Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Is It Civil War in Iraq?

There's an interesting story today from Reuters on whether the situation in Iraq can/should be called a civil war. Not surprisingly, the answer much depends on one's political persuasion:

U.S. and Iraqi government leaders are avoiding the term "civil war," although President George W. Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and several generals have said Iraq was "close to," "nearing" or "in danger of" civil war.

Experts outside the administration have been less circumspect.

"Iraq's conflict is now worse than civil war," said an October report by the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank close to the Democratic Party.

"The country suffers from at least four internal conflicts -- a Shiite-Sunni civil war in the center, intra-Shiite conflicts in the south, a Sunni insurgency in the west and ethnic tensions between Arabs and Kurds in the north."


In the latest of a series of reports on Iraq, Anthony Cordesman, a widely-respected expert at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, said this month the level and sources of violence in Iraq clearly meet a dictionary definition of civil war.

Ken Pollack and Daniel Byman of the Brookings Institution think tank, reached a similar conclusion two months earlier.

"The debate is over. By any definition, Iraq is in a state of civil war," they said.


How to officially define "civil war" has been particularly difficult for the U.S. military. The U.S. Department of Defense's Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms has no entry for civil war and the term is also not mentioned in a new counter-insurgency manual for the Army and the Marines.

"It's really a political question," said an army officer who did not want to be named.

"And where this is debated publicly, it is mostly driven by politics. War critics make the point that we (the U.S.) aren't where we thought we'd be in Iraq, no matter how you describe what's happening."

Moving beyond politics into the world of serious political analysis (as Cordesman and Pollack and Byman most likely are) requires developing an objective standard for what constitutes a civil war. While I'm not an expert in intra-state conflict, it seems to me that a civil war occurs when the major political actors in a state cease participating in the legitimate political processes and instead turn to violence to pursue their interests. As I see it, this hasn't quite happened yet. The majority of the Sunnis -- both the public and the political elites -- are still trying to participate in the political reconstruction of their country. The Iraqi government exists, and Sunnis are still part of it. For now. This is not to say that the government is strong or that it will succeed or that the insurgency is doomed to fail. But the political process hasn't (yet) fallen apart. So, it's not a civil war yet.

As I've written about before, it's critical that the government not collapse, and that the US not allow old hatreds and rivalrys to scuttle the process. If the Shiites and Kurds can't govern in a way that keeps the Sunnis involved and secure, there are two options: Partion the country or take the governance away from Iraqis until the situation can be stabilized. Autonomy was given to the Iraqi government far too quickly, before processes seen as legitimate by all involved parties could be put in place. It's not civil war in Iraq yet, but it's close. Democracy be damned at this point...the US must do whatever it takes to hold the country together.

Friday, October 27, 2006

An Open Letter on Darfur

Courtesy of the Henry Jackson Society:

Alarmed by the continuing murder of the black people of Darfur by the Janjaweed militias - supported by the Sudanese regime in Khartoum - The Henry Jackson Society decided that more appropriate and concerted action by the world’s great democracies should be requested from leading governments. Accordingly, The Henry Jackson Society issued an open letter on the crisis in Darfur, signed by fifty-five politicians, opinion formers, academics and journalists, to both raise awareness of this pressing moral and strategic issue, and call on the international community to end ethnic cleansing in Darfur.

The open letter has been sent to the High Representative for European Union Common Foreign and Security Policy, Dr. Javier Solana; Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Rt. Hon. Tony Blair MP; Chancellor of Germany, Dr. Angela Merkel; President of France, M. Jacques Chirac; President of the United States, Mr. George W. Bush; Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh; and President of South Africa, Mr. Thabo Mbeki. It was sent also to the British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Rt. Hon. Margaret Beckett MP and the Secretary of State for Defence, Rt. Hon. Des Browne MP.

An open letter on the crisis in Darfur to the leaders of the European Union, the United States, India, South Africa, and other great democracies.

