Normative Narratives


Leave a comment

Conflict Watch: A Modern UN Peacekeeping For Modern Threats

As the first and sometimes only line of defense for people in conflict zones, it is difficult to understand why UN Peacekeeping constitutes only 0.5% of global military expenditure (around $8 billion out of a $1.75 trillion). In a recent speech to the U.N. Security Council, Secretary General Ban told member countries that they must be ready to dedicate more resources to UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding initiatives, in order to better respond to 21st century threats:

“The continued use of UN peacekeeping by the Security Council testifies to its continued relevance and its unique universality and legitimacy. The demand for peacekeeping will remain,” Mr. Ban told the 15-member Council at the opening of a debate on trends in UN peacekeeping.

Peacekeepers are also increasingly operating in more complex environments with asymmetric and unconventional threats.

He added that the international community needs to build on what he sees as “the renewed commitment of the Security Council to respond to our changing world,” but to also recognize the limitations of UN peacekeeping and ask whether it is always the right tool.

More than 116,000 UN personnel from more than 120 countries serve in 16 peacekeeping operations. Since the beginning of peacekeeping in 1948, over one million “blue helmets” have participated in more than 70 operations on four continents.

One specific area SG Ban advocated for expanding UN Peacekeeping’s mandate is combating terrorism (“asymmetrical and unconventional threats”), a call echoed by Acting General Assembly President Michel Tommo Monthe, of Cameroon:

As the United Nations General Assembly today began a review of its overall counter-terrorism strategy, a senior official urged Member States to take advantage of the opportunity “to make the UN more relevant” in the international effort to fight what he called “a destructive and deplorable malady.”

This review…provides an opportunity to take stock of emerging issues and challenges that have grown in relevance over the recent years and to identify the areas where we need to do things differently, or adopt different lines of action,” said Acting Assembly President Michel Tommo Monthe, of Cameroon, opening the Fourth Review of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

The Strategy, adopted by consensus in 2006, is a comprehensive policy framework to combat terrorism, signifying, said Mr. Monthe, universal condemnation of terrorist violence and providing guidance to Member States.

The strategy consists of four pillars: measures to address conditions conducive to terrorism’s spread; measures to prevent and combat terrorism; measures to build States’ capacity to prevent and combat terrorism and to strengthen the role of the UN system; measures to ensure respect for human rights and the rule of law as the fundamental basis for the fight against terrorism.

“It further observes that longer-term success in the global counter-terrorism strategy will depend on fuller implementation of Pillars 1 and 4,” said Mr. Monthe, referring to measures to address conditions conducive to terrorism and measures to ensure respect for human rights as a basis for the fights against the scourge.

Monthe also highlighted the work of the UN Counter-terrorism Centre (UNCCT), which “offers unique opportunities to seek synergies and leverage resources for the UN’s counter-terrorism work around the world and make a significant contribution to national and regional efforts.”

UN Peacekeeping must rise to the challenges of meeting an increasing demand for it’s services and more effectively leveraging UN expertise in identifying the conditions conducive to armed conflict and terrorism. While by no means an easy task, these mandates are closely related; weak governments fail to fulfill their human rights obligations, fueling armed conflict (protracted social conflict), these conflicts then lead to further human rights abuses and open power voids which are often filled by extremist groups.

To combat armed conflict and terrorism, the international community must have the capacity to identify and react to gross human rights abuses, preventatively when possible. General Assembly President Monthe talks of seeking synergies and leveraging resources, this should include an in depth review of preventative peacebuilding / early stage UN Peacekeeping operations. To this end, the UN may also have to revisit it’s policy of not having a ready-to-deploy standing peacekeeping force.

In the post-Osama world of splintered terrorist groups (ISIS, Al Nursa, AQAP, Boko Haram), a legitimate, effective, efficient, and responsive global security force  with preventative peacebuilding, peacekeeping, anti-terrorism and human rights mandates is needed. Combined with a shift towards local capacity building and regional responses in combating terrorism, a new global framework for dealing with “modern threats” (protracted social conflicts and terrorism) emerges.

