Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays!

I'm almost done with all of my grading, but as I'm leaving for Washington, DC on Thursday, posting will be sparse until after the New Year.

Have a happy holiday season!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Interrgotation Tapes and Torture

As the furor grows concerning the destroyed video tapes of CIA interrogations of two al Qaeda operatives and the possible involvement, despite previous denials, of the White House, the questions ultimately all come back to the legality of interrogation techniques. I'm not so interested in the question of whether the destruction of the tapes was a violation of the law; rather, what is critical is the nature of the interrogations that were caught on those tapes.

The tapes show the 2002 interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Mashiri and it is believed that both men were subject to harsh coercive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. The tapes are now being sought to determine whether the CIA's techniques amount to torture, as well as to determine the validity of the testimony.

While much of the blame of the use of harsh interrogation techniques is put on the Bush Administration, the real problem lies with Congress. It's true that the Bush Administration used some creative definitions and a bit of subterfuge, publicly stating that the US does not use torture while privately broadening the realm of coercive interrogation to include techniques commonly seen as torture, such as waterboarding.

However, it's also true that Congress, or at least members of Congress, knew what was going on. In 2002, four members of Congress, including now-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, were briefed by the CIA on interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. According to the Washington Post:

With one known exception, no formal objections were raised by the lawmakers briefed about the harsh methods during the two years in which waterboarding was employed, from 2002 to 2003, said Democrats and Republicans with direct knowledge of the matter. The lawmakers who held oversight roles during the period included Pelosi and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), as well as Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan).

Individual lawmakers' recollections of the early briefings varied dramatically, but officials present during the meetings described the reaction as mostly quiet acquiescence, if not outright support. "Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing," said Goss, who chaired the House intelligence committee from 1997 to 2004 and then served as CIA director from 2004 to 2006. "And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement."

Congressional officials say the groups' ability to challenge the practices was hampered by strict rules of secrecy that prohibited them from being able to take notes or consult legal experts or members of their own staffs. And while various officials have described the briefings as detailed and graphic, it is unclear precisely what members were told about waterboarding and how it is conducted. Several officials familiar with the briefings also recalled that the meetings were marked by an atmosphere of deep concern about the possibility of an imminent terrorist attack.

"In fairness, the environment was different then because we were closer to Sept. 11 and people were still in a panic," said one U.S. official present during the early briefings. "But there was no objecting, no hand-wringing. The attitude was, 'We don't care what you do to those guys as long as you get the information you need to protect the American people.' "

Only after information about the practice began to leak in news accounts in 2005 -- by which time the CIA had already abandoned waterboarding -- did doubts about its legality among individual lawmakers evolve into more widespread dissent. The opposition reached a boiling point this past October, when Democratic lawmakers condemned the practice during Michael B. Mukasey's confirmation hearings for attorney general.

Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) has protested the administration's claim of congressional support for the interrogation programs, claiming that "it was 'not the case' that lawmakers briefed on the CIA's program 'have approved it or consented to it.'" True. But when Congress passed the Military Commissions Act in October 2005, it chose to include language outlawing "humiliating and degrading" treatment of detainees. Such language was clearly intended to prohibit the use of torture; but Congress did not explicitly define what techniques were included in the broad definition. Thus, the designation of what was legal (coercive interrogation) and what was illegal (torture) was left up to the Bush Administration.

Given that Congress was aware that the CIA was using waterboarding, it could have easily defined "humiliating or degrading" treatment to include waterboarding, or any other controversial technique it wished to prohibit. Just last week, the House voted to limit all US interrogators to the techniques laid out in the Army Field Manual, which does not allow for physical harm of any kind. Bush has promised to veto the bill, and it's not clear that it will pass the Senate anyway, but it's nice to see Congress taking responsibility for its oversight role.

Recent Supreme Court cases have found that the president and the administration is bound by the Geneva Conventions in its handling of detainees in the War on Terror. But even the Geneva Conventions prohibit torture without defining torture. It is the job of Congress to define the legal parameters within which the president can act. If Congress wishes to outlaw the use of waterboarding, it is free to do so. But to not do so and then to blame the president for its use is disingenuous.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Manama Dialogue: Iraq and the Neighborhood

The fourth plenary session of the Manama Dialogue, "Iraq and the Neighborhood," had three speeches: Vecdi Gonul, the Minister of Defense from Turkey; Bob Ainsworth, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom, and Mowaffak al Rubaie, the National Security Advisor from Iraq. Unfortunately, the first two talks suffered from the Immutable Law of Speeches by Public Officials.

The Iraqi National Security Advisor, however, had some very interesting things to say. First, his observations on the cooperation of Iran and Syria in ending the insurgency:
We have recently observed some good measures from Iran on tightening the control along the borders and making it difficult for arms shipment to the militias. Our engagement with Syria has borne fruit. There are some good measures that the Syrians are taking to tighten the control in Damascus airport, stopping foreign terrorists from crossing the borders to Iraq. Our engagement with Saudi Arabia encouraged Saudi Arabia to apply effective measures on the flow of the Saudi young men, so-called jihadists, coming to Iraq. It has also encouraged Saudi Arabia to apply tighter control on the flow of funds coming to the jihadists in Iraq.
Next, he had some harsh words for the GCC states, which Iraq believes is not doing what it should to help in the reconstruction of Iraq:
As for the GCC countries, I am not going to ask the question ‘What are the negative effects of the GCC countries staying outside Iraq’. Let me tell you the positive reasons for the GCC countries to come to Iraq. They will have more security, because the GCC countries will have better security through security cooperation and intelligence sharing with Iraq because we are fighting the same enemy. If the jihadists are going to be sequestered in Iraq, they are going to spill over to the region. Also, if they get engaged in Iraq, they will have the lion’s share of the huge economic reconstruction opportunity in the Iraqi market. If some regional countries or GCC countries continue to be imprisoned by their paranoia or scepticism of an Iranian-influenced central government of Iraq, or of a Shia-Kurd‑dominated government in Baghdad, how long is this going to last? Centuries?
Perhaps most interestingly, the minister called for the creation of a regional security organization:
Iraq is looking seriously to call for a regional security pact, like the good old Baghdad security pact or a NATO-style pact, with a set agenda on counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, counter-religious‑extremism and counter‑sectarianism. I think that is the way forward for this region. Otherwise we will continue in this sectarian conflict and religious extremism, if we do not join forces.
Finally, Minister al Rubaie repeated the call for the US to engage, rather than confront or contain, Iran:
For the US in the region, I have this message: United States, unless they seriously engage with Iran and Syria, the long‑term regional security will be in doubt. It will be very doubtful. We cannot continuing playing ‘Tehran & Co versus Riyadh & Co’, otherwise we will continue suffering in this region. I think we learned the hard way. I believe the United States and Iran have learned the hard way that they have to cooperate in Iraq. Therefore it is feasible for the government of Iraq to have on one side a strategic ally, the United States of America, and on another side we have a good relationship with Iran. I believe they are not mutually exclusive.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the region does not support the US approach to dealing with Iran. These are the countries that are most directly threatened by Iran, as well as those that stand to benefit the most from a moderate Iran. If the US persists with its policy of containment and punishment, it will certainly cost the US legitimacy, good will, and support in the Middle East and Persian Gulf. The call for a regional security organization is also very interesting. Historically, there has been a lot of tension between the various states of the region; the GCC has done a lot to flatten those differences. But increasing cooperation and communication between these countries would definitely be of a benefit (of course, it might also carry a price of increased cooperation in the manipulation of oil production and prices).

In the Q&A, the Iraqi minister continued on the general theme of the need to engage Iran, using the specific language that the US applies towards its policy of engagement towards China:
We have to engage with Iran. We have to build a network of economic, commercial, religious and cultural network to make interest between the two countries so that Iran will think twice before they start meddling in the internal affairs of Iraq, from the security side of it. Through positive engagement, we would like to deter Iraq from meddling in our internal affairs.
It is very interesting to see the Iraqis speak so positively about the relationship with Iran. True, Iraq is a country dominated by Shiites, as is Iran. But most Iraqis, even the religious ones, have exhibited little to no interest in the theocratic model presented by their neighbor. And yet, Iran's proximity and ability to cause trouble has driven Iraq to prefer very different policies from the US. If the US wishes to stay the course with Iran, it may put undue pressure on Iraq, Turkey, and other US allies in the region.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Manama Dialogue: GCC Security and Economic Development; Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al Thani (Qatar)

The second plenary session, entitled "GCC Security and Economic Development" featured a speech by Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al Thani. The speech was given in Arabic and, unfortunately, the translation is not yet available. However, the transcript of the subsequent Q&A is available, and there are several interesting questions and replies.

