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May 28, 2013

A new Legal Framework Needed to Address Drones

May 11, 2013 by

A MQ-9 Reaper unmanned drone comes into land at Kandahar Airbase in Helmand, Afghanistan. Source: UK Ministry of Defence

To what extent should a country preserve the rights of its citizens abroad who plan attacks against it? This question led some to protest the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki in 2011, an American citizen and high-ranking al-Qaida member. Writing in the Daily News in 2011, Ron Paul, former Texas congressman and former presidential candidate, argued shortly after a drone strike killed the al-Qaeda leader, “Awlaki was a U.S. citizen. Under our Constitution, American citizens, even those living abroad, must be charged with a crime before being sentenced. As President, I would have arrested Awlaki, brought him to the U.S., tried him and pushed for the stiffest punishment allowed by law. Treason has historically been judged to be the worst of crimes, deserving of the harshest sentencing. But what I would not do as President is what Obama has done and continues to do in spectacular fashion: circumvent the rule of law.”

In dealing with terrorists linked to the September 11 attacks or involved in planning future attacks like al-Awlaki, the United States relies heavily on the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), a joint resolution passed by the U.S. Congress in 2001 following the September 11 attacks. Although the document addresses the country’s position regarding foreigners involved in terrorism, it lacks the procedure for dealing with Americans engaged in terrorism abroad. As a result, it is unclear whether the United States has an obligation to uphold certain guaranteed rights, specifically due process.

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The Pentagon’s Logistics Nightmare

May 9, 2013 by

The USS Gridley pulls alongside a sealift command dry cargo ship in the South China Sea

“The line between disorder and order lies in logistics.”

– Sun Tzu

Nearly two years ago on March 11th 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami off the east coast of Japan resulted in one of the worst nuclear disasters since Chernobyl, killing more than 18,000 and laying to waste tens of billions of dollars in damages. But one of the surprising ‘aftershocks’ of the March 11th quake was the catastrophic effect it inflicted on the global supply network.

Factories and key infrastructure were completely destroyed. Vehicles, iPad’s and pharmaceutical ingredients worth billions were held in limbo as Japan got back on its feet. As Industry Week noted, Toyota executives knew about their first tier suppliers, but did not know how the disaster affected 2nd, 3rd or 4th tier suppliers. It turns out that many of the ancillary contractors and sub-contractors were damaged. They had virtual monopolies on particular electronic components or on the manufacture of a specific piece of metal that ultimately halted more than 2 million vehicles in production. It became particularly clear when the disaster unfolded that the global economy had moved beyond localized supply chains into the realm of globalized supply networks.

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North Korean Provocations will not Lead to War

April 29, 2013 by

Military parade in Pyongyang, North Korea. Image via NOS Nieuws

The media has been reporting often (with speculation) about the latest string of threats emanating from North Korea, including possible nuclear attacks on Seoul, Tokyo and Guam, a United States territory in the Pacific Ocean. The speculation on what will happen in Northeast Asia implies that no one can be certain about the intentions of the reclusive yet bellicose Kim Jong-un. The general consensus worldwide is that the North Korean regime is neither rational nor trustworthy, and therefore the international community should take its threats very seriously.

However, this is not the first time that a Northeast Asian leader and his regime have been labelled as as irrational and unpredictable. In 1950, analysts in the United States made similar judgements of Mao Zedong as a volatile leader as well. Two major foreign policy decisions by Mao – to enter the Korean War against the US in 1950, within a year of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and to openly split with the Soviet Union in 1960 – were used as evidence of his “irrationality” by US analysts.

By drawing parallels between North Korea’s current sabre-rattling and Mao’s security posturing in the 1950s and 1960s, it is possible to introduce the perspective that Kim is acting according to an old script; his intention is to bolster sagging domestic support and strengthen North Korea’s international bargaining position. North Korea wants something, but it’s clearly not war.

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The White House’s Flawed North Korea Strategy

April 24, 2013 by

President Barack Obama meeting with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in the Oval Office. Pete Souza/White House

In the current crisis on the Korean Peninsula the Obama administration is virtually repeating the 2004 Bush playbook, one that derailed a successful diplomatic agreement forged by the Clinton administration to prevent North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons. While the acute tensions of the past month appear to be receding—all of the parties involved seem to be taking a step back— the problem is not going to disappear and, unless Washington and its allies re-examine their strategy, another crisis is certain to develop.