Bringing Democracy UNSC:

Any plan by the international community to invest more resources into UN Peacekeeping and expand its mandate must address the issue of Security Council gridlock. The ability of any permanent UNSC member to veto UN Peacekeeping operations hinders the ability of this force to fulfill the aforementioned expanded mandates.

I recently advocated for a UN General Assembly mechanism to overrule a UNSC veto. After doing a bit of research, it seems there is precedent for the General Assembly overturning a UNSC veto:

Under the UN Charter, however, the General Assembly cannot discuss and make recommendations on peace and security matters which are at that time being addressed by the Security Council.

Despite the UN Charter’s provision limiting the General Assembly’s powers with regard to peace and security matters, there may be cases when the Assembly can take action.

In accordance with the General Assembly’s “Uniting for Peace” resolution of November 1950 [resolution 377 (V)] PDF Document, if the Security Council fails to act, owing to the negative vote of a permanent member, then the General Assembly may act. This would happen in the case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression. The General Assembly can consider the matter with a view to making recommendations to Members for collective measures to maintain or restore international peace and security.

This resolution was invoked only once in UN peacekeeping history, when in 1956 the General Assembly established the First UN Emergency Force (UNEF I) in the Middle East.

This is, however, admittedly a weak precedent; the resolution is over 60 years old and has only been invoked once in UN history. The UN General Assembly must reaffirm its commitment to and willingness to invoke resolution 377 (V) “Uniting For Peace”, perhaps as part of the UN’s “Responsibility To Protect”.


Leave a comment

Conflict Watch: To Break Escalating Cycles of Violence in Africa, Follow Mandela’s Example

Neighboring African countries, the Central African Republic and South Sudan, are currently engaged in sectarian conflicts. Due to the proximity of these countries, and the relative instability the region even during peaceful times, these conflicts are likely to have “spillover effects”, leading to greater regional instability:

South Sudan

South Sudanese soldiers fired indiscriminately in highly populated areas and targeted people for their ethnicity during recent fighting in Juba, Human Rights Watch said today. The clashes in South Sudan’s capital, which broke out on December 15, 2013, saw scores of civilians killed and, according to witnesses and victims, soldiers specifically targeted people from the Nuer ethnic group.

The fighting followed deepening tensions between President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and the former vice president, Riek Machar, a Nuer. Victims and witnesses told Human Rights Watch that government soldiers of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and police questioned residents about their ethnicity and deliberately shot ethnic Nuer.

“The awful accounts of killings in Juba may only be the tip of the iceberg,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Government officials – whatever their politics – need to take urgent steps to prevent further abuses against civilians and quickly deescalate rising ethnic tensions.”

“We are deeply concerned that ethnically-based attacks on all sides will lead to revenge attacks and more violence,” Bekele said.

“South Sudanese leaders, especially President Kiir and Riek Machar, need to do all they can to stop soldiers under their control from committing abuses against people, particularly because of their ethnicity,” Bekele said. “The UN Mission should also ensure that it fully implements its mandate to protect civilians and proactively patrol Juba, and flashpoint areas like Bor.” 

Central African Republic:

Christian militias responding to rampant abuses by Muslim armed groups have committed atrocities against Muslim communities in northern Central African Republic, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Concerned countries should immediately bolster the African Union peacekeeping force in the country and support efforts by France to protect civilians, Human Rights Watch said.

The 43-page report, “‘They Came To Kill’: Escalating Atrocities in the Central African Republic,” based on weeks of field research in Ouham province, documents the surge in violence by Christian anti-balaka (“anti-machete”) militias since September 2013. The anti-balaka have killed several hundred Muslims, burned their homes, and stolen their cattle. So-called ex-Seleka forces, former members of the predominantly Muslim rebel alliance that overthrew the government in March, retaliated against Christians with the apparent knowledge of their commanders.