Several questioners asked about the GCC's perception of the threat posed by Iran. The GCC has long seen Iran as a problem for several reasons, including Iran's revolutionary Shiism. Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim responded to the first question by stating that:
It is very important that we tell the Iranians, as we always tell them, that we are a neighbour, we have the same religion, we want to work with you together, but we want to work in equality, we need to work by respecting each other, and that there are a few things that we have to explain to each other from our side. They are blaming for trying to damage stability in the region, because we have foreign countries in the Gulf. We are trying to tell them that we have the foreign countries because we would also like stability in the region, we are small countries and we had no big foreign presence before the invasion of Kuwait.
Later in the Q&A, former US Secretary of Defense William Cohen asked "Does the GCC have a common view about the threat that Iran poses, so that the US could in fact achieve a common approach in dealing with Iran?" The Prime Minister's response:
All the GCC countries have the same opinions about the Iranian threat, or the Iranian dialogue. I cannot see that they have the same opinion, but in principle, yes, they do have the same opinions. Maybe the approach differs between country to country on this, but the whole GCC would like to see a peaceful solution to that.
One of the more interesting questions, particularly in light of the speech by US SecDef Robert Gates at the previous plenary session, asked if the Prime Minister thought that "now is a good time for the US to engage with Iran on a senior level, without preconditions, perhaps negotiating on the kind of grand bargain that the Iranians themselves spoke about some years ago?" In contrast to Gates' assertions that Iran is not interested in engagement and that negotiations need to be couched in sanctions and sticks, the Prime Minister claimed that:
they should have a direct talk and direct dialogue. I always think that if there is a mediator something is lost in the middle. I always think that a direct talk does not mean that you agree with the other party. As Arabs we went to the US a few days ago to make a dialogue with the Israelis, so why then does the US not have a dialogue with Iran? I think that is the only way to at least understand each other on the matter.
Secretary Cohen responded to the sheikh's question by pointing to threats against Israel by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "I do not believe that the head of state of Israel has ever called for the destruction of Iran or to wipe it off the face of the map. That may be one distinction we need to keep in mind as we discuss comparisons, which are all said to be odious in any event. "

The sheikh answered Cohen by referring to Arab and Middle Eastern culture:
In terms of wiping Israel from the map, Secretary Cohen, we also hear it from Saddam Hussein before. These are words, and you have to know the culture of the region. The culture of the region is that we sometimes become more aggressive by saying things, but we do not always mean it.
All in all, the prime minister's Q&A was interesting, but contained nothing particularly revelatory. The Arab states, especially those of the GCC, who are more directly threatened by Iran have long urged dialogue between the US and Iran. it is interesting, none the less, to see the direct contrast between the US approach and that of Iran's neighbors.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Manama Dialogue: The US and the Regional Balance of Power; Remarks by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (US)

The Manama Dialogue took place in Bahrain this past weekend, and Security Dilemmas has been invited by the International Institute for Strategic Studies to cover the plenary sessions. So, here we go with the first session, "The US and the Regional Balance of Power".

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was the speaker, and his talk covered three points: Iraq, Iran, and security cooperation in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. The first and third of these topics did not delve into anything new or particularly interesting. Regarding Iraq, Gates noted the impact of the surge as well as economic progress, but remarked that political progress was still needed to cement the recent gains. He also emphasized what failure in Iraq would mean for the region. With regards to security cooperation, Gates commented on a Bilateral Air Defense Initiative, which he hoped would:
become a stepping stone to a multilateral effort to develop regional air and missile defense systems that would provide more comprehensive coverage, a regional protective – defensive – umbrella. We should bear in mind the deterrent effect such a system would have. If the chances of a successful attack are greatly reduced, then so too is the value of pursuing offensive weapons systems and delivery systems.
Most of the talk concerned Iran, and, in particular, the impact of the recently released NIE. According to Gates:
The report expresses with greater confidence than ever that Iran did have a nuclear weapons program – developed secretly, kept hidden for years, and in violation of its international obligations. It reports that they do continue their nuclear enrichment program, an essential long lead time component of any nuclear weapons program. It states that they do have the mechanisms still in place to restart their program. And, the estimate is explicit that Iran is keeping its options open and could restart its nuclear weapons program at any time – I would add, if it has not done so already. Although the Estimate does not say so, there are no impediments to Iran restarting its nuclear weapons program – none, that is, but the international community.
Gates went on to describe how the US views the threat posed by Iran:
It is the policy of Iran to foment instability and chaos, no matter the strategic value or the cost in the blood of innocents – Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike. There can be little doubt that their destabilizing foreign policies are a threat to the interests of the United States, to the interests of every country in the Middle East, and to the interests of all countries within the range of the ballistic missiles Iran is developing.

Considering all this, the international community should demand that the Iranian government come clean about the extent of its past illegal nuclear weapons development. The international community should insist that Iran suspend enrichment. The international community should require that the Iranian government openly affirm that it does not intend to develop nuclear weapons in the future and, further, that it agree to inspection arrangements that will give us all confidence that it is adhering to that commitment.
This makes it clear that the US does not plan to ease up on Iran, even in face of the NIE assessment that Iran has suspended development of nuclear weapons. Interestingly, Gates did not recommend any real engagement with Iran, preferring to speak instead of pressure and sanctions:
While we must keep all our options open, the United States and the international community must continue – and intensify – our economic, financial, and diplomatic pressures on Iran to suspend enrichment and to agree to verifiable arrangements that can prevent that country from resuming its nuclear weapons program at a moment’s notice – at the whim of its most militant leaders. That should be a matter of grave concern to every government in the world. Let us continue to work together to take the necessary peaceful but effective measures necessary to bring a long-term change of policies in Tehran.
I just finished reading Hidden Iran by Ray Takeyh, in which he makes a convincing case for open negotiations with Iran, rather than threatening sanctions and punishment. He also argues for delinking the various issues of concerns so if negotiations over Iran's support for terrorism collapse, talks about Iran's nuclear program shouldn't be affected. Gates here makes no mention of such an approach, preferring instead to focus on "economic, financial, and diplomatic pressure." The NIE does credit Iran's suspension of the weapons program to such pressure, but if that pressure only produced a public change of behavior, it's not so clear that the strategy is working. US policy towards Iran since 1979 has focused on pressure and hasn't paid many dividends. Takeyh argues that the US and Iran have many common interests and that a new strategic course could pay benefits. So long as the international community remains watchful and doesn't cede too much too fast, a new approach seems worth trying.

The Q&A following Gates' speech focused primarily on Iran. In response to one question, Gates spoke about how the NIE was received:
The bottom line is that the estimate clearly has come at an awkward time. It has annoyed a number of our good friends. It has confused a lot of people around the world in terms of what we are trying to accomplish. But, the reality is that if you take the time to read the unclassified key judgments of that estimate, it points to the nature of the problem posed to all of us by the Iranians’ continuing enrichment, by the fact that they had a secret programme, which they did not suspend until put under international pressure. It is a fair question. I would tell you that the timing and the content were not determined by the President, by Secretary Rice or by me, but by the Director of National Intelligence. I think that we need to get past the give and take about how it happened and focus on the entirety of the estimate, and the key judgments that have been released and the continuing challenge that we face by Iran’s enrichment and their ability to return to a nuclear weapons programme at any time they choose. This is why I said in my remarks that it is so important to continue the economic and diplomatic pressures on Iran to make them first of all come clean, then to suspend, then to agree to arrangements for inspection that give the rest of us confidence that they are not, in fact, trying to produce a nuclear weapon.
Another question specifically asked whether the NIE was likely to undermine international efforts to curtail Iran's WMD program: "Given the reluctance of at least two members of the Security Council to exert ultimate pressure, is the dominant sound after the release of the national intelligence estimate not one of slamming doors and bolting horses, and has the likelihood of that international pressure of unanimity as far as international pressure not been totally destroyed?"