After the Holocaust, the world said ‘never again’ to genocide. Yet our will to prevent the murder and destruction of particular peoples was not sufficient to stop further genocides, even in the closing years of the last century. The genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia are a scar on the conscience of the world, and they led to insecurity and suffering on a scale which is beyond comprehension.

Today, in the early years of a new century the world stares in the hideous face of genocide once again. In Darfur, the black population faces annihilation at the hands of Arab Janjaweed and other militias, supported by the Sudanese regime in Khartoum. This is not a civil war or a religious conflict, but a calculated strategy of intimidation and ethnic cleansing. It is designed to kill, remove or enslave black people in Darfur. 200,000 have already been murdered, with a further two million driven from their homes.

We therefore urge our leaders – of the European Union and its member-states, the United States of America, India, South Africa, and other democratic nations the world over – to ensure that genocide does not destroy the people of Darfur. And although a genocide in Darfur is a serious moral issue, it is also a concern paramount to European security. Should the situation deteriorate further, it will spill over and damage an already unstable region, creating a breeding ground for extremism and terror. Moreover, we have a clear strategic interest to prevent attempts by the People’s Republic of China to support repressive regimes in Africa in return for energy concessions.

In light of such circumstances, we call on our governments to empower and fund the African Union, so that it has one last chance to deal with the crisis. Meanwhile, our leaders must apply as much pressure as may be required on the Sudanese regime in order to make it cooperate with the international community. Khartoum must allow international forces with a robust mandate into Darfur to reverse ethnic cleansing and re-establish the rule of law, in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1706. Should this cooperation not be forthcoming, we call on our governments to take all the necessary action – insofar as is possible in coordination with the United Nations – to ensure that the people of Darfur are protected, and that those driven from their livelihoods be allowed to return to their homes. This may require the speedy deployment of peace enforcers and the establishment of no-fly zones, in order to prevent the Sudanese regime from assisting the Janjaweed in their murder.

For many months, Darfur has stood on a precipice; today, it is very close to falling off into a dark age of chaos, carnage and genocidal murder. We must not let this happen.

Supported by (institutional affiliation listed only for means of identification),

Karim Abdian - Director, Ahwaz Human Rights Organisation

Mansour Silawi Ahwazi - Foreign Relations, Democratic Solidarity Party of Al-Ahwaz

Michael Allen - Editor, Democracy Digest

Nasser Bani Assad - President, British Ahwazi Friendship Society

Paul Beaver - Commentator and Parliamentary Advisor, United Kingdom

Prof. Vernon Bogdanor - Professor of Government, University of Oxford

Nicholas Boles - Director, Policy Exchange

Roberta Bonazzi - Director, European Foundation for Democracy

Max Boot - Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

Daniel Brett - Director, British Ahwazi Friendship Society

Chris Bryant MP - Member of Parliament (Labour), United Kingdom

David Clelland MP - Member of Parliament (Labour), United Kingdom

Humphry Crum Ewing - Chairman, The Standish Group

Yahia Elbashir - Human Rights Secretary, Darfur Union

David Gauke MP - Member of Parliament (Conservative), United Kingdom

Michael Gove MP - Member of Parliament (Conservative), United Kingdom

Robert Halfon - Political Director, Conservative Friends of Israel

Dr. Hubertus Hoffmann - Founder and President, World Security Network

Gary Kent - Director, Labour Friends of Iraq (Personal Capacity)

Daniel Keohane - Centre for European Reform

Dr. William Kristol - Editor, The Weekly Standard

Bruce Jackson - President, Project on Transitional Democracies

Prof. Alan Johnson - Editor, Democratiya

Henry Knobil

Jackie Lawrence - Member of Parliament (Labour), 1997-2005, United Kingdom

The Hon. John Lehman - Secretary of the United States Navy, 1981-1987

Prof. Andrew Lever - University of Cambridge

Dr. Andrew Lilico - Managing Director, Europe Economics

Gideon Mailer - Africa Director, The Henry Jackson Society

Dr. Alan Mendoza - Executive Director, The Henry Jackson Society

Jan Mortier - Director, Civitatis International

Michael Mosbacher - Director, The Social Affairs Unit

Douglas Murray - Senior Fellow, The Social Affairs Unit

Fionnuala Jay O’Boyle MBE - Jay Associates Public and Government Affairs

Robert Philpot - Director, Progress

Dr. Efraim Podosik - Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Stephen Pollard - Columnist, The Times

