of personality types which can assume a leadership position within the Taliban. The skill set Hakimullah used to lead the Taliban organization in the field were not particularly unique or demanding — he was little more than an illiterate, brutal, and narcissistic gangster.

When the camera pans back from the current assassination, it is clear the overall US strategy of leadership decapitation has failed to make a noticeable dent in the operational capacity of the organizations and networks that call themselves the Taliban. If anything, the Taliban appear to be growing bolder on both sides of the Durand Line that separates Pakistan and Afghanistan. For each commander who is killed, a new leader will rise and take his place after a short period of disorganization. The Pakistani government and media hypes each new leader (while selectively ignoring other militant “assets”), transforming a small fish into a whale; the leader comes to the attention of American forces which begin plotting an assassination with the assistance of Pakistani officials and local informants. After a few failed attempts and some collateral damage, which embitters the local population and helps to recruit more militants, the US usually succeeds in bringing down their man. The Americans trump their kill as a success in the war. Unfortunately, very little is actually accomplished as the cycle resets with each successful assassination, the structural positions are re-loaded, and the game begins again.

A leadership decapitation strategy only makes sense when one is confronted with a highly centralized organization led by a small number of capable leaders and a mass of fighters with low morale — this is clearly not the situation of the organizations and networks targeting Americans and their client regimes in South Asia. The US military and intelligence community continues to confuse a policy of revenge killings for a viable military strategy to defeat a broad based and conscious rebellion.

Pakistan’s Bigger Picture

Terrorist bombings. Government push-back. Nuclear brinkmanship. Drone attacks.

The security situation in Pakistan has become so synonymous with mayhem, violence and the threat of state collapse that the Human Security Report Project has just launched a new blog, the Pakistan Conflict Monitor.

In the context of those developments, the thriving civil society, democratic sentiment and rule of law in many parts of Pakistan are easy to forget. Matt Barlow writes at Current Intelligence about why we should pay as much attention to fashion shows in Karachi as to clashes in Waziristan, in order to grasp the complexity of Pakistan’s changing times.

“Women as Prey” in Guinea

Though my post about serious issues in IR through gendered lenses got less attention than tongue-and-cheek discussion with Dan Drezner, it has been almost impossible to ignore gender in the news the last couple of days, so I think I’ll re-try blogging about gender and IR.

The New York Times led a story yesterday, front page, above the fold, called “In a Guinea Seized by Violence, Women as Prey” and followed it up with an article called “US Envoy Protests the Violence in Guinea” later online.

The article recounts that “women were the particular targets” of “rapes, beatings, and acts of intentional humiliation,” further evidenced by the public distribution of humiliating rape pictures taken on a cell phone. Adam Nossiter, the author of the article notes that at least 157 people were killed in the breakup of a protest on Sept. 28, “but even more than the shootings, the attacks on women, horrific anywhere, but viewed with particular revulsion in Muslim countries like this one – appear to have traumatized the citizenry …” Witnesses testified to seeing several rapes, including gang-rapes and the combination of sexual violence and beatings.

Nossiter explains that “rape is a fairly common tool of military repression in Africa, but large-scale violence against women has not been a previous government tactic here.” The article concludes with Guinean sources calling for the junta to lose power as a result of this behavior, and the follow-up article quotes U.S. envoys and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton taking a similar stance.

There’s an obvious point for those who would see IR through gendered lenses here: women’s rights. What happened to the women who were raped in Guinea is terrible, fraught with gender subordination, violent, and should never happen to anyone ever again.

It would be a mistake for gender analysis of this situation and the news stories portraying it to stop there, however.

Through gender lenses, I’m interested in the question of how it came to be that “rape is a fairly common tool of military repression” (the article adds “in Africa,” but most research on wartime rape shows that the prevalence of rape as a weapon of war is not geographically or culturally limited). What is it about rape that makes it an effective tool of repression and war-fighting (or, if not effective, perceived as effective or desirable)?

I don’t think its possible to understand that question without reference to the gendered nature of war (see the work of Carol Cohn, Ann Tickner, Cynthia Enloe, etc.). There are a number of different tools in this literature to help to understand and analyze this reporting about the situation in Guinea. With limited time and blog space, here’s just one idea:

The argument that Jean Elshtain originated (and which has been built on by my work, Iris Marion Young’s, and Lauren Wilcox’s, among others) that expected roles in war are distributed on the basis of gender (where men are expected to be “just warriors” who bravely defend and protect women “beautiful souls” who are at once innocent of war but its casus belli), is instructive here. If one side’s warriors are motivated by proving their masculinity (that’s Joshua Goldstein’s argument, www.warandgender.com) and protecting the feminized “other” at home, then it makes sense that the other side would want to “get” the (symbolic and actual) motivation that its opponent is fighting “for” – wartime rape (and rape in the context of oppression, like that reported in Guinea), then, can be seen targeting the (symbolic and actual) “heart” of the enemy.

In the book I am writing right now, Gendering Global Conflict (for Columbia University Press), I make the argument that women are a Clausewitzian center of gravity. According to Clausewitz, a center of gravity is something that is the “heart and soul” of a belligerent – that is, that it must have to win the war and that its opponent eliminate and thereby eliminate that belligerent’s will or ability to fight. The uniqueness of the Clausewitzian concept is that, unlike many theorists who followed him, Clausewitz recognized that a center of gravity does not have to be entirely material, but, instead, can be symbolic or representational. I argue that feminist analysis shows that (innocent, civilian) women are that thing – the thing that a belligerent’s soldiers fight for and without whom war has no justification. This is both because innocent women are a casus belli, and because they are seen as producers/reproducers of the nation. This logic also tells us something about when belligerents attack “their opponents'” civilians – belligerents attack civilians as a proxy for women (and sometimes women civilians directly, e.g., wartime rape) in order to attack and dismantle opponents’ center-of-gravity/will to fight. This explanation accounts for attacks on civilians in a more complex and nuanced way than belligerent desparation, and accounts for other observable phenomena (like claims that wars are being fought for innocent women, and genocidal rape).