Gates' response:
I do not think it has been destroyed. One of the things that became clear to me when I was in Russia with Secretary Rice just a few weeks ago is that the Russians consider Iran to be a serious security challenge for them. In my conversations with the Chinese leaders, we had a very frank discussion about their interest in long-term energy security and particularly their reliance on oil and gas coming from this part of the world, which is not well served by an Iran that is pursuing an aggressive foreign policy, attempting to subvert its neighbours and potentially seeking nuclear weapons. Their long-term interests for obtaining security from this region are best served by working with the rest of the international community to try to get Tehran to change its policies.
I think that the statements that have come out of both Paris and Berlin, as well as London, in recent days makes clear a continued determination to not only continue to seek UN Security Council resolution but unilaterally apply sanctions that bring economic pressure to bear on the government in Tehran. My view is that even if there is not a UN Security Council resolution, a third resolution, that there are ample opportunities on the part of individual countries in this region, in Europe and elsewhere to take actions which bring further economic pressure to bear on Tehran as a means to trying to induce them to change their policies. Frankly, I do not see it change in either the perception of Iran as a disruptive influence in international affairs or the determination to try to work together using diplomatic and economic means to get them to change their policies.
A very interesting question was asked about US policy towards Iran:
I wondered if you could allow – or agree – to the Gulf States engaging Iran economically. In this manner, they will be able to involve them within the world creation in this region. If they have financial interest within the region, they will add stability to the region we live in. Would the United States consent to such policy? Perhaps this would moderate Iran, as you have done with North Korea.
Gates' answer:
This is the classic question: do you best produce results in dealing with a recalcitrant and truculent government through the application of carrots or sticks? The reality is that a number of countries, over the past 29 years, have engaged economically with Iran. There are many companies that do business in Iran; many countries that do business in Iran; that have hosted Iranian banks. There have been significant economic ties and I see no evidence that any of that has exercised any kind of a moderating influence on Iranian behaviour whatsoever.
It seems to me that if Iran were to begin to show some sign of movement, some willingness to engage the international community on the issues that concern us, then perhaps at some point there is a place where carrots and positive inducements could play a role. However, I have seen no evidence that the activities that have taken place so far have had any effect in moving them in toward that objective.
Many of the questions exhibited a serious fear of Iran, as well as concern that the US would do whatever is deemed to be in US interests without regard for the rest of the region:
Why would the Arab public opinion trust you again now that you are handling a very sensitive file, the file of Iran? There is a tremendous amount of fear that you could either end up doing a reckless thing such as a military strike that could set the whole region ablaze again, or you could actually sign a deal with Iran that would be at the expense of Arab interests, and ultimately America will end up doing what it has always done: embarrass its friends, let them down, let its allies down, and sign a deal that caters to its own interests while being detrimental to Arab interests in the region.
I have been engaged in this region, in one way or another, for nearly 40 years. I do not have enough fingers and toes to count the times when the United States has helped its friends and allies in this region. Perhaps the most signal example of that was liberating Kuwait from the Iraqi invader. We have been the primary sponsor of virtually every peace agreement and ceasefire that has been signed in this region for the last 35 years. We have exercised a constructive influence in trying to promote positive change. I therefore do not accept the premise of the question that we have exercised negative influence.
I know that there are aspects of American policy with which people disagree. That has been true also for the last number of decades. I can only speak for myself, but I believe that, working with our friends and allies in this region is critically important. I believe it is extremely important that, in dealing with Iran, as I indicated in my speech, we keep options open. The focus now is on trying to get the Iranians to change their positions using economic and political measures.
An interviewer from Al‑Arabiya yesterday asked me what the percentage of American policy is for military and for diplomacy in dealing with Iran at the moment. I said that it was 100% diplomatic and economic. I can assure you, on the other side of the equation that you suggested, that the United States is not going to cut any kind of a deal with Iran. Iran must change its policies and its behaviour towards its neighbours, and its own nuclear programme, before the United States is willing to pursue that relationship.
It is very important for us to consult closely with our friends and allies in this region on all of the issues that we pursue. As I indicated in the answer to an earlier question, it is important that we listen. The government of which I am a part is firmly committed to that course.
What is most interesting is the level of concern from the region about Iran. Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon has very much unsettled the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. Iran, as a revolutionary Shiite power, is viewed with much suspicion, which has given the US an opportunity to improve relations with many other regional actors. While Iraq and US policy towards Israel is cause for hesitation, many of these states realize that only the US can protect them from an aggressive Iran rising in power.

It is also interesting to note how little US policy has changed over time. There is little to no talk of engaging Iran, either diplomatically, politically, or economically. The US approach is to use pressure to force Iran to compromise on important issues; Takeyh argues that this policy is flawed and fails to take account of Iran's domestic political situation (Takeyh argues that Iranian politics are much more complicated and fissured than most American analysts assume). Taking Gates at his word, there seems to be few signs that US policy towards Iran will change, leaving little hope of any major breakthroughs. Perhaps the US is hoping that success in Iraq and in Palestine will further marginalize Iran, isolating it to the point that Iran must yield to international and American demands. That seems to be putting a lot of eggs in a few fragile baskets.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Iran and the NIE: Where Do We Go From Here?

In the wake of last week's bombshell that was the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program, it's time to think a bit about what the report means for US foreign policy towards Iran.

The most important impact of the NIE's findings is there is no imminent threat. If the NIE is correct (and as we learned with Iraq, intelligence is a sketchy business), Iran does not have and is not currently working to develop a nuclear weapon. Thus, there seems to be no need to contemplate preventive or preemptive uses of military force.

But that does not mean that there is no threat. A careful read of the NIE, or a perusal of this graphic from the New York Times, demonstrates that, at root, there are few real differences between the 2007 NIE and the 2005 NIE that concluded that Iran was trying to develop a nuclear weapon. Both reports assert that Iran will be capable of developing a nuclear device by the next decade: In fact, where the 2005 report claimed that "Iran is unlikely [to make a nuclear weapon] before early-to-mid next decade," the 2007 NIE has repeated that assessment, stating "Iran would probably be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon sometime between the 2010-2015 time frame."

Furthermore, the NIE states that while Iran halted its nuclear weapon program in 2003, it qualifies that statement with a footnote saying that "by 'nuclear weapons program' we mean Iran's nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium related work; we do not mean Iran's declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment." This is a highly problematic qualification. The US, the EU, and the UN have long considered Iran's civil nuclear program to be worrisome. Given Iran's long history of NPT violations concerning its civilian nuclear program, the international community has viewed Iran's civil nuclear program as a source of concern nearly as great as its potential weapons program. And, as this New York Times article points out, "The open secret of the nuclear age is that the line between civilian and military programs is extraordinarily thin:"

One threshold is enriched uranium. Enriched to low levels, uranium can fuel a reactor that produces electrical power — which is what Tehran says it wants to do. But if uranium is purified in spinning centrifuges long enough, and becomes highly enriched, it can fuel an atom bomb.

Another boundary between civilian and military programs is weapons design. Designing a nuclear weapon involves sophisticated mathematical and engineering work to figure out how to squeeze the bomb fuel in a way that creates the nuclear blast.

Indeed, the most difficult part of building a bomb is not doing the secret military design work but rather the part of the process that is also crucial to civilian nuclear power — producing the fuel.

History illustrates the point. During World War II, scientists working secretly at Los Alamos in the mountains of New Mexico were so sure of the reliability of their simple design that they gave it no explosive test before the bomb was made and dropped on Hiroshima. It worked to devastating effect.

But making the bomb’s highly enriched fuel required a vast industrial effort clouded by great uncertainty. In a race, three huge factories were built in the Tennessee wilds, each pursuing a different way of enriching uranium. One had literally millions of miles of pipes.

In the end, no technique worked well enough to be relied upon exclusively. So engineers blended the outputs. “All three methods contributed to Hiroshima,” said Robert S. Norris, author of “Racing for the Bomb” (Steerforth, 2002), a biography of the project’s military chief.

That history cast light on the question of whether Iran’s enrichment work today could represent a future military threat.

Here, again, the NIE is less than reassuring. It states that it assesses Iran is most likely to obtain HEU through centrifuge enrichment and that "Iran resumed its declared centrifuge enrichment activities in January 2006" and that "Iran made significant progress in 2007 installing centrifuges at Natanz." The 2010-2015 time frame mentioned above is based on estimations of Iran's ability to produce through centrifuge enrichment enough HEU for a nuclear device. Additionally, "Iranian entities are continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so."