Greg Pope MP - Member of Parliament (Labour), United Kingdom

Ben Ramm - Editor, The Liberal

Ben Rogers - Deputy Chairman, Conservatives’ Human Rights Commission

James M. Rogers - Executive Secretary, The Henry Jackson Society

Prof. William Rubinstein - University of Wales, Aberystwyth

Prof. Roger Scruton - University of Arlington

Dr. Gary Schmitt - Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute

Dr. Brendan Simms - Centre of International Studies, University of Cambridge

Alex Singleton - Director-General, The Globalisation Institute

Dr. Ulrich Speck - Commentator and Journalist

Eva Strickmann - German Council on Foreign Relations

Gisela Stuart MP - Member of Parliament (Labour), United Kingdom

Peter Tatchell - Human Rights Campaigner

Rebecca Tinsley - Waging Peace

Lord Trimble - Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, 1998

Tomáš Weiss - Institute for European Policy EUROPEUM

Stuart Wheeler - Founder of IG Index

Prof. Alan Lee Williams - Director, Atlantic Council of the United Kingdom

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

MORE Honest Thinking About Torture

Score one for the ledger against using torture. Yesterday's Washington Post reports that:

"Several governments around the world have tried to rebut criticism of how they handle detainees by claiming they are only following the U.S. example in fighting terrorism, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture said Monday.

Manfred Nowak said that when he criticizes governments for their questionable treatment of detainees, they respond by telling him that if the United States does something, it must be all right. He would not name any countries except Jordan.

"The United States has been the pioneer . . . of human rights and is a country that has a high reputation in the world," Nowak said at a news conference. "Today, many other governments are kind of saying: 'But why are you criticizing us? We are not doing something different than what the United States is doing.' "

Now, I'm skeptical that countries would be less likely to torture their prisoners if the US doesn't. They may be using US behavior as a smoke screen to justify their own actions, but that doesn't mean that if the US stops said behavior and the smoke clears, that the other countries would stop as well.

Still, American reputation matters. Soft power is a critical tool of foreign policy, and US soft power stems from, to a large degree, American claims of moral rectitude and liberalism. And if one believes in democratic peace theory, it certainly becomes harder to move countries towards liberalism if the US is seen behaving badly.

This doesn't convince me that torture should be ruled out, but it certainly provides evidence towards that conclusion.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

How NOT To Do Multilateralism

If serious multilateralism is to be a viable option to unilateral action in international security, then the organizations, institutions, and individuals involved in multilateralism must present themselves as credible and honest alternatives by which states can secure their security at lower costs than they could on their own. Yesterday, Mohammed ElBaradei, the executive director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, displayed why so many people are so skeptical of the ability of the UN and its related institutions to provide real international security. In the aftermath of the North Korean nuclear tests and in the midst of Iran ramping up its own enrichment programs, did ElBaradei warn these countries about their flagrant violations of international law, institutional commitments, and international norms? Of course not. To the contrary, ElBarabdei warned that sanctions could empower hardliners in both countries, stated that he does not believe Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, and argued that North Korea's nuclear test was a "cry for help."

This is so absurd as to almost be unbelievable. The UN Security Council which oversees the IAEA has condemned the actions of both states, passed sanctions against North Korea, warned Iran not to continue its path, and has clearly expressed the will of the international community that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction will be not be acceptable and will not be tolerated. If states are going to put their trust to any degree in international institutions to preserve international security, those institutions must step up to the plate in the face of threats. The more the UN refuses to enforce its own laws and punish states like Iran and North Korea that break their own legal commitments, the less any state will look to the UN as a guarantor of international peace.