South Asia’s gender gap

Nirmala George of the Associated Press writes:

Lawmakers and women’s rights activists raised an alarm Monday over new evidence indicating about 7,000 fewer girls than expected are born each day in India, where women routinely suffer discrimination and parents often abort female fetuses.

The spread of ultrasound technology allowing parents to find out the gender of their unborn children has resulted in the large-scale “disappearance” of girls here. One study released earlier this year estimated that 10 million fewer girls were born here than expected in the past 20 years.

The government must “rise in revolt against the male child mania,” said lawmaker Gurudas Dasgupta during a parliamentary debate Monday.

The debate was spurred in part by a report last week from UNICEF, which estimated that 7,000 girls go unborn each day in India, where abortions are legal and a ban on finding out the sex of unborn children and aborting female fetuses is widely flouted.

The result is a skewed gender ratio — many districts in the country of more than 1 billion people routinely report only 800 females born for every 1,000 males.

Sex-selection abortions aren’t merely ethically problematic; they very likely have long-term social costs:

UNICEF’s report included dire warnings about the social fallout from the skewed gender ratio — girls getting married at younger ages, dropping out of school and dying earlier after being forced bear children when they are too young. It could also result in more violence against girls and women, UNICEF said.

But our field also saw a debate a few years ago about the possible implications for international security.Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. den Boer argued back in a 2002 International Security article, and then in a monograph, that gender imbalances could lead to a whole list of problems: increased risk of civil conflict, terrorism, and interstate conflict. Their claims–which I find plausible in some respects but not in others–touched off a methodological dispute. From the aforelinkedto Chronicle article:

Nothing in the two women’s arguments, however, persuades Joshua S. Goldstein, a professor emeritus of international relations at George Washington University [American University?], who wrote War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa (Cambridge University Press, 2001). “The problem with their design is that they’re basically just picking cases that fit their hypothesis, and so you don’t know whether it’s generalizable or not,” he says. Mr. Goldstein would prefer a much more systematic study, one that would try to identify how sex ratios interact with other variables that are believed to be linked to instability and war: rapid population growth, ethnic tension, poverty, and unstable availability of resources.

Melvin Ember agrees. “Arguing by example is not anywhere near truth or confirmation,” says Mr. Ember, president of the Human Relations Area Files, a repository of anthropological data at Yale University. “A better study would look at a large, randomly selected sample of societies with high, low, and normal sex ratios, he says. “It just requires a little bit of good will and money. The statistical techniques and the databases exist.”

A similar complaint is offered by Manju Parikh, an associate professor of political science at the College of St. Benedict, who has written about offspring sex selection. “This is an example of social-science inductive reasoning, but it’s not a very good example,” she says. “They have to show why other explanations don’t do as well. This is not a unique situation” — that is, she says, many countries with normal sex ratios have also been prone to instability and war.

Those complaints reflect a too-rigid model of explaining the world, responds Ms. Hudson, who teaches courses in social-science methodology. “This critique goes to the heart of how we know anything in the social sciences,” she says, arguing that because skewed sex ratios are a still-emerging variable, it is appropriate to sketch their potential effects more loosely, using what she and Ms. den Boer call “confirmatory process tracing.”

“I encourage others who wish to perform additional analysis using other methods to do so,” Ms. Hudson says. “But until a question is even raised, it cannot be addressed.”

But it wasn’t just the a process-tracing versus statistics dispute.

Mr. Goldstein and Ms. Parikh also worry that the Bare Branches argument leans too heavily on what they regard as crude evolutionary models of male behavior. “The authors seem to completely lack empathy for these low-status rootless men,” says Ms. Parikh. “These guys are the victims of development, and they call them criminals and potential criminals. This is so appalling.” For instance, contrary to the book’s suggestion, she says, most migrant workers in Asia maintain strong kinship ties with their home villages, send money home every month, and are nothing like the untethered marauders pictured in the authors’ warnings.

The term “surplus males,” Mr. Goldstein says, “is offensive, and for lack of a better term, sexist. They’re making a very conservative argument, which is sort of wrapped up in a feminist skin.” It is a mistake, he says, to draw easy lessons from the finding that unmarried men tend to have higher testosterone levels than do their married peers.

Ms. Hudson says she herself is skeptical of sociobiological explanations but finds it impossible to avoid engagement with them. “I don’t know of any social-science findings that are more confirmed than the fact that young men monopolize violent antisocial behavior in every society,” she says. “It may not be PC to say so, but you come up against such a mountain of evidence.”

As for Ms. Parikh’s point about migrant workers’ kinship ties, Ms. Hudson says that “feeling kinship with home and village is not the point. … Even when bare branches stay close to home, when they congregate they form new systems of norms unto themselves.” Those new norms are often aggressive and antisocial, she says. “Families cannot control their ‘stakeless’ sons.”

So what do you all think of the methodological issues? And of the sociobiological ones? I’m not much of a fan of the latter, but it strikes me that large gender imbalances in favor of males probably increase the risks of these kinds of problems… and that we don’t need to know anything about testosterone levels in unmarried males to understand why.

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