Normative Narratives


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Transparency Report: TEOTAWP, Cyber-Terrorism, Civil Liberties and Invasion of Privacy

For clarity sake, TEOTAWP stands for The End of Team America World Police, a recurring theme here at NN.

Two weeks ago, President Obama addressed the nation to signal a shift away from President Bush’s “War on Terror” towards more sustainable foreign policy.

Yesterday, information was leaked about the U.S. government using “dragnet” tactics to access American’s personal telephone and internet information. There has understandably been outrage about this apparent infringement on civil rights / liberties. The purpose of this blog post is not to address this legitimate concern, but rather to explain why data-mining is perfectly consistent (and arguably a logical conclusion) of the Obama administrations stance on national security.

A recap of what Obama said, through the NN lens, can be read here:

‘Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue,’ Mr. Obama said. ‘But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.’

Mr. Obama rejected the notion of an expansive war on terrorism and instead articulated a narrower understanding of the mission for the United States. ‘Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America,’ he said.

‘Neither I, nor any president, can promise the total defeat of terror,’ Mr. Obama added. ‘We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. But what we can do — what we must do — is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all the while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend.’”

“As our fight enters a new phase, America’s legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion,” Mr. Obama said. “To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance. For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power — or risk abusing it.”

“The changes reflect a conclusion by the White House that the core of Al Qaeda has been decimated by years of strikes and the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. But in the speech, the president said that the threat had evolved in a complicated mosaic of dangers from affiliated groups and homegrown terrorists, like the bombers who attacked the Boston Marathon.”

“Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, issued 10 questions to the president in reaction to previews of his speech. “Is it still your administration’s goal to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda?” he asked. “If you are scaling back the use of unmanned drones, which actions will you be taking as a substitute to ensure Al Qaeda’s defeat? Is it your view that if the U.S. is less aggressive in eliminating terrorists abroad, the threat of terrorist attacks will diminish on its own?”

I, like President Obama, addressed the issue from a theoretical/normative perspective; over the medium to long run more cooperation and building stronger, more resilient geopolitical relationships will allow the U.S. to divert some resources from the DoD to the DoS, an element of “D.I.M.E” diplomacy.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel expanded on Obama’s vision recently, in a more practical short-term way:

“Over all, he said, the United States will keep its “decisive military edge,” an oblique but distinct reference to American military superiority. China has announced an 11.2 percent increase in military spending this year, part of its rapid military modernization.

He stressed that new technologies would entail spending fewer resources in a smarter way…”

As Senator Boehner’s questions highlight, simply ignoring terrorism and the growing threat of cyber-terrorism will not make these issues go away. They demand a response that is more sustainable financially and more stomach-able morally. Obama did not say he would stop drone strikes, but that he would make the process more transparent. He did not say he would stop fighting terrorism, but that the way that terrorism is going to be fought is changing.

Instead of sending our young men and women to remote locations to fight unsustainable wars which tarnish America’s image and fuel anti-American sentiments, the Administration will use a fraction of those resources to protect homeland security. Obama’s statement that the “threat had evolved in a complicated mosaic of dangers from affiliated groups and homegrown terrorists, like the bombers who attacked the Boston Marathon.”, alludes to a more covert approach in combating terrorism and protecting America’s national security interests.

We must realize that everyday there are people who try to hurt Americans–Jihad does not take a vacation. The fact that the Boston Marathon attack was the first major act of terrorism on American soil since 9/11 is not a result of a diminished threat, but rather highlights the efficacy of American intelligence efforts.

To the extent that the Obama administration is embracing a a shift to D.I.M.E. (diplomatic, intelligence, military, economic) foreign policy, winding down traditional military programs requires putting more resources in diplomacy, economic aid, and intelligence gathering. As I said, far from being hypocritical, the Obama administration is being consistent; when the ultimate goal is security for American’s (and the world), putting people directly in the line of fire is counter-productive unless it is truly a last-case scenario.  

If gathering personal communications data is what it takes to unlock resources needed for important domestic programs, brings home the troops, while continuing our efforts to undermine anti-American forces at home and abroad, then we must take a practical view of the matter. Particularly in light of the cyber-security threat, monitoring internet actions seems like a logical counterweight.

There is certainly a debate to be had about protecting our civil liberties in modern times, but the “slippery-slope” argument is akin to conspiracy theory. Just because the Federal government has access to personal information does not mean it will be used for nefarious purposes. In fact, its is exactly because it is the U.S. government that we should not have these fears; as cynical as people are about the U.S. government, it is the global model for transparency, accountability, and protection of human rights (including civil rights).

