BLOGGING FOREIGN POLICY
In the 21st century, western intervention in the Mideast has revealed this region to be the Land of Lousy Alternatives.™ While there are many grounds on which to criticize the Bush Administration’s Mideast policy, it is fair to say that the choices they faced in Iraq in 2003 were all lousy ones. Of course, they picked the worst option and then executed it badly. But it was not the first nor will it be the last time a country faces two or more bad policy choices and is forced to pick among them. In the past week, the U.S. has grappled with a challenge that faced intervening countries in Afghanistan – what to do with prisoners? More …
The American decision to leave Afghanistan in 2014 has resulted in more and more responsibility being transferred to the Afghans, and more attention being paid to the issue of what will happen to the remaining prisoners of American forces. Now that Bagram Prison has been turned over to President Karzai and his government, this issue has been taken care of, right? Woo hoo!? Hardly. The two most obvious risks here are that the Afghan government will release “high-value” prisoners or its agents might abuse the prisoners.
As Canadians understand only too well, this is not a new challenge. All NATO members operating in Afghanistan faced the question of how to handle detainees. The traditional solution for NATO missions, such as in Kosovo, was to turn over detained suspects to the Americans who tended to build large prison facilities. Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib changed that. Moreover, the key goal of the interveners was to support the development of a self-sustaining Afghan government. This meant some kind of respect for Afghanistan’s sovereignty.
Canada, like Australia, the Dutch, and the others, faced several lousy alternatives: don’t capture anybody (impossible if one really wants to do counter-insurgency); turn the detainees over to the Americans (politically impossible after 2004 or so); turn them over to a potentially abusive and certainly limited Afghanistan government; or build one’s own detainment facility. The policy ended up being a mix of many of these options.
Canadian military police informed my group of touring academics in Kandahar in 2007 that the basic rule was: whoever touched the suspect would be responsible for them. So, we joked about the possibility of a Canadian soldier “accidentally” bumping an Afghan army officer into the detainee so that the person would never have to be detained by Canada. This is an exaggeration, perhaps, but there was definitely a desire to avoid the problem. When Canadian troops picked up suspects, they were delivered to the temporary detainee facility. The rules were that the Canadians were obligated to turn these detainees over to Afghan authorities within 96 hours. However, we were told at the time that this transfer process was being held up because of concerns about Afghans abusing their prisoners.
To be clear, these are my impressions from a trip five plus years ago, and there is much litigation going about this. It seemed obvious to all at the time that Afghanistan was a country that had different (and Canadians would consider them inferior) norms for handling prisoners. So, there were always concerns about what might happen to the prisoners. But also, to be clear, this was not American-style rendition – the Canadians were not expecting the prisoners to be tortured so that they could use the information.
There has been much controversy in Canada about the treatment of these prisoners that flowed through Canadian hands and into Afghan custody. Indeed, one could argue (and indeed I do) that Canadian politicians and media spent far more time on this issue than more fundamental concerns about the mission: was there intelligence failure in 2006? What did Operation Medusa accomplish? Were the Canadians properly equipped when sent into Kandahar (no helicopters!)? How did NATO’s growing effort to coordinate the effort conflict with Canada’s plans for Kandahar? Was the idea of big signature projects counter-productive? Indeed, there were (and continue to be) many questions, but the central one in front of the Canadian public was the detainee issue. This contrasts sharply with the Americans, as Abu Ghraib was just a bit more than a blip on the screen.
The irony is that the Americans should have reacted to Gitmo and Abu Ghraib like the Canadians reacted to the detainee issue in Afghanistan, and the Canadians should have reacted as the Americans did. In the aftermath of Somalia, it is obviously important to take the treatment of detainees seriously. From my interviews with General Rick Hillier and other officers, and from my brief interactions with the personnel at Canada’s detainment facility in Kandahar in 2007 (the height of the controversy), it is clear that the issue was taken quite seriously despite the deceptive denials that there was no problem.