It appears that Iran is going to be walking a thin line, staying on the "good" side of a civilian program, but retaining the ability to cross the line to military applications if deemed necessary.

The real change from the 2005 to the 2007 NIE is in the assessment of Iran's intentions (which is interesting given the caveat in the NIE that the 10 year time frame of the NIE's estimate is "more appropriate for estimating capabilities than intentions....). In 2005, the intelligence community "assess[ed] with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons despite its international obligations and international pressure, but we do not assess that Iran is immovable." [emphasis added] The 2007 judgment essential revises the estimate of Iran's determination, assessing that Iran can be influenced by "increasing international scrutiny and pressure."

If Iran's intentions have changed, but its capability to produce a nuclear device have not changed, then it is just as important as before to maintain "international scrutiny and pressure." Already, rosy readings of the NIE are having their effect as Russia has expressed skepticism at the need to use the threat of expanded sanctions to coax Iran into greater cooperation with the IAEA. While the European states, and France and Germany in particular, have stated their willingness to maintain attention and pressure on Iran, the Russian hesitance highlights the need for a new diplomatic strategy. As I blogged about before, trading the European-based ballistic missile defense program for Russian assistance in forcing Iran to come clean and cooperate is just such a strategy. And the NIE hasn't made a case for a different one.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Microfinance For Profit

[First, allow me to apologize for the dearth of posts lately. My department has been immersed in two job searches which has consumed vast amounts of time. I plan to be back to normal blogging from now on.]

A while back, I blogged about Kiva, a microfinance organization that allows people to become directly and personally involved in development by loaning money to individuals in the developing world who need capital to start or improve their business ventures. So far, I've loaned money to two people and plan to loan again soon. In response to my post, a certain libertarian, capitalist, free-market friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) replied (and I paraphrase here) "Piffle. Why should I loan people money if I'm not getting the interest? The loan recipient is still paying interest which someone is getting. Why shouldn't it be me?"

Well, now it can be. A new for-profit microfinance organization has sprung up. Owned by eBay, Microplace combines the development aspect of Kiva with the for-profit motive. An individual invests money (a minimum of $100) by purchasing securities from a security issuer, who guarantees the interest and principal payments. The security issuer then loans the money to lending organizations in specific countries, which then loan the money to borrowers, who use the money for their businesses. The borrower then repays the lending organization, which repay the security issuers, which repay the investors. Depending on the area one wishes to direct one's investments towards, Microplace promises returns of 1-3%. Check out Microplace's "Learn More" page for more information about how Microplace works or about microfinance in general.

It will be interesting to see which business model wins out. Kiva doesn't provide returns on the money loaned, but it also allows individuals to loan on a smaller scale (the minimum loan on Kiva is $25). Microplace is slightly less personal as, although you can see the individuals who receive loans from the lending organizations, you don't choose the specific individuals to whom you want to loan money. But, it does provide a return. My gut tells me Kiva will be more successful, as, my friend notwithstanding, most people are a bit queasy about mixing their humanitarian philanthropy with profit. But either way, both Kiva and Microplace are excellent ways for people to have a direct and meaningful impact on ending poverty and improving the lives of people all around the world.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Missile Defense or Non-Proliferation?

Russia has announced that it is ready for dialogue on the proposed missile defense shield the US wishes to construct, partly in Eastern Europe. While Russia opposed to the shield, which the US has declared to be a critical component of its national security policy, both sides seem to be open to compromises intended to reassure the Russians without undermining their deterrent capabilities.

I've blogged before about my skepticism of the utility of developing such a shield, mostly on cost-benefit grounds. That skepticism, however, reveals the potential for some interesting possibilities. For example, if Russia wants the US to move, scale down, or back away from developing a defense shield, Russia should be willing to give the US something in return. And that something would be most valuable if it helped accomplish the goals that the shield is designed to address -- the threat of the proliferation of WMD and ballistic missiles. So what could Russia offer the US that would be of use in that area...hmmm....I don't about...oh...

Increased pressure on Iran to comply with UN demands about the Iranian nuclear program? If the US intends to compromise at all on the missile shield, the price should be nothing less than Russia's complete cooperation in pressuring Iran to comply with its obligations under the NPT. That would be a worthy return on an unwise investment.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

5 Reasons To Be Thankful

Just to be clear, international politics isn't all misery, death, and suffering. From Foreign Policy magazine, here are 5 reasons we should be thankful this year:

Your Plane Isn’t Going to Crash

What’s happening: 2006 was the safest year on record for air travel.

The stats: Last year, there were just 77 major commercial plane crashes worldwide, the lowest number ever recorded, according to the International Air Transport Association. Of those, only 20 were fatal crashes, resulting in 855 people killed. That’s an amazing safety record, given that 2.1 billion passengers boarded flights last year. In North America, there was just one deadly commercial accident, out of about 10 million flights into and out of the United States alone.

The reasons why: Better safety standards. The aviation industry has taken a number of recent steps, including clearer signs on taxiways, better training for crews, improved maintenance for planes, and upgraded air-traffic control equipment, to improve safety in the skies. Planes themselves have gotten far safer. Jet engines are so fail-proof that pilots might never see one cut out in their entire flying careers, and cockpit controls keep airplanes safely away from mountains when visibility is obscured. “This is the golden age of safety, the safest period, in the safest mode, in the history of the world,” said Marion C. Blakey—who was administrator of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration until September 2007—in a recent speech. In other words, the skies have never been friendlier.

Fewer Kids Are Dying

What’s happening: Mortality rates for young children are at a record low.

The stats: The number of children younger than 5 who died worldwide in 2006 fell to 9.7 million, the first time that figure dropped below 10 million since such records have been kept. And the good news isn’t confined to one continent. Latin America is on track to reach the Millennium Development Goal of reducing its 1990 child mortality rate by two thirds by 2015; so far, its under-5 mortality rate has already plummeted by half, from 55 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 27 in 2006. In China during the same period, child deaths dropped from 45 per 1,000 births to just 24, while India registered a 34 percent drop. Even parts of sub-Saharan Africa improved, with child mortality decreasing more than 20 percent from 2000 to 2004 in Ethiopia, Malawi, Rwanda, and Tanzania.

The reasons why: Simple solutions. More kids are getting vaccinated—measles deaths having fallen 60 percent globally since 1999. More kids are avoiding malaria by sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets. Higher rates of breast-feeding and vitamin A supplements to strengthen immune systems are also keeping children alive. Safer water, better nutrition, more cash for public health, and more community health workers are also getting kids past their fifth birthdays. None of these solutions is particularly new or high-tech—just proof that implementing healthcare basics can save millions of lives.

Wars Are History

What’s happening: Iraq, Afghanistan, and terrorism may dominate the headlines, but otherwise, political violence has been headed downhill since the early 1990s. The number of wars involving states, and the deaths they directly cause, has decreased dramatically.

The stats: Between 1992 and 2003, the number of armed conflicts involving a government fell more than 40 percent, and the worst of those—conflicts with more than 1,000 deaths—decreased by 80 percent, according to the Human Security Centre in British Columbia. And fewer people are being killed in the midst of the remaining fighting. The number of deaths in conflicts dropped from nearly 700,000 in 1950 to about 25,000 in 2002, especially remarkable since the world’s population more than doubled during that time. Also worth noting is that though the number of countries in the world has more than tripled since World War II, interstate war now involves less than 5 percent of conflicts. In fact, the post-1945 period is the longest stretch in centuries that hasn’t featured a war between major world powers.

The reasons why: The Soviet Union and colonialism were swept into the dustbin of history. With the end of the Cold War came the end of developing-world proxy wars between the USSR and the United States. And as the colonial era waned, so did the wars of independence from colonial rule, which accounted for more than 60 percent of international conflicts from the 1950s to early 1980s.

Poverty Is Down

What’s happening: Fewer people are living on less than $1 a day.

The stats: In 1981, 1.5 billion people were living on less than $1 a day (or, to be more exact, the World Bank’s poverty line of $1.08 in U.S. 1993 dollars, adjusted for purchasing power parity). By 1990, that figure had fallen to 1.25 billion people. By 2004, the extreme poverty rate had fallen to 18.4 percent, or just 985 million people. If current trends continue, the world will achieve the Millennium Development Goal of cutting in half—from 32 percent in 1990 to 16 percent in 2015—the portion of the population in the developing world that ekes by on less than $1 a day.

