Normative Narratives


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Conflict Watch: Drone Week(s), It’s a Bad Week to be a Terrorist

I should probably say “drone month” or “drone year / decade”, but I really wanted to make a play on Shark Week so there it is.

Comic relief aside, news of drone strikes in the Middle East and Central Asia has proliferated recently:

Pakistan:

At least six militants were killed and four others injured after the latest American drone strike in Pakistan’s restive tribal belt on Sunday, Pakistani intelligence officials and militant commanders said.

An intelligence official in the area, who was authorized to speak only on the condition of anonymity, said preliminary reports indicated that a senior commander with a Pakistani Taliban faction led by Gul Bahadur, which has links with Al Qaeda, had been killed in the attack.

There have been 15 C.I.A.-led drone strikes in Pakistan so far this year, compared with 47 in 2012, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which monitors the strikes. Up to 124 people have been killed, the group said, including up to 4 civilians.

Pakistani officials say the attacks violate their country’s sovereignty, result in civilian deaths and aid in the recruitment of fresh militants. American officials privately dispute those claims, saying the civilian death toll has dropped as strikes have grown more accurate in recent years.

Yemen:

Missile-armed drone aircraft launched the fifth attack on suspected al-Qaeda militants in Yemen within 72 hours, as the U.S. stepped up raids after closing its embassy and warning Americans to leave the country.

The drone killed three people in a vehicle in Ghail Bawazeer region, according to the al-Sahwa news website of the opposition Islamist Islah party, which is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. At least 22 suspected militants have been killed since Aug. 6, according to a tally from reports on the website.

The strikes come as the U.S., Britain and other Western countries closed their missions in Yemen and told citizens to leave, while Yemeni authorities said on Aug. 7 they had foiled an al-Qaeda plot to seize port facilities. The Obama administration is keeping 19 embassies and consulates closed because “a threat still remains” from al-Qaeda affiliates, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said yesterday.

Saeed Obaid al-Jemhi, an expert on al-Qaeda and Islamist movements and author of a book on the Yemeni group, said the intensified campaign will be counterproductive.

“The Americans feel these strikes will generate a positive impact and that is true, but there is a huge negative impact on Yemen,” he said. “This will generate more sympathizers with al-Qaeda and will also weaken the popularity of the Yemen’s President Hadi.”

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported a sharp increase in U.S. operations in Yemen in 2012, with at least 32 confirmed strikes, double the number carried out in 2011. The U.S. intends to end drone attacks in Pakistan soon, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Aug. 1.

Egypt:

An Israeli drone strike inside Egypt killed five suspected Islamic militants and destroyed a rocket launcher Friday, two senior Egyptian security officials said, marking a rare Israeli operation carried out in its Arab neighbor’s territory.

The strike, coming after a warning from Egypt caused Israel to briefly close an airport Thursday, potentially signals a significant new level of cooperation between the two former foes over security matters in the largely lawless Sinai Peninsula after a military coup ousted Egypt’s president. Egypt long has maintained that it wouldn’t allow other countries to use its territories as hotbed to launch attacks against other countries.

The drone strike comes after Israel briefly prevented landings at an airport in the Red Sea resort of Eilat on Thursday. While Israeli officials would only say the closure came out of unspecified security concerns, an Egyptian security official told the AP that officials warned Israel about the possibility of rocket strikes. The official said Egyptian authorities received intelligence suggesting terrorist groups planned to fire missiles Friday at Israel, as well as at locations in northern Sinai and the Suez Canal.

Residents heard a large explosion Friday in el-Agra, an area in the northern region of the Sinai close to Egypt’s border with Israel. The officials said the Israeli attack was in cooperation with Egyptian authorities.

While Egypt signed a peace deal with Israel in 1979, the country has long been suspicious of the Jewish state’s intentions while annually celebrating its own military exploits against Israel in the Sinai. Allowing an Israeli drone strike inside its own territory represents military cooperation otherwise never seen before.

Proliferation of drone strikes has occurred in line with D.I.M.E. (Diplomatic, Intelligence, Military, Economic) foreign policy, and has been carried out in a more transparent way (as evidenced by news reports on drone strikes).  For a reminder, or the sake of new readers, I had this to say about the place of drone strikes within the larger D.I.M.E. framework:

We must realize that everyday there are people who try to hurt Americans Western interests–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.  

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.