“The brutal killings in the Central African Republic are creating a cycle of murder and reprisal that threatens to spin out of control,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The UN Security Council needs to act quickly to bring this evolving catastrophe to a halt.”

While the anti-balaka describe themselves as self-defense forces aiming to protect their own villages, their actions and rhetoric are often violently anti-Muslim.

The Security Council should immediately authorize a UN peacekeeping mission under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, Human Rights Watch said. It should have a robust mandate and the means to protect civilians, promote human rights, and create an environment conducive to the delivery of humanitarian aid.

“Urgent support for peacekeeping in the Central African Republic is crucial to bring stability to a tense situation, protect the population from abuses, and ensure that humanitarian aid reaches those at grave risk,” Bouckaert said. “The potential for further mass violence is shockingly high.”

Internal struggles, such as the ones facing South Sudan and the CAR, risk turning into full fledged “protracted social conflicts“. The “protracted” element of these conflicts, has yet to be realized, and therein lies the hope for reconciliation. The fact that these conflicts are still in their infancy gives hope for reconciliation over retribution. However, as fighting continues and more legitimate grievances build up on each side, this possible outcome becomes less likely.

It is not that each side does not have legitimate grievances; indiscriminate killings by all sides make continued violence in the name of “retribution” very likely. This would further escalates conflicts , perpetuating “cycles of violence” which over time would turn these new social conflicts into more-difficult-to-end “protracted social conflicts”.

It is up to leaders on both sides of these conflicts to call for ceasefires and try to work out their differences peacefully. To ensure ceasefires are observed–to give reconciliation a chance–the United Nations should strengthen peacekeeping operations in these countries. 

It is no coincidence that I have invoked the rhetoric of one of Africa’s greatest leaders, the late Nelson Mandela. If they possess enough political will (and with some outside peacekeeping support), political leaders can stress reconciliation over retribution, breaking otherwise escalating cycles of violence.  Seeing brother kill brother, Mandela is surely turning over in his grave. Hopefully, his recent death has strengthened his legacy throughout Africa, shaping leader’s responses to these conflicts.


16 Comments

Conflict Watch: In the Push for Liberal Democracy in the Middle East, Time May be the Greatest Enemy

Well that might be a bit of an overstatement, but the passage of time continues to undermine the goals of the “Arab Spring”. Protracted Social Conflict theory identifies “grievances” or human rights abuses, as the root cause of social conflicts. Paul Collier takes the theory one step further, arguing that over time legitimate grievances are hijacked by opportunistic forces seeking wealth and/or power.

These theories have almost perfectly explained what has transpired over the past 2+ years in both Syria and Egypt:

Syria:

In Syria, peaceful protests for basic freedoms and liberal democracy (starting in March 2011) were met with violence from the Assad regime, sparking a civil-war. Over time, legitimate grievances were hijacked by opportunistic Islamic extremists who wish to setup an Islamic Syrian state.

Even internationally recognized factions of the Syrian opposition have become fractured. The Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the political arm of the Syrian opposition, has agreed to attend the “Geneva 2” peace talks, while the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the military arm of the Syrian opposition has refused to attend.

All the while, the moderate opposition has become increasingly marginalized and disillusioned:

“The ones who fight now are from the side of the regime or the side of the thieves,” he said in a recent interview via Skype. “I was stupid and naïve,” he added. “We were all stupid.”

Even as President Bashar al-Assad of Syria racks up modest battlefield victories, this may well be his greatest success to date: wearing down the resolve of some who were committed to his downfall. People have turned their backs on the opposition for many different reasons after two and a half years of fighting, some disillusioned with the growing power of Islamists among rebels, some complaining of corruption, others just exhausted with a conflict that shows no signs of abating.

“It’s undeniable that a lot of your early activists are disillusioned,” said Emile Hokayem, a Syria analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, adding that in revolutions, it is often “your most constructive, positive people who are engaged early on who find themselves sidelined.” 

