Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Irrelevance of the UN and the Source of International Legitimacy

Julian Ku over at Opinio Juris is pointing out that efforts to reform and improve the UN Human Right Commission/Council are doomed to fail, as the bill, which is too weak for the tastes of the US and anyone who claims to care about human rights, will be voted on by the General Assembly and not subject to the Security Council veto. That means that the US will not be able to block the UN from enacting meaningless window-dressing changes that may give the air, but not the substance, of reform to the body that has seen fit to seat Sudan on a human rights commission.

Why does this matter? Because the UN has a veneer of international legitimacy; that is what the UN does is seen by much of the world as legitimate. Why? I promised in an earlier post to discuss the sources of international legitimacy; unfortunately, I don't have time to do this question justice now (Tuesdays and Thursdays are my busy teaching days -- 3 classes). But, I do want to touch on this subject now. There are two sources from which an action can gain legitimacy: adhere to an ideal or adherence to a process. The example of the UN human rights commission reform this case makes the point for me. Is the human rights commission legitimate because it will be created through the quasi-democratic process of the General Assembly, even if it fails to uphold any meaningful standards of human rights? Or, should the new body be judged according to how well it protects and promotes the protection of human rights? Unfortunately, far too many people choose the former, even if they're not willing to admit it to themselves. The UN does not in any way represent a consensus of values or ideals; it represents the triumph of procedural process over everything. That is, what the UN does it legitimate so long as it follows its own institutional procedural rules. So, the new commission will bear the imprimatur of international law and rectitude, even as it continues to accomplish nothing and allow gross violators of human rights to sit in judgment of themselves and others. This is disgusting, or in the word of my friend Geoff, "Another reason the UN should be taken out and shot."

[I'll consider this issue more as soon as I get some breathing space here...]

The Plague of Darfur

The problems in Darfur are spreading like a virus. As refugees flee into neighboring Chad, Sudanese-backed militia are crossing the border, pillaging and murdering as they go. Anthony Arend, over at Exploring International Law has an excellent post on this burgeoning disaster. As he succinctly puts it: "But whatever type of force is used, it needs to be used now. There is no time left for the people of the region."

The Smoking Signature Redux

The prosecutors in the trial of Saddam Hussein have finally introduced what could be the critical pieces of evidence: a document signed by Awad al-Bander (one of the co-defendants) announcing that 148 Shiites had been sentenced to death with all the names attached, and another signed by Hussein himself approving all 148 executions. If the documents are proven to be legitimate, then this probably seals the fate of Hussein. I, for one, will watch (if possible) as he swings from a Iraqi gallows, receiving justice from those to whom he gave none andwhose freedom he could not crush.

Monday, February 27, 2006

International Law, Procedural Justice, and Darfur

Unsurprisingly, the UN Security Council is divided over whether to impose sanctions on individual members of the Sudanese government as punishment for Sudan's actions in Darfur. While the US, the UK, France, and Denmark have called for punishing individuals, such as the interior and defense ministers and Sudan's national intelligence chief, Russia and China, joined by Qatar, have blocked any action. Russia at least argued that the sanctions could undermine peace efforts, both in Darfur and with the rebels in the south of Sudan. However, "China, which relies on Sudan for oil and opposes U.N. sanctions as a matter of policy, and Qatar, the council's sole Arab member, called the experts' evidence unreliable and recommended a fresh start in compiling sanctions targets."

Lately, I have been castigating the international community for its adherence to procedural rules that undermine the pursuit of justice. And this is a perfect example. The veto power in the Security Council was designed to protect sovereignty and, hopefully, interstate war on a large scale. But that veto undermines the ability of the UN to pursue justice. It is time for the US and NATO to take action into their own hands, either by imposing their own sanctions or by using military force as in Kosovo. If the international community has any credibility when it claims to care about justice and protection of human rights and life, it cannot let the antiquated procedural rules of the UN prevent action being taken to save Darfur.

Hope Rises from the Ashes

In my classes here at UPS, I've been discussing the implications of the destruction of the Askariya shrine and the possibility of an inter-sectarian civil war in Iraq. I've always been slightly optimistic about the likelihood of success in Iraq (like 55% hopeful or so), but the bombing really undermined that slight margin of confidence. The only thing that kept me hopeful was the possibility that fear of civil war might force the Sunnis -- who would likely lose against the Shiite and Kurdish militias -- to fully enter the political process and turn against the al-Qaeda/foreign jihadists.

Now, there are signs that this may be in fact happening. According to several top Sunni political leaders and officials, the Sunnis are ready to return to the discussion table to consider forming the new Iraqi government. Several conditions were mentioned, including the return of Sunni mosques occupied by Shiite militias, but nothing that seems unreasonable or impossible. Hopefully, from the ashes of the Golden Dome can rise the hope of a new Iraq.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

UN Reform

The New York Times seems stunned that the UN's attempt to reform and improve its Human Rights Commission (which is being turned into the Human Rights Council in a bold and daring example of sweeping reform) has been watered down to the point that, in the words of the Times, "it has become an ugly sham, offering cover to an unacceptable status quo [that] should be renegotiated or rejected." The Times is so upset about this that, in what must be a fit of insanity, it has seen fit to praise US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton and his efforts to implement some real reform.

According to the Times:

Ideally, violators of the declaration should be barred from the new Human Rights Council, which would succeed the commission. Mr. Annan's original proposal did not go that far. But it significantly raised the bar by requiring a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly to win a seat. This essential change has been eliminated and replaced by a technical adjustment barely visible to the naked eye. Slates will still be nominated by regional blocs without regard to human rights performance. A few other incremental improvements are not enough to redeem this pathetic draft. Approving it, as groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International wrongly urge, would take off the heat for meaningful change.
This would be all well and good, but it's exceedingly unlikely to ever occur. The change would have to go through the Security Council, and as Russia and China would perceive themselves as unlikely to win seats on such a council -- or at least to have their human rights records publically examined and criticized -- it's hard to imagine them agreeing. The real question is: Why is the Times so shocked by this? The reaction reveals misplaced faith in an institution that is no longer suited to dealing with these kinds of international political and security challenges.