Are Drone strikes a necessary evil in today’s world? Considering the high cost of traditional warfare (both in money and in lives), and the inability to keep terrorist leaders in jail due to prison-breaks, perhaps targeted, intelligence-backed drone strikes truly are the most effective way of moving forward with “the War on Terror”. Terrorists due not respect human rights and due process, why should they be granted such privileges?

The “drone-strikes-fuels-Jihad” argument seems to hold water. Are drone strikes really counter-productive in terms of increasing the appeal of / helping recruiting efforts for extremist groups? Testimony from the sentencing portion of the Bradley Manning case sheds light on this claim:

A prosecution witness in the sentencing phase of the court-martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning told a military judge on Thursday that Al Qaeda could have used WikiLeaks disclosures, including classified United States government materials provided by Private Manning, to encourage attacks in the West, in testimony meant to show the harm done by his actions.

The witness, Cmdr. Youssef Aboul-Enein, an adviser to the Pentagon’s Joint Intelligence Task Force for Combating Terrorism, said that WikiLeaks materials showing that the United States had killed civilians, for instance, could help Al Qaeda.

“Perception is important because it provides a good environment for recruitment, for fund-raising and for support for Al Qaeda’s wider audience and objectives,” he said.

The article went on to say that had it not been for Wiki-leaks, Al Qaeda would have found other propaganda to help recruitment efforts / fuel anti-American sentiment (apologies, I cannot seem to find that version of the article).

I am all for preventative peace-building, tackling the root causes of terrorism before they take hold. But taking the moral high-ground [not using drones] in areas where terrorism already has deep roots would be–in my opinion–much more counter-productive to the global war on terror.  

Drone strikes have become more transparent (in their disclosure), and allegedly more targeted to minimize collateral damage and civilian deaths. When assessing national security programs, it is helpful to think of them in terms of opportunity cost–what is the cost of the next best alternative / inaction. If the next best alternative is traditional warfare, then we already know the costs are too high and results unsustainable. The cost of inaction is high too; pulling out of the war on terror may seem like an attractive short term solution. But allowing terrorism to spread with relative impunity will only make future anti-terrorism efforts all the more costly and complex.

Am I an “Obama foreign policy apologist”? Perhaps, however I see the use of drones as the lesser of many evils. A world in which drone strikes and terrorism (and warfare and human rights violations in general) do not exist is a beautiful normative vision, but is unfortunately not a reality today.

 


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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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Conflict Watch: Pakistan; Modernization v. Vested Interests, Effective v. Formal Democracy

Today, Pakistani’s are voting in a milestone election. Before diving into specifics of how effective Pakistani democracy may be, some background on the lead-up to the election:

The election is Pakistan’s 10th since 1970 but only the first where a civilian government has served a full five-year term and is poised to peacefully hand power to another political administration.

Unlike previous elections, in which the military’s Inter Services-Intelligence Directorate had been widely accused of vote manipulation and intimidation, there was little evidence of involvement in this campaign by the military, which has ruled Pakistan directly for more than half its 66-year history.”

“The election has evoked a rare sense of enthusiasm for politics in Pakistan. Some 4,670 candidates are fighting for 272 directly elected seats in the national Parliament, while almost 11,000 people are battling for the four provincial assemblies. Aside from more traditional politicians, candidates included astrologers, openly transgender candidates, former models and the first female candidates in the tribal belt along the Afghan border.

Also standing for election are dozens of candidates from Sunni sectarian groups, some with links to violent attacks on minority Shiites.

But the sense of a vibrant, if flawed, democracy has been tempered by Taliban attacks throughout the campaigning. The militant movement’s ability to derail wide tracks of the campaign, particularly in the mountainous northwest, is being taken as a signal that it has evolved beyond its nihilistic guerrilla roots and has become a powerful political insurgency bent on upending Western-style democracy in Pakistan.

In a statement on Friday, the Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud ordered his commanders to attack the “infidel system” of democracy, warning that teams of suicide bombers would hit targets across the country.

At least 17 people were reported killed in attacks across Pakistan on Saturday, including a gunfight and an attack on a polling station in the western province of Balochistan, and two explosions in the northwest, including Peshawar, that left several people injured. The deadly bombing in Karachi appeared directed at a candidate from the Awami National Party, one of three secular-leaning parties that have borne the brunt of Taliban attacks in the last month that have killed at least 110 people.”