For example, the U.S. government has nuclear weapons in order to maintain peace and stability. North Korea and Iran, on the other hand, are trying to develop nuclear capabilities for destabilizing purposes. That is why North Korean and Iranian nuclear capabilities, while negligible compared to American capabilities, pose a much more direct threat and have drawn a consensus response (global sanctions). If this seems like a double standard, it’s because it is. America, and other nations that have proven they are accountable and responsible, have earned the right to pursue certain questionable actions in the name of the “greater good”. The same claim, by a government that is unaccountable and systematically violates human rights, does not hold the same merit.

Nothing in this world is black-and-white. The economist in me tends to approach complex issues in cost-benefit framework. It seems to me that the benefits of collecting personal information are tangible, while the costs amount to little more than unfounded fear of “big brother”. Conspiracy theories may be a fun distraction on a rainy afternoon for some, but they have little place in practical political and foreign policy debates.

The fact that the bipartisan support exists on this issue should tell us something about its importance:

“Congressional leaders from both parties stood by a program that they had effectively sanctioned through the passage of counter-terrorism laws over the years. Senators Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia, the chairwoman and vice chairman of the intelligence committee, released a joint statement defending the surveillance.

“The threat from terrorism remains very real and these lawful intelligence activities must continue, with the careful oversight of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government,” they wrote.”

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Conflict Watch: Secretary of State Kerry Visits Sub-Saharan Africa; Talks Human Rights

Two days ago President Obama made a speech envisioning a new direction for American foreign policy. Unsuprisingly, Secretary of State John Kerry is doubling down on Obama’s vision (NYT article):

“Making his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as secretary of state, John Kerry urged Nigeria on Saturday to uphold human rights as it steps up its fight against Islamic extremists.”

“…reports that Nigerian forces have carried out extrajudicial killings, including against civilians, have become a problem for the United States, which provides law enforcement assistance and has cooperated with Nigeria, a major oil supplier, on counterterrorism issues.”

“‘We defend the right completely of the government of Nigeria to defend itself and to fight back against terrorists,’ he added. ‘That said, I have raised the issue of human rights with the government.’”

“Earlier this month, Mr. Kerry, in a statement, noted ‘credible allegations’ that Nigerian forces had been engaged in ‘gross human rights violations.’”

“Asked about reports of human rights violations — there have been reports of large-scale civilian killings by the army and police in Nigeria — Mr. Kerry said the Nigerian government had acknowledged that abuses had occurred.”

“‘One’s person’s atrocity does not excuse another’s,’ Mr. Kerry said, when asked about reports of serious human rights violations by Nigerian forces.

“What is needed ‘is good governance,’ Mr. Kerry said. ‘It’s ridding yourself of a terrorist organization so that you can establish a standard of law that people can respect. And that’s what needs to happen in Nigeria.’”

Secretary of State Kerry also met with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, in attempts to support Egypt’s rocky transition towards effective democracy:

“Mr. Kerry was scheduled to meet with the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, later on Saturday. At a March meeting in Cairo, Mr. Morsi promised to move ahead with negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, and Mr. Kerry announced that the United States would provide $250 million in assistance to Egypt. But concerns have mounted since that Egypt is not prepared to undertake serious economic reforms.

The African Union, the organization that Mr. Kerry is in Ethiopia to celebrate, remains, half a century in, a work in progress. First molded by the Pan-African ideals of Kwame Nkrumah, who led Ghana in the 1950s and 60s when it became the first African state to break its colonial bonds, the union, then known as the Organization for African Unity, emphasized African self-reliance and independence.

But those notions quickly curdled into a doctrine that led African leaders to believe that they were above reproach. Autocratic, corrupt leaders like Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo; Idi Amin of Uganda; and Félix Houphouët-Boigny of Ivory Coast earned the organization the nickname “dictator’s club.”

Many dictators have fallen in the “Arab Spring” revolutions. The article also discusses the Syrian civil war, frayed relations with Pakistan, terrorist networks in Yemen, pulling out of Afghanistan, and sectarian conflicts in Iraq and between Sudan and South Sudan. As far as extreme poverty and human rights violations are concerned, there is a very strong argument that these issues are becoming more and more exclusive to the African continent. While this is a disturbing if not suprising trend, it also provides a strong mandate for where the vast majority of future humanitarian aid, assistance, and debt forgiveness should be focused (not that there was really much of a question on this to begin with).