Regardless of one's opinion of the invasion of Iraq, a large part of President Bush's reluctance to wait (not that waiting would have altered the outcome) on the UN inspections was a lack of faith that the UN would do anything meaningful to punish Iraq. Time and time again, from silence, if not almost cooperation, in the face of genocide, to a failure to even be able to condemn states that illegally develop WMD, the unwillingness of the UN and other international institutions to chastise and punish undermines the efficacy of those institutions. ElBaradei's comments are both dangerous and foolhardy, and undermine the very mission he purports to be advancing.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Honest Thinking About Torture

Alan Dershowitz has a provocative op-ed in yesterday's Los Angeles Times in which he advocates the creation of a torture warrant. Just like the police must, if they want the legal authority to enter and search a home or wiretap a suspected criminal's phone, provide sufficient evidence and obtain a warrant, so does Dershowitz believe that the federal government should have the option to, if a situation so demands, go before a federal judge and obtain permission to use "coercive interrogation" (i.e. torture) in the questioning of a suspected terrorist. Dershowitz is fond of the "ticking time bomb" example, in which a terrorist suspected of having knowledge of an impeding terrorist attack is in custody and the authorities want to use torture to force to suspect to divulge what he knows.

Dershowitz's article is less about the merits of the torture warrant idea and more about claiming an unusual and expected ally in his cause: President Bill Clinton. According to Dershowitz, in a recent interview on National Public Radio (September 20, 2006), Clinton was asked, as someone "who's been there," whether the president needs "the option of authorizing torture in an extreme case." Clinton's response:

Look, if the president needed an option, there's all sorts of things they can do. Let's take the best case, OK. You picked up someone you know is the No. 2 aide to Osama bin Laden. And you know they have an operation planned for the United States or some European capital in the next … three days. And you know this guy knows it. Right, that's the clearest example. And you think you can only get it out of this guy by shooting him full of some drugs or water-boarding him or otherwise working him over. If they really believed that that scenario is likely to occur, let them come forward with an alternate proposal.
"We have a system of laws here where nobody should be above the law, and you don't need blanket advance approval for blanket torture. They can draw a statute much more narrowly, which would permit the president to make a finding in a case like I just outlined, and then that finding could be submitted even if after the fact to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court."

Clinton was then asked whether he was saying there "would be more responsibility afterward for what was done." He replied: "Yeah, well, the president could take personal responsibility for it. But you do it on a case-by-case basis, and there'd be some review of it." Clinton quickly added that he doesn't know whether this ticking bomb scenario "is likely or not," but he did know that "we have erred in who was a real suspect or not."

If they really believe the time comes when the only way they can get a reliable piece of information is to beat it out of someone or put a drug in their body to talk it out of 'em, then they can present it to the Foreign Intelligence Court, or some other court, just under the same circumstances we do with wiretaps. Post facto….

But I think if you go around passing laws that legitimize a violation of the Geneva Convention and institutionalize what happened at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, we're gonna be in real trouble."

Clinton's argument is that while the US certainly doesn't want to pass laws that normalize torture, or institute it as a regular policy option, as someone who has been the position of making very difficult decisions about how to best protect the country he seems to recognize that, in very rare cases, torture may be necessary.

The idea of a torture warrant is interesting for many reasons. One big reason to oppose it, however, is that there is little evidence that courts have the backbone to oppose federal requests for actions in the name of national security. Yes, FISA may keep warrants from being used in criminal proceedings or for political purposes, but there don't seem to be many instances of the government being turned down (this may be a problem of selection bias; that is, because the feds know they have to go before a judge and ask permission, they don't bother asking about the questionable cases). Would a judge deny the CIA or FBI the right to torture a terrorist after being told the suspect may have information that could save American lives? I'm normally suspicious of slippery slope arguments, but I'm even more suspicious of government power.