Disillusioned activists say that early on, euphoric at being able to protest at all, they neglected to build bridges to fence-sitters, or did not know how. Homegrown fighters desperate for help welcomed foreign jihadists, and many grew more religious or sectarian in tone, alarming Mr. Assad’s supporters, dividing his opponents and frightening the West out of substantially supporting them.

With a ruthless foresight, following the playbook of his father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad, Mr. Assad’s forces cracked down early and hard on the civilian, educated opposition, erasing the space where a middle ground could have emerged. They used heavy weaponry on rebel supporters to an extent that shocked even their foes, while pursuing a deliberate and increasingly successful strategy of persuading Syrians and the world that their opponents were a greater danger.

The fracturing of the opposition has played into Assad hands (the regime still enjoys political and military unity). Assad’s narrative of fighting “terrorism” has become a self-fulfilling prophecy; as Western aid has lagged, the opposition has become increasingly unorganized and radicalized. Moderate Syrians who favor liberal democracy represent a decreasing proportion of the Syrian opposition. The Syrian humanitarian crisis has become an after-though of the violent civil war.

Egypt:

The Egyptian revolution began in January of 2011 with protests which toppled former dictator Hosni Mubarak. Who you believe “hijacked” the Egyptian revolution depends on your take of what transpired this past July. Was the military takeover a coup or did it represent the will of the people? Are these two answers mutually exclusive, or is there some middle ground in which both arguments have merit? The world many never come to consensus answers to these loaded questions.

One thing, however, is certain; as in Syria, Egyptian moderates who revolted for liberal democracy have become increasingly marginalized. The power players in Egypt are Islamic extremists (who have become more violent since the ouster of Morsi) and Mubarak-era loyalists:

A leading Egyptian social democrat fears the elite that thrived under former President Hosni Mubarak will once again dominate politics in elections promised by the army after it overthrew Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.

The 2011 popular revolt against Mubarak raised hopes for an end to decades of corruption and nepotism, but political turmoil since then has dimmed aspirations for genuine democracy.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which came out on top in every national vote in Egypt after Mubarak’s fall, may yet be allowed to contest next year’s parliamentary election via its Freedom and Justice Party, or by running candidates as individuals.

But even if the Brotherhood chose to take part, its electoral dominance might be over in a reshaped political landscape, where both state and private media condemn it as a terrorist organization – and lionise the police and military.

Liberals have failed to build popular new parties and look ill-placed to exploit the Brotherhood’s plight. This could allow a comeback by the “felool”, or Mubarak-era remnants.

“The terrorist attacks going on make the situation more difficult,” Abul Ghar [Liberal Activist] said, adding that the violence made it easy for any government to take anti-democratic actions.

These anti-democratic actions include a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, restrictions on protests, as well as further entrenching the Egyptian army’s role in politics (which is enshrined in a draft of Egypt’s new constitution).

Both of these situations are eerily similar. In both cases, revolution started as a legitimate push for rights, freedoms, and liberal democracy. In both cases, the party in power (the Assad regime in Syria, the “deep state” in Egypt) have claimed the opposition are “terrorists” (and used this claim as a justification to strengthen their grip on power in the name of security). In both cases, these claims have become self-fulfilling; over time, those favoring liberal democracy have become marginalized as those who seek power dominate the fight over the future of their respective countries.

The implications for global governance are clear. In the future, we cannot afford to allow the combination of the passage of time and power-grabs to marginalize those who seek basic human rights and a dignified life. We must instead–as a global community–muster the political will and economic / military resources to support legitimate factions before it is too late.

Failure to do so entrenches the wrong ideas–that the international community cares more power-politics/national sovereignty than about people/human rights (concerns the R2P was supposed to address), and that democracy simply cannot work in certain regions of the world.    

Hopefully it is not to late to achieve the goals of the Arab Spring in Egypt and Syria, although admittedly I see no end in sight to these particular conflicts. Going forward, we must do all we can to prevent similar situations from arising in the first place.


