Friday, March 31, 2006

A Warning to Iran?

Any chance that, in conjunction with the release of the National Security Strategy, this has anything to do with Iran's recent willingness to talk?

The US military plans to detonate a 700 tonne explosive charge in a test called "Divine Strake" that will send a mushroom cloud over Las Vegas, a senior defense official said.

"I don't want to sound glib here but it is the first time in Nevada that you'll see a mushroom cloud over Las Vegas since we stopped testing nuclear weapons," said James Tegnelia, head of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

Tegnelia said the test was part of a US effort to develop weapons capable of destroying deeply buried bunkers housing nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

If I were Iran, I'd be worried....

Iran Drops the Oil Weapon

Today, Iran announced that it would not seek to use its oil exports as a political weapon against those pressing Iran on its nuclear program. As I blogged about a few days ago, Iran's oil weapon should always have been considered less scary that many made it out to be.

Now is the time to keep the pressure on. Iran seems to be slightly more conciliatory lately, perhaps reacting to the National Security Strategy or the possibility of civil war in Iraq. Perhaps there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Charles Taylor, International Justice, and Amnesty Deals

After a failed attempt to escape from his exile in Nigeria, ex-Liberian president Charles Taylor is in custody of UN officials and has been extradited to Sierra Leone where he will face trial for war crimes. Taylor in under indictiment on 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war, where Taylor. in exchange for diamonds, supported Sierra Leonean rebels who are best known for hacking the limbs of their victims and forcing children to join their forces [for more on "conflict diamonds" and the Sierra Leone civil war see this UN report and this Amnesty International report].

According to the news report:
Human rights groups said Taylor's speedy transfer to face justice would send out a strong message on the world's poorest continent, where thousands have endured death and suffering at the hands of dictators, tyrants and warlords.

"Today, Liberia and Sierra Leone are safer and more hopeful places. Today West Africa has moved one step closer to dismantling the devastating grip of impunity," said Corinne Dufka, head of the West Africa office of Human Rights Watch.

Of course, any decent human being must be repulsed by Taylor's complicity in these brutal crimes and our sense of justice demands that he be prosecuted. But is there not a possible downside to Taylor's arrest?

Taylor stepped down as president of Liberia to accept an offer from Nigeria of exile and amnesty from prosecution. This was not a legal deal in that it was not reached as part of a peace settlement or in negotiations between the concern parties. Yet without the deal, Taylor likely would not have stepped down and perhaps continued supporting the civil war. Brutal dictators (Idi Amin, Augusto Pinochet, etc.) are frequently given amnesty deals in order to get them out of office and begin the process of transition, healing, and rebuilding. If the possibility of those deals disappears, or if the deals are known to be violated with regularity, dictators may prefer to hang on to power for as long as possible, knowing that they will be prosecuted for their crimes.

What to do? This is a tough question. There is most certainly a need for justice. There is also an imperative of demonstrating that sovereign immunity has its limits and that leaders may be held accountable for gross crimes against humanity. But I believe that the world is better of having an option of getting these people out of power. After all, domestic legal systems use plea bargains and deals undermining justice for larger policy goals.

I am glad that Taylor will stand in the dock for his crimes, but I fear for those victims of a future despot whose leader has learned the lesson of Pinochet and Taylor and chooses not to step down.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Iran's Oil Weapon

I've blogged in the past about the lack of good options available to the US and the international community in dealing with Iran's nuclear program. Today, however, we have a ray of good news. A commentary in the Christian Science Monitor argues that the "oil weapon" is not as attractive an option for Iran as some assume. Specifically, the article claims that:

For Iran, the use of its own oil as a bargaining chip has limited value. Iran gets 90 percent of its government revenues from oil. Its exports of about 2.5 million b.p.d. amount to 80 percent of its total exports. Oil provides some 40 percent of Iran's gross domestic product.

Yet Iran is the only major producer of oil to suffer from a budget deficit. The Iranian public, notes Alhajji, is heavily dependent on government subsidies for staple goods and fuels. From 1980 to 2005, Iran's population grew by 22.4 million and now stands at 68 million. Its daily oil output during that period rose by only 600,000 barrels.


The blow to the US would not be so severe. Hurricane Katrina shut off 1.5 million b.p.d. from the Gulf of Mexico, but oil prices rose only $10 a barrel. Any Iranian embargo could be countered by more exports from other OPEC nations and tapping the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
I don't profess to know that much about the politics of oil, but this illustrates one of the key problems in using economic depedencies as a weapon: the exporter is possibly just as vulnerable as the importer (and vice versa). The US learned this lesson in 1993 when President Clinton tied China' Most Favored Nation status to improvement in China's human rights records. Clinton bet that China would be so unwilling to lose open access to US markets that it would comply. Clinton did not anticipate, however, how much US firms depended on the Chinese market, and under pressure from such companies, as well as the Chinese government, Clinton backed down from his threat.

What all of these means is that the US should, perhaps, be more aggressive in trying to punish the Iranian regime and force it to negotiate on its nuclear program.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Saddam Hussein-al Qaeda Connection (?)

ABC News and the New York Sun are reporting that recently declassified documents indicate that, in 1995, an Iraqi official met with Osama bin Laden with approval from Saddam Hussein. Here's the text of the ABC report:

A newly released prewar Iraqi document indicates that an official representative of Saddam Hussein's government met with Osama bin Laden in Sudan on February 19, 1995, after receiving approval from Saddam Hussein. Bin Laden asked that Iraq broadcast the lectures of Suleiman al Ouda, a radical Saudi preacher, and suggested "carrying out joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia. According to the document, Saddam's presidency was informed of the details of the meeting on March 4, 1995, and Saddam agreed to dedicate a program for them on the radio. The document states that further "development of the relationship and cooperation between the two parties to be left according to what's open [in the future] based on dialogue and agreement on other ways of cooperation." The Sudanese were informed about the agreement to dedicate the program on the radio.