However, this is a discussion that needs to be taken seriously. My colleague, David Sousa, gave a talk for "Constitution Day" (American universities that receive federal money are required to do some kind of educational programming about Constitution Day) about civil liberties in the US after 9/11, in which he warned that if you think civil liberties are under siege now, just wait until after the next attack. That is a scary prospect. That's not to say that our country needs to take any and all steps to prevent another attack at all costs. But we also can't hide behind our squeamish and liberal natures. Developing some sort of legal and political barrier to prevent torture from becoming routine, but maintaining it as an option in an extreme scenario is something that needs to be discussed.

Monday, October 16, 2006

So It Was Nuclear

The US is now acknowledging that North Korea did indeed test a nuclear device last week. But given that the blast had a yield of under 1 kt, either the test was a failure or North Korea's nuclear program is far less advanced than has been assumed. It's most likely the former: developing a successful nuclear program is much more difficult than movies, TVs, and many analysts make it seem. This doesn't mean that North Korea isn't a threat...rather, it means that the time line is not as advanced as a successful test would have meant. If North Korea can't successfully detonate a device in ideal testing conditions, it certainly can't yet be considered a threat to deploy nuclear weapons. Furthermore, North Korea still doesn't have a demonstrable delivery capability.

All of this means that there is still time to try to encourage North Korea to back away from the precipice. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, it doesn' t look like the UN is going to be able to have much effect. The US must use all of its political and economic incentives (and sanctions) to force China and South Korea to isolate North Korea. Only if those states see that their aiding and abetting of the North Korean gulag state risks their domestic economic health as well as their relations with the larger international community will they take any serious actions against North Korea. The US, and only the US, can make this happen.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Update on the North Korean "Nuclear" Test

I posted a few days ago that I didn't believe that North Korea had successfully, or even unsuccessfully, tested a nuclear device. And while the jury is not quite yet in, it's getting closer to a verdict. Air samples taken from the area around the test site displayed no traces of radiation. Chinese officials confirmed this, stating that their own testing had discerned no radioactivity.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

How NOT To Respond To North Korea

In the wake of North Korea's suspected test of a nuclear device, the US Congress has reacted predictably by throwing money at a solution. Duncan Hunter (R-CA 52nd) said "lawmakers negotiating the Pentagon's fiscal 2007 budget had added $100 million for Aegis ballistic missile defense SM-3 interceptors and Aegis system development."

Congress, and government more generally, is a fundamentally reactive body. That it, when something happens, Congress reacts to it which often causes an misestimation of the threat and an unnecessarly excessive response. Rather than thinking in an analytic manner about the nature of the threat posed, the costs and benefits of a particular solution, or anything else, Congress likes to throw money at a problem, both hoping that the chosen solution will work as well as trying to look like it's on top of the problem and taking actions to protect the country.

Thus, without considering why nuclear deterrence would fail to dissuade North Korea from launching a nuclear-armed ballistic missile at the US, without thinking about how much of a threat such an attack poses to the US, without thinking about how else $100 million might be spent on more useful, more immediate problems, Congress simply adds $100 million to the budget to deal with a technology fraught with technical problems and of dubious strategic necessity.

I wouldn't go so far to say Congress is a bigger threat to this country than Kim Jong-Il, but I wouldn't trust either of them with my ATM card.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

I Don't Believe Kim Jong-Il

Let me go on record: I do not believe that North Korea tested a nuclear weapon or device on Sunday. I wish I had posted yesterday, but I'm buried writing a promotion evaluation of one of my colleagues and finishing a paper that's due this weekend. But ask my students: I said this before the White House has come out questioning what actually happened in North Korea.

There is very little evidence that the explosion detected in North Korea was the result of a nuclear reaction. The yield was under 1 kiloton, pathetically weak for a nuclear explosion. The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had yields of 12-15kt and 20-22 kt respectively. The first devices tested by India and Pakistan in the 1990s were 12 kt and 9 kt. So, if what detonated below North Korea was, in fact, nuclear, then it either didn't work or is so primitive and rudimentary as to be almost laughable.