A key distinction between the Americans and Canadians on this issue has been the level of concern with actually keeping prisoners in prison. The U.S. was reluctant to turn over Bagram to the Afghans since President Karzai has allowed several notable “bad guys” to be released, including the person who tried to kill the head of the Afghan intelligence agency. The Canadians, on the other hand, were in Kandahar during two massive prison breaks. There has been, as far as I can tell, no fallout in Canada for these two large-scale failures. Yes, the prisons were run by Afghans, and the Canadian mentors focused on teaching the wardens to not abuse the prisoners. But each prison break was a serious blow to Canadian and NATO efforts to demonstrate the competency of the Afghan government. The prison breaks were also victories for the Taliban, illustrating that they were far more competent than a handful of dead-enders. Yet the extent to which these two disasters undermined Canada and NATO’s agenda did not resonate at all back in Ottawa, at least not in public.
I am not saying that we should ignore how prisoners are treated after they leave Canadian hands, but that we might have paid a bit more attention to whether the detainees were held or released. Operating in Afghanistan meant facing lousy alternatives, and perhaps it was the case that the Corrections people had to focus on treatment and not so much on detecting tunneling.
Limited resources, limited personnel, and limited time meant that there were few good choices to be had – not just by Canada, but by all the rest of the countries that operated in Afghanistan. This is certainly the case now for the U.S. as it tries to extract itself from Afghanistan. The big lesson to learn, and one that seems to have been learned as demonstrated by the reluctance to intervene in Syria, is that once you put boots on the ground in the Mideast, you are walking in the Land of Lousy Alternatives.
What’s in a name? A great deal, it seems, if you happen to be the BRICS. Until Goldman Sachs coined the acronym back in 2001 to describe emerging Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, these countries had little in common – let alone a common destiny. But they liked the name – and the global attention – so much that it stuck. Now the BRICS leaders are wrapping up their fifth annual summit in Durban, South Africa with the modest goal, according to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, of world leadership. More …
The world should not hold its breath. Although their ambitions are clear, the way forward is sketchier. The promised deliverable from Durban is a new BRICS Development Bank, aimed more at rivalling the western-dominated IMF and World Bank than “transforming the international architecture”, its stated purpose. How a new bank will achieve either goal is unclear in a world already awash in dozens of development banks. Remember the Bank of the South, brainchild of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, designed to wrest global financial power away from Washington? Nor does anyone else.
Even fuzzier are plans for increasing intra-BRIC trade, investment, technology sharing, and other good things that have been pledged at every summit since 2009. The Durban communiqué promises yet again to strengthen trade links among the five, but trade friction between China and India is growing, Brazil has just launched a WTO case against South Africa for its protectionist farming, and Russia and China are still wrangling over pipelines, oil prices, and energy development in Siberia.
The problem is that the BRICS – despite the catchy name – are a club of rivals more than partners. They pretend to be economic equals, but China towers over the rest – its GDP is a quarter larger than the four other’s combined and 22 times larger than South Africa’s. India, envious of its rival’s economic success, is struggling to keep pace. Brazil’s growth has slowed dramatically, to less than 1 per cent this year. South Africa’s world trade ranking has plummeted from 16th place in 1980 to 41st today. And despite delusions of grandeur, Russia is a declining, not a rising, power, propped up by a temporary – and finite – energy boom. At the height of the Soviet empire, Moscow ruled 298 million subjects. Today the number is less than half, and is projected to shrink to a third by 2050.
No doubt the BRICS’s economies will continue growing, if at an uneven pace. They already account for 43 per cent of the world’s population and 21 per cent of its GDP. By 2020, the UN’s Development Programme breathlessly predicts, the combined economic output of Brazil, China, and India alone could “surpass the aggregate production of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the U.K., and the United States”. Sheer numbers dictate that these countries will exercise more and more influence on the world stage.
But ironically, as the BRICS grow more powerful, they also grow more fractious. Brazil is opposed to China’s currency manipulation; China is opposed to Brazil’s industrial protectionism; India is opposed to China’s widening surpluses; Russia and China are opposed to the other BRICS’s dreams of permanent Security Council seats. The biggest flash points are geopolitical. Russia, China, and India are playing a dangerous new ‘Great Game’ in central Asia for supremacy, while China and India find themselves in an escalating arms race in the South China Sea and along their 4,500 km border.