But after a slow start to polling, large numbers of voters emerged by midmorning, including many women. About 300 burka-clad women stood in line outside the Lady Griffith High School, where policemen warned photographers not to take their picture.”

“There were also signs of irregularities that have tainted some past votes. At least one party, Jamaat-e-Islami, withdrew its candidates from Karachi and Hyderabad to protest against alleged rigging of the elections at different polling stations of the city.

“The votes of J.I. are being frightened and harassed by MQM armed activists in different parts of the city,” said Muhammad Hussain Mehanti, the party’s chief in Karachi, referring to the party MQM, which has traditionally dominated the city. He called for a peaceful strike on May 13 as a sign of protest against alleged rigging in the polls in the city.

Prominent officials of both Mr. Zardari’s PPP party and Mr. Sharif’s PML-N party lodged accusations of vote rigging in Karachi, saying they would reject results in the city.”

While time will tell whether the claims of J.I. party have any truth, and violence surrounding the elections is troubling, overall the elections seem to be going very smoothly. It would be naive to think that nobody would try to play “spoiler” in the first true democratic election Pakistan has ever had.

But Pakistani’s, who have “election fever” remain undeterred. It will be interesting to see what the overall voter turnout is once the election is over. Modernization and democratization cannot be imposed from the outside, they have to come from the will of the people, and it seems that Pakistani’s have fulfilled this important prerequisite for sustainable democracy.

The question now can turn from sustainable democracy to effective democracy—the existence of democracy on paper does not ensure it will work in practice. To this end, there are mixed signals for what to expect. I will base effective democracy on the following criteria; the ability of people to vote and run in elections, indiscriminate protection of human rights, an independent judiciary system, and the existence of independent media outlets. There are certainly others, but I had to draw the line somewhere for the sake of writing this piece. I left out military control, as the NYT article already highlights that the military has remained uninvolved in this election (perhaps too much so, as the military arguably should be providing security and not letting 100+ people die during the buildup to the election).

Ability of people to vote and run in elections: As stated in the article, “Some 4,670 candidates are fighting for 272 directly elected seats in the national Parliament, while almost 11,000 people are battling for the four provincial assemblies. Aside from more traditional politicians, candidates included astrologers, openly transgender candidates, former models and the first female candidates in the tribal belt along the Afghan border.” Clearly the right to run for office has been upheld.

As far as voting rights, while the system is not perfect, steps have been taken to make the voting process indiscriminate. “In January 2002, President Musharraf introduced a “joint electorate,” lifting the requirement to declare religion when registering to vote. Millions of Hindus and Christians in Pakistan were listed along with Muslims, and could vote in general elections.”

“Pakistan’s constitution sets aside 10 seats in Parliament for religious minorities, but they are not filled by direct elections. After general elections, each political party nominates candidates from minority communities for the seats based on the party’s proportional representation in the new Parliament.”

Women are also voting in this election, while expatriates will not have their votes counted. The system is not perfect, but it is certainly heading in the right direction.

Indiscriminate protection of human rights: In this sense, the country is not doing as well as it could be. Deaths surrounding the election (over 110), show that the right to life is not being protected indiscriminately. The Ahmadi community is particularly disenfranchised:

“Pakistan’s Supreme Court took up a petition against the practice last month, but neither Pakistan’s Attorney General nor the Election Commission replied to the court’s request to explain why Ahmadis were being listed separately. The listing could also allow religious extremists to easily identify Ahmadis in each electoral district, the Ahmadi spokesman said. In 2010, 86 Ahmadis were killed in attacks on worshippers in two mosques in Lahore.  Last year, at least 20 Ahmadis were killed in Pakistan”

Effective democracy must uphold the will of the majority and the rights of the minority. A national human rights institution (NHRI) passed parliamentary voting late in  2011, but has yet to be operationalized. Having such an institution in place would go a long way in making Pakistani democracy more effective. Assuming the election goes as planned, operationalizing the NHRI should be one of the first objectives of the new Pakistani government.   

Independent judiciary system:In Pakistan, neither the judiciary as an institution nor the individual judges are independent… Independence of judiciary is the hallmark of liberal democracies. On the other hand, our judicial process is based on arbitrary principles, from the appointment and removal of judges to the process of deciding the cases. And particularly, the absolute powers of the chief justices to grant cases to different benches.”

Independent media outlets:Since 2002, the Pakistani media has become powerful and independent and the number of private television channels has grown from just three state-run channels in 2000 to 89 in 2012, according to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.