The report then states that "Saudi opposition figure" bin Laden had to leave Sudan in July 1996 after it was accused of harboring terrorists. It says information indicated he was in Afghanistan. "The relationship with him is still through the Sudanese. We're currently working on activating this relationship through a new channel in light of his current location," it states.

(Editor's Note: This document is handwritten and has no official seal. Although contacts between bin Laden and the Iraqis have been reported in the 9/11 Commission report and elsewhere (e.g., the 9/11 report states "Bin Ladn himself met with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in Khartoum in late 1994 or early 1995) this document indicates the contacts were approved personally by Saddam Hussein.

It also indicates the discussions were substantive, in particular that bin Laden was proposing an operational relationship, and that the Iraqis were, at a minimum, interested in exploring a potential relationship and prepared to show good faith by broadcasting the speeches of al Ouda, the radical cleric who was also a bin Laden mentor.

The document does not establish that the two parties did in fact enter into an operational relationship. Given that the document claims bin Laden was proposing to the Iraqis that they conduct "joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia, it is worth noting that eight months after the meeting — on November 13, 1995 — terrorists attacked Saudi National Guard Headquarters in Riyadh, killing 5 U.S. military advisers. The militants later confessed on Saudi TV to having been trained by Osama bin Laden.)

This is not evidence that Hussein and/or Iraq had anythign to do with the 9/11 attacks. Nor is it, as the report points out, proof that Iraq and al Qaeda had a working relationship or engaged in anything more than discussion and consultation. But according to Bob Kerrey (former Democratic senator from Nebraska and a member of the 9/11 commission), the report presents a "significant set of facts," and demonstrates that "Saddam was a significant enemy of the United States." The Sun reports that Kerrey believes that "America's understanding of the deposted tyrant's relationship with al-Qaeda would become much deeper as more captured Iraqi documents and audiotapes are disclosed."

The most relevant thing to be taken from these documents is setting aside the arguments that ideology would have kept Iraq and al Qaeda from working together. Again, this does not prove that Iraq and al Qaeda were collaborating on attacks against the US or any other country. But it does demonstrate that, as opposed to the views of some critics, that would not have been an impossibility.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Camp XRay and the UN Torture Covention

According to a Reuters report, the Pentagon is considering applying the standards of the UN torture convention to the use of evidence during the trials of those being held at Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay. That would mean any evidence obtained through means deemed torture by the convention would not be admissable.

This is a major development. True, Bush has repeatedly claimed that the US does not, and has not, condoned torture, but applying the international standards of the UN convention would be a major confirmation of the US commitment to international human rights standards. This new policy, if it is put in place, should help restore some of the luster to the tattered US public image.

Straw Men and the NSA Surveillance Program

Over at, which is the foreign policy blog of The Weekly Standard, is a post calling our attention to a BBC article intimating that it's possible that the NSA surveillance program helped British police arrest the seven Britons accused of planning bombings of nightclubs, trains, or the national power grid. The BBC article notes that the jury "would be hearing from an American citizen, Mohammed Babar, who conspired with the defendants." The WorldwideStandard points out that "it would be interesting to know whether the NSA program helped snag Babar and his buddies across the Atlantic." The implication is that the NSA program is justified, legal, and legitimate because it is an important, useful, and successful tool in the fight against terror. This echoes statements made by the Bush Administration to defend the NSA program. For example, the memo released by the Department of Justice entitled Legal Authorities Supporting the Activities of the National Security Agency Described By The President argued that:

the Government’s interest in engaging in the NSA activities is the most compelling interest possible – securing the Nation from foreign attack….The Government’s overwhelming interest in detecting and thwarting further al Qaeda attacks is easily sufficient to make reasonable the intrusion into privacy involved in [the NSA surveillance program].
This argument is what's known as a straw man. The question isn't whether the NSA program is useful or successful, but whether it's legal and constitutional. And such decisions aren't made on the basis of short-term utility. In his concurrence to Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer (the Steel Seizure case), Justice Jackson wrote that “the tendency is strong to emphasize transient results upon policies...and lose sight of enduring consequences upon the balanced structure of our Republic” and that “no doctrine that the Court could promulgate would seem more sinister and alarming than that a President whose conduct of foreign affairs is so largely uncontrolled, and often even unknown, can vastly enlarge his mastery over the internal affairs of the country by his own commitment of the Nation’s armed forces to some foreign venture.”

Determining the rightness or wrongness of the NSA surveillance program goes far beyond the efficacy of the program. Any honest analysis must consider the implications of giving the president effectively unlimited and unchecked powers to
fight the war on terror.

[I will be presenting a paper on this very issue -- presidential-congressional war powers and the constitutionality of the NSA surveillance program -- at a conference at Chapman University School of Law entitled "Are We at War? Global Conflict & Insecurity Post-9/11." If anyone is interested in seeing this paper, please let me know. Also, the conference will be web-cast live on April 6-7. My panel on
Separation of Powers and Presidential Authority is on Friday, April 7 at 1:45 - 3:15 PM.]