Obama and Kerry continue to be a sort of super-team on foreign affairs; their pragmatic and diplomatic approach towards foreign economic and security issues have the potential to bolster America’s standing in foreign affairs while simultaneously spending fewer resources on military endeavors.

I hope my readers realize that by writing about “The End of Team America World Police” that I am in now trying to belittle the efforts of our brave men and women who serve in the armed forces. You can support the troops without supporting some of the Wars they are told to fight in (which the troops themselves have very little no say over). You can support the U.S. D.o.D. While believing that a more even distribution of resources between itself and the D.o.S. would allow America to have a more meaningful impact in global affairs. And you can certainly give military personnel training in human rights, so that our normative vision for this nations role in global affairs can be practiced in the field, instead of our military presence inciting anti-American prejudices.

Another article in the Times today picks apart Obama’s speech. And while I cannot argue with the issues raised in this article, I can question the overall point of the article. The the basis of the argument is that it will not be easy to accomplish what Obama has set out to do, and he did not offer many concrete examples of military action in his public address.

Of course it will not be easy to accomplish the global vision President Obama set out. As I said before, the transition will be neither quick nor linear, there are many obstacles in the way and many more unforseen obstacles will present themselves as vested interests struggle against the forces of modernization. And of course President Obama did not lay out the specifics of his national security agenda; only this nations top security advisors will ever be privy to that information.

After over a decade being engaged in a costly “War on Terror”, America has an administration who is willing to work with the global community to achieve real results on issues that we require coordination to be adequately addressed, instead of ineffective and inefficient unilateral action. This approach will unlock resources that can be spent at home, and raise America’s standing abroad by creating more lasting alliances.

One indisputable fact remains, and that is that America cannot continue its military operations indefinitely as it has since 9/11/01–this is not a sustainable position fiscally or theoretically. The changes Obama has laid out are something Americans should embrace–nobody should ever want us to have to use our armed forces.

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Economic Outlook: The End of Team America World Police (Part 2)

Yesterday, we examined the roots to what President Eisenhower referred to as the “military-industrial complex”. The U.S. has many legitimate reasons for maintaining a strong military; having said that, U.S. military expenditures are out of control. The U.S. spent $ 711 billion in 2012, that’s 41% of global military expenditures. The next closest countries are China at 143 billion (8.2%), Russia at 71.9 billion (4.1%). Let’s be clear here, when we talk about spending cuts for the military, we’re talking about shaving a few billion dollars off the bloated D.o.D. budget—under no proposed circumstances would the U.S. lose its prominence in global security issues. Clearly our allies need to pick up some of the slack in ensuring global security.

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/timeline/9b6b4ac6234a38d7f61757290055617d.png

To clarify, some military spending goes to soldier benefits, which under no circumstances should be cut (retroactively). It would be a slap in the face to cut current veterans benefits, these people signed up and served our country under the belief they would get these benefits—they signed contracts with the U.S. government. However, veterans’ benefits accounted for only $127 billion in 2012, about 18% of the defense budget, so there is room to adjust the budget without reneging on promises already made to our service men and women.

When considered next to federal deficits, the case for cutting military spending is even stronger. Military expenditure accounted for 25% of federal spending in 2012. For comparisons sake, Education accounted for 3%, Health Care 23%, and Pensions (Social Security) 22%. It is absurd that the U.S., which is in no real threat of being invaded, spends 8 times as much on defense spending than on education on a yearly basis. If you ask me, the greatest threat to American prosperity is not terrorism or globalization; it is the systemic underinvestment in education.

https://chart.googleapis.com/chart?cht=p3&chs=600x200&chf=bg,s,e8e8ff&chd=t:22,23,3,25,12,2,3,1,4,6&chl=Pensions%2022%|Health%20Care%2023%|Education%203%|Defense%2025%|Welfare%2012%|Protection%202%|Transportation%203%|General%20Government%201%|Other%20Spending%204%|Interest%206%&chtt=Budgeted%20Federal%20Spending%20for%20%20-%20FY%202012

The “War on Terror” has led America to rethink how we intervene in other countries, as it has been so costly:

“With enactment of the sixth FY2011 Continuing Resolution through March 18, 2011, (H.J.Res. 48/P.L. 112-6) Congress has approved a total of $1.283 trillion for military operations, base security,reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care for the three operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks: Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) Afghanistan and other counter terror operations; Operation Noble Eagle (ONE), providing enhanced security at military bases; and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). This estimate assumes that the current CR level continues through the rest of the year and that agencies allocate reductions proportionately. Of this $1.283 trillion total, CRS estimates that Iraq will receive about $806 billion (63%), OEF $444 billion (35%) and enhanced base security about $29 billion (2%), with about $5 billion that CRS cannot allocate (1/2%). About 94% of the funds are for DOD.”