A little history.

In the spring of 1994, the Clinton administration came very close to a war with North Korea over Pyongyang’s threat to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, expel international inspectors, and extract plutonium from reactor fuel rods. Washington moved to beef up its military in South Korea, and, according to Fred Kaplan in the Washington Monthly, there were plans to bomb the Yongbyon reactor.  Kaplan is Slate Magazine’s War Stories columnist and author of “The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War.”

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25 Steps towards a Smarter U.S. Foreign Policy

April 21, 2013 by

Pictured: Chuck Hagel answers a question during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Armed Service Committee in Washington D.C.

Major events like September 11th, the US invasion of Iraq, and the global financial crisis disrupted the Western-driven globalization process and revitalized a state-centric political model of the world. Although the US chose an economic-centered globalization strategy and relied on international political institutions in the 1990s, national sovereignty became the new norm and the global system shifted from globalist rationale to geopolitical realism. Fear, war, the threat of war, provocation, territory, regional influence and military build-ups weakened international institutions as nation-states countered each other to reassume power.

There is now an unfettered international political instability crisis as a result of stalled engines of globalization all stemming from this neglect of the “political” dimension in the international system. The decline of liberal international foundations did not occur because people no longer desired them, but because of the lack of a strong ideological commitment from the world’s declining superpower and partners. The consequences of rising authoritarian states present crisis conditions for international liberalism and stability. They are also now in direct proportion to the decline of the Western political influence. Thus, as the West weakens, other challengers will present and push their perception of what they desire the global system to become.

Smaller states through international organizations are gaining influence in uniting the world against the economic and political models of Western liberalism. Russia, China, Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, and Pakistan are making increasingly threatening advances, from warning and rhetoric, to alliance building. These states claim Western “aggression” is pouring into their regional spheres of influence. Regional organizations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the G77, and the Union of South American Nations are moving past the resistance of collective movements toward promoting an alternative global system. Other states like China and Russia are strictly engaging in increased bilateral diplomacy with smaller states to increase their influence, and these countries’ propaganda and public diplomacy initiatives are far more advanced than the US’s ability to counter it.

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Syria’s Multi-Sided Chess Game

March 31, 2013 by

Free Syrian Army fighter Mohammad Jaffar patrols a street in Bustan Al Basha, one of Aleppo’s most volatile front lines, Oct. 22, 2012. Sebastiano Tomada/Sipa USA

In some ways the Syrian civil war resembles a proxy chess match between supporters of the Bashar al-Assad regime— Iran, Iraq, Russia and China—and its opponents— Turkey, the oil monarchies, the U.S., Britain and France. But the current conflict only resembles chess if the game is played with multiple sides, backstabbing allies, and conflicting agendas.  Take the past few weeks of rollercoaster politics.

The blockbuster was the U.S.-engineered rapprochement between Israel and Turkey, two Washington allies that have been at loggerheads since Israeli commandos attacked a humanitarian flotilla bound for Gaza and killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American. When Tel Aviv refused to apologize for the 2010 assault, or pay compensation to families of the slain, Ankara froze relations and blocked efforts at any NATO-Israeli cooperation.

Under the prodding of President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and buried the hatchet. The apology “was offered the way we wanted,” Erdogan said, and added “We are at the beginning of a process of elevating Turkey to a position so that it will again have a say, initiative and power, as it did in the past.”

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Petulant Child: North Korea and Chastisement

March 15, 2013 by

Kim Jong-Un arrives on Mu Islet, located in southwest North Korea on the border with South Korea. Korean Central News Agency (KCNA)

Kim Jong-Un arrives on Mu Islet, located in southwest North Korea on the border with South Korea. Image via Korean Central News Agency (KCNA)

It is treated as a petulant child, the infelicitous member of the world community, and devoid of fidelity. Fareed Zakaria in The Washington Post, struggling with his crystal ball gazing, tries to find the tempo the DPRK clicks to. He decides that Karl Marx’s remark about history repeating itself a second time as farce after tragedy requires a third phase: North Korea.