4 Comments

Conflict Watch: In Africa, Preventative Peacebuilding Has It’s Day (Years? Decades?)

A While back, I wrote about the potential benefits of scaling up preventative peacebuilding programs globally. Rooted in protracted social conflict (PSC) theory, preventative peacebuilding aims at addressing the root causes of the majority of intrastate conflict, by addressing human rights violations that lead to violence before a conflict emerges. While this approach obviously has certain limitations, foremost of which is that it is completely ineffective in resolving an ongoing conflict (such as the Syrian Civil War), it has considerable benefits in situations where tensions are escalating but large-scale violent conflict has not yet enveloped the country (think present day Egypt).

A bit of background on PSC: Most new wars can be explained by Edward Azar’s theory of Protracted Social Conflict (PSC). According to Azar,”deprivation of human needs is the underlying source of PSC“. The sources, and therefore solutions to PSC often lay within a state, rather than across state borders, although this is not always the case, particularly in the context of regional insecurity. PSC also shifted some of the focus away from overtly violent conflicts, towards identifying potential future conflict zones based on underlying humanitarian grievances.

PSC theory applied in another context connects human rights violations, conflict, and terrorism. Human rights violations lead to conflict as PSC presumes. When the government is unable to provide basic services and security to it citizens (or in some situations itself perpetuates human rights violations and insecurity), well funded extremist groups can fill this void, providing security, goods and services in exchange for goodwill, legitimacy, and cover (this is essentially how the Syrian Civil War has evolved). By empowering people and building resilient nations (a little UNDP plug), conflicts can be avoided and the breeding grounds for terrorism salted.

It seems as if world leaders have been convinced by PSC theory, and are willing to try putting money into preventative peacebuilding operations in Africa–ground-zero for human rights violations and intrastate conflict (Original article):

“This fall, the United States and Niger will bring together in that West African nation police officers, customs inspectors and other authorities from a half-dozen countries in the region to hone their collective skills in securing lightly guarded borders against heavily armed traffickers and terrorists.”

“Denmark has already forged a partnership with Burkina Faso to combat violent extremism, and backed it up with a war chest of $22 million over five years aimed at stifling the root causes of terrorism before they can bloom.”

“The two-day meeting here in this seaside city was organized by the Global Counterterrorism Forum, an organization of 29 countries and the European Union created two years ago with the State Department’s support to act as a clearinghouse of ideas and actions for civilian counterterrorism specialists.

One of the forum’s five areas of focus is the Sahel, with wealthier Western, Middle Eastern and Asian nations partnering with some of the continent’s poorest countries to address a range of issues. In this week’s closed meetings, officials discussed border surveillance, enhanced intelligence and police cooperation, the rule of law, arms trafficking and undercutting terrorists’ financial networks, according to a conference agenda and interviews with more than a dozen participants.

‘What’s encouraging is that the regional countries here recognize what kind of assistance they need and are able to define that’ said Michele Coduri, chief of the Swiss Foreign Ministry’s international security section. ‘That’s not always been the case.’

“A senior Malian official told the delegates that the Malian authorities had seized many suspected jihadists in the recent fighting. But he said the Malian military and police were not practiced in collecting evidence for criminal court proceedings, according to participants. As a result, only a handful of extremists have been prosecuted, he said.

‘These states need to build counterterrorism policies within legal frameworks,’ said Justin H. Siberell, a State Department counterterrorism specialist who led the American delegation. ‘Still, people feel a sense of urgency that these kind of things have to start happening.'”

It is heartening to see the developing and developed world working together to tackle the problem of terrorism and its underlying causes, as global security is the definition of a global public good (everyone benefits from it, therefore rife with “free-rider problems“, which seem to have been partially averted due to the seriousness and immediate impacts of the issues at hand, as opposed to say climate change which is a serious concern but not as immediate a threat). Conflict undermines the Rule of law and democracy, and inhibits economic and human development. Peace is a necessary precondition for sustainable human development.