In fairness, this lack of cohesion is not unique to the BRICS; the G-8, the G-20, you name it, are all struggling to find common ground. This brave new multi-polar world may be more democratic than the old superpower one, but it’s also messier. Meanwhile, globalization is erasing the neat lines that once divided the first, second, and third worlds. Now the third world resides in the first – Detroit’s slums, for example – and the first world resides in the third – Shanghai’s glittering skyline, for instance. Power is both more diffused and more confused, leavening no ‘club’ in charge. Ian Bremmer calls it a “G-Zero” world.
The one thing the BRICS clearly share is a smouldering resentment of Western dominance, and a palpable desire for their own place in the sun. Russia is still smarting from its loss of superpower status. China has not forgotten the humiliations of the 19th and early 20th centuries. India still carries heavy colonial baggage, and South Africa carries even heavier baggage from its grim apartheid past. If your enemy’s enemy is your friend, then the BRICS at least have that in common.
But shared covetousness does not a common agenda make. As long as the world pays attention to BRICS Summits, we can expect more in the future. Just don’t expect too much beyond photo-ops as a result.
Thursday’s announcement that the Canadian International Development Agency will be folded into the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade leaves critical questions about Canada’s aid policy unanswered.
First, regardless of whether aid policy is run from CIDA or a new mega-ministry, will our development spending prioritize the reduction of poverty or the promotion of Canadian commercial interests? Ottawa has recently pushed for the latter. In November, International Development Minister Julian Fantino signalled that Canadian aid policy would place greater emphasis on partnerships with the private sector and working to promote Canadian interests abroad. More …
There is nothing wrong with public-private partnerships in development. On the contrary, creating conditions for sustainable, market-driven growth in developing societies seems to be the single best remedy for poverty. Whether such partnerships should be geared towards advancing Canadian commercial interests, however, is a different question. Canada already has an export development agency and a trade commissioner service. Our international trade minister has been working energetically to open new markets for our firms and investors. Canada’s engagement in Africa, for instance, including recent trips by both the trade minister and the Prime Minister, has increasingly focused on creating opportunities for Canadian extractive industries. Given all of these efforts to promote Canadian economic interests abroad, would it not make sense to dedicate our aid spending to projects that have the greatest chance of sustainably reducing poverty, even if they do not benefit Canadian companies?
Second, will there be greater stability or consistency in our aid policy under the new arrangements? Development assistance requires long-term commitments to projects and countries. Yet, Canadian governments of all political stripes have reinvented our “long term” aid priorities every few years. Most recently, the Conservatives announced in 2009 that, in the interests of maximizing the effectiveness of Canadian development assistance, spending would concentrate on 20 “countries of focus.” Now, however, the concept of focus countries may be falling out of favour . The most consistent feature of Canadian aid policy has been its inconsistency. Will folding CIDA into DFAIT do anything to remedy this problem?
Third, will the process of integrating the two departments divert them from their primary work? Last decade’s separation and subsequent reunification of the foreign affairs and international trade halves of DFAIT were demoralizing distractions. Integrating CIDA and DFAIT will involve more than just relocating personnel. Potentially divisive issues will need to be resolved: How will the new mega-department recognize and preserve the expertise in development? Although governments have the undisputed right to set their own policy priorities, how will individual decisions on aid spending be protected from excessive politicization? How will the three ministers work together? And how will these new arrangements remedy, rather than worsen, the already-acute delays in decision-making in the offices of both the foreign minister and the international development minister?
Merging CIDA and DFAIT is not a bad idea in itself, nor is it novel: CIDA started its life as a part of DFAIT and several other countries have integrated their foreign affairs and international development ministries. As we have learned many times, however, the process of bureaucratic reorganization can solve some problems but create new ones – particularly when fundamental questions of policy remain unresolved.
This comment was previously published in the Globe and Mail.
Yesterday’s federal budget produced a major surprise when the government revealed that Canada’s foreign aid agency would be cut and merged with the foreign affairs and trade department. This reorganization – although unexpected – is entirely in line with the Harper government’s new emphasis on trade being part of this country’s development agenda.
Critics of the government’s international aid approach are concerned that this change will de-emphasize Canadian policies to reduce poverty in the developing world. But bringing together trade, aid, and foreign affairs need not be at odds with a poverty reduction agenda. More …
Foreign aid is perceived as the main way for rich countries such as Canada to help poor ones. Aid can reduce poverty (see Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee’s book Poor Economics for some modest examples), but its record over more than half a century has been mixed. Aid will and should continue to play a key role in Canada’s development policy, and we should make it as effective as possible. However, even if Canada’s aid funding increased by a significant percentage, it would continue to be a relatively small donor by international standards.