Pakistan has a vibrant media landscape and enjoys independence to a large extent. After having been liberalised in 2002, the television sector experienced a media boom. In the fierce competitive environment that followed commercial interests became paramount and quality journalism gave way to sensationalism. Although the radio sector has not seen similar growth, independent radio channels are numerous and considered very important sources of information – especially in the rural areas.”

However, recent news that a NYT reporter was expelled from Pakistan on the eve of elections has to draw concerns about media independence. Certainly this one instance does not undo recent gains in Pakistani media independence, but it does question the countries commitment to media’s role in providing information transparently and indiscriminately.

There are many signs suggesting that Pakistan is ready for democracy. However, there are still hurdles to be cleared. The first is obviously a smooth transition of power following elections. After that, judicial reform should be pursued and a NHRI must be established. These two actions will ensure that human and civil rights are upheld indiscriminately. Additionally, the independence of media outlets, both domestic and international, should be reaffirmed (an official apology, explanation and invitation back to Pakistan for the expelled journalist would be a good start).

An effective democratic government must also protect personal and societal security. The newly elected leaders must figure out a way to reduce the homicide rate, which has been a problem since before the recent uptick in violence surrounding the elections began . 

What do my readers think? Is Pakistan ready for effective democracy? Will vested interests whom oppose democracy (for example, the Taliban) allow a peaceful transition to democracy? This is an exciting time for the sixth largest country in the world, with a population of 180 million people. A democratic transition in Pakistan could greatly shift the geopolitical landscape in the Middle-East and Southern Asia. I will try to update the Pakistani shift to democracy whenever a relevant story presents itself.

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Transparency Watch: The Justice Department’s “White Paper”, and Mr. Brennan Goes to Capitol Hill

This post is an attempt to track recent developments with regards to a Justice Department “white paper” detailing targeted killings with drone strikes, and Mr. Brennan’s confirmation hearing with Senate with regards to his nomination as Director of the C.I.A. Most of the post is direct quotes from relevant actors. At the end of the post I will explore some different opinions on drone strikes.

I have separated the post into different sections (although they are all related) to make the information as accessible as possible. There are quotes from a number of articles, and sometimes different parts of an article will appear in different sections of this post. If you cannot find the source of a quote, check one of the other links, as I have linked all of the articles I pulled quotes from. The post is a bit complicated, but that is the nature of the issue being addressed. Be sure to leave any questions and opinions in the comment section.

The DoJ “White Paper”:

“We learned this week, thanks to reporting by NBC News, of a 16-page, unsigned, undated Justice Department “white paper” that outlines the Obama administration’s legal reasoning about targeted killing. The paper asserts that the government may lawfully kill a United States citizen if “an informed, high-level official” decides that the target is a high-ranking Qaeda figure or affiliate who poses “an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States” and that capturing him is not feasible.’”

Mr. Brennan, as Obama’s nominee for head of the C.I.A., was due for a confirmation hearing before he assumed the position anyhow. However, the timely release of the DoJ “white paper” certainly puts more of a spotlight on the hearings, and shifts most of the attention from “enhanced interrogation techniques” to “targeted killings” via drone strikes.

Mr Brennan’s History: 

“Mr. Brennan, who has wielded tremendous power as the president’s top White House counterterrorism adviser, is expected to face occasionally sharp questioning on a range of topics: from the drone campaign in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere to his role in the Bush administration’s detention and interrogation program carried out while he was a top official at the C.I.A.”

“As the agency’s [C.I.A.]deputy executive director when waterboarding and other brutal interrogation methods were approved, he said, his job was to help “manage the day-to-day running of the agency” and he had no direct involvement in interrogations but had “significant concerns and personal objections” to elements of the program.”

“Brennan has been something of a Forrest Gump of toxic national security policies, having been in the room when everything from torture to the killing of an American citizen was being debated,” wrote Christopher Anders, the A.C.L.U.’s senior legislative counsel.

Given his wide-ranging portfolio of the past four years, Mr. Brennan’s move to the C.I.A. would narrow his responsibilities. He would have a role in the debate about whether the agency should gradually shift drone operations to the Defense Department, as many experts advise.”

Proliferation of Drone Strikes:

“Stanley McChrystal, the retired general, has warned that drone strikes are so resented abroad that their overuse could jeopardize America’s broader objectives. The secretary of state, John Kerry, spoke at his confirmation hearing of the need to make sure that ‘American foreign policy is not defined by drones and deployments alone.’”