Friday, February 24, 2006

"The False Hope of International Justice"

As I've made clear in previous posts both here and at Opinio Juris, I'm no big fan of international law, and in particular, of international courts as a way to seek justice. In this month's Foreign Policy, Helena Cobban has an excellent piece (unfortunately, it's not available on-line yet) making the case that "criminal tribunals...have squandered billions of dollars, failed to advance human rights, and ignored the wishes of the victims they claim to represent." Here are some of the choicest pieces:
As of November 2005, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) had handed down judgments for only 25 individuals. More than $1 billion has been spent on the tribunal so far, or about $40 million per judgment. By contrast, South Africa's truth commission processed 7,116 amnesty applications for less than $4,300 per case. In post-conflict Mozambique, programs to demobilize and reintegrate thousands of former combatants cost about $1,000 per case. Rwandan community leaders aren't shy about saying that the more than $1 billion the UN has so far poured into the ICTR could have been better spent....

The courts in Nuremberg and Tokyo were part of a broader political project that aimed to rehabilitate the occupied countries socially and economically, not simply to try guilt or innocence or hand out hard punishments. The Allies enaced a punitive policy towards Germany a quarter-century earlier, with disastrous results. The US-dominated courts established after World War II were stream-lined and efficient -- perhaps to a fault. At Nuremberg, defendants were given no meaningful right of appeal, and the prosecution was able to introduce documentary evidence into the record that defendants could not challenge. But the fact that many due-process concerns were swept aside meant that the court completed its work in less than 11 months; 10 of the 22 defendants were hanged on Oct. 16, 1946....

By contrast, the international courts for the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and the new ICC in The Hague operate under civilian law and provide generous protections to defendants. The result is a ballooning of the courts' timelines and costs. It took the ICTR 10 years to complete the same number of trials that Nuremberg conducted in less than a year. The trial of Slobodan Milosevic is now in its fourth year. Nor have these societies been able to make a clean break with their past. The protracted and always polarizing exercises that are today's war crimes trials cannot serve the same decisive political and social function that Nuremberg did....

Because most atrocities these days are committed during violence intergroup conflict, most survivors seek first and foremost an end to the fighting and to regain basic economic and social stability. That is no small matter. Nations have found various ways to deal with perpetrators of violent acts, and throughout history many of these methods have given priority to the reintegration of wrongdoers into normal, nonviolent existence. In Mozambique, the 1992 peace accord than ended 15 years of civil war mandated a blanket amnesty for all those who committed war crimes. It also provided for the demobilization of fighters from both sides and their reintegration into civilian life....Nearly all the Mozambicans I talked to between 2001 and 2003 expressed great satisfaction with the 1992 amnesty. Most said they could not imagine prosecuting people who had committed wartime atrocities. "If we did, the whole nation would be on trial," one man said. Satisfaction with amnesties can be found elsewhere. In South Africa, researchers found in 2001 that more than 75 percent of black citizens were satisfied with the work of the truth commission -- which offered complete amnesties to former perpetrators who met its conditions.
Why do people believe that internationalizing something makes it inherently better, more legitimate, or more just (I'll be examining this question -- the sources of international legitimacy -- in a few days)? In cases like Milosevic or Hussein, kangaroo courts to air what is already known should be sufficient. For other, more widespread situations like in Rwanda, South Africa, or Mozambique, leave the pursuit of justice up to the nation itself. It will proceed in the manner it best sees fit.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

International Relations 101

The Dilbert cartoon on the fungibility of oil was great, but when a cartoon can explain all that anyone needs to know about international politics, it's even better!!!!

What To Do In Darfur

Now here I do have some ideas. Following my last post on Darfur, Bush seems to be getting even more serious, and is suggesting that NATO take a more involved role in stopping the bloodshed in Darfur. It's about time. If anything should be done to help Darfur, waiting for the UN to help is absurd. It's time NATO gets involved, telling states that sovereignty is not a blanket protection from punishment for genocide or crimes against humanity. Power used in pursuit of liberal values is power well-used. The failure of the West to prevent the Rwandan genocide is one of the blackest marks on US foreign policy in recent history; let's not let it happen again.

A Papal Smackdown

Normally, I hate when the Vatican gets involved in politics, but today the Pope is right on. The Vatican today has urged Muslim nations upset by the Danish cartoons to practice religious toleration in their own countries. As the Reuters article points out "limits on Christians in some Islamic countries are far harsher than restrictions in the West that Muslims decry, such as France's ban on headscarves in state schools. Saudi Arabia bans all public expression of any non-Muslim religion and sometimes arrests Christians even for worshipping privately. Pakistan allows churches to operate but its Islamic laws effectively deprive Christians of many rights." These are the states that the US media is trying to appease and "understand."

What To Do In Iraq

No, I don't have the answer. But other people may. Alex Tabarrok over at Marginal Revolution informs us of an upcoming CSPAN program entitled Innovative Solutions for Iraq. The program features many smart people, including Lawrence Korb, Lt. Gen William Odem, and Peter Brookes, and will discuss:
The recent elections in Iraq have not resolved the main problems there—a constitutional crisis, continued terrorism, a potent Sunni rebellion, and fighting between religious and ethnic groups that could result in a full-blown civil war. Is the Iraq war a hopeless quagmire that has been lost, or can the U.S. still foster a united, peaceful and prosperous Iraq? If the latter, how can this be achieved? Should the Iraqi constitution be revised and, if so, how? Should the U.S. withdraw its forces—with Iraq partitioned—or use the threat of withdrawal to pressure Iraqi groups into a negotiated settlement? Should the U.S. extract troops rapidly, pull them out gradually, stay the course with current Bush administration policy, or escalate its involvement, as advocated by Senator John McCain? This very timely policy forum will address these thorny issues and propose varied and innovative solutions for Iraq.
The forum will be broadcast on CSPAN Saturday, February 25, 9:00 p.m. ET (6:00 p.m. PT) and Monday, February 27, 6:20 a.m. ET (3:20 a.m. PT).