It seems that the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities” is starting to catch-on in fields other than climate change. Western powers, realizing that foreign intervention is extremely costly and only incites further anti-Western sentiments (essentially adding fuel to the jihad fire), and that the results are unsustainable. By having regional forces fighting extremist factions, backed by Western intelligence, weaponry, and technical assistance, a more sustainable and inclusive global security balance emerges. Since everyone will have an important role to play in global security initiatives, a less imperialistic and more democratic decision making process should also follow this approach. Coordinated military operations could also help build the relationships needed for greater economic and social policy coherence at the international level.

It will ultimately be difficult to assess the effects of this program for a number of reasons. For one, the stated goals are long term and preventative–on a certain level it is impossible to say whether conflict did / didn’t occur due to these programs, as there are so many variables at play. Therefore, in order to test the efficacy of this project, I think we will ultimately have to look past just the security outcomes in Africa (while also still considering these as well). How this project affects overall standard of living, freedoms, and happiness in the region will ultimately be the yardstick by which we should judge this program. While this project is designed as a military endeavor, it is in reality a human development initiative.

I can’t help but think that this is the type of news that, while somewhat off the mainstream radar now, will in the future be credited with drastically changing the world for the better. I sure hope I’m right…

 

 


1 Comment

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.”


5 Comments

The (Real Beginning of the) End of Team America World Police Part 3(? 4? 5?, I’ve Lost Count…)

I started my narrative on this topic with a two-part political and economic analysis of current U.S. Defense Policy. I then wrote a piece on the true cost of the war on terror, and more recently a piece on how Europe’s shrinking military expenditure is hurting it’s credibility as a meaningful security partner to the United States. Current U.S. military policy has long been an issue affecting America’s fiscal space, constraining resources for social programs which compromise our future growth prospects and social mobility, thereby perpetuating rising inequality in America. At the heart of the matter is the uneven proportion of Global Security expenditure that America pays. Today, President Obama signaled he is of similar mind on the subject.

“Taken together, the president’s words and deeds added up to an effort to move the country away from the perpetual war on terrorism envisioned by his predecessor, George W. Bush, toward a more limited campaign against particular groups that would eventually be curtailed even if the threat of terrorism could never be eliminated.

‘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.”

As is to be expected, Republicans were critical of Obama’s realistic, transparent, straightforward and even-handed speech:

“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?”

Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, was sharper in reaction. ‘The president’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory,’ he said. ‘Rather than continuing successful counterterrorism activities, we are changing course with no clear operational benefit.'”

First to address Senator Chambliss, are you sir a moron? how could the winding down of the war on terror have “no clear operational benefit”? Does making a military mission less costly both in dollar terms and American lives have no effect on the operational benefit of The War on Terror? Not to mention the impact on public opinion of the U.S. abroad (which is directly related to terrorism). Or do you not consider the costs of an operation unless the money is going to those lazy “takers”? (i.e. any social program the G.O.P. will fight tooth and nail). If anything, we should have much sooner reconsidered the operational benefit of the War on Terror in the first place (which has been marginal at best, as highlighted by recent sectarian violence in Iraq).

Speaker Boehner’s questions are more substantive; I have actually grown to like Senator Boehner, I almost pity him for the impossible job he has of trying to legitimize the current cluster-fuck of ridiculous soundbites and indefensible policy advocacy that has come to define the G.O.P. I’m sure Mr. Boehner did not imagine his constituents would be so unrealistic and uncompromising that his time as House Speaker would be marked as a period of historically low congressional approval ratings.

But back to Congressman Boehner’s Questions. Questions 1 and 2 (“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?”) were already addressed by President Obama in his speech:

“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.”  

Obviously Al-Qaeda would be considered a “network that poses a direct danger to us”, probably the primary of such networks. One has to question whether John was not sleeping through the President’s speech with questions like those. And to expect a President to openly discuss his defense strategies, probably our most important national security secret, is not exactly proposing a reasonable question.