But why should we believe North Korea in the first place? Since the announcement that the Hermit Kingdom there has been no confirmation of the existence of nuclear weapons. US intelligence agencies agree that North Korea should have enough fissile material to make several weapons, but having the material is a long way from being able to use them. North Korea has little to gain from a policy of "strategic ambiguity" a la Israel. North Korea wants to leverage its "arsenal" against the United States to extract economic concessions and no-attack guarantees, and it can't do that with a "bomb in the basement." However, if in fact the regime is too economically crippled to build a bomb (and given that it can't even provide electricity to its capital city for 24 hours, that's not hard to believe), then and only then would it make sense to intimate that a bomb exists. Given the lessons of both Gulf Wars (don't piss of the US unless you have a nuke), North Korea likely believes that only by making the US believe that Seoul is at risk of inceneration can the US be deterred.

Of course, I may be wrong. I don't think I am, but even if I am, I don't believe that North Korea is anywhere near weaponizing a nuclear device and is, as the most recent ballistic missile tests demonstrated, even farther away from being able to deliver such a weapon. However (and this is a big caveat), the threat posed by a "nuclear" North Korea is not so much about its capability to threaten the US, but more about the political pressure it puts on the regional security dynamic. So far, China seems to be on board with the West, Japan is reassuring everyone that it will not proliferate in response, and South Korea seems to be rethinking its idiotic "sunshine" policy. So far, so good. The US needs to work to create a regional coalition and, hopefully through the UN, work to impose serious punitive consequences on North Korea. Even if there is no weapon there, such moves are necessary to reaffirm the US dominance that is necessary for tamping down regional security dilemmas.

UPDATE: Apparently, we should know in a few days with some degree of confidence whether the explosion was in fact nuclear. Read this article to see why and how.

Friday, October 06, 2006

(What's So Funny 'Bout) Nuclear Testing?

As North Korea ramps up its preparation for an announced test of a nuclear weapon, the international community is up in arms. The US has urged North Korea to back away from its promise to test, stating that the US will not live with a nuclear-armed North Korea. As the US plans how to impose sanctions on an already-isolated Hermit Kingdom, the New York Times is urging President Bush to return to the negotiating table in a serious effort to determine North Korea's price for abandoning its nuclear program. On the other hand, the Washington Post encourages China and South Korea to take firm stand by punishing North Korea for its behavior to force it back into talks.

The stakes are, of course, high. First, North Korea is certainly one of the most erratic and abomindable regimes ever to exist. Possessing an overt arsenal of nuclear weapons with the capability of devastating major cities of its neighbors, North Korea could certainly become emboldened towards a more aggressive foreign policy. Second, proliferation by North Korea will create strong pressures on other countries in the region -- namely Japan and South Korea -- to develop a nuclear arsenal of their own. Such actions would create wide-ranging instability in Asia and must be avoided at (almost) any cost. Third, North Korea has demonstrated its affinity for criminal dealings to prop up its pathetic economy: The major sources of income for North Korea are believed to come from counterfeiting US currency and the drug trade. It is certainly not inconceivable that North Korea would sell enriched plutonium, if not an actual weapon, to a terrorist group.

So, what to do? The answer really lies in the assessment of North Korea's preferences vis-a-vis the status quo. States can be understood to view their interests in relation to the status quo. Most states perceive that their security and interests can best be protected and promoted by adhering to the existing rules and norms of the system. Some states believe that the status quo fundamentally threatens their security and interests, and thus they seek, at best, to promote their interests by means outside of the accepted norms and, at worst, to overthrow the status quo. The former types are known as "status quo" states, while the latter are "revisionist." Note that status quo and revisionist are not synonymous with "good" and "bad" or "friends" or "enemies." For example, two states may not "like" each other and may very well be locked in serious confrontation; however, if they pursue that competition within the existing rules of the system, they are status quo. The strategy selected to deal with a state greatly depends on its fundamental type.