“He [Obama] asks more detailed questions about how sending 100 troops, or 10,000, might influence long-term outcomes. Paraphrasing the president, one aide said he is more likely to ask, ‘So if we put troops into Syria to stabilize the chemical weapons, what can they accomplish in a year that they couldn’t accomplish in a week?’… ‘He has got to find the happy medium between not committing us to a decade-long ground war and choosing not to do anything,’ said Anne-Marie Slaughter, who was the head of the State Department’s policy planning operation for Mr. Obama’s first two years in office and has urged him to intervene more strongly in humanitarian disasters.”

I agree with Anne-Maria Slaughter, that part of smarter (D.I.M.E) intervention must involve shifting resources from the D.o.D. to the D.o.S. Both departments have the same mandate, to protect America’s interest abroad. However, more should be done in a preventative capacity. Protracted Social Conflict theory gives insights into future conflict zones; preventative action in these areas would save money and lives. Admittedly, there are instances where Defense must act instead of State (for instance, if fighting has already begun in a region), so it is essential to have both departments adequately funded. Currently the D.o.D. budget is more than 10x larger than the that of the D.o.S., some rebalancing is in order.

I would like to go back and highlight a quote from French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte I posted yesterday:

It should be obvious, he said, that the United States has other priorities and is concentrating on Asia, and need not act everywhere. So if we are both independent and true allies of the United States we should be in a position to act when need be.

The rest of the world is beginning to realize that it must take more of a collective role in global security. There is one last point I would like to make, which is addressed by Mr. Levitte; the future of military efforts in Asia.

There is little reason that we should refocus our military interventions in Asia. Yes, North Korea, Yemen, and a number of other Asian countries pose terror risks, but not immediate risks to America. The strongest nations in Asia; China, India, and Japan, are our allies. We should be able to count on them to ensure regional stability, with the U.S. offering logistical, financial,  and intelligence assistance as necessary. I sincerely hope that Obama takes this opportunity, with European nations taking greater responsibility in Northern Africa and the Middle-East, and rising military expenditures in Asia, to reallocate D.o.D. spending to the D.o.S (and not to just shift defense spending from one region in the world to another). This shift may be politically unpopular, and some would inevitably call Obama “soft” on Asia / China / terrorists, but such action would ultimately be in America’s best interests

Obama has been a very friendly president toward the D.o.S., streamlining U.S. diplomatic efforts and scaling up the USAID budget. However, changes have so far been modest. Hopefully Obama uses his second term to make significant changes in U.S. foreign policy.

If our allies around the world help share in the cost of ensuring global security, the U.S. can focus more on domestic issues and preventative peacebuilding. This vision for the future is attainable, but far from guaranteed; it will take real political will and leadership to accomplish. Hopefully president Obama has what it takes to start America on this path.


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Conflict Watch: The End of Team America World Police (Part 1)

The United States has by far the largest military in the world. Tomorrow I will get into the numbers, so for now you’ll have to take this information on good faith. The American military has been a global force for good since WWI (and probably before that). The U.S. intervened on the side of democracy in both WWI and WWII, and was central in efforts to promote global coordination, cooperation, and mutually beneficial trade throughout the 20th century (The League of Nations, U.N, N.A.T.O. G.A.T.T. W.T.O, I.M.F, W.B, the list goes on and on).  The Marshall Plan, the large post WWII European reconstruction aid package, and the ensuing ideological standoff with the Soviet Union, further cemented America’s position as global defender of “Western values”.

The United States has carved out this position, as a global protector of modernization, democracy, and capitalism, for many reasons. The most pronounced reason relates to American values, at its base a humanitarian plea. However, there are also economic and national security reasons for promoting these values around the world. The rapid expansion of capitalism after The Cold War has led to unprecedented growth in the global economy. This growth is mutually beneficial; as poorer countries develop new markets for American exports open up.