“Leon E. Panetta, who headed the C.I.A. from 2009 to 2011 and has served as defense secretary since then, told NBC News on Sunday that he favored shifting most strikes to the military. ‘The advantage to it is it becomes much more transparent,’ Mr. Panetta said.”

“…the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit news organization in London, estimates the number of persons killed in drone attacks at 3,000 to 4,500, including well over 200 children.

“The White House has said it is still developing rules for when to kill terrorists. The United States has conducted more than 400 total strikes in at least three countries — Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia — killing more than 3,000 people in its war on Al Qaeda, according to a report by Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. The majority killed were part of a C.I.A. covert program begun in 2004 and aimed at militants in Pakistan. At a minimum, United States rules should specify that no one can be killed unless actively planning or participating in terror, or helping lead the Taliban in Pakistan or Al Qaeda. Killing should be authorized only when it can be demonstrated that capture is impossible. Standards for preventing the killing of innocents who might be nearby should be detailed and thorough.

“The confirmation hearing provides an opportunity for Mr. Brennan to explain his view on whether there is any check on presidential decision-making, especially when American citizens are targeted, and whether targeted killings are creating more militants than they are eliminating.”

Because so much of the targeted killing program remains shrouded in secrecy, however, it is unclear how much the Senate Intelligence Committee will press Mr. Brennan for detailed answers about the program during the public session, or whether it will wait until the additional “closed hearing” that is routine for the confirmation hearings of C.I.A. directors.”

“An investigator for the United Nations Human Rights Council said last month that he would study the “exponential rise” in drone strikes in counterterrorism operations. More than 50 nations have or are trying to get the technology. The United States will set the standard for them all.”

Senate Hearing:

“In his opening statement, Mr. Brennan acknowledged ‘widespread debate’ about the administration’s counterterrorism operations but strongly defended them, saying the United States remained ‘at war with Al Qaeda.’

He [Brennan] said later that when C.I.A. drone strikes accidentally kill civilians, those mistakes should be admitted. ‘We need to acknowledge it publicly,’ he said. ‘In the interests of transparency, I believe the United States government should acknowledge it.’

But senators repeatedly complained that there was too little transparency about the targeted killing program, sometimes producing misleading information in the news media.

‘I think that this has gone about as far as it can go as a covert activity,’ Ms. Feinstein [Democratic Senator from California] told reporters after the hearing.’”

How can drone strikes operate in a more transparent way? Mr. Panetta has called for shifting drone operations from the C.I.A. to the D.o.D for accountability reasons. However, drones are generally used in covert missions, gathering intelligence and visually monitoring an area without striking. How can covert national security missions be made more “transparent”? While Mr. Brennan agreed more transparency was need, he had a hard time explaining how that could be achieved.

“Even Mr. Brennan had a hard time explaining how much information he thought should be disclosed about targeted killings. ‘What we need to do is optimize transparency on these issues, but at the same time, optimize secrecy and the protection of our national security.’ he said.”

 “Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, told Mr. Brennan that the committee had never been given the full list of countries in which the C.I.A. has carried out lethal operations.” Creating such a list would go a long way towards increasing accountability with regards to drone strikes. But do we really want national security operations on a list which could potentially fall into the wrong hands?

Another idea [proposed by Ms. Feinstein] was creating a special court to oversee drone strike issues, an idea that Brennan gave a lukewarm response: “Mr. Brennan was noncommittal, noting that lethal operations are generally the sole responsibility of the executive branch. But he said the administration had “wrestled with” the concept of such a court and called the idea “certainly worthy of discussion.”

Different Opinions About Drone Strikes:

Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor of law and international dispute resolution at Notre Dame, is critical of the U.S. use of drone strikes:

“Today, the United States is involved in a true armed conflict only in Afghanistan. Yet drone attacks have been carried out in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan and may soon begin in Libya, Mali and Nigeria.” (and honestly, who knows where else)

“For years, Mr. Obama has stretched executive power to claim that the 2001 Congressional authorization to use military force against Al Qaeda gives him the unilateral authority to order people, including American citizens, killed away from any battlefield without judicial oversight or public accountability. He took a step in the right direction on Wednesday when he directed the Justice Department to give Congressional committees its classified legal advice on targeting Americans.”