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Sudan Rejects UN Peacekeepers

Shocking. Sudan has decided to block the UN from deploying peacekeepers into Darfur to protect the people who are being raped and killed by militias sponsored by the central government. There are currently 7,000 peacekeepers from the African Union in Darfur, but they have proven largely ineffective. Additionally, the UN estimates that nearly twice that number are needed to protect the Darfurians (?).

As I have said many times, the UN needs to decide between protecting sovereignty and protecting human rights. It just can't do both.

Hamas Settles In

Hamas has been asked by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to form the next Palestinian government at the same that Israel has announced it will cease transferring collected tax revenues of about $50 a month to the Palestinians. Interestingly, Israeli Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has chosen this moment to declare that Hamas does not pose a strategic threat to Israel.

I read Olmert's comments are paving the way for Israel to give Hamas some space to decide what kind of government it wants to create. By declaring that Hamas does not threaten the existence of Israel, Olmert is likely preparing Israel for the possibilities of dealing with a Hamas-led Palestinian government. A wise decision, I believe.

However, the decision to withhold the Palestinian tax revenue is unwise and threatens to force Hamas' hand. Hamas has already looked towards Iran to make up for the lost cash flow, and strangling the Palestinian people can only ramp up support for new violent attacks. Israel should resume the payments to the PA immediately, predicating the flow on the continued absence of terrorist attacks against Israel (and of course, threatening wide-scale military responses as well as continued separation). This would give Hamas both the incentive and the time to decide how it wants to deal with Israel. Note there has not been a resumption of suicide attacks, or any other uses of violence, by Hamas or Fatah since the election. Now is not the time for Israel to antagonize the situation. If Hamas is truly not a strategic threat as Olmert claims and I believe, then why not give Hamas the money until it screws up?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Update on The Smoking Signature

Kevin Jon Heller over at Opinio Juris has an extremely important update on the trial of Saddam Hussein (damn these time zones...by the time I wake up, all the good stuff has already been blogged about!!). Last week, it looked as if the prosecution was introducing some hard evidence of Hussein's guilt: a memo signed by Saddam himself ordering the execution of 140 Shi'ites. Today, however, it's being reported that the memo is not quite so damning. Rather than an execution order the document shows "Saddam signing off on bonuses for security agents in the investigation of the assassination attempt and presidential approval of death sentences for residents of Dujail, north of Baghdad" and "Saddam's approval of a recommendation allegedly made by Barzan Ibrahim, his half brother and co-defendant, to reward intelligence officers for their "confrontation against subversive and armed elements ... in the Dujail area."

This is an excellent example of why it's going to be so hard to get guilty verdicts in this trial, as well as that of Slobodan Milosevic. As the AP reports, "Saddam's approval of death sentences handed down by the Revolutionary Court against Shiites from Dujail could not prove incriminating unless there is compelling evidence that Saddam knew the defendants were railroaded. Also, orders for arrests or transfers of detainees from one facility to another mean little unless the prosecution can prove that Saddam knew they would be tortured." As the sovereign ruler of Iraq, Hussein had a right and duty to protect his country, even through methods we might find repugnant. To find him guilty, the prosecutors have to show that Hussein knew what was going on and had a hand in ordering murders. It's simple enough for Hussein to claim that he was suppressing a rebellion and that if a few officers went beyond the call of duty and tortured or murdered a few Kurds or Shiites, Hussein had nothing to do with it. In the words of Saddam's attorney, "There is nothing in these documents that show anything beside President Saddam exercising his constitutional authorities. As president, he ratifies death sentences and approves promotions."

The chief prosecutor has announced that he does in fact have hard evidence, claiming "he would present a document during the next session, Feb. 28, involving communication between the intelligence agency and Saddam that he suggested would further tie Saddam directly to the Dujail crackdown." We'll see....

Monday, February 20, 2006

More on China and Google

Sunday's Washington Post had an excellent article about China and the censoring of the Internet. In short, the article argues that "widespread Internet use in [China's] largest cities and among the educated is changing the way Chinese learn about the world and weakening the Communist Party's monopoloy on the media." How is this possible? Doesn't the Chinese government censor the Internet? Doesn't Google help the Communist Party do this, in a nefarious attempt to make money at all costs?

The article writes that "the success of those [censorship] measures has been mixed. ...the Internet presents a formidable challenge to China's authoritarian political system." Just having access to the Internet, even if it's under governmental control, makes it more difficult to keep information out. And the more information flows into China, the better. So, as I've said before, chastising, punishing, or preventing Google from bringing the Internet into China, even if they have to collaborate with the Communist Party to do so, is extremely short-sighted.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Darfur and Peacekeepers

Even people who typically dislike President Bush, like Nicholas Kristof, have grudingly tipped their hats to him on the issue of Darfur. Now, Bush seems to have stepped up to the plate in a big way, saying that twice the numbers of peacekeepers currently in Darfur will be needed to protect the people there, and the NATO should take a lead role. Things are still a long way from actually happening, but at least the talk is moving in the right direction.

The Definition of Terrorism

In an exceedingly interesting decision, an Italian appellate court has upheld the acquittals of three men accused of charges of international terrorism. Specifically, the men were accused of recruiting suicide bombers to strike against US soldiers in Iraq. The Italian judges held that the men could not be convicted as terrorists because terrorism involves "acts exclusively directed against a civilian population. The recruitment of volunteers in Iraq to fight against the Americans cannot be considered under any circumstance terrorist activity" Naturally, the decision has enraged ministers of the Italian government, leading the Justice Minister to apologize to victims of terrorism, and would certainly produce a similar reaction in the US, if anyone paid attention.