In reality, private funds flowing from rich to poor countries dwarf official development aid in value, as I’ve written about in Effective Aid and Beyond. Private funds include trade, remittances, investment, and those from private foundations, and while imperfect, can be effective in reducing poverty.
For example, buying goods made in developing countries raises poor country incomes, and helps provide better-paying jobs, particularly for women. Last week’s UNDP Human Development Report attributed the lifting of hundreds of millions of people from poverty at least in part to openness to trade. The UNDP report notes that developing countries nearly doubled their share of world merchandise trade from one quarter to almost half between 1980 and 2010.
Similarly, investment in the developing world – while it can have downsides – has raised government revenues, employment, productivity, and, in turn, living standards in developing countries.
Canada’s policies related to poverty reduction will now presumably be filtered through a foreign affairs and trade lens. At the same time, efforts to boost trade – even if they just focus on how Canadians will benefit from lower prices – benefit poor countries. For example, a 2004 study by William Cline for the Institute for International Economics found that eliminating all rich country trade barriers would result in income gains to developing countries double that of global foreign aid.
The concept and practice of official development aid emerged more than half a century ago. In that time, the global economy has changed dramatically. Canada’s leaders need to align their policies on foreign affairs, trade, and poverty reduction with these new realities. And broadening our development policies beyond aid gives Canada more ways to benefit the poor in the developing world.
As a NATO critic, I find it strange to keep writing posts arguing that NATO is not going away and that we don’t want it to disappear. But people keep predicting the alliance’s demise. Now, we have one of the biggest fans of the Canadian military, Jack Granatstein, arguing that perhaps Canada no longer needs NATO. So, instead of focusing on why NATO is going to survive, I consider here what Canada gets out of NATO. While the Soviet Union is no longer an issue, the standard reasons for joining an alliance remain relevant today: security, capability, interests, influence, and values. More …
Sure, Canada’s security almost entirely hinges on the efforts of only one NATO member – the United States, of course. But if Canada is concerned about the Arctic, then other players such as Denmark (via Greenland) and Norway matter as well. To deal with various security challenges in the Far North, these countries would need more than occasional consultation – they would need coordination, exercises, and planning. NATO already does that. Indeed, the cooperation over the skies of Libya was impressive even if the participation rate was suboptimal. How many planes crashed during mid-air refueling? None. That non-accident is not an accident.
Canada lacks the capacity to operate militarily on its own in the world. Its military has also found operating with and under the United Nations to be extraordinarily frustrating. If Canada is going to operate at all in the world, it will need to do so with partners. While the burden-sharing in Afghanistan has been less than optimal, Canada depended greatly upon its partners and vice versa. It may not have been pretty, and it may not been as effective as we would have liked, but there is much value-added to NATO if Canada wants to be involved in the world beyond North America.
Granatstein also ignores a crucial dynamic: the U.S. (and Canada) can pivot to the east because NATO secures its European flank. Canada has been drawn into Europe’s wars in the past. The fact that Europe is free and secure has more to do with NATO than the European Union. As long as the alliance exists, Canada does not have to worry about instability leading many of its most significant and reliable trading partners into conflict with one another. One can gamble more on relations with China when the other side of the world is largely an afterthought. But that afterthought is a product of NATO and its efforts over the years. While Granatstein criticizes NATO’s efforts in the Balkans, it was NATO, not the UN that ended the Bosnian War and contained Milosevic’s dysfunctions. That the wars did not spread is in part due to NATO’s efforts to keep Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, and Turkey apart.
Given Canada’s finite power, how can it influence events in the world? By itself, this is quite difficult. As an influential member of the world’s only functional and enduring alliance, Canada can have an impact. If Canadians want to make a difference in the world, NATO is the best mechanism to amplify Canadian influence. Indeed, you get what you give. When Canada under-performs, it has little influence. The upside of the current burden-sharing problem is that those countries that contribute more and risk more have corresponding influence over how the alliance operates. It is no exaggeration to say that Canada had more influence in Afghanistan than Germany. How likely is it that Canada can have as much or more influence in the world than Germany if not for NATO?