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Al Qaeda and Iran

An article in today's Los Angeles Times calls attention to the fact that several US officials believe that Iran is in cahoots with al Qaeda. According to the article:

some officials, citing evidence from highly classified satellite feeds and electronic eavesdropping, believe the Iranian regime is playing host to much of Al Qaeda's remaining brain trust and allowing the senior operatives freedom to communicate and help plan the terrorist network's operations. And they suggest that recently elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be forging an alliance with Al Qaeda operatives as a way to expand Iran's influence or, at a minimum, that he is looking the other way as Al Qaeda leaders in his country collaborate with their counterparts elsewhere.
Of course, given the track record of US intelligence in Iraq, many are skeptical of these claims. Furthermore, Iran, as a Shiite nation, would seem to be a natural enemy of al Qaeda which has repeatedly stated that it considers Shiites to be infidels. However, Iran has gone back and forth as to whether there are al Qaeda members sheltering (or operating) in Iran. In fact:
Among them is Saif Adel, believed to be one of the highest-ranking members of Al Qaeda, behind Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri. Whatever restrictions might be placed on the network's activities within Iran, Adel — who has a $5-million U.S. bounty on his head — was able last year to post a lengthy dispatch about Al Qaeda activities in Iran and Iraq that was widely circulated on the Internet. U.S. intelligence officials consider the posting authentic.

In the dispatch, Adel said he had used hide-outs in Iran to plot with Abu Musab Zarqawi to make Iraq the new battleground in the group's war against the United States. Iran had detained many of Zarqawi's men, Adel wrote, but they ultimately slipped into Iraq and began attacking U.S. forces.
I, for one, do not buy the ideological divide issue. As realism teaches us, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend;" states do not seem to care about with whom they cooperate so long as the partners share a common enemy. Witness the US and China in the 1970s, Israel and Jordan, the Allies and the Soviet Union in WWII. If Iran believes that it can cooperate with al Qaeda to undermine US interests and security, it will likely do so.

Iraq teaches us, of course, to be exceedingly wary of intelligence reports. But, what can we make of the timing of these reports? The US is clearly trying to ramp up the pressure on Tehran. The combination of international pressure, the National Security Strategy, and these new revelations is definitely increasing the heat. As Iran digs in its heels over its nuclear program and as even Russia expresses its exasperation with Iran, the odds continue to increase of a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. All of these recent warnings, I believe, are attempts to warn Iran of the consequences of its current path of action. Let's hope the warnings are heard.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The New York Times and Sudan

The Beltway Blitz blog is calling attention to an editorial in today's New York Times about the inability of the UN to deal with the problems in Sudan. According to the Blitz:
The Times editors' don't spell it out completely but the logical end of their argument for Sudan has a distinctly neo-conservative flavor. When it comes to the most important issues, the United States must sometimes go it alone. It's certainly not anyone's preferred route - not even for neo-cons. Large alliances are definitely better. But our interests and the interests of the world's most desperate and persecuted peoples are not their interests.

If one thing comes from the Sudan debacle, it might be this. It has shown the Times' editors and others of their ilk that it might be more than merely morally permissible to ignore the moral vacuum that is the United Nations. In some cases, it is a moral imperative.


Keeping Score in Iraq

As the US occupation and rebuilding of Iraq enters its fourth year, there has been a lot of discussion lately about whether the US is "winning" or "losing." Unfortunately, there hasn't been a lot of logical or sane discussion about what metrics should be part of such a judgment.

Of course, many people focus on casualties. For those who believe the US is losing, the 2,314 US troops killed and 7,912 wounded (with another 9,121 wounded but able to return to active duty), those numbers represent unacceptable deaths. For the other side, the argument is made that the total casualties in Iraq have only now equaled those of the worst month of fighting in Vietnam. Others focus on the cost of the war to the US, Iraqi casualties, the fact that a vicious dictator has been removed and is on trial for his crimes, or any other fact that serves the purpose of making a case.

But none of these really can work, as divorced from the justness (or unjustness) of the cause itself, no statistic can determine success. The question isn't whether more soldiers died in Vietnam or WWII, but whether the loss of US life is worth it to achieve the desired goal, and whether that goal has a good chance of being realized. If Iraq is a lost cause, or was a bad decision to begin with, then no loss of life is worth it. If Iraq did pose an imminent threat to the US, then 2,300 lives is small, though terrible, price to pay.

So, is the goal of deposing Hussein and building a democracy a worthy one, and is it likely to succeed? These are the $64,000,000 questions. The former is of course extremely subjective. I supported the cause of the war 3 years ago, and I do now, even the absence of WMDs. But I don't really want to discuss this question today.

Is the project likely to succeed? In the aftermath of the bombing of the Askariya shrine, Iraq seems to be teetering on the brink of civil war. Iyad Allawi, the former Iraqi prime minister, said today that civil war had indeed begun, while British Defense Minister John Reid and US General George Casey, the senior military commander in Iraq, disagreed. Is Iraq in a civil war? I would argue not yet. True, relations between the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds are extemely strained, and death squads, militias, and killings are occurring daily. But the political process has not yet collapsed, and until it does, there is no civil war. Senator Joseph Biden has called upon President Bush to push Iraq towards a unity government that could help tamp down the violence and help stave off political collapse and civil war. This is exactly right. Democracy does not emerge from a totalitarian society full-borne. It progresses in fits and starts, and Iraq right now is in a dangerous place. Better to deviate from the pure electoral results to build a government that can claim legitimacy by virtue of representing all of Iraq's peoples and moving Iraqi society past this dangerous junction.

Is the project likely to succeed? Until the bombing of the Askariya shrine, I had been moderately optimistic (55-60%). Now, it's about 50-50 in my mind. I don't think you can gauge the chances by the deaths or the rhetoric. I'll be closely watching the nature of the new Iraqi government; that will, for me, go a long way to determining whether I believe that the US can "win" in Iraq.

UPDATE: Here is Gary Becker and Richard Posner on the costs of the Iraq War.

Is the National Security Strategy Working?