“Terms like ‘armed conflict,’ ‘combat’ and ‘battlefield’ are integral to the proper functioning of human rights law and international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions. Such definitions are well established and can no more be tampered with to suit the administration’s preferences than can the definition of torture.

Putting aside whether the targeted killings are even effective, the law must take precedence. Outside of armed conflict zones, the killing of innocent bystanders cannot be tolerated. The Justice Department has concocted an elastic definition of necessity — attempting to justify force in the absence of an immediate lethal threat — without citing any treaty or decision by an international court.’”

Counterpoint:

The U.S. is not legally bound to U.N [or any international organizations] decisions. The U.S. remains autonomous from the U.N (although the two work very closely, legally U.S. military action is decided by Congress and the President; how closely a President works with the U.N. varies by administration). Definitions need to be changed to meet to evolving nature of conflict. Terrorism is becoming more sophisticated with the use of new technology, therefore counterterrorism measures must keep up.

As a nation, we did not do enough to prevent 9/11 or take terrorists (Al Queda specifically) abilities to strike on U.S. soil seriously; we must not underestimate their abilities again. While humanitarian injustices are good reasons to fight terrorism abroad, the number one objective of U.S. foreign policy is to ensure no future attacks are carried out on American soil. If drone strikes help this goal, then they are a worthwhile tool to use (perhaps less liberally than the Obama administration has, although how would any regular citizen have any insight into when and where drone strikes are “justified”.  


I have personally heard many different opinions on this issue. Those opinions range from “who cares, if they are  terrorists it’s fine” to “this is an over-extension of executive powers, it undermines due process and is therefore unconstitutional.”

Every President has expanded executive power in some way to deal with the issues of the day. Is what the Obama administration doing justified? Is it constitutional? How do you feel about other countries using drone strikes? How can we improve our drone operations to make the process more effective and transparent / accountable without undermining national security interests?

This is a very interesting topic; as the debate shifts to the public realm, I can only imagine more and more people will have strong opinions about the issue. While public opinion may shape how certain actors in the media perceive the issue, ultimately these difficult decisions will have to be made by defense experts and not ordinary citizens.


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Conflict Watch: Pakistan

7 teachers and health workers were killed today in Pakistan; 6 of the 7 were women. This is the second such killing in the last month, the other included 8 polio treatment workers. This is a disturbing trend indeed.

“There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But the shooting, in the Swabi district of the northwestern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, fit a pattern of militant attacks against charity and aid workers across the country in recent weeks that officials have attributed to the Pakistani Taliban.”

Extremists are targeting these groups in particular for 3 reasons:

1)      “Senior militants leaders have long accused vaccination drives of being a cover for government and international espionage and regularly threatened workers and officials involved in the effort, though never before to such deadly effect.”

2)      These groups represent an empowerment of the people, which runs counter to extremist goals.

3)      Pakistan, a predominantly Islamic state, does not like the empowerment of women represented by international aid organizations and western culture in general (relating back to 1 and 2).

1 is an obvious propaganda move based completely on lies. International aid workers and teachers are there to benefit society, and most NGOs have no government affiliation, hence the acronym NGO: Non-Governmental Organization. This justification, as weak as it is, is not based in reality.

2 relates to how extremists groups operate. These groups go to the most disenfranchised people in the most underdeveloped regions of the world, places where peoples basic needs are not being met by the government. They provide social services in exchange for protection and goodwill, and establish deep ties within communities. When international organizations provide services, or empower governments to provide services, it takes away one of the main footholds of extremist groups.

3 refers to gender inequality, which is prevalent in many LDC (least developed countries) but particularly significant in Islamic countries, where women are subjugated to traditional roles in the name of religion. Pakistani women of all ages are less educated than men; most women are what we would call “stay at home moms”—not by choice, but by lack of other opportunities. Only 12.6% of women work in non-agricultural jobs, which diminishes their earning capacity (and therefore their power in the household). Attached is some select data from the World Bank, highlighting gender inequality and underdevelopment in Pakistan.

There are both short run and long run implications of these actions. In the short run, the government or perhaps NATO must provide security for aid workers. If these attacks continue, aid workers will not go to Pakistan, in which case the extremists will have “won” (and will be emboldened by their successful use of force).

Long run implications are aligned with human development and reducing gender inequality. These goals are much more difficult to achieve as is— if NGOs deem Pakistan too dangerous for aid workers, these goals will become even more difficult to attain.

Pakistan Data