President Obama also alluded to the answer to Speaker Boehner’s 3rd question in that very same breath. Mr. Boehner asked, “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?”

The answer to that is, of course not. The President stated he planned to “make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold”, but what exactly does that mean? It could only mean putting more resources into preventative peace-building and diplomacy efforts, as I have advocated for here at NN.

Conflict resolution theory tells us that the majority of todays armed conflicts are “Protracted Social Conflicts”. This means that their roots are in human rights violations, which almost always involve inadequate service delivery and security being provided by a country’s government. In situations like this, conflict is likely to break out. When conflicts break out, there is no military to keep terrorist activities at bay (assuming the regime in power is not allied with extremist groups to begin with).

Terrorist groups seize onto this absence of government human rights “duty bearers” and begin to provide services and security themselves. People on the ground, having no other option other than living in extreme poverty and extreme discomfort, welcome these terrorists in with open arms. Terrorists are able to buy goodwill, gain footholds for their operations, and attract a new generation of young Jihadists.

The only way the President can prevent new terrorist groups from forming is to scale up the capacity of strong, democratic governments in developing countries around the world (or factions within countries that do not have democratic governments). If America undertakes this much more noble pursuit, we can build sustainable relationships that foster greater economic and security alliances, rather than destroying nations and then attempting to build them back up from scratch, which is costly in money, time, and lives.

We must remember that building these relationships is not easy. Transitions to democracy and a higher standard of living take time, and the process is not always linear. Vested interests will never give up easily, as they have so much to lose as society reaps the benefits of modernization, and more resources are invested into basic infrastructure as well as physical and human capital.

Though we face an uphill battle, we must never falter in our fight to promote peace, security, and mutually beneficial and environmentally sustainable economic relationships. Only through cooperation and coordination can the global community confront and overcome the issues we collectively face in the 21st century and beyond.

And we must always remember we are not alone in this fight. Our Allies around the world remain committed to the same vision as us. Institutions such as the UN, NATO, WB, IMF, WHO and countless other international, national, and regoinal institutions, alongside non-governmental organizations, charities, and civil society organizations join our ranks. The day when extreme poverty and human rights violations are no longer a threat is just beyond the horizon, and I look forward doing whatever I can to work towards that future.


Leave a comment

Transparency Thursday: Remembering the Victim’s of the Boston Marathon Bombing–Creating a Legacy of Peace

“This is Martin Richard, 8, who was killed in yesterday’s attack. His sister and mother are critically injured. His message, “No more hurting people–Peace” is something we should all seek to honor, and remember him by.” –George Takei

By now, everybody has heard about the tragic events that unfolded this Monday during the Boston Marathon. Two bombs exploded, killing three people and injuring over 100 more. Today, President Obama Spoke at an interfaith memorial service at Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross:

“Mr. Obama spoke in personal terms about the victims of the bombing and offered prayers for their families. Krystle Campbell, 29, of Medford, Mass., was ‘always smiling,’ he said, noting that her parents were at the service. He said that his prayers were with the family of Lu Lingzi, 23, in China, who had sent her to graduate school at Boston University ‘so that she could experience all that this city has to offer.’ And he spoke about what he called the heartbreaking death Martin Richard, 8, of Dorchester, who was killed in the blast, which also wounded his mother and sister.”

“At a Senate hearing Thursday morning, the nation’s top intelligence official, James R. Clapper Jr., echoed President Obama’s comments earlier this week that the authorities still do not know whether the attack was a foreign or domestic plot, carried out by one or more individuals or a group.”

This tragic event understandably evokes emotional responses from those directly and indirectly affected. In the aftermath of this event, as the details reveal themselves over time, it would be prudent to take a step back and remember some of the ideals America was founded on; tolerance and freedom of speech, a place where no one could be persecuted based on nationality or religion, and where everyone is innocent until proven guilty (due process of law).