Only a few days after the Bush Administration released its National Security Strategy, it seems to be paying dividends already. On Friday, Iran began making noises about a willingness to talk directly with the US. Today, it's Russia's turn. I've blogged many times about the need to put pressure on Russia to choose where its destiny lies: Cooperating with the US and the West, or as an obstructionist country using its Security Council veto to block the spread of the western community. Although Russia no longer is a global player in terms of its real power, its presence on the UN Security Council and its veto means that Russia must be taken seriously when trying to utilize the UN to achieve political goals, like dealing with the Iranian nuclear program.

Today, Russia is complaining about some of the content of the National Security Strategy. Which part has upset the Great Bear? The part about preventive/preemptive war? Nope. Russia is upset that the US has criticized Russia's slide away from democracy under Putin, as well as a two-paragraph section indicating that Russia's policies in the Middle East and Asia could undermine US-Russian relations. Here are the paragraphs in question:

5. Russia

The United States seeks to work closely with Russia on strategic issues of common interest and to manage issues on which we have differing interests. By reason of geography and power, Russia has great influence not only in Europe and its own immediate neighborhood, but also in many other regions of vital interest to us: the broader Middle East, South and Central Asia, and East Asia. We must encourage Russia to respect the values of freedom and democracy at home and not to impede the cause of freedom and democracy in these regions. Strengthening our relationship will depend on the policies, foreign and domestic, that Russia adopts. Recent trends regrettably point toward a diminishing commitment to democratic freedoms and institutions. We will work to try to persuade the Russian Government to move forward, not backward, along freedom’s path.

Stability and prosperity in Russia’s neighborhood will help deepen our relations with Russia; but that stability will remain elusive as long as this region is not governed by effective democracies. We will seek to persuade Russia’s government that democratic progress in Russia and its region benefits the peoples who live there and improves relationships with us, with other Western governments, and among themselves. Conversely, efforts to prevent democratic development at home and abroad will hamper the development of Russia’s relations with the United States, Europe, and its neighbors.
If this is what's upsetting Russia, then Bush is on exactly the right track. Russia is no longer the Soviet Union of the Cold War with the power to set the international agenda. That role is solely occupied by the single global hegemon: the United States. If Russia wants to join the community of western advanced industrialized communities and benefit from that relationship, then it needs to play by the rules set by the US and the west. If it wants to continue to shield countries like Iran and Sudan, then it has to be prepared to be left behind.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Iran Comes To The Table

In an interesting and surprising turn of events, Iran has agreed to sit down with US negotiators to discuss the situation in Iraq. While the US claims that the talks will be limited to Iraqi security, the Washington Post is reporting that Iran is hopeful the talks will turn into a more comprehensive document. Iran, as the primary Shiite power in the Islamic world, may be able to play an important role -- either helpful or harmful -- in the domestic situation in Iraq, which has already caused Iraqi Sunnis to denounce the plan.

Why the change? A few things come to mind. First, as Thomas Friedman points out (rr) in today's New York Times, while Iran has a lot to lose from either a US success in or retreat from Iraq, it seems as if a US failure followed by a collapse and civil war in Iraq is a nightmare scenario for Iran.

Second, perhaps the National Security Strategy issued by President Bush yesterday has had its effect. Even though nation-building in Iraq is far from complete or successful, even the limited steps toward democracy that have occurred are a big threat to Iran. And let's not forget that the military part of the Iraq invasion was a HUGE success. Iran knows that if the US turns its military might loose, the mullah regime stands no chance (again, this says nothing about the likelihood of succeeding in the after-war phase; only that the Iranian regime would prefer not to be deposed). With US troops now stationed on Iran's borders in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran cannot ignore the warnings and threats of preventive/pre-emptive war contained in the NSS.

All of this is not to say that Iran is about to give up its nuclear program or welcome democracy with open arms. But even getting Iran to the table is a step forward.

UPDATE: Here's a perfect example of why Iran is worried about what goes in Iraq.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The National Security Strategy, Pre-emption, and Preventive War

President Bush released the new National Security Strategy of the United States today, and while there doesn't seem to be anything really new or innovate in it, it's still worth discussing. Two things are most noteworthy: That the document seems to identify Iran as the greatest threat facing the US, and that the commitment to pre-emptive strikes (the "Bush Doctrine") is re-affirmed. There is also a strong commitment to democratic norms and ideals...the report singles out North Korea, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Belarus, Burma and Zimbabwe as seven despotic states (p. 3), although there isn't much mention of what to do about them.

I've already blogged a lot about Iran here, so I won't really discuss that anymore. Suffice it to say that I agree that Iran is the #1 threat to the US....

The discussion of pre-emptive war is very interesting however. On p. 23, the Strategy states that "under long-standing principles of self-defense, we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of an enemy's attack. When the consequences of an attack with WMD are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize. This is the principle and logic of pre-emption."

Actually, what is being described here is the logic of preventive war, not pre-emption. As normally understood, the difference between the two is one of time horizons: A pre-emptive strike is launched in response to a clear and imminent threat from an enemy; a preventive war is launched to prevent an enemy from becoming stronger in the future, thereby fighting the war on terms favorable to preventor, not the preventee. Israel's attack on Egypt and Syria in 1967 is the classic example of pre-emption; the enemies forces were mobilizing, and by all accounts, an attack was pending in the immediate future. Attacking, for example, China today rather than risking a war in the future when China would be stronger would be an example of preventive war. Israel's strike against Iraq's Osiraq nuclear reactor also qualifies as a preventive strike, as the threat being nullified was years, not days, away.