Is there something inherently wrong with the appellate court's ruling? Interestingly, I have been discussing this very question with my class The Politics of Terror here at the University of Puget Sound. If the concept of "terrorism" is to have any analytic meaning whatsoever, one must be able to distinguish "terrorism" from "not terrorism." After all, the word "terrorism" inherently means the illegitimate or illegal use of political violence, as opposed to the legitimate or legal use of the same.

If attacking soldiers occupying your country is not legitimate or legal, then there is no way in which political violence can be acceptable. To deem something legitimate is not to approve of it. I am a supporter of the war in Iraq and most certainly would prefer that the insurgents do not succeed. But that doesn't mean that I believe they are not justified in their actions. Terrorism must be defined by the means used to pursue a political goal, not the goal itself. A group pursuing a terrorist goal can use both legitimate and illegitimate means to pursue its goal. When Iraqi insurgents attack US soldiers, it's legitimate; when they attack schools or mosques, it's terrorism.

One caveat: the men acquitted by the Italian court were North African. In my mind, this changes things slightly...it's a matter of "standing." I'm not so sure if people not directly impacted by the occupation should have the "right" to legitimate political violence. If Sunni Iraqis are attacking US troopsin hopes of overthrowing the new regime and returning to power, fine. But I'm not so sure the definition works for outsiders more interested in causing chaos than creating a political alternative.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Smoking Signature

Over at Opinio Juris, guest-blogger Kevin Jon Heller calls our attention to an exceeding important and strangely under-reported article. On the website of the Australian Broadcasting Company is a report that prosecutors in the trial of Saddam Hussein have presented an execution order, signed by Hussein himself, ordering the killing of 140 Iraqi Shi'ites. If authentic, this would be the first piece of hard evidence directly connecting Saddam to mass killing. This is the hardest part of trials such as this and that of Slobodan Milosevic. It's one thing to know that massacres occured under the regime of this or that leader; it's another to prove that the leader knew of the massacres and in fact ordered them. It's simple enough for a dictator to argue that in the process of putting down an uprising or enforcing the law, a rogue officer or official ordered a massacre, unbeknownst to the political leader himself. This is why it is so critical to find smoking guns such as this alleged execution order.

What puzzles me is why there is so little media coverage of this. A web search turns up almost no mention of this development other than the ABC (the Aussie version) reports. I did find one CNN report that, buried in the middle of an article about Hussein's courtroom tantrums, mentioned that "documents -- such as signed execution orders signed by Hussein -- were put into evidence." This is a huge development...why is no one reporting about it?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Spineless EU

In the wake of my post on the EU's effort to appease the Mulsims rioting against the Danish cartoons comes this article describing the EU's plans to support a proposal by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to get the UN to action against "blasphemy." The OIC is lobbying to get language banning blasphemy or defaming religion included in the tenets of any new UN human rights body.

One would think that the EU would be hestitant to make concessions to states that fail to live up to the basic standards of liberal human rights, such as freedom of religion, freedom of the press and speech, and equality of women, for example. Just take a look at this map of freedom created by Freedom House. How many Islamic countries rate as free, or even partly free? Among states with Muslim majorities (46 countries), 3 rate as "Free," 20 as "PartlyFree," and 23 are "Not Free." However, EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana sided with the OIC, saying that "We have been talking today on how we can send a message to the people in both communities, the Islamic and European, that we need this not to happen again ... We strongly hope that people will be now sensible to understand that. Be sure we are going to do our utmost for this not to happen again, because we need each other... I don't think honestly it will happen again."

Just to demonstrate that this is not a case of an official's personal views deviating from stated policy, Solana's chief of staff concurred: "[The Islamic states] want mechanisms to guarantee this is not repeated and we should be able to find it in UN conventions on human rights."

An unnamed EU official close to the talks between Solana and the OIC dissented, arguing that the EU had and would make no promises to the OIC on anti-blasphemy legislation. But, he went on to say that "We deviated from the word 'laws' and moved to concentrate on conventions, resolutions and such things. We have to be careful of Western public opinion." Ah yes, the European commitment to free speech and press is not a moral one, but merely a reflection of public opinion.

Actually, I hope that the EU's spineless appeasement succeeds. What better way to demonstrate the complete and total irrelevance of the UN than to have its human rights codes be stronger in preventing satiric criticism of religion than genocide or oppression? Such an act would truly consign the UN to the ashbin of history where human rights are concerned. Good riddance.

I've Said It Before, and I'll Say It Again...Democracy Just Doesn't Work

The above title are the oh-so-wise words of Springfield's top news anchor, Kent Brockman, but today we have an excellent example of Kent's point. Over at Opinio Juris, guest-blogger Kevin Jon Heller has a post pointing out that more people are confident in the UN's ability to handle the Iran nuclear crisis than in Bush's ability.

While it may be true that Bush has few good options in dealing with Iran, it's hard to see how anyone can have more faith in the UN. Is Beijing going to sacrifice more than $100 billion in energy deals with Iran to give the US and the West a political victory? Will Russia alienate one of its major arms clients? And even if the UN can convince Russia and China to get on board with a serious sanctions regime, does the experience of sanctioning Iraq provide any assurance that sanctions can work? Sanctions take an exceedingly long time to have any effect on the political leadership of a country, and the more direct effects are felt by the civilian population. Additionally, sanctions create huge collective action problem that encourage widespread defection and cheating. This means that sanctions are usually just strong enough to harm the public but insufficient to achieve the intended political outcome.

Also, let's consider the UN's track record in preventing countries from developing nuclear weapons? North Korea...no. Pakistan....no. India...no. Israel...no. South Africa...no (South Africa secretly developed a nuclear weapon, but dismantled its program voluntarily). Iran...not so far. Argentina and Brazil...no (these two countries were locked in a nuclear arms race, but created an agreement that has prevented the development of NW). The only possible success story is Iraq. But, without the Israeli strike on Osiraq and the US invasion in 1991, Iraq most certainly would have had nuclear weapons. Furthermore, let's not forget the outcries against the sanctions that killed so many Iraqi civilians. It's hard to imagine the world having the stomach to impose an ever harsher sanctions regime on Iran.