This growth must be protected; there are still those who oppose the forces of modernization, either because it will take power away from the current elite, or because it is at odds with traditional / religious values, or perhaps because of a contentious colonial history. There is no shortage of reasons why other people do not like us (and if one does not exist you can count on someone to fabricate a reason). In order to protect ourselves, and in hopes of creating new trade partners and lifting the world’s most impoverished from the shackles of extreme poverty, the U.S. has invested trillions of dollars into this global vision (prompting Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the two comedic geniuses behind South Park, to create a satirical movie “Team America: World Police”, to highlight America’s prominence in foreign conflicts) . I have argued that resources should be shifted from a bloated D.o.D. to the D.o.S., and still hold strongly to this belief, but this is an ideological argument about the same agreed upon principle; As technology advances, and globalization progresses, the world will only become smaller and more interconnected. As a result, foreign policy (both America’s and other nation’s) will become even more important.

There has to be a rethinking of how the U.S. intervenes. Gone are the days of the classic “world war”; today’s most prominent conflict is the Protracted Social Conflict (PSC). U.S. interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, while “successful” in terms of ousting oppressive leaders, have been very costly. The U.S. can no longer afford to play the role of “Team America: World Police”. Arab Spring interventions have highlighted a shift from overt military action to covert operations. It is now common knowledge that nation rebuilding must be a part of military intervention, in order to ensure the power vacuum created is not filled by someone who is even less aligned with “Western interests”. The cost of ensuring global security and protecting the international trade system must be more evenly shared by the developed world.

It would be natural to start by analyzing French foreign policy, as they have been most directly involved in the current Northern Africa conflicts. However, I would like to first focus on Germany. Germany has come a long way from being defeated in two world wars and being divided by the Berlin wall. Due to economic responsibility and stability, Germany has become a world power (it is the most powerful country in the EU in economic terms). Germany has, ironically, benefited from having limited military power after WWII (imagine how different the U.S. economic picture would be with a more reasonable defense budget):

“After World War II, West German politicians rejected military force for any goal other than self-defense, and a strong pacifist streak developed in the public. The end of the cold war brought the beginning of a long period of halting change. Allies, particularly in the United States, have repeatedly called for Germany to take more responsibility and a larger share of the burden…’I don’t think it’s healthy for the future of Europe to give Germany this refuge where Germany handles the economy and doesn’t have to deal with the dirty stuff,’ Mr. Böhnke [head of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations]”.

’A country of our size,’ Mr. Köhler [former German president] said, ‘with its focus on exports and thus reliance on foreign trade, must be aware that military deployments are necessary in an emergency to protect our interests, for example, when it comes to trade routes, for example, when it comes to preventing regional instabilities that could negatively influence our trade, jobs and incomes.’”

It is time for Germany to step up to the plate and share the responsibilities of being a world power. France already has a large military, and sees a dynamic and pragmatic military as an essential component of global security:

“France has maintained its ability to send troops and equipment quickly to large parts of the globe, and it should soon overtake an austerity-minded Britain as the world’s fourth largest military spender, after the United States, China and Russia…The French are willing to intervene militarily, but on the basis of new conditions, which differ, French officials argue, from the old colonial habits and traditions known as ‘Françafrique.’”

“’We think it is absolutely necessary for other European countries to do what we do,’ Mr. Levitte said. ‘Otherwise there will be a kind of strategic irrelevance of Europe as a whole.’ It should be obvious, he said, that the United States has other priorities and is concentrating on Asia, and need not act everywhere. ‘So if we are both independent and true allies of the United States we should be in a position to act when need be.’”

French officials have also called for African troops (and Algerian troops specifically) to take a larger role in regional security affairs:

France’s foreign minister told African leaders that ‘our African friends need to take the lead’ in a multilateral military intervention in Mali…’We must, as quickly as possible, furnish the logistical and financial means required by the Malian Army and Ecowas,’ he [Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius] said.”

Military intervention is costly, both in terms of human lives and monetary cost. Global security has an element of “the tragedy of the commons” to it; everyone benefits from security, so there are bound to be “free rider” issues when it comes to paying for global security operations. It has become obvious that America cannot afford to play world police anymore; we cannot support the military bill and still provide the services needed to grow America domestically without amassing large amounts of debt (which has also been called a national security threat; damned if you do intervene, damned if you don’t). It is time for the rest of the world to share in the cost of our collective freedom and prosperity.

Come back tomorrow for part 2 of “The End of Team America World Police”, when I will focus on military and humanitarian expenditures by country to further highlight the need for a more evenly shared approach to foreign intervention and global security.