What Bush is doing here is conflating the two as was done in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The argument is that when the threat is terrorists armed with WMDs, there will not be the types of warnings and signals that typically foreshadow conventional wars. Terrorists do not call up reserves, they do not mass troops at the borders or scramble air assets, their movements cannot be tracked with satellites. These facts, combined with the potential damage of a WMD, make traditional pre-emption obsolete. As Bush said in a speech of October 8, 2oo2, "
Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." Thus, the time horizon for pre-emption must be moved back; it is no longer a clear and imminent threat, but rather the possibility of a threat, that may trigger a first strike by the US.

This conflation is troubling for several reasons. First, while pre-emption is considered both legal and legitimate, preventive war is neither. Now, regular readers will know that I do not concern myself to greatly with the dicates of international law, but legitimacy is a different story, and (un)fortunately the two often coincide. The US is the global hegemon, true, but it tries to be benevolent one. It does not force other states to join its institutions or follow its rules, but tries to convince others that it is in their benefit to do so. That task is made easier if US leadership is viewed as legitimate. Launching wars seen by most observers as preventive, as was Iraq, compromises US legitimacy and undermines American leadership and hegemony. Now, the US need and must not always defer to international consensus; quite the contrary. But unilateral action must be reserved for only the most dire of situations, when the security of the nation is truly threatened in a nearly existential sense.

Second, as the Iraq War more than demonstrated, intelligence is a tricky beast. The difficulty in knowing intentions as well as knowing capabilities is one of the main reasons that preventive war is not accepted in the international community. Combined with the previous point makes for all the more reason to be exceedingly careful and cautious before launching preventive wars.

Third, the kinds of threats President Bush is envisioning are not easily taken out with limited strikes; rather the problem tends to come from corrupt, dicatorial, and despotic regimes. It would be one thing if Bush was talking about strikes like that by Israel against Osiraq; a limited strike designed to eliminate a specific threat, like Iran or North Korea's nuclear program. But when the threat is despotic regimes in cahoots with terrorists, preventive war takes on a different cast, as it did in Iraq. It's one thing to use Special Forces or air platforms to take out a nuclear reactor, uranium enrichment plant, or even a military asset. It's another thing entirely to take over an entire country. But this is where the logic of the National Security Strategy leads.

Now, I am not in principle opposed to any of the logical or strategic arguments being made in the Strategy. I am just wary of where they lead. The US must be proactive and try to deter states from proliferating WMD and sponsoring/cooperating with terrorists. Invading Afghanistan and Iraq were powerful signals of deterrence. But the US must also be careful about how it uses it power. Iraq must be used, to some degree, as a cautionary tale; preventive war can sometimes be more trouble than it's worth.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

More on Taiwan

Michael Turton's comment to my post about China and Taiwan deserves a direct response. First, Mr. Turton grossly mischaracterizes the Anti-Secession Law passed by China in early 2005. Yes, the law does raise the possibility of using force to retake Taiwan, but only if Taiwan continues to move towards independence. Here is the relevant section from the Anti-Secession Law:
Article 8 In the event that the "Taiwan independence" secessionist forces should act under any name or by any means to cause the fact of Taiwan's secession from China, or that major incidents entailing Taiwan's secession from China should occur, or that possibilities for a peaceful reunification should be completely exhausted, the state shall employ non-peaceful means and other necessary measures to protect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The State Council and the Central Military Commission shall decide on and execute the non-peaceful means and other necessary measures as provided for in the preceding paragraph and shall promptly report to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.
This is simply a codification of the existing status quo, which Taiwan has been doing more to undermine than has China.

The "deal" Mr. Turton claims does not exist is the quid pro quo known as "strategic ambiguity" by which the US has controlled and smoothed problems between China and Taiwan: Taiwan will not seek or move towards de jure independence and China will not seek to forcefully reunite with Taiwan. This deal is an absolutely critical part of US-China relations, and without it, the US would not be willing to support Taiwan. China is simply too important to the US, both economically and strategically, to allow the Taiwan question to scuttle US-Sino relations. It will never be allowed to happen. If the US is forced to choose between protecting Taiwan and good relations with China, Taipei has no chance. Only this non-existent deal has kept Taiwan safe and indepdent in a de facto sense.

Mr. Turton castigates the Chinese for crying to the US to restrain Taiwan in this instance, writing that "It's a might hypocritical for China to yammer for three decades that the US is interfering, and then suddenly ask the US to interfere." This is not hypocritical at all. China has accepted the concept of "strategic ambiguity" and has allowed the US to shore up Taiwan, so long as there are no moves towards independence. Abolishing the Council, even if only symbolic, represents such a move.

Make no mistake. China will use force to prevent Taiwan from obtaining formal sovereign indepdence. It may be true that China does not have a sufficient amphibious force projection capability to invade, but China does have a large long-range strike force, in missiles and airplanes.

Mr. Turton further complains that "There isn't any balance anymore. China now has military ascendancy over Taiwan, and the US has been tilting toward China for the last twenty years. The "ambiguity" that you refer to in your second paragraph has been replaced by a veiled agreement that China can annex Taiwan, an island no ethnic Chinese emperor ever owned. The US simply says it cannot do so by force. At the moment, the US position, weirdly, is that it is willing to go war to prevent violent annexation." All of this is true, except for the implication that this is anything new. China has always enjoyed military dominance over Taiwan, and the US has long supported the policy of "strategic ambiguity" to manage Sino-Taiwanese relations.

Taiwanese independence is a fact that China cannot undo by diplomacy, unless Taiwan consents. The longer Taiwan exists, the harder that fact becomes. And as the Chinese leaderhip ages and moderates itself, the more chance there is that, somewhere in the future, China will allow, to some degree, Taiwanese legal sovereignty. By rocking the boat now, Taiwan is compromising any chances it may have in the future.