So, how can more Americans believe that the UN can solve this problem? It's hard to fathom. I'm not confident that the US will be able to find a nice solution, but the UN can't even stop the Sudanese government from slaughtering its people. How will it be able to stop Iran from getting nukes? Note in such an excellent oxymoron that the poll also notes that while 67% of Americans believe that Bush won't do enough to prevent Iran from getting nukes, 69% fear that Bush will be "too quick" to use force. Idiots. This is why we should be happy that foreign policy isn't made by the more subject-to-public-opinion congressmen and senators.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Helping Africa

US Speedskater Joey Cheek has announced that he will donate the $25,000 bonus he will receive from the US Olympic Committe for winning the gold in the 500m race to an organization that provides relief to children in Darfur. One must admire Cheek's cheek...speedskaters certainly don't make the big bucks, and one has to imagine that for him, $25,000 is a lot of money (as opposed to, say, hockey players, or even the big time skiiers and snowboarders with their endorsements). Furthermore, Cheek's action could go a long way in raising awareness of the problems in Sudan and encouraging even more people to help.

Still, one cannot help but think about (or at least I couldn't) this op-ed in the Washington Post by William Easterly, an NYU economist. Easterly writes that while things like the genocide in Darfur or the problem of AIDS and other infectious diseases are "tragedies that deserve attention, the obsessive and almost exclusive Western focus on them is less relevant to the vast majority of Africans -- the hundreds of millions not fleeing from homicidal minors, not HIV-positive, not starving to death, and not helpless wards waiting for actors and rock stars to rescue them. Angelina [Jolie, but feel free to insert Joey Cheek], the continent has problems but it is not being destroyed. This is not to say that all Western aid efforts in Africa are condemned to fail. Aid groups could search for achievable tasks with high potential for poor individuals to help themselves. To do so, they would have to subject themselves to independent evaluation and be accountable to the intended beneficiaries for the results. Such an approach would contrast with the prevailing norm of never holding anyone individually accountable for the results of traditional government-to-government aid programs aimed at feeding the hubristic fantasies of outside transformation of whole societies."

Good stuff.

If You Ignore Them, Maybe They'll Go Away...

In the wake of the Danish cartoon saga, the best-selling newspaper in Iran has launched a contest for cartoons making fun of the Holocaust. Ostensibly, the contest is intended to test the limits of free speech in the West. In the words of the paper's publisher, "We do not want to make fun of anyone with this competition, we just want to raise a question to find an answer which is very important for us. We are not even after a historical discussion on the Holocaust. The West believes that the Holocaust is true and we suppose that if it is true, aren't we entitled to draw caricatures about it?" The head of Cartoon House, a website cooperating with the newspaper in the contest, added in response to protests by Jewish organizations and Western governments, ""It is surprising that they allow disrespect toward different religions with insulting pictures and there is no reaction to them in the West, but when people question the Holocaust, they adopt such a stance toward it."

The real question is: Why must anybody respond to this idiocy at all? Under any definition of free speech or freedom of the press, there is nothing inherently wrong with criticizing, or even mocking, the Holocaust or publishing cartoons that do so. [Please note that I think the ban on Holocaust denial in many European countries is a really bad idea, if only because an idiotic idea that the authorities need to ban is much more believable than an idiotic idea that can be exposed to the public.] Not that Iran has any level of free speech or freedom of the press. If these cartoonists dared insult Islam or the Iranian regime, you can be sure that they wouldn't be lauded by the Iranian president. Furthermore, what effect will protesting the contest have? It will provide grist for the mill on the Arab street, giving credence to the argument that the West has a double standard when it comes to Islam and Muslims. Also, protesting the cartoons will only call more attention to them and get them more publicity.

So, everyone should simply ignore this pathetic and moronic attempt by Iran to make a point about free speech. The more attention given to it, the worse it will become.

Never Again?

NATO has announced that while it may be willing to assist peacekeepers in Darfur, either from the UN or the African Union, NATO is not prepared or willing to commit troops to help the situation on the ground in Darfur. There are several good reasons for this, including the increased number of NATO troops needed in Afghanistan.

However, on top of any logistical impediments to a NATO involvement, there also seems to be a philosophical objection as well; namely, the commitment to sovereignty that I've previously identified as the bugaboo of the UN. Many seem to doubt whether Sudan will allow US or NATO soldiers on its soil. The French are questioning whether NATO can be the "gendarme of the world." US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick stressed that African problems should have African solutions.

This is pathetic. A government that is massacring and ethnically cleansing its populations gets to decide whether peacekeepers can protect those people? That won't go far in preventing genocide. What meaning can international law have if sovereignty permits a government to block peacekeepers? How can the AU possibly hope to protect the people of Darfur? AU troops are woefully underfunded and undertrained, not to mention the political in-fighting that gets in the way of meaningful political improvement. And finally, if NATO, and the US in particular, won't act as the world's policemen, then who will?

The international community has to face up to a question. What is more important: adherence to the existing rules and norms, or commitment to the norms of liberalism, which are rapidly being seen as commensurate with the international system writ large? The two cannot co-exist. If the existing laws and norms are to prevail, then the protection and promotion sovereignty will be the international imperative, and people should simply stop talking about law and morals in international politics. If the international community truly wants to prevent genocide and promote human rights, then it needs to drop this knee-jerk commitment to the existing rules of the system and start punishing those who break the norms. If Sudan doesn't want peacekeepers to interfere with its genocide and ethnic cleansing in Darfur, should a belief in sovereignty enable that desire? If France is concerned with the well-being of Africans, should NATO do what it can to ensure those Africans aren't slaughtered?

The existing rules of the international system simply cannot coexist with a concern for human rights and preventing genocide.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The John Marshall of Palestine

In a very interesting development, the Palestinian parliament has created a constitutional court with the power of judicial review. The court will have the power to essentially veto legislation that is inconsistent with the Basic Law governing the Palestinian territories.