Finally, one joins an alliance to work with like-minded countries to promote one’s values. What is a key Canadian value? Multilateralism. Canadians support joint efforts at international problems. This is not just because Canada cannot operate alone – Canadians prefer to cooperate to solve problems. Cooperation is not just a means for Canada but an end in itself.
So, the real question is not unilateralism or not, but NATO versus some other alliance or international organization. I think Granatstein would find the UN to be a poor substitute, given how badly the UN operated in the Balkans. What does that leave? Well, NORAD is good for coordinating with the U.S., but it is not really expandable to include anyone else. The Arctic Council. Nope, it has no real military heft, and any organization that includes the U.S. and Russia is not an alliance but paralysis waiting to happen. Sure, protecting the Baltics from Russia is not that much in Canadian interests, but defending the Arctic is not that much in Poland’s or Bulgaria’s or France’s. There are aspects of NATO-provided security that one does not want and does not need (Balkans for Canada), but other aspects that Canada does want and need (Atlantic/Arctic cooperation). Just as one’s taxes pay for government programs one likes but others one does not, one contributes to NATO for the security one wants and also for some security one does not need.
Building a new alliance would be hard and the end result would likely have many of the same problems, since the membership would be similar and would face similar political constraints. What Churchill said about democracy is probably true for the democratic alliance that is NATO: it is the worst except for all the others.
Imagine that you are living somewhere in Pakistan, Yemen, or Gaza where the U.S. suspects a terrorist presence. Day and night, you hear a constant buzzing in the sky. Like a lawnmower. You know that this flying robot is watching everything you do. You can always hear it. Sometimes, it fires missiles into your village. You are told the robot is targeting extremists, but its missiles have killed family, friends, and neighbors. So, your behavior changes: you stop going out, you stop congregating in public, and you likely start hating the country that controls the flying robot. And you probably start to sympathize a bit more with the people these robots, called drones, are monitoring. More …
As reports of the Obama administration’s policy on the use of drones to target American citizens trickle out, infuriating libertarians and flummoxing liberals, their global use continues unabated.
The drone program is now one of the signature foreign policy initiatives of the Obama Administration, and its scale is significant: since 9/11, over 4,000 drones have been employed in surveillance, reconnaissance, and lethal attacks in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan alone. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the Defense Department will spend about $36.9 billion across its different branches on 730 new medium-sized and large drones through 2020. This does not include the wide range of experimental research into such technologies as swarm drones, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). These small bird or insect sized drones, capable of flying in coordinated masses, will challenge current conceptions of weaponry, and push the bounds of ubiquity in modern warfare.
The reports of the numbers of people killed by American drones vary. Senator Lindsey Graham recently remarked, “We’ve killed 4,700 … Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we’re at war, and we’ve taken out some very senior members of Al-Qaeda.” Much of the conversation about the impact of these strikes has rightly focused on the moral and legal costs of these civilian casualties, but it is a mistake to judge the impact of the U.S. drone program only by the number of sorties or kills. When this is the sole basis for evaluation, it is easy to argue that there is nothing particularly unique about this form of warfare – that these people would have been targeted and killed by U.S. Special Forces or manned aircrafts had the drone program not been in place. But this type of analysis misses a defining characteristic of the drone program that makes it qualitatively different from the less sophisticated weaponry that it is replacing: ubiquitous drone use blurs the line between citizen and militants.
The psychological impact of drone surveillance, when combined with the civilian casualties we already know occur during strikes, leads to significant negative strategic costs that need to be incorporated into our assessment of the drone program.
Drones don’t enter into a battlefield like a strike fighter or Special Forces team, quickly taking out the target, and then leaving. Drones are omnipresent. They hover over villages and cities, watching, then killing, then watching again. Like Big Brother. What are the human and strategic costs of this uninterrupted drone presence?
This infringement of basic privacy, combined with potential lethality, has a profound psychological effect on those living with drones overhead. There have been a wide range of studies investigating this phenomenon (see list at bottom of the post); Living Under Drones, a study conducted in the northern tribal region of Waziristan, is by far one of the most comprehensive ones. Taken up at the request of the U.K.-based non-profit Reprieve, this study was conducted by lawyers and researchers at Stanford University (International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic, IHRCRC) and New York University (Global Justice Clinic), with help from a local Pakistani non-profit, Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR).