The assumptions, for there are only assumptions, are many. The decisions are not coming from the leader himself, the seemingly child-like steward Kim Jong-Un. No, that would be too much. As with previous ideologies of watching, be it with China, or with the Soviet Union, leaderships can be hostages to factions, to cliques, Mikado-like in their ceremonial impotence. The “experts” are, however, often the last to know.

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Hamid Karzai: Champion of Alienation

March 14, 2013 by

Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul

Although Afghan President Hamid Karzai would like the world to perceive him otherwise, Karzai finds himself in an untenable position. As the U.S. prepares to withdraw the majority of its remaining troops, the country’s security forces remain woefully unprepared to assume responsibility for the country’s security, corruption remains endemic, and many observers admit that Afghanistan is in reality little better off today than it was when Karzai assumed power in 2004. With his leadership slated to end next year, there is little reason to believe that his successor will do any better in meaningfully addressing Afghanistan’s plethora of problems.

Hamid Karzai has never hesitated to challenge the U.S. publically, whether for a domestic or international audience, but the pace at which he is forcefully challenging the U.S. now is unprecedented. Equating the U.S. with the Taliban as forces working to undermine the government really is over the top, particularly given the tremendous resources the U.S. has provided to Karzai’s government over the past decade – and that he owes his position, as well as any progress that has been made to date – to the U.S. It is a little late to be attempting to change his image as “America’s Man”. We find ourselves wondering why he would be trying to do so in the first place. His legacy is clear to all. No pandering to domestic political interests is going to change that.

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Consequences of Obama’s ‘Asia Pivot’

March 11, 2013 by

President Barack Obama at the White House

In the kaleidoscopic world of power politics in Asia, the United States’ pivot to that region may yield the unintentional consequences of fostering closer strategic ties between the two Asian giants - China and India – which could result in a strategic alliance ostensibly hostile to Western interests in the region.

Analysts will be quick to point out that the ‘all weather friendship’ between the two countries, has hit a natural ceiling due to the strategic competition between the (re)emerging powers. For example, China is deepening its ties with Pakistan militarily (both countries signed a military cooperation agreement in September 2012), provides nuclear support, and has finally taken over management of the port of Gwadar on Pakistan’s Makran coast. India on the other hand is trying to counter China’s influence in Asia by fostering closer ties with the countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), especially in the field of naval cooperation, which adversely affects China’s position in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Both countries’ increasing energy demands also put the two giants on a collision course.

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Assessing U.S. Foreign Policy in Mali

March 4, 2013 by

If Washington continues to avoid direct engagement in Mali there remains a possibility that Mali’s instability could spread throughout West Africa and to the greater region. There is some evidence of this in Nigeria with the growth of Boko Haram. Mali’s internal strife not only represents a threat to Mali and its neighbors but the fragile state of intra-African politics. The African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are engaged in Mali with ECOWAS dedicated to the restoration of democracy and the AU committed to preserving the territorial integrity of Mali.

So far the Obama administration has not made any official commitments regarding direct military relief in Mali aside from limited support in the form of ferrying supplies to the region. Adding further urgency, various insurgency groups and Islamists are joining forces in some instances. Organizations such as the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA), Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Polisario Front, Ansar Dine, and Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) represent a network of terrorist and separatist movements whose combined actions characterize a growing threat to the economic and political development of the region. There are links that bind these movements together like ideology, tribalism, ethnicity, politics, and religion. Mali’s fate is just another piece of the puzzle in resolving issues in West Africa but Washington refuses to address the dynamic relationship between these guerilla conflicts. Reaffirming Mali’s progress towards democracy is the first step that U.S. foreign policy needs to take to resolve Mali’s and the region’s chaos.

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U.S. and Africa

March 2, 2013 by

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Tardio briefs his squad on tactical movements while deployed at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti

Writing in the Huffington Post on 28 February 2013, Robert Nolan, editor at the Foreign Policy Association, discusses US policy in Africa in a commentary titled “Hotspot or Hotbed? A Tale of Two Africas.”  He argues there are two competing narratives in American media and policy circles. The first is Africa as a safe haven for displaced jihadist terrorists bent on harming Western countries like the US. The second is the economic rise of Africa.