This court is of great concern to Hamas as it prepares to take control of the parliament. Specifically, the court will be able to overturn any religious laws that Hamas passes to move the territories closer to the rule of shari'a. The Basic Laws do state, in Article 4, that Islam is the official religion of the territories and that the source of all legislation shall be Islamic shari'a. However, the Palestinians have been largely resistant of any moves towards increased Islamic law in their domestic law.

Hamas will, upon taking control, try to overturn the creation of the court. If Hamas is not successful, the court could be a meaningful and important brake on the ambitions of Hamas and play a moderating role in Palestinian politics, as well as perhaps setting a precedent for other Arab and/or Islamic countries.

Friday, February 10, 2006

How To Deal With Hamas

The on-line version of the New York Times is reporting that France has seconded Russia's plan to invite leaders of Hamas to Russia to discuss the militant groups role in governing the Palestinian territories and advancing the peace process with Israel. Israel is, unsurprisingly, reacting badly to this news, with calls to withdraw the Israeli ambassador to Russia.

I was going to blog about the original piece in this morning's print edition reporting on Russia's plan (before the French got on board) by discussing the irrelevance of Russia on the international stage. Russia's role as a member of the Quartet (the US, EU, Russia, and the UN), like its status in the G-8, is an artifact of Russia's Cold War relevance. Now, as exemplified in Russia's recent failed attempt to leverage its natural gas power over Ukraine, Russia has little real power in international politics. How much difference has Russia made in the Israel-Palestinian peace process? None whatsoever (nor has the UN for that matter).

However, the more I thought about it, the more I think that these initial advances towards Hamas may be the right step. Forget the rhetoric about not rewarding terror: governments negotiate with and reward terrorists all the time. Just look at the PLO. The only relevant question is: What actions are most likely to lead towards a peaceful settlement of the crisis? Shutting out Hamas from the get-go will likely only alienate and polarize the Palestinian people even more. Reaching out to Hamas, combined with swift and vicious punishment and retaliation for any violent acts, can sufficiently engage Hamas and demonstrate the advantages to be gained by peaceful participation in the political process.

Ultimately, what difference does it make to Israel's security if Russia talks to Hamas? None whatsoever. Israel still has the capability to punish Hamas for any acts of terrorism. So who care if a few irrelevant countries choose to meet with them?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

If You Can't Beat 'Em...Appease 'Em!!

I have avoided blogging about the Islam-cartoon issue as there were already so many people commenting on it, and I didn't really have anything new to add. Until today.

The EU is considering creating a media code of conduct that would "urge the media to respect all religious sensibilities." EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini claims that by adopting the code, the media will "give the Muslim world the message: We are aware of the consequences of exercising the right of free speech. We can and we are ready to self-regulate that right."

I find the EU's proposal shameful. Why does the European press need to acknowledge that they are aware of the consequences of exercising the right of free speech? Have the rioting Muslims been made aware of the consequences of burning embassies, killing priests, or even of exercising the right of free speech in threatening to behead those with whom they disagree? Whether or not the cartoons should have been run is a difficult question. But to ask the press to self-regulate in order to not offend groups of people willing to raze, threaten, and kill is another entirely. And here, the EU is giving the wrong answer. Were the cartoons offensive? Probably. But to allow the threats and violence of these lunatics to dictate how and what should be printed in disgraceful.

I was not aware that cheese-eating surrender monkeys lived in Italy (Frattini is a former Italian foreign minister) as well as in France.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan points out that the offending cartoons were printed on the front page of an Egyptian newspaper last October, and no riots ensued. As he writes, "this whole affair is a contrived, manufactured attempt by extremist Muslims to move the goal-posts on Western freedom. They're saying: we determine what you can and cannot print; and there's a difference between what Muslims can print and what infidels can print. And, so far, much of the West has gone along. In this, well-meaning American editors have been played for fools and cowards."

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Future of the US Military

Max Boot has an fascinating piece in today's LA Times about the future of the US military. The problem he identifies is nothing new, but is even more relevant today. The problem is that the things the military likes and wants are not necessarily the military needs. Specifically, the recently announced defense budget contains funding for three next-generation short-range fighters -- the F/A-22 Raptor (US Air Force), the F/A-18 Super Hornet (US Navy), and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (multi-service). The Quadrennial Defense Review (a overhaul of defense strategy and planning that provides guidance for procurement and force configuration) calls for a shrinking of the US Army from 491,000 active duty soldiers to 482,400 in 2011 (in 1991 there were 710,000). The budget also includes funding for increased purchases of Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines. Left behind are such items as language and cultural training -- which Boot points out receive less than $181 million which is "less than the cost of one F-35."

The real problem is that the military is wedded in multiple ways to its high-tech toys, even if they are not well-suited to the battlefield of the future. Short-range fighters are particularly problematic, as the US is withdrawing from its forward-deployed air bases, and has increasing difficulty obtaining over-flight rights. Heavy naval ships, while capable of lobbing cruise missiles at distant targets, are designed to fight the now-non-existant Soviet surface navy. The most likely future challenger to US military might -- China -- has shown little interest in fielding a true blue-water navy. As we have seen, future military campaigns are much more likely to resemble Afghanistan and Iraq than World War II. What are needed are boots on the ground (soldiers) trained not only in infantry tactics but guerrilla/urban warfare, police duty, and language/culture, long-range precision-strike capabilities, special forces, and things like that.

The military is, however, reticent to accept such changes. A telling example: When I worked for SAIC back in the mid-1990s, I was running a wargame examining the future of the Air Force by looking at different possible configurations for the air force, including an entirely unmanned air force that used drones. The Air Force officers present at the game were almost incapable of playing the game as they just could not accept even the possibility that pilots might, someday, become unnecessary. Also, as Boot notes, Congress prefers to fund big-ticket, high-tech weapons that provide jobs in their districts.