The findings of this study are striking and, more importantly, truly disturbing. For instance, a vast majority of people reported being perpetually scared of drone strikes, day and night. Just the constant noise above makes people experience bouts of emotional trauma and symptoms of anxiety. And these symptoms are more widespread than previously thought – there are reports of men, women, and children too terrified to sleep at night. Medical practitioners have asserted that these anxiety-related disorders amongst the people of Waziristan often manifest themselves in the form of physical illness, ranging from headaches to heart attacks, even suicides.
Drone-induced anxieties are profoundly impacting the way these people live their lives. For example, most kids in Waziristan no longer attend school. People avoid daily activities such as grocery shopping, farming, and driving for fear of drone strikes. One psychiatrist argues that this behaviour is symptomatic of “anticipatory anxiety” – a psychological phenomenon that causes people to constantly worry about their immediate future (this is very common in conflict zones). People experiencing anticipatory anxiety report having emotional breakdowns, running indoors for safety, hiding during the day, having nightmares, and other anxiety-related problems which dramatically affect their ability to live their lives.
In his account, David Rohde described both the fear the drones inspired among his captors, as well as among ordinary civilians: “The drones were terrifying. From the ground, it is impossible to determine who or what they are tracking as they circle overhead. The buzz of a distant propeller is a constant reminder of imminent death.
Similar examples of psychological trauma exist in Gaza, where people report that drones disrupt their daily activities, making them feel powerless and unsafe. The emotional trigger/stressor identified by most Palestinians is the buzzing sound of the drones. Again, they report avoidance of social activities and tribal rituals, including weddings, funerals, and burial processes, and consequent disengagement from their communities.
Scientifically and medically speaking, this phenomenon can be explained as an outcome of unpredictability and uncontrollability. It is very akin to reactions to torture. In particular, some have argued that living under drones leads to psychological trauma based on the learning theory formulation of torture, which states that exposure to inescapable and uncontrollable stressor events “that threaten physical and/or psychological well-being” lead to “a state of total helplessness.”
The broader impacts of drone use are revealing. They expose the false dichotomy between civilians and militants that underlies both the tactical decision-making process and much of the public debate about that process. Drones do not only affect their intended “kills” – they affect the civilians literally caught in their kill zones, and those living under them in fear day and night.
There is a clear and undeniable moral dimension of this form of warfare. But there are also real strategic costs. What do the people living under drones, let alone those who have had family and friends killed, think about the countries operating them? As one mental health professional remarked to a Living Under Drones researcher, “People who have experienced such things, they don’t trust people; they have anger, a desire for revenge … So when you have these young boys and girls growing up with these impressions, it causes permanent scarring and damage.”
As Ben Kiernan and I noted in an article that draws parallels between the use of airpower in Afghanistan to the U.S. bombing of Cambodia, when U.S. bombs hit a civilian warehouse in Afghanistan in late 2001, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld responded: “We’re not running out of targets, Afghanistan is.” There was laughter in the press gallery.
The January 13, 2006 aerial strike by a U.S. predator drone on a village in Pakistan that killed women and children and inflamed local anti-U.S. political passions is a pertinent example of what continues to occur in Afghanistan and Iraq. The “collateral damage” that occurred in this case even undermined the positive sentiments previously created by billions of dollars of U.S. post-earthquake aid to that part of Pakistan. Aside from the killing of innocent civilians, how many new enemies does U.S. bombing create?
Drones may ultimately prove strategically beneficial. They may even prove more palatable, in a human rights sense, than the alternatives. But when we calculate their utility in war, we need to include a full accounting of the strategic costs, including the long-term implications of widespread psychological warfare.