Turton concludes by claiming that "It is both curious and sad that you regard Taiwan, the victim in this case, and the last legacy of the Great Game of the 19th century, as the cause of the problem. Independence and democracy are not threats to anyone. Rather, people who make threats and point missiles are the problem." True. Politics is a nasty business. I would wager that all US presidents would prefer to support a democratic Taiwan instead of a communist China. But political reality dicates the opposite behavior.

Finally, if Taiwan so desperately wants independence and formal de jure sovereignty, there is nothing that US or China can do to stop Taiwan from declaring a split with China. So why doesn't Taiwan make such a move? Because it can't survive without US support. If Taiwan can't maintain its independence without the US, then Taiwan needs to do what the US asks of it. America will not, and should not, come to Taiwan's aid if it provokes a Chinese attack.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Dealing With Iran

"We are extremely disappointed with the way Iran is behaving in the course of these talks. Iran is absolutely no help to those who want to find peaceful ways to solve this problem." These are not the words of US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, US President Bush, or even British PM Tony Blair. Rather, this quote issues from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. In the wake of Iranian rejection of the proposed Russian compromise plan -- which would have allowed Iran to develop a nuclear program using uranium enriched in Russia -- Iran's staunchest ally, Russia, appears to be at the end of its rope.

However, such frustration only goes so far. Russia and China are still opposing UN Security Council action, including sanctions, on the issue. Russia wants the issue to stay under the aegis of the IAEA, which can negotiate but has no power to threaten or punish. In the absence of unanimity of the five veto-holding members, the Security Council is stymied and unable to act, so for now, the IAEA is the only possible option.

Now is the time for the US to capitalize on Russia's frustration with Iran, and begin trying to pry the two states apart from one another. The US needs to develop a package of "carrots" that Russia would accept to move the debate into the Security Council and allow sanctions to be placed on the table. Until the international community gets serious, Iran has no reason to even consider compliance.

Good Riddance

Slobodan Milosevic is dead. My only sadness is caused by the thought that his passing was likely painless, unlikely the countless miseries he inflicted on others.

Some lament that now justice will not be served. While I sympathize with this sentiment, I was skeptical that the ICTY would have been able to return a guilty verdict.

Mugabe...Hussein...Kim-Jong Il...who's next?

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Evidence Against Saddam Hussein

Over at The Grotian Moment blog (dedicated to examining legal issues surrounding the trial of Hussein) is a truly astounding link. Here, you can see jpeg images of all of the evidence that will be presented against Hussein. True, it's all in Arabic, but it's still amazing. Take a look.

Reforming the UN Human Rights Commission

I had promised myself that I wasn't going to blog about the UN today. I've been savaging international law and the UN lately, and I was ready to give it a rest. Unfortunately, castigating the UN is like shooting fish in a's just too easy, and the opportunity always presents itself.

In today's Chicago Tribune, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) has an excellent op-ed urging the US to withdraw from the UN Human Rights Commission if it doesn't adopt the more serious reforms auggested by the US, including standards to keep gross violators like Sudan and Zimbabwe off of the Commission. Frist notes that "this international human rights monitor can point to few successes. It failed to speak out against communism, failed to act against Rwanda's genocide and failed to condemn nations that sponsor terrorism. Every day, governments from Venezuela to China, and from Saudi Arabia to Eritrea, take actions that belie any commitment to human rights. The commission, however, remains virtually silent."

Among the problems that Frist notes in one that I've been harping about for some time now: the UN's commitment to sovereign equality at the expense of values and ideals. "
While any commission needs geographic diversity, human rights records have to come first: Current geographic quotas reserve seats on the commission for 15 African nations even though international democracy monitor Freedom House says the continent has only seven truly free countries." Furthermore, Frist argues "with 53 members, the current commission is too large to conduct business efficiently. We should cut the number of nations seated on an international human rights body by at least a third and require that new members secure overwhelming support."

But most interesting of all, Frist suggests that:
If the UN doesn't approve a meaningful reform package by the commission's March 13 meeting, the U.S. should seriously consider joining with other responsible countries to create a new human rights body outside of the UN system. We could jump-start such an initiative by withdrawing the U.S. share of funds that would otherwise go to the Human Rights Commission and giving those resources to the new organization.
This is an excellent idea. Despite the scorn heaped on the US by much of the international community, the US is a vital cog in the functioning of the UN and the Human Rights Commission in particular. When the US was kicked off of the Commission several years ago as punishment for, in essence, its hegemonic behavior, the Commission became even less competent and capable than it is normally. The US is the only country with the leverage, credibility, and assets to craft compromises, advance negotiations, and acheive any kind of meaningful progress. Tellingly, the US was voted back on to the Commission at the next opportunity.

If the US were to leave the UN Human Rights Commission, it would be truly exposed for the worthless, ineffective body that it is. And if the US could entice its ideological ilk to join it in creating a new human rights organization, outside of the UN and without a strict commitment to sovereign equality, that commission could actually have some power in enticing states to improve their behavior.

Any such commission should be linked into a larger network of liberal states, such as NATO, the WTO, the World Bank, and the IMF, that would provide incentives for other states to join. If you want membership in NATO, if you want the free trade benefits of the WTO, if you want to be eligible for loans from the World Bank or the IMF, join the human rights body as well. The presence of carrots and sticks would make it possible for real punishments. Of course, these would apply to the US as well, but the US has already agreed to international oversight of its trading practices, so why not its human rights record?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Update on UN Reform

In an update to my previous post about UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's proposal to reform the UN, the staff of the UN today voted no-confidence in Annan's leadership. Why? Because Annan's proposals threaten their jobs, by suggesting streamlining bureaucracies, outsourcing jobs, and other techniques intended to improve performance. One can never fault people for defending and protecting their own personal interests, and the vote has no effect on Annan's tenure or ability to carry out these reforms. But when only 2 out of 500 employees oppose the motion, you have to question the competence and capability of these UN employees.