If two states are in a crisis scenario, and the "complaining" state is status quo, its aims will be limited. That is, the nature of the system is seen as part of its security and interest; such a state can be dealt with through negotiations. However, if the complaining state is revisionist, negotiations will likely only increase the state's demands as it perceives weakness. This is the classic "Munich" analogy: appeasing aggressive, expansionist states now only makes them stronger in the long run. If North Korea is a revisionist state, negotiations, economic incentives, and other "carrots" will only postpone the inevitable confrontation by both emboldening and strengthening North Korea. If, however, North Korea is status quo, then negotiations may actually address its legitimate security concerns, while a muscular confrontation may, in fact, threaten the state and back it into a corner.

So, which type is North Korea? This is, perhaps, the most difficult question of them all. On the one hand, North Korea, while no angel, isn't the sort of international menace that, say, Iran is or pre-invasion Iraq was. There is no evidence of North Korean connections to international terrorist and there have been no cross-border invasions since 1950. On the other hand, North Korea demonstates no willingness to participate in the international institutions that go a long way to encouraging states to see their national interests as synonymous with the international order.

My sense is that North Korea is fundamentally a revisionist state, and that the only thing that has kept it hemmed in has been US power. A North Korea possessing nuclear weapons would be a difficult beast to keep caged, in addition to the wider implications and problems that would be caused for the other countries in the region. When North Korea's beyond-abysmal human rights record is thrown in to the mix, it's hard to understand how North Korea could perceive its national interest to be in line with that of the international community. The time has come for the UN, China, South Korea, Japan, and the US to take a firm, unyielding stand towards North Korea: Give up your nuclear arsenal or face serious consequences, including the shut-off of all monies and energy from China and South Korea, along with possible military action from the US. It is simply unacceptable for North Korea to be allowed to develop a nuclear arsenal.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Myth of Humanitarian War?

Eric Posner, a law professor at (my alma mater) the University of Chicago, has an extremely provocative op-ed in this past Sunday's Washington Post entitled "The Humanitarian War Myth." In it, Posner argues that one of the most important lessons of the Iraq War should be the general discrediting of the logic of large-scale military-based humanitarian intervention. Posner writes:
...if the United Nations were to have its way, the Iraqi debacle would be just the first in a series of such wars -- the effect of a well-meaning but ill-considered effort to make humanitarian intervention obligatory as a matter of international law. Today Iraq, tomorrow Darfur.

The idea that war can have a humanitarian as well as a national security justification has a long pedigree and surface plausibility. Some of the worst atrocities of the 20th century occurred in weak states whose governments could not have resisted a foreign military invasion. The genocide in Rwanda, which killed more than 800,000 people in a few months, was eventually halted by a force of Tutsi rebels; surely a Western army could have stopped it sooner. If nations can intervene at little cost to themselves because the target nations are weak and by doing so they prevent massive human suffering, then surely they should do so. The logic seems compelling.

But logic is no substitute for experience, and experience shows that humanitarian war is an oxymoron. The first blow to the idea was the failed intervention in Somalia in 1993. U.S. forces sent to maintain the peace while aid was distributed to millions of starving civilians were withdrawn after just 18 U.S. soldiers died. Policymakers drew the lesson that the American public will not tolerate casualties in a humanitarian war that has no clear national security justification. This lesson guided President Bill Clinton's refusal to authorize military intervention during the Rwandan genocide and his decision to limit U.S. military intervention in Kosovo in 1999 to high-altitude bombing, which ensured that no American pilots were killed -- at the expense of civilians on whose heads errant bombs fell. The Kosovo intervention, although regarded as a success in some quarters, has cost billions of dollars, required a seven-year occupation and could turn out to be a slow-motion version of Iraq.