I came out with this response to the bombings on Monday:

“Tragedy in Boston. Prayers go out to the families and loved ones affected by this senseless act of violence.

Please do not jump to xenophobia and hatred after this event. Only through cooperation and kindness can events like this be prevented. There is no proof as to who committed this unthinkable act–American, Muslim, or otherwise.

In America everyone is innocent until proven guilty.”

Many people started blaming “muslims”, “terrorists”, or “them” after this attack. Jumping to such conclusions are counter-productive. For one thing, all signs point to this being a domestic terror attack; the sight was not a huge landmark like the W.T.C, and no terrorists organization has claimed responsibility. While it would be irresponsible journalism to say with certainty this was not an act of a foreign terrorist organization, all signs are pointing in that direction.

This message of the preventative powers of peace, kindness and cooperation sound good on paper, but can they actually work in practice? Martin Richard was an 8-year-old boy who believed in these principles,  but are they practical in real life? Beyond the ethical stance, there are economic and social reasons why these normative views can indeed help reduce acts of terrorism. Of course we need security, but security is only one side of the preventative coin. Dealing with the root causes of domestic and foreign terrorism will reduce the number of would be attacks, and allow our security forces to better manage the threats that inevitably will still exist.

First let us examine foreign terrorism. I would like to point you all to an earlier post I made on preventative peace-building and protracted social conflict (PSC). This piece highlights how human rights violations are at the root of most violence in the developing world. Instability creates a foothold for terrorism to operate–when a government is not providing essential services and / or security, terrorist groups can fill the void, essentially buying goodwill. Most people in these countries are aware they are supporting terrorist activities, but if it is a choice between having essential services provided or not, they could care less.

That is why, in order to stop foreign terrorism at its roots, we must empower friendly governments to provide the services and security that they are obligated to provide. Doing this will help push terrorists to the margins, and create lasting alliances in strategic locations. My previous post suggests redistributing money from the D.o.D. to the D.o.S., as overt military action has proven to be an ineffective and costly means of nation building.

Next let us examine domestic terrorism. In America, we are all relatively well off compared to those in the rest of the world. Social programs exist to help protect the human rights of those less fortunate; hopefully drastic cuts in these programs do not take place or else we will see the crime rate go up.

One area that America is notoriously weak in is public mental healthcare access. Mental health issues affect the rich and poor alike, and probably disproportionately affect the poor. As someone who has personally seen their self-confidence and productive capacity bolstered by mental healthcare, I am a strong proponent of providing access to mental healthcare to all Americans.

Obamacare, which is supposed to become effective in 2014, is expected to extend mental healthcare to all Americans. This should help people overcome their issues, lead happier and more productive lives, and ultimately reduce the number of people dependent on the welfare state in the long run. Many people have issues that are fairly common, but due to their socioeconomic standing remain isolated and untreated. It is these people who usually turn to crime, including domestic terrorism. By increasing access to mental healthcare, these incidents will decline.

No policies will ever entirely eliminate terrorism, domestic or foreign. But there are common sense ways to reduce the number of attacks as much as possible, which should allow our security forces to better prevent future acts of terrorism.

Robert Martin did not understand these complex interconnections, he was an 8-year-old boy. It is an honor to be able to provide some theoretical insight into Robert Martin’s normative stance; just because he didn’t understand why he was right doesn’t make him any less right. The best way to reduce terrorism, both domestic and foreign, is to attack it at its roots. The alternative, an increasing reliance on American security forces at home and abroad, has been proven too costly and ineffective.

As Albert Einstien said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

People (generally) respond to violence and hatred with more violence and hatred. People (generally) respond to acts of kindness with humility, gratitude, and friendship. Acts of terrorism represent an intractable vicious cycle; someone can always point a finger and recall past atrocities to justify their actions in their own mind.

In order to move forward as a global community we must look forward and think about what we can do differently, if we hope to break this vicious cycle.