Posner on Bosnia v. Serbia

Over at the University of Chicago Law School Faculty Blog, Eric Posner has an excellent post questioning the efficacy and validity of the just-begun suit by Bosnia against Serbia for genocide in the International Court of Justice. Among the best passages:
The International Court of Justice never achieved the hopes of its founders. Because it is staffed by ordinary human beings with their own national loyalties, states are not always willing to trust it to produce impartial judgments based on international law, and absent that trust, they rarely allow major disputes to come before it. Most states have never appeared before the ICJ as parties; other states, including the United States and France, have withdrawn from its jurisdiction in response to its perceived shortcomings.

Even when the court does hear cases, it does so with no power to enforce its judgments-only the Security Council has this power, and it never exercises it. States thus can, and do, ignore the court, as the US did when the court held that its use of force in Nicaragua during the 1980s was illegal. The ICJ has had some success adjudicating border disputes and other small conflicts, but has accomplished little else. It is a slow and inefficient institution, which is why the Bosnia-Serbia proceeding is already 13 years old. A Bosnian legal victory is likely to lead only to a political impasse.

Nations should encourage the Serbs and Bosnians to overcome their differences, and for this purpose the traditional carrots and sticks of international relations-trade, aid, diplomatic pressure-can help. But they should not place their confidence in the ICJ. Indeed, if Bosnia were to drop the case against Serbia, this might contribute more to peace and reconciliation than its legal resolution would.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Challenging the International Community

Today's news is filled with reports of the world's nasty states (Iran, North Korea, Sudan) causing trouble for the international community. Sudan is organizing its citizens to protest the possiblity of UN peacekeepers deploying to Darfur and threatening to attack any such troops, while Russia and China block the imposition of UN sanctions against the Sudanese government. At the same time that North Korea is claiming that it will not continue to negotiate about its nuclear program so long as the US maintains economic sanctions as punishment for North Korea's extensive counterfeiting activities, the Hermit Kingdom also test-fired two short-range missiles, heightening tensions there. Meanwhile, Iran is threatening "harm and pain" against the US if Iran is brought before the UN Security Council to discuss imposing economic and political sanctions.

It's time for the international community to step up. These states are the worst of the worst: gross human rights violators, sponsors of international terrorism, commitors of genocide, and proliferators of weapons of mass destruction. Great pressure needs to be applied to Russia and China to block their obstinance in applying sanctions to these countries. The UN needs to impose massive punitive sanctions, and then needs to ignore the cries of people complaining that the sanctions are harming the civilian populace. And finally, military options in all cases need to be put on the table. Although military force is a poor option at best in Iran and North Korea, without the threat of the "stick," "carrots" have had traditionally had little appeal.

If the "international community" is to have any meaning, it has to promulgate a set of ideals and values that define that community. These need not necessarily be the values of western liberalism, but they must be coherent. And they must be enforced. Otherwise, the international community is really just a horde of Hobbesian barbarians in the state of nature.

UPDATE: Russia has just announced that it does not support the imposition of UN sanctions against Iran, preferring to leave the situation in the hands of the completely toothless IAEA. Once again, the UN proves itself to be completely incapable of dealing with serious questions of international peace and security.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

UN Secretary General Annan Proposes Reform

Wait, wait...don't get too excited. Yes, Annan recommended a sweeping reform and overhaul of the UN today. But the things he mentioned included outsourcing translating, streamlining hiring procedures, and upgrading the UN's information networks, along with other bureaucratic and financial matters. No mention was made of actually trying to make the UN a more functional institution. Of course not. Because the veto power of the five permanent members of the Security Council make any substantive reform impossible. It's time to discard the UN as guarantor and guardian of international security and human rights and develop new meaningful institutions based on liberalism, rather than on sovereignty.

Opening Iran

Christopher Hitchens has a fantastic piece in Slate discussing what should be done in Iran. His solution: Open Iran. Engage the country, as we are doing with China, and use our ideational and commerical leverage to steer the country in a better, more peaceful and democratic direction. While I don't share Hitchens' wild-eyed optimism on this issue, I'm not so sure he's wrong either. There aren't very many good options to the Iranian nuclear program, as Hitchens does and I have pointed out. And if this strategy is deemed sufficient for dealing with China, why should Iran be different? Engage with them...let our ideas, information, and values seep into the country. That is the best way to deal with the problem.

Trouble in Taiwan

China has issued a not-so-subtle warning to the US that the US needs to more to rein in Taiwan's hopes for independence from the mainland. On Feb. 27th, Taiwan abolished the National Unification Counci, a body tasked with creating guidelines for the eventual unification of Taiwan and China. While the Council had been largely defunct since Taiwanese President Chen assumed office in 2000, Chen did issue a campaign promise not to take steps to inflame the independence movement, specifically promising not to abolish the Council. China is upset that the US has not been more involved in restraining Taiwan in such moves.

The US policy towards Taiwan has long been based on "strategic ambiguity"; that is, it's not clear what the US would do in case of a Chinese invasion. Most analysts assume that the US reaction would depend on the nature of the provocation: If Taiwan moves towards independence prompting a Chinese invasion, the US would likely not aid Taiwan, while if China launches an unprovoked invasion, the US most likely would come to help Taiwan.

Moves like abolishing the National Unification Council are unnecessary fingers in the eyes of China. China has long tolerated the de facto independence of Taiwan but is unwilling to see that become de jure. Steps like this increase the chances that Taiwan will seek formal independence. The US must, for the sake of Asian stability, restrain Taiwan and encourage Taiwan to stick to the deal as it exists. Anything else risks upsetting a fragile balance.