The reasons why: One word: Asia. From 1981 to 2001, the number of people living in extreme poverty in East and South Asia dropped by half a billion people. By 2004, the extreme poverty rate in East Asia was down to just 9 percent. China gets most of the credit, with an annual economic growth rate of 8.5 percent for two decades, but other Asian countries, such as India, have also translated high growth rates into less poverty. Even in sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people in extreme poverty has been leveling off, which is promising because it means that lower extreme-poverty rates aren’t being canceled out by high population growth that otherwise balloons the number of poor.

You’re Living to Retirement

What’s happening: People are living longer than ever.

The stats: A child born 50 years ago could expect to live about 49 years, meaning he or she would likely be dead by now. A child born today, however, can expect to live 18 more years, to age 67. China and India, with their billion-plus populations, account for much of those gains. In the past 50 years, life expectancy in China has boomed from 45 to 73 years, while in India it is has increased from 40 to 65 years. Of course, Japan is the longevity capital of the world, where women’s life expectancy is currently 86 years and is projected to increase to the ripe-old age of 91 by 2050.

The reasons why: Modern medicine. In the early 1950s, 50 million people contracted smallpox each year. Less than three decades later, in 1979, the disease had been eradicated. In developing countries, improved sanitation and water quality has helped people avoid coming into contact with deadly microbes in the first place. And in the developed world, medical advances are bringing down death rates of three major killers—heart disease, cancer, and strokes.

Anything else you think we should be thankful for? Feel free to let us know in the comments!

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Why Pakistan Matters

One of the main objections to pressuring Pakistan and President Pervez Musharraf is that it matters little to the US what happens in Pakistani domestic politics. While it's nice for the US to support democracies, strategic interests come first and risking instability in Pakistan or pushing Musharraf into the arms of the militants is not worth the minimal benefits of democracy. How and why does it matter whether a country like Pakistan is democratic?

One reason it matters is that countries that suppress civil liberties and political rights, such as freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, and democratic principles are much more likely to produce terrorists than are countries that respect and protect those rights. Alan Krueger, the Princeton economist who has long argued that poverty and lack of education are not powerful causal mechanisms in the creation of terrorists, has a fascinating article in The American claiming that "countries with low levels of civil liberties are more likely to be the countries of origin of the perpetra­tors of terrorist attacks." Furthermore:
To investigate the role of societal factors, I assembled data on the country of origin and tar­get of hundreds of significant international terrorist attacks from 1997 to 2003, using infor­mation from the State Department. I found that many socioeconomic indicators—including illiteracy, infant mor­tality, and GDP per capita—are unrelated to whether people from one country become involved in terrorism. Indeed, if anything, measures of economic deprivation, at a country level, have the opposite effect from what the popular stereotype would predict: international terrorists are more likely to come from moderate-income countries than poor ones.

One set of factors that I examined did consis­tently raise the likelihood that people from a given country will participate in terrorism—namely, the suppression of civil liberties and political rights, including freedom of the press, the freedom to assemble, and democratic rights. Using data from the Freedom House Index, for example, I found that countries with low levels of civil liberties are more likely to be the countries of origin of the perpetra­tors of terrorist attacks. In addition, terrorists tend to attack nearby targets. Even international terror­ism tends to be motivated by local concerns.

The evidence suggests that terrorists care about influencing political outcomes. They are often motivated by geopolitical grievances. To under­stand who joins terrorist organizations, instead of asking who has a low salary and few opportunities, we should ask: Who holds strong political views and is confident enough to try to impose an extrem­ist vision by violent means? Most terrorists are not so desperately poor that they have nothing to live for. Instead, they are people who care so fervently about a cause that they are willing to die for it.
As I've noted earlier, tolerating the authoritarianism of Pakistan and Musharraf isn't paying huge dividends. Al Qaeda is still operating relatively freely and Islamic militants are growing stronger. But, the negative consequences of relative indifference to Pakistan's domestic political situation are huge. At best, Pakistan's liberal parties might seek accommodation with the more militant Islamic groups in an effort to increase their power and challenge Musharraf. At worst, the suspension of democracy, the imprisoning of anyone deemed a threat to the government, and the maintenance of the state of emergency may very well create more terrorists.

Friday, November 16, 2007

More On Pakistan

I wrote earlier this week of the need for the US and the international community to apply greater pressure on Pakistan to lift the state of emergency and move towards fair and democratic elections. The main argument against this is that Pakistan is a major and important ally in the fight against international terror, and that not supporting Musharraf could destabilize the regime and undermine the War on Terror.

In order for that argument to hold water, business as usual with Pakistan would have to paying dividends, which do not seem to be apparent. Al Qaeda is rebuilding its operational capabilities, and the New York Times is reporting that, despite the state of emergency which was ostensibly implemented in order to address the rising threat of Islamic militants, "in the last several days, the militants have extended their reach, capturing more territory in Pakistan’s settled areas." According to the Times:
local officials and Western diplomats said, there is little evidence that the 12-day-old emergency decree has increased the government’s leverage in fighting the militants, or that General Musharraf has used the decree to take any extraordinary steps to combat them.


The success of the militants in Swat has caused new concern in Washington about the ability and the will of Pakistani forces to fight the militants who are now training their sights directly on Pakistan’s government, not only on the NATO and American forces across the border in Afghanistan, Western officials said.

After several weeks of heavy clashes, the militants largely control Swat, the mountainous region that is the scenic jewel of Pakistan, and are pushing into Shangla, to the east. All of the sites lie deeper inside Pakistan than the tribal areas, on the Afghan border, where Al Qaeda, the Taliban and assorted foreign and local militants have expanded a stronghold in recent years. In Alpuri, the administrative headquarters of Shangla, a crowd of militants easily took over the police station, despite the emergency decree, Mayor Ibad Khan said.


Several events in the 12 days of martial law illustrate how little impact General Musharraf’s greater powers have had on the expanding insurgency.

On Nov. 4, the day after the declaration, General Musharraf approved the release of 213 soldiers who had been held captive by Baitullah Mehsud, one of the most powerful militant commanders in the tribal areas, in exchange for 25 militants captured in August.

General Musharraf acknowledged in an interview this week that some of the militants handed back to Mr. Mehsud were trained suicide bombers, and that one of the militants had been charged with involvement in a suicide attack.

The general said that he was not happy with the deal, but that Pakistan needed the soldiers back.

A suicide bomb attack on a government official in Peshawar last week showed how the militants were aiming at officials allied with General Musharraf.

As for the fear that pressuring Musharraf might ultimately benefit the militants, Shikha Dalmia of the Reason Foundation makes an opposite argument in The Wall Street Journal. According to Dalmia:

the longer Mr. Musharraf is allowed to suspend democracy, the more politically powerful Pakistan's religious extremists are likely to become. Those who doubt this thesis should peer across Pakistan's southern border and examine what happened during India's two-year flirtation with emergency rule in 1975.


A similar political mainstreaming of radical Islamist groups might occur in Pakistan if Mr. Musharraf is allowed to prolong his power grab. In fact, the situation could be worse, given that, unlike India, Pakistan has never been a secular country and Islamists have always exerted considerable behind-the-scenes influence on government. They have infiltrated the Pakistani intelligence services and are well represented in the ranks of the civil bureaucracy. And there has always been close cooperation between Pakistan's generals and mullahs because of their common interest in cultivating Pakistan's Islamic identity and playing up the threat that Hindu India poses to it. The one government institution where Islamists have only a minority presence is the Pakistani Parliament.

But that might change if Mr. Musharraf continues to postpone elections and crush political opponents. Under such circumstances, Jammat-e-Islami (JI), Pakistan's oldest religious party with ties to the Taliban -- and an organization that harbors a long-standing desire to impose Shariah, or Islamic law, on the country -- and its sister organizations might well become useful to secular parties such as former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party. JI and its cohorts command even bigger powers of mobilization than Jan Sangh did during India's emergency. They run madrassas, or religious schools, publish newspapers and have sizeable cadres that can be quickly deployed for street protests. These resources might prove vitally important in resisting Mr. Musharraf.