This is going to be a problem. Even taking into account China, the US is not likely to find itself in a WWII- or WWIII-type conflict in the forseeable future. Smaller operations against other rogue states (and no, I'm not naming Iran or North Korea here) or humanitarian interventions are much more likely to demand a US military presence. The US needs lots of soliders combined with the ability to precisely strike targets at long distances to deal with these kind of problems. Of course, the US needs to maintain air and naval superiority, if only to deter others from even trying to develop such capabilities. But that can be occurred at a much cheaper price than is currently laid out in the new budget or the QDR.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Now THAT'S Stealthy

If you are a user of Google Earth (and if you're not, you should be...what a great way to waste time), enter these coordinates into the search bar: 34.637371, -118.082052

As my friend Geoff says, "Um, so we’re not supposed to be able to see those, right?"

The Senate Hearing on NSA Surveillance

Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez is before a Senate panel today, testifying on the legality of the NSA's eavesdropping program. Gonzalez is still primarily relying on the argument that the nation is at war and that the congressional authorizations to use military force against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Iraq are sufficient legal authorization for the domestic spying. I do not find this logic persuasive and I do not believe that the Supreme Court (if and when this case gets there) will either.

There is a difference between a declaration of war and an authorization to use force that is significant and relevant, and it would be, in fact, counter-productive for the administration to go to far down this path. Congress is clearly and explicitly given the power to declare war by the Constitution. The president is clearly and explicitly given the power to command the nation's armed forces in the role of commander-in-chief. Even in the face of the War Powers Resolution, president after president has claimed authority to deploy force, even in the absence of a formal declaration of war or even congressional authorization, to meet the demands of national security.

Now, the administration is arguing that an authorization of force is the same thing as a declaration of war. This seems to limit, rather than expand, the president's authority to deploy military force, as it expands the definition of "declare war" beyond what presidents have previously accepted. This strategy, seems to me, to be extremely short-sighted. The congressional-executive war powers balance has evolved through the twin precedents of presidents claiming more power and Congress ceding its responsibility and acquiescing to the presidents' claims. President Bush is giving some of that ground back to Congress, setting the stage for a more aggressive Congress to possibly assert that, in an expansive view of congressional war powers, it should have authority, a la the War Powers Resolution, to oversee each and all deployments of US troops abroad.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Revenge of the Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys!!

In today's Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash has a post about why the international community needs to create "a new international system for the supervision and inspection of nuclear capacities in every country in the world. It should be explicit, consistent and administered by the nearest thing we have to a world arbiter, the United Nations. In order for it to be credible, established nuclear powers such as Britain and the US will have to submit themselves to the same regime of supervision and inspection as everyone else."

The title of this post comes not only from an excellent episode of The Simpsons, but from Ash's assertion that the French, by virtue of Chirac's veiled threat to use nuclear force in response to terrorism, have become tougher than the US, which Ash believes has seen the light by recognizing that "the only serious answer [to the problem of Iran's nuclear program] coming from Washington is multilateral diplomacy, preferably through the UN. Welcome to the Euroweenies club, Mr President!"

I doubt the logic here, but even if Ash is correct, how can he possibly put his faith in the UN to solve this problem? Is there not an international institution known as the IAEA, of which Iran is a member, that has the power to control nuclear material and punish countries for violating the rules? Is there not an international institution known as the UN which has the power to enforce on a global scale the rules of the IAEA? Ash's solution is tantamount to announcing that while the UN has failed and will never work, the solution is to simply keep trying.

The UN's problems and inability to solve difficult problems like this are not in its scope, but in its design. Having 5 nations that possess opposing understandings of international security and national interest responsible for making policy -- and giving each the power to prevent anything from happening -- is a recipe for an unworkable solution. Why does Ash have any hope that a new institution could be better? If it is to be made stronger and more binding, the powerful states won't join it. If it looks like the UN, preserving the sovereignty of all, then what's the point?

The only solutions to the problem rest with either unilateral or small-scale multilateral action (like NATO) or in creating an institution that is not as inclusive as the UN and thus can actually make decisions, pass judgments, and enforce its rules. Recreating the UN is simply a fool's errand.

Victories for Free Trade (and for International Law?)

Over at Opinio Juris, Julian Ku has a post lauding the decisions by the US to comply with two WTO decisions by scrapping cotton subsidies and by repealing the Byrd Amendment, which "transferred dumping duties on foreign companies to their domestic competitors." Julian ends by claiming that the decisions "demonstrate that yes, the U.S. does sometimes comply with international tribunal decisions, as long as there is political will to do so."

There is no doubt that these decisions are victories for free trade, but I am not as convinced that they represent the advance of international law. One must be careful to distinguish between cooperation under law and coordination of interests. While the WTO does have enforcement powers, it is an organization that represents coordination of interests, rather than real compulsion. That is, the member states believe that free trade is in their long-term, over-all national interest. However, free trade in particular is often hijacked and held hostage by collective action problems. This is why protectionism is able to remain such a powerful force, despite the glaring and massive economic inefficiencies it produces. The US would prefer to comply with the dictates of free trade but often finds it difficult to do so due to reasons of domestic politics. The WTO serves, in essence, as a "hands-tying" organization that binds the US to a course of action. When domestic politics gets in the way of free trade, the US can point to the WTO and argue that there is no choice but to comply.