Monday, March 06, 2006

New Borders in Israel

As Hamas attempts to reduce the power of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah storms out of the Palestinian parliament, Israel seems to be proceeding along the guidelines set out by now-stricked Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. A top ally of Ehud Olmert, the leader of Sharon's Kadima party and the expected winner of this month's parliamentary elections, has revealed that Olmert plans, if Kadima forms the next Israeli government as expected, to withdraw Israelis from many West Bank settlements and begin formalizing the process of separation from the Palestinians by finalizing the border on the West Bank. It is expected that any Israeli withdrawal would parallel the security wall being built between Israel and the West Bank.

Normally, such a revelation would be met by howls of protest from Fatah, complaining that Israel was attempting to set the final borders of a Palestinian state, and was doing so with less land than the pre-1967 borders would give. Interestingly, Hamas greeted this announcement with aplomb, stating "let them withdraw." There are likely two reasons for this reaction. First, Hamas tends to benefit from unilateral Israeli withdraws, as they are able to claim that their use of violence is what has induced Israel to give up land without reciprocal concessions. However, Hamas may also be simply smarter than Fatah has been. Hamas may recognize that Israel is unlikely to give up much more land than this withdrawal would cover and that securing an Israeli withdrawal and governing a newly-independent (or at least autonomous...the Israeli source claims that any withdrawal will not initially involve a military pullback as did Gaza) Palestinian state would be the best way to bury Fatah politically. If Hamas can deliver what Fatah could not, Arafat's legacy may be all but over.

Additionally, in the same article as Olmert's plan is discussed is an interesting nugget that has received no attention: A senior leader of Hamas telling Agence France-Presse that "Hamas must change its manners -- we know that very well." This is the first indication that Hamas has recognized the demands being made on it by the international community, and the first sign that Hamas is listening.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Will Hamas Change Its Stripes?

Russia has warned Hamas that the Palestinian group will have no future if it fails to transform itself into a legitimate political party. This is exactly the kind of pressure that should be placed on Hamas. I have written in earlier posts that Israel and other international actors should not marginalize and ostracize Hamas immediately, but rather should make it clear on what future interactions will depend: a cessation of violence by Hamas at a minimum, moving towards eventual recognition. If Hamas meets these terms, then Russia, Israel, the US, and other actors should deal with Hamas in the same way they did the PLO.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

India, Nuclear Proliferation, and Moral Hazard

President Bush is in India today to finalize an agreement that allows India access to the international nuclear regime in exchange for India allowing international inspections of its nuclear program. Since India has been outside of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it had been denied international assistance, expertise, and fuel as punishment. However, that also meant that India's nuclear program was not under the watchful eye of the International Atomic Energy Agency, or any other inspection regime. Now, both situations will change.

It's not entirely clear that Congress will agree to this deal, as there is concern that allowing India into the international nuclear consortium is a reward for illegal proliferation. That is, the NPT and IAEA, and all of the nuclear technology-sharing programs exist to deter countries from proliferating with the incentive of assistance for a peaceful nuclear program. If India is allowed to proliferate, and then is allowed in "the club" regardless, what incentive is there not to proliferate in the first place? To avoid the problem of moral hazard (encouraging risky behavior by guarding against the negative consequences of that action in the first place; an example: How fast would you drive if you had no auto or health insurance?), the US must not reward India for its proliferation.

The problem is that evaluating this case solely in the light of moral hazard ignores the more important political considerations. Is there any evidence that states that want nuclear weapons can be induced to forgo them to receive the benefits of NPT or IAEA membership? Not really. The countries that have disarmed (South Africa and former SSRs) or have chosen to avoid proliferating (Taiwan, Brazil, Argentina) have done so not out of fear of international sanction but for their own policy reasons. Does either Iran or North Korea seem likely to step back from the proliferation threshold so as to get access to peaceful nuclear technology? Will any country that doesn't have a policy-based interest in NW develop them because India was allowed to get away with it? Nukes are pricey, risky, dangerous, and bring all kinds of other opprobrium with them (it took India 10 years to shake the stigma of its decision to proliferate). Furthermore, India, unlike Iran or North Korea, never signed the NPT. Punishing India only increases the likelihood of a nuclear accident and undermines the burgeoning deterrent relationship between India and Pakistan. Congress should without hesitation approve this deal.

UPDATE: The IAEA has endorsed this deal, saying that "it would be a milestone, timely for ongoing efforts to consolidate the non-proliferation regime, combat nuclear terrorism and strengthen nuclear safety." Normally, this would be the strongest recommendation to run the other way, but in this case, the IAEA is right and the deal should be accepted and ratified. Note that it was the US and not the IAEA that was able to induce India to accept international safeguards. More grist for my mill!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

"Where's the Crime?"

Saddam Hussein has admitted ordering the trials of Shiites in Dujail as well as the razing of their farms as punishment for an attempt on his life in 1982. But, he is arguing that as the sovereign ruler of Iraq, he had the right to do so. Of course, to a degree, this is a solid defense. Under the law of sovereign immunity, a political ruler has the right to make and enforce law; even if it disagrees with western liberal standards. This is the purpose of the right of sovereignty; to prevent interference by foreign powers in the domestic affairs of a state. Milosevic is making a similar defense in The Hague, arguing that his actions in Kosovo were necessary to quell an insurrection and preserve the territorial integrity of Serbia.

How this gets sorted out is a matter for the Iraqi courts. But it is not a defense to be dismissed easily. Just another reason I'm skeptical of the efficacy of international law.