"Instead of the secular and religious parties working against each other, they will start working together," fears Prof. Hasan-Askari Rizvi of Punjab University in Lahore. Indeed, the Associated Press has already reported that Ms. Bhutto is inviting the Islamist parties, many of whose members too have been thrown in jail, to "join hands" with her. All of this will allow the Islamists to mask their real agenda and piggyback on a popular cause to win more representation in parliament when elections are held. Even if secularists like Ms. Bhutto prevail in these elections eventually, it will be much harder for them to resist Islamist demands if they are beholden to them for beating back the emergency. In effect, the Islamist reach will not only gain in depth -- but legitimacy as well.

* * *

If Mr. Musharraf were prodded to call off the emergency and honor his commitment to hold genuinely free and transparent elections in early January, would that lead to an Islamist victory, or at least significant gains, as the Bush administration fears? Not at all.

Islamist parties had their best showing in the 2002 general elections, when they secured 11.1% of the vote and 53 out of 272 parliamentary seats -- a major gain over the pathetic three seats they won a decade before. But this gain was less serious than it seems. Most of the additional seats came not from Pakistan proper, but a few border provinces in the West that were experiencing a resurgence of anti-Americanism given their deep cross-border ties with the Taliban in Afghanistan. More crucially, however, Mr. Musharraf banned Ms. Bhutto and leaders of other secular parties from running, making it hard for these parties to secure a decent voter turnout. If free and fair elections were to be held today, Prof. Rizvi estimates secular parties would win handily, with the Islamists commanding no more than 5% of the national vote.

Islamist victory at the polls is not a real threat in Pakistan right now. The Bush administration should not allow that fear to deter it from applying maximum pressure on Mr. Musharraf to hold elections posthaste. The U.S. can, for instance, threaten to cut off Pakistan's supply of F-16 fighter jets and other nonterrorism-related aid.

India's example shows that even one vacation from democracy can be a huge setback for secularism. Yet another prolonged suspension of democracy will leave Pakistan few resources to beat back its Islamists. This is one instance where the Bush administration's avowed commitment to democracy is not just the more principled -- but also the more practical -- way of countering the threat of Islamic extremists.

Given that democracy-promotion is explicitly part of the Bush Doctrine, it is wholly unacceptable for Musharraf to suspend and interfere with Pakistani democracy. But it is even worse for the US to tolerate it, especially when the US seems to be gaining so little from Pakistan.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The 2007 Manama Dialogue

Once again, Security Dilemmas has been invited to live-blog the Regional Security Summit sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Taking place December 7-9 in Manama, Bahrain, "The Manama Dialogue is intended to provide a forum for the national security establishments of the participating states to exchange views on regional security challenges."

Security Dilemmas will be given priority access to speeches and presentations, which will be posted along with analysis throughout the duration of the Summit.

The tentative skeletal agenda is as follows:






Group I:
Group II:
Group III:
Group IV:




Monday, November 12, 2007

What To Do In Pakistan?

The mess in Pakistan just keeps getting worse. In the aftermath of the declaration of a state of emergency by President Pervez Musharraf and the subsequent removal of a supreme court justice and the suspension of the Pakistani constitution, opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has been placed under house arrest again to prevent her from leading a protest. Meanwhile, Musharraf has apparently complied to heavy pressure from the US by stating that parliamentary elections would be held in January, but undermined that commitment by also asserting that the state of emergency would last until the elections, essentially robbing the elections of any democratic legitimacy.

So, what should the United States do about this situation? On one hand, US foreign policy and the Bush Doctrine in particular places a heavy emphasis on domestic regime type. As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote:

Our experience of this new world leads us to conclude that the fundamental character of regimes matters more today than the international distribution of power. Insisting otherwise is imprudent and impractical. The goal of our statecraft is to help create a world of democratic, well-governed states that can meet the needs of their citizens and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system. Attempting to draw neat, clean lines between our security interests and our democratic ideals does not reflect the reality of today's world. Supporting the growth of democratic institutions in all nations is not some moralistic flight of fancy; it is the only realistic response to our present challenges.
On the other hand, Pakistan is very important to US strategic interests, as a secular Muslim society (one possessing nuclear weapons), as a strategic outpost in a volatile region, and in so many other ways. Pushing too hard for democratization could destabilize the country, either forcing Musharraf to seek support from radical Islamists or even, perhaps, bringing the radicals to power as moderates seek to work with the Islamists against the Pakistani government.

How can the US pressure Pakistan to move away from military/authoritarian rule and towards democracy, but in a way that does not jeopardize the stability of the state? Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), last week, released a very interesting policy statement calling for a fundamental change in US-Pakistani relations. Biden's recommendations?
1. The U.S. must triple non-security aid, to $1.5 billion annually for at least a decade. This aid would be unconditioned. It would be the U.S.’s pledge to the Pakistani people. Instead of funding military hardware, it would build schools, clinics, and roads.
2. The U.S. must condition security aid on performance. We should base our security aid on clear results. The U.S. is now spending well over $1 billion annually, and it’s not clear we’re getting our money’s worth.
3. The U.S. must help Pakistan enjoy a “democracy dividend.” The first year of democratic rule should bring an additional $1 billion – above the $1.5 billion non-security aid baseline. Sen. Biden supports tying future non-security aid – again, above the guaranteed baseline – to Pakistan’s progress in developing democratic institutions and meeting good-governance norms.
4. The U.S. must engage the Pakistani people, not just their rulers. This will involve everything from improved public diplomacy and educational exchanges to high impact projects that actually change people’s lives.
There's a lot to like here. First, the separation of security aid from non-security. Pakistan is far too important to allow the state to collapse or fall to radical Islamists; maintaining unconditional support for development aid would be a vital step in ensuring the stability of the regime. Security aid, however, should be tied to benchmarks, both political and strategic. If Musharraf does not allow free parliamentary elections in January, along with the lifting of the state of emergency in sufficient time to ensure viable competition, security aid should be curtailed. Additionally, security aid should be tied to Pakistani efforts at rooting out al Qaeda and other radical groups operating in the Pakistani hinterlands.

A policy like the one Biden recommends is eminently realistic. It balances a real commitment to democracy and democratic values with strategic concerns, and it pressures Pakistan in the right ways by separating development aid from security aid. A stable, democratic Pakistan is more than just a strategic asset in a troubled region; it is a beacon to others and, along with Turkey and Indonesia, a signal that Islamic societies can be vibrant democracies.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Bold Moves Towards Peace?

Slowly, but hopefully surely, momentum in the Israel-Palestine crisis seems to be tipping towards peace. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has apparently made a peace deal the raison d'etre of her tenure, stating that she's hopeful a deal can be struck by the end of Bush's administration -- a timetable to which both Israeli and Palestinian officials have committed themselves -- and asking Israel to make "bold moves" towards peace. Just today, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has committed his security forces to the stabilization of Nablus, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed his strongest support yet for the impending peace conference.

So, what's the way forward from here? What are the "bold moves" that the actors can take to advance the peace process? Some suggestions:

For the Israelis:
  1. Cease all settlement activity immediately and indefinitely.
  2. Lift all internal roadblocks or impediments to movement.
  3. Re-open access points to Gaza and the West Bank.
  4. Release to the West Bank-based government all tax revenues being held.
  5. Pledge that , barring Palestinian escalation, incursions and collective punishments will not be used in response to rocket attacks from Gaza.

For the Palestinians:
  1. Pledge, in secret if need be, that the "right to return" is negotiable and can be symbolically fulfilled by economic restitution.
  2. Reaffirm willingness to negotiate the final borders of a Palestinian state to include pre-1967 Israeli territory in exchange for land along the Green Line.
  3. Pledge to crack down on all militias and to formally consolidate power in the hands of the government.
For the US:
  1. Create a peacekeeping force from NATO countries to patrol the Gaza-Israel border. The force must possess sufficient capability and political will to track and intercept infiltrators, rocket launches, and other threats.
  2. Pledge to provide the funding to symbolically fulfill the Palestinian right to return.
  3. Arrange prepared funding packages for both sides upon acceptance and performance of agreements. Attach negative incentives for failure to reach deals.
These steps would certainly constitute "bold moves." Many have been tabled until "final status" talks, but doing so all but ensures that that time will never come. It is incumbent on all parties to make bold moves, even ones that can be interpreted as concession, in order to advance the peace process. The time has come for Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinians, for the Palestinians to end their campaign of terror against Israel. The time has come for Israel to re-affirm its democratic traditions and for the Palestinians to realize their national aspirations. The time has come.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Whither the US Military?