The Iraq war itself has dealt the second blow. The problem with humanitarian intervention is not only that the costs are usually too high, but it turns out that the benefits usually are low. There are just too many risks and imponderables when war is used to prevent atrocities rather than to defeat an enemy. Military weapons inevitably kill civilians, and smart tyrants foil smart bombs by using their own civilians as shields. Dictators understand that a war premised on humanitarianism fails if they can make the invader kill their citizens. Removing the dictator risks civil war, which is almost always worse than the original abuses. Replacing him with another dictator only puts off the atrocities until another day. Long-term occupation breeds hostility, then insurgency and violence. In comparison with this, the original ruler might not seem so bad after all.


Many people blame the humanitarian costs of the war in Iraq on the Bush administration's execution of it. This view is a psychological crutch that allows defenders of humanitarian intervention to keep the ideal alive for the next, presumably competent, administration of a President Hillary Clinton or John McCain. But complaints about this war are not noticeably different from complaints about earlier wars, where small mistakes (identifiable as such with the benefit of hindsight) resulted in enormous harm.

The Iraq war, consistent with experience, suggests that humanitarian wars will rarely yield humanitarian results. Why, then, is there a so-called "responsibility to protect" movement to make humanitarian intervention obligatory as a matter of international law? And why was this idea endorsed by the United Nations during its millennium summit?

The best humanitarians of our day recognize that we face a painful dilemma: to tolerate atrocities in foreign states or to risk committing worse atrocities in the course of ending them. From Rwanda, many people drew the lesson that failure to intervene is the worse option. The Iraq war may be the first step in unlearning this lesson. If not, an intervention in Darfur surely will be.

Posner's argument here is an interesting and important one, if not a new one. The general logic of modern political realism argues that international stability and order should be the primary concern of states and that ideological crusades will likely cause more problems than they solve. Edward Luttwak has written an article entitled "Give War a Chance," arguing that involvement in intrastate conflict can ultimately lead to increased violence over the long run. And, as Posner points out, the lessons of Somalia, Darfur, Bosnia, and perhaps even Kosovo (especially in light of, for example, this article about the increasing problems there) clearly indicate the dangers of becoming involved in military-based humanitarian interventions.

And yet, Posner's argument is too simplistic. As has been demonstrated fairly convincingly by Peter Feaver and Chris Gelpi, political scientists at Duke University [full disclosure: both Feaver and Gelpi were on my dissertation committee, and I TAed a course for Feaver as well], the problem that Posner identifies is less grounded in the US public as he intimates ("Policymakers drew the lesson that the American public will not tolerate casualties in a humanitarian war that has no clear national security justification. This lesson guided President Bill Clinton's refusal to authorize military intervention during the Rwandan genocide and his decision to limit U.S. military intervention in Kosovo in 1999 to high-altitude bombing...") and more in the political decisionmakers themselves. This argument can be seen in many places: Their book (here's the first chapter), or a Washington Post op-ed from November 7, 1999 (rr).

The reason that so many military interventions for humanitarian purposes devolve into disaster is an unwillingness of the political elites to convince their domestic audiences of the worthiness of the cause. In Somalia, Clinton was unwilling to spend any political capital to do so, just as he was in Rwanda and Kosovo. Bush, on the contrary, was willing to do so, even if he may not have chosen the "right" intervention: Few external analysts, even the most optimistic, believed that Iraq would be a simple and short affair, while Posner's other worst case, Kosovo, is hardly a drop in the bucket compared to Iraq nor would any potential operation in Darfur involve anything approaching the costs of Iraq.

Ideas are important, even in foreign policy, despite the desire of neo-realists to wish them away. Americans will not bear sacrifices for conflicts that they do not perceive to be in the country's interest. But leaders have a lot to say in how the American public perceives its interest. The mantra of humanitarianism and democracy has gone a long way to maintaining public support for a war in Iraq that seems to be going badly with few prospects for success. Posner is certainly right that any such interventions will be fraught with danger and risk. But that, in and of itself, does not mean that the danger and risk are not worth bearing.