Institutions can, of course, have meaningful political effects. In particular, by coordinating actions, decreasing information asymmetries, and permitting states to bind their hands and avoid collective action problems. But that's not quite the same thing as arguing that they represent real, hard international law. Law requires that states are prohibited from doing things that they would prefer to do and that they will be punished if they do those things. Most institutions do not operate this way. Rather, they help states cooperate to get what they all want anyway. International legal institutions that do not operate this way more often than not do not work (the NPT, the IAEA). Note this also explains why obtaining membership in the WTO (a trade organization with very difficult accession rules) is more difficult than in the NPT (any nation can sign): the member states of the WTO must be exceedingly careful not to let a fox in the henhouse.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The UN in Darfur: Too Little, Too Late

The International Crisis Group has called on the US to use its month-long stint as the president of the UN Security Council to press for a UN force to replace the African Union peacekeepers in Darfur. Ah yes...now is such an excellent time for the UN to step in. While it is difficult to estimate how many people have died in Darfur so far, the US Department of State estimates that as of April of 2005 70,000 people had died due to the ethnic genocide being waged by the Islamic Arab north against the black Christians, animists, and tribalists in the south. [Ed: As pointed out in the comments, the Sudanese in Darfur are mostly, although not all, Muslim, so the conflict is not one of Islam against Christians. It is, however, Arab versus black. Thanks for the note, anonymous.] Many other analysts believe that the true count could be much higher -- as much as 4-5 times greater -- with high estimates ranging around 400,000 deaths. This does not include the 2,000,000 people estimated to have fled their homes. (Sorry the data is so old...if anyone knows of more recent numbers, please let me know.)

So yes, now is the time to get the UN involved. Where was it for the past few years, while tens if not hundreds of thousands of people were being killed, raped, forced from their homes, and otherwise brutalised? Placing the hopes of a people for justice and salvation in the UN, or the AU for that matter, is akin to believing in the Tooth Fairy. Unfortunately, while belief in the Tooth Fairy might net a kid a buck or so, trusting the UN usually produces indifference to, if not the outright abetting of (as in Srebrenica), genocide.

UPDATE: Case in point, the money quote from the ICG statement: While the AU troops have done much to provide security in Darfur they have been unable to protect civilians throughout the region. The AU forces have lacked manpower and resources and the Sudanese government has not cooperated with their mission. I hope this leaves you as dumb-struck as I am. If the AU has been unable to protect civilians, lacks manspower and resources, and has not had cooperation from the Sudanese government, how can it be claimed that "AU troops have done much to provide security"?

UPDATE, PART 2: The US has, in fact, called for the UN to deploy troops into Darfur. The article cited mentions the 2 million displaced persons, but does not mention numbers of dead or raped. It also notes that if the African Union and Khartoum do not agree to allow the UN to replace the AU troops, China will likely not consent to any operation (China gets a large amount of oil from Sudan and has long been a political protector of the regime). And, continuing the look at money quotes exemplifying the inability of the UN to deal with these kind of problems (note the use of my chosen title for the original blog post in the quote from Pronk):

"Looking back at three years of killings and (ethnic) cleansing in Darfur, we must admit that our peace strategy so far has failed," Jan Pronk, the top U.N. envoy in Khartoum, said in mid-January. "All we did was picking up the pieces and muddling through, doing too little too late," he told the Security Council.

Egypt and Hamas

Egyptian officials are calling on Hamas to recognize Israel and disarm its militant wing. Of course, this likely has more to do with Egypt's fear of Hamas' influence on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt than out of any real concern for the security of Israel. Nonetheless, most of the politically relevant Arab nations with any influence over the peace process have issues with militant Islamic groups becoming involved in domestic politics. Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia all would likely prefer not to see Hamas continue its violent campaign against Israel lest it encourage domestic groups in their own countries to adopt a similar tactic. Such pressure from Arab nations could certainly help push Hamas towards a political strategy that would help support the struggling peace process.

In another note, Fatah and the PA are officially denying a claim by Egypt that the PA has agreed that Hamas would have to recognize Israel in order to join a Palestinian government. While it's too early to tell which claim is accurate, it certainly wouldn't be surprising for the PA and Fatah to publicly deny this, for the sake of domestic opinion, even if it is in fact true.

Overall, the pressure is mounting on Hamas to restrain itself and move towards becoming a legitimate political player.

UPDATE: Apparently, as I predict above, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have already begun pressuring Hamas to to moderate its stand towards Israel, work with Fatah, and continue the peace process.

The State of the Union Address and the Immutable Law of Speeches by Public Officials

I will not be blogging about the State of the Union address. First, plenty of other people have plenty to say. Second, I firmly believe in the Immutable Law of Speeches by Public Officials: the higher-ranking the official, the less interesting the speech. High-ranking public officials can't commit themselves to saying anything interesting in speeches, as things they say can have serious impact and consequences. The State of the Union Address -- and not just last nights -- is a platitudinous affair, in which the president says all kinds of nice things about what he wants to do, but offers no means of achieving those goals. Listening to a president speak, with very few exceptions such as when a major policy is going to be announced, is about as interesting as watching paint dry.

Justice and the Trial of Saddam Hussein

As I wrote about a while back over at Opinio Juris, the on-going trial of Saddam Hussein contains a tension between differing conceptions of justice. On the one hand is procedural justice: the desire to show the world that the rule of law and procedure is what creates a free society; on the other hand is retibutive justice: the need to punish Saddam for his heinous (and obvious) crimes. Personally, I believe that the latter is the more critical imperative here. In cases like this one, or the trial of Slobodan Milosevic in the Hague, the procedural rules and burden of proof make it exceedingly difficult to punish dictators for their crimes.

Now we find that Hussein is boycotting his trial. According to Hussein's lead lawyer, Hussein and the other co-defendants will refuse to appear in court until the lead judge, an ethnic Kurd, is removed from the bench. This is nothing new. Saddam has repeatedly interrupted the trial with ridiculous claims of abuse, political and religious tirades and rants, and refusals to cooperate with the court.

I fail to see how this is advancing justice in any way. The lead judge is apparently "considering" a request from the prosecutors to compel the defendants to appear. "Considering?" Hussein should be bound and gagged and forced to sit in court as his crimes are laid before the bench. He should not be allowed to interrupt the procedings (note that Milosevic has adopted a similiar strategy, which has caused his trial to drag on for several years). Witnesses should present the evidence, and Hussein should only be allowed to speak in direct rebuttal of any charges. Any thing else, even in the name of legal procedure, is a gross violation of the need for retributive justice. Domestic law, with its emphasis on procedural justice, is not well suited to dealing with such crimes. Allowing Saddam to walk free because the chain of command linking him to torture or genocide cannot be demonstrated is not an acceptable option.