This weekend The Economist, ran two fantastic articles about the future of the US military. In "Brains, Not Bullets," it was argued that:

ANOTHER debate to do with Iraq and Afghanistan is building in America, one that could have important consequences for the West. This debate is being conducted in the Pentagon—and it has to do with the future shape of America's armed forces. With its far-flung alliances and commitments, the superpower rightly wants a “full spectrum” of military capabilities to deal with everything from an all-out war to a small policing action. But precisely what the mix should be is increasingly contentious—and could prove expensive.

If the biggest threat comes from rising powers, such as a belligerent Russia or a pushy China, America and its allies will need to invest in aircraft, ships and advanced weapons to cope. If the greatest challenge is the fight against militants and insurgents around the world—seen by some as a new and different “fourth generation” of warfare—then they will need more boots on the ground and, crucially, different sorts of soldiers wearing them. Sadly for taxpayers everywhere, the emerging answer from America is that a modern power needs to prepare for both challenges. But there has been a clear swing towards manpower from technology.


The first is whether the Pentagon is right to focus so heavily on creating more combat brigades. With American units serving 15 months in the field and a year at home at best, the army understandably wants more front-line soldiers to ease the strain. But large armies have often found it extremely hard to fight guerrillas in far-away places—ask the French in Algeria, the Russians in Afghanistan and, not least, the Americans themselves in Vietnam. With the possible exception of the British in Malaya, it is hard to think of many insurgencies in modern times that have been crushed by a Western occupying power.

Post-colonial politics, stronger concerns for human rights, the rapid dispersal of news: all these (good) things make today's conflicts even harder to win for occupiers. So it may well be better to step back and work through local allies. Few insurgencies have unseated existing governments. In the “war on terror” most of the important al-Qaeda suspects have been rounded up for America by local allies. Strengthening local forces is the best way of salvaging Iraq and Afghanistan, and may help avoid the need for future interventions.

In the other piece, entitled "After Smart Weapons, Smart Soldiers," it is argued that "fourth generation warfare" will continue to become more prevalent in coming years:

Modern Western armies cannot, as the Romans did, make a wasteland and call it peace. Modern wars are complex affairs conducted “among the people” and, as Sir Richard Dannatt, head of the British army, put it recently, “in the spotlight of the media and the shadow of international lawyers”. In Iraq in the 1920s, Britain's air force pioneered the use of “air policing” to put down rebellious tribesmen on the cheap; today the use of air power often carries big political costs. The greater the accuracy of modern weapons, the louder the outcry when they nonetheless kill or wound civilians. And the wider the reach of the internet, the bigger the impact of propaganda videos showing insurgent attacks against Western forces, regardless of civilian casualties. The British who fought the Mahdist religious rebels in Sudan in the 19th century had no need to worry about provoking attacks in London; today such a campaign would be seen as another front in the jihad against the West.

Such bewildering conflict is regarded by some military thinkers as the “fourth generation” of warfare, distinct from those of previous eras: the first generation, of line and column, which culminated with the Napoleonic wars; the second, of machinegun and artillery, which brought about the slaughter of the first world war; and the third, of manoeuvre with tanks and aircraft, which stretched from the second world war to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Fourth-generation warfare, according to Thomas Hammes, a retired colonel in the American marines, involves loose networks, made more powerful and resilient by information technology. It does not seek to defeat the enemy's forces, but instead “directly attacks the minds of the enemy decision-makers to destroy the enemy's political will”.

I have blogged about this problem before, arguing that "While the US military may have difficulties dealing with insurgencies, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrated just how effective the modern US military can be against a more traditional foe (and even less traditional ones, as in Afghanistan). And here is the rub: the US military is being asked to do two very different jobs. First, it is asked to be supreme in conventional war, and it has clearly succeeded in that mission. But that mission may in fact make the second mission, rebuilding shattered nations and establishing democracy there, more difficult."

A potential solution that I believe holds promise is the development of a new service branch of the US armed forces, distinct from the 4 extant ones. As I suggested earlier, "future military campaigns are much more likely to resemble Afghanistan and Iraq than World War II. What are needed are boots on the ground (soldiers) trained not only in infantry tactics but guerrilla/urban warfare, police duty, and language/culture." The US needs to recognize that nation-building and counter-insurgency are very different operations from war-fighting, and that troops trained for one task may not be up to the other. The Economist articles agree with this position, arguing that the US military "may need more radical steps—in particular creating new specialist units to train allies, embed Western soldiers in local forces to improve their performance and be able to call in airstrikes, and help organise civil reconstruction. Generals complain about splitting the army, but they already oversee a myriad of specialist units. It is at least worth trying."

Yes it is.

Friday, October 26, 2007

More On the Syrian Nuclear (?) Site

The above pictures, taken by commercial satellite reconnaissance companies, show the site in Syria that was reportedly attacked by Israeli air assets on 6 September. The picture on the left, taken 10 August 2007 clearly shows a large structure measuring approximately 150 meters per side. The structure is not at all visible in the picture on the right, taken 24 October. Not at all visible. Not even the rubble or traces that would be expected to be visible following an air raid.

According to the New York Times, from which the above photos come:
the images, federal and private analysts said Thursday, suggest that the Syrian authorities rushed to dismantle the facility after the strike, saying its removal could be interpreted as a tacit admission of guilt.

“It’s a magic act — here today, gone tomorrow,” said a senior intelligence official. “It doesn’t lower suspicions; it raises them. This was not the long-term decommissioning of a building, which can take a year. It was speedy. It’s incredible that they could have gone to that effort to make something go away.”

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington that this week released a report on the Syrian site, said Thursday that the building’s removal was inherently suspicious.


“It’s clearly very suspicious,” said Joseph Cirincione, an expert on nuclear proliferation at the Center for American Progress in Washington. “The Syrians were up to something that they clearly didn’t want the world to know about.”

Mr. Cirincione said the photographic evidence “tilts toward a nuclear program,” but did not prove that Damascus was building a reactor. Besides, he said, even if Syria was developing a nuclear program, it was still years away from being operational and thus not an imminent threat.

The desolate Syrian site is situated on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River some 90 miles north of the Iraqi border and seven miles north of the desert village of At Tibnah. An airfield lies nearby.

The new images, in addition to revealing the removal of the tall building, show still standing a secondary structure and what could be a pumping station on the Euphrates. Analysts suspect the pumping station was for cooling the reactor.

The building was said by analysts to have been modeled on a design used by the North Koreans, whose building is a few feet larger that the Syrian building that vanished.

Mr. Albright called the Syrian site “consistent with being a North Korean reactor design.”


The Institute for Science and International Security, Mr. Albright’s group, released a report analyzing the new DigitalGlobe image. The building, it said, had been “completely removed and the ground scraped.”

The comparison of August and October images, it said, “effectively confirms that this site was indeed the target of the Israeli raid” in September.

The report said tractors or bulldozers could be seen where the suspected reactor building once stood, as well as scrape marks on the ground. It added that the dismantling and removal of the building “at such a rapid pace dramatically complicates any inspection of the facilities.”

The report said Syria had an obligation to inform the International Atomic Energy Agency of its decision to construct any new nuclear facility. It added that weapons experts were now debating whether Syria would have violated its safeguards agreement with the agency if it started clandestine work on a nuclear reactor.

Syria signed an agreement with the agency in 1992 and is obligated, the report said, under that accord to report on its nuclear plans and developments to the Vienna agency, which is an arm of the United Nations.

“An important question,” the report said, “is whether Syria may be in violation of its agreements.”

If the atomic energy agency found Syria in violation of its responsibilities, it could refer the matter to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions, as has recently occurred in the case of Iran and its suspected nuclear weapons program.

The evidence is mounting that Syria was indeed building some kind of nuclear reactor. Such a move would be incredibly destabilizing, as Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, and even Egypt would all be threatened by a nuclear-armed Syria. Israel's preventive strike may have averted a regional arms race that would be to the benefit of no one.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

From GWoT to A War of Ideas & Counter-Insurgency

Today's post is brought to you by Robert Kelly, a professor of international relations at the University of the Pacific. I met Bob on my trip to Israel to study Israeli counter-terrorism policy, and I think this is an excellent essay. Enjoy!!!