He concludes that by not addressing the realities of the new Africa and its growing importance to the global economy, the US risks alienating a whole generation of Africans who have long held the US in high regard, not to mention missing out on the fruits of a mutually beneficial relationship based on storng economic and security partnerships.

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Peace in the Sudans: The U.S. Needs it as Much as the Sudanese

February 25, 2013 by

Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers in South Sudan. Hannah McNeish/IRIN

In Sudan, President Omar al-Bashir has ruled for 24 years with an oppressive fist. He has acted on and furthered serious religious, ethnic, and racial tension by attempting to clear out the regions of South Sudan and Darfur. Although he has been indicted by the International Criminals Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes, he continues to rule by killing, starving, and ethnically cleansing people that he does not see as his equals. There are stories of people who hide in the mountainous border regions of Sudan and South Sudan as drones fly above, starving and living in constant fear of President al-Bashir’s government.

Their fate is tied to the decisions of the Sudanese government, and unexpectedly this has a direct impact on the everyday lives of Americans. Even if Americans don’t constantly live in fear of their government, or even need to take the time to consider the benefits of lasting peace between the Sudans, they must consider a change in U.S. policy for the region in terms of their own benefit.

The connection of the lives of the destitute Sudanese to that of the average American is one indispensible natural resource: oil. With the recent secession of South Sudan, the region’s supply of oil is in the south, while the infrastructure necessary to export the oil is in the north. There is also continued conflict over contested regions near the borders, particularly in the Nuba Mountains, which are said to be rich with oil deposits. Omar al-Bashir continues to justify racial hatred by terrorizing the people of the Nuba Mountains with air strikes, bombs, and other attacks. These actions only further complicate and volatilize an already unstable situation, worsening conditions for citizens by misallocating precious resources.

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Examining Israel’s Syria Bombing

February 18, 2013 by

An Israeli military jeep near the Israel-Lebanon border. Israeli forces attacked a convoy in Syria on January 29th heightening tensions in the region. Baz Ratner/Reuters via The Boston Globe

Now that the dust has settled—literally and figuratively—from Israel’s Jan. 29 air attack on Syria, the question is, why? According to Tel Aviv, the bombing was aimed at preventing the transfer of sophisticated Russian SA-17 anti-craft missiles to Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon, which one former Israeli military intelligence officer said would be “a game-changer.” But there are major problems with that story.

First, it is highly unlikely that Damascus would turn such a system over to Hezbollah, in part because the Russians would almost certainly not have allowed it, and, secondly, because the SA-17 would not be terribly useful to the Lebanese Shiite organization. In fact, we don’t even know if an SA-17 was the target. The Syrians deny it, claiming it was a military research center 15 miles northwest of Damascus that was bombed, killing two and wounding five. The Israelis are refusing to say anything. The story that the anti-aircraft system was the objective comes mainly from unnamed “western officials.”

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John Brennan and the New Americanism

February 10, 2013 by

We should regain for ourselves the faith of our founding fathers in the dignity of man and bend every effort to see that the rights which they cherished are denied to none in our time.

– Willard B. Spalding, “Americanism”, The Phi Delta Kappan, Apr. 1946

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), in questioning John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s nomination for the role of CIA director, showed the delicate foot tapping currently taking place in the Senate. The issue was, as ever, the program that is emblazoned on John Brennan like a conspicuous coat of arms. Yes, we are having a nice chat about drones and the handiwork of their operators, which we should expect if the questioner is the chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “One of the problems is, once the drone program is so public, and one American is caught up, people don’t know much about this one ‘American citizen’ – so called.”

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Chuck Hagel’s Confirmation Hearing: Neocons Search for Relevance

February 5, 2013 by

President Barack Obama and former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009. Image via WBUR

Chuck Hagel’s going over at the hands of Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee was more than an argument over political and policy differences; it was another spasm in the efforts of neoconservatives to define U.S. security policy in their own image.

Chuck Hagel, a Republican former two-term senator from Nebraska, had once been considered one of the neoconservatives’ own, at least for a while. After joining the Senate in 1997, he quickly became one of Republican Sen. John McCain’s more avid wingmen. He helped run the Arizonan’s 2000 campaign for the party’s presidential nomination. Hagel also voted for the 2002 resolution to authorize U.S. action against Iraq, the precursor to the March 2003 invasion.

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