From GWoT to War of Ideas & Counterinsurgency
Since the start of the Global War on Terror (GWoT), the United States has implicitly treated its terrorist opponents as if they were states. American posture has long been structured around state opponents to US power. The US military would engage traditional warfighting against a country with a coherent military firmly controlling some space of territory with a ‘target rich’ infrastructure and population. In a Clausewitzian clash of forces, the US superpower would prevail, and the opponent would sue for a structured peace. In short, US planning has assumed and preferred opponents such as the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. Indeed, the US military’s primary engagement in counter-insurgency – Vietnam - left the Army particularly so scarred and battered, that future planning purposely focused on state opponents. Never again would the US military wade into a long-term guerilla conflict where US military comparative advantage (firepower, logistics, air dominance) would matter little. For three decades the US military has been structured around a large, Cold War-style contest

Hence when the GWoT began after 9/11 the American instinct was to ‘state-ize’ the opponent. The US military is good at defeating states but has a mixed record at counter-insurgency and finds it quite distasteful. What might have been a campaign against a few specific terrorists entities – most notably al Qaeda – became instead a ‘war’ on terror. The ‘axis of evil’ indentified rogue states as America’s primary opponents, and the US has fought or threatened with ‘regime change’ states like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran.

Unfortunately this war paradigm mistargets the West’s opponent in this struggle. Defeating failed, postcolonial states is easy but will not reduce the actual Islamist threat, because the post 9/11 opponent is the slippery, transnational, radicalized edge of a contemporary Islamic revival. Terrorist groups are more like international nongovernmental organizations than states, and militarily reducing rickety Muslim-majority states only feeds the radicalism. National Intelligence Estimates suggest that the Iraq War may be pushing moderate Muslims toward the jihadis. Iraq and Afghanistan are now counter-insurgency efforts – ‘hearts and minds’ struggles in which legitimacy and moral authority trump ‘shock and awe.’ Tanks, artillery and other expensive, hard power assets are in less demand than good intelligence, cultural literate soldiers and black operators, and the restoration of US moral credibility after Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and the ‘torture debate.’

A post-Bush strategy will more effectively match the shape of the force to the shape of the mission. Al Qaeda is not the Soviet Union, and few Muslim-majority states are openly balancing US power. Indeed, the GWoT is not really a war at all. It is a challenge by a medievalist wing of the current Islamic ‘great awakening’ to liberal modernity. And most Muslims reject this reactionary agenda. Hence the West’s goal is to win this contest of ideas – not crush rickety Muslim-majority rogue states because it fits the bureaucratic predilections of defense establishment. Force will occasionally be necessary, but in a discrete, focused counterinsurgency - tactics we must relearn despite the resentment over Vietnam. Israel’s struggle against local terrorism and asymmetric conflict, and Britain’s ‘emergencies’ in Ireland and Malaya provide a different frame for combating terror: a patient, fine-grained effort of special operations forces, special investigative and police powers, and intelligence, with the occasional backing of significant force – all couched a political framework of moral superiority to the guerillas.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Swapping Debt For Nature

The US has agreed to forgive approximately $26 million of debt from Costa Rica. The catch? Costa Rica has to use the money that would have gone to service the debt for environmental protection. Specifically, Costa Rica will "invest a similar amount in conserving high-risk natural areas that are the home to such threatened species as jaguars, squirrel monkeys and scarlet macaws. The funds will help protect important Costa Rican natural areas including the Osa Peninsula, Tortuguero, La Amistad, Maquenque, Rincón de la Vieja and the Nicoya Peninsula, officials said."

Debt-for-nature swaps are an exciting and innovative way to kill two birds with one stone: On the one hand, developing states can get out from under the crushing debt burden that stifle their domestic economies and strip valuable assets from the nation. On the other, it encourages developing nations to take a greater interest in protecting, rather than exploiting, endangered resources. Surprisingly, the Costa Rican deal is the 13th deal forged by the US (not to mention debt-for-nature swaps engineered by other counties, like one between France and Cameroon). Similar deals have protected endangered rain forests in Peru and tropical forests in Guatemala.

What's so surprising is that such deals have gotten so little publicity. I first heard of these deals only about a year ago, when it was reported that the US was negotiating the details of the Costa Rican agreement. But this seems to be case of win-win: the US can aid development in poorer parts of the world at the same time as it encourages responsible and sustainable environmental practices and conservation. So why is there so little attention being paid to these deals? It seems to me that, especially given current global antipathy towards American environmental positions and practices that the Costa Rican deal would be trumpeted from every available mountaintop in the US government.

Any suggestions as to why these policies are flying under the radar will be much appreciated (and if there are any graduate students reading this, this could make an excellent dissertation puzzle).

Monday, October 15, 2007

What Happened in Syria on 6 September?

On 6 September, Israeli aircraft penetrated Syrian airspace. Apart from that, not much is known for sure about what happened. Syria claims its air defense systems fired on the planes, forcing them to jettison their external fuel tanks; Syria also claims that only a building "related to the military" but one that "was not used" was destroyed. Israel has been unusually tight-lipped about the operation.

Slowly, however, information is beginning to leak out. The New York Times reported yesterday, in apparent confirmation of numerous rumors that had been swirling around, that the target of the airstrike was a nascent nuclear reactor, most likely provided to Syria by North Korea. The Times is reporting that there had been debate within the Bush administration about how to respond to the reactor, but that "there wasn’t a lot of debate about the evidence."

Why would there by any debate? Because if it comes out, in the middle of talks surrounding North Korea's own nuclear program, that North Korea has providing a nuclear reactor to Syria, the case for negotiating with North Korea would be eviscerated. The talks would inevitably collapse, it would be nearly impossible to continue any diplomatic processes, and military strikes, an option which is about as bad as doing nothing, would be the only options left on the table.

Apparently, this is the source of the division with the Bush Administration. The hard-liners, led by VP Cheney and supported by those like former Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, supported the strike and argue that the evidence pointing to the reactor:

should lead the United States to reconsider delicate negotiations with North Korea over ending its nuclear program, as well as America’s diplomatic strategy toward Syria, which has been invited to join Middle East peace talks in Annapolis, Md., next month.

Mr. Cheney in particular, officials say, has also cited the indications that North Korea aided Syria to question the Bush administration’s agreement to supply the North with large amounts of fuel oil. During Mr. Bush’s first term, Mr. Cheney was among the advocates of a strategy to squeeze the North Korean government in hopes that it would collapse, and the administration cut off oil shipments set up under an agreement between North Korea and the Clinton administration, saying the North had cheated on that accord.

Meanwhile SecState Rice and SecDef Gates both opposed the strike, perhaps out of fear that it would cascade into a collapse of the agreement with North Korea.

It strikes me that both sides are wrong. Cheney and Bolton oppose the North Korea deal in and of itself and very well might like to use the strike as a pretense for scuttling the deal. So, Rice and Gates are right to worry about preserving the deal with North Korea: it's clearly the only option for dealing with North Korea's nuclear program at the moment. But ignoring the reactor entirely may have been even worse.

The balance of power in the Middle East is a precarious one. Israel has, by far, the dominant military power, and has a nuclear arsenal of its own. But Israel has also long adhered to a policy of strategic ambiguity by refusing to discuss or confirm its nuclear capability, largely so that its Arab neighbors would not feel compelled to proliferate themselves, an act that Egypt, Jordan, and until now, Syria, have demonstrated little interest in doing. But a Syrian nuclear program would pose a grave threat to regional stability. And even though the reactor may have been in the very early stages -- "it would have been years before the Syrians could have used the reactor to produce the spent nuclear fuel that could, through a series of additional steps, be reprocessed into bomb-grade plutonium" according to the Times -- allowing it to progress would have increased pressure on other Arab nations to proliferate, as well as undercut Israel's deterrent capability.

Perhaps the best gauge for the need for Israel's strike is the reaction from the other Middle East, Arab, and Islamic states. Or rather the lack of reaction. For there was none. The deafening silence that emanated from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and even Iran was extremely telling. Normally, an Israeli airstrike, and especially an unprovoked one, would be met by a chorus of condemnations and anti-Israel UN resolutions. But no one other than Syria and North Korea has said a word in protest of Israel's actions. No one wants to see a nuclear-armed Syria.

So, once again, Israel has performed a valuable role in ensuring non-proliferation in the Middle East. Now it's up to the diplomats to ensure that this doesn't undermine the progress in North Korea.