Some important studies/sources and their findings/arguments:
- Living Under the Drones (Stanford Law and NYU Law)
- The Civilian Impact of Drones (Columbia Law School)
- Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2013 (Long War Journal)
- Drones and Physical and Psychological Implications of Global Theatre of War (Medact)
- Year of the Drones (New America Foundation)
- Predator Drones, Empathy, and the President (Psychology Today)
- Drone Strikes or Mass Torture – A Learning Theory Analysis (Metin Basoglu)
- The Drone Wars: 9/11-Inspired Combat Leans Heavily on Robot Aircraft (Scientific American)
- Obama terror drones: CIA tactics in Pakistan include targeting rescuers and funerals (Bureau of Investigative Journalism)
Six years ago, things looked different.
In December 2007, disputed election results triggered what was arguably the worst crisis Kenya has experienced since achieving independence from colonial rule. The weeks of violence claimed more than 1,000 lives and forced an estimated 600,000 people to flee their homes and villages. It also resulted in significant economic repercussions for the broader east African ‘neighbourhood’. Kenya has long been seen as a bright light in an otherwise troubled continent, and is considered a key Western ally in the ‘war’ on both terrorism and piracy. The country’s reputation for stability made the events of that winter even more unsettling. As a result (and unlike the genocide in Rwanda almost two decades previously), the international community’s response to the events in Kenya was unusually robust, and involved, among other things, a high-profile mediation effort, led by former United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan. (Indeed, the international reaction to the 2007-8 post-election clashes in Kenya is often held up as a successful application of the principle of the ‘responsibility to protect’.) Annan’s intervention resulted in a power-sharing agreement between the two main rivals in the election, former President Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, which led to the adoption of the 2008 National Accord and Reconciliation Act, designed to prevent future crises by addressing deeper causes of the violence. More …
Fast forward to the 2013 elections. This time, it was all meant to unfold very differently. And in many ways it has. Voting in Kenya has been largely peaceful – no doubt helped by the fact that Kenya’s police inspector banned all demonstrations. However, despite concerted efforts to try to persuade Kenyans to eschew voting along ethnic lines (as they did in 2007), they have continued to view elections through a “security lens” – which demands siding with ‘one’s own people’.
More troubling, the two candidates this time around, Uhuru Kenyatta (heir to a political dynasty in Kenya) and Raila Odinga (who has been acting as Prime Minister), are still waiting for the results of the elections. The Independent Electoral Boundary Commission had promised to announce preliminary results within 48 hours of the voting on March 4th, aided by a spanking new electronic tallying and transmission system. But as of mid morning on March 8th (the time of writing), there is still no clear winner. All signs seem to point to a Kenyatta victory: 75 per cent of the constituencies have been declared and he has close to the 50 per cent of votes needed, compared with Odinga’s 44 per cent (both men have passed the second condition for victory – 25 per cent of the votes in more than 47 counties). A run-off will be held in April if neither side secures the required majority.
The events of the past week have put nerves on edge, starting with the colossal failure of the new system. Votes were meant to have been transmitted directly from the tallying centres to election headquarters via encrypted data messages. However, computer servers at headquarters crashed on Tuesday, requiring manual tallying. Even more troubling, a programming error led to the number of rejected votes being multiplied by a factor of 8, resulting in a whopping 330,000 rejected ballots (roughly 6 per cent of the total). After some prevarication, it was decided late in the evening on March 5th that such ballots should be put back into the total – leading Kenyatta supporters to claim that their candidate (who was in the lead) was being unfairly treated. Thankfully, after the move to manual counting, the number of rejected ballots has now been reduced to 1 per cent.
The delay is unsettling for the two candidates and an embarrassing spectacle for the government. The new high-tech voting system was designed to eliminate the possibility of vote-rigging (thereby giving Kenyans stronger faith in their electoral system) and to assert Kenya as an African high-tech ‘hub’. Both of these aspirations have been seriously dented by the reversion to manual counting.
The Kenyan Constitution mandates that the final election results be announced within seven days of the election. Assuming this deadline can still be met, the questions are threefold.
First, can the run-off in April (if required) avoid the glitches that have plagued voting this week? There will no doubt be intense national and international efforts to ensure a cleaner process, given the potential for unrest.
Second, if there is a clear winner, will the losing party contest the result in court? Many analysts are predicted this outcome, given the hiccoughs of the past week, and Odinga’s side has already made noises that it would mount a challenge if it were to lose. What is less certain is whether violence will accompany that challenge, as it did the last time. That prospect seems more remote in 2013, given the desire to avoid a repeat crisis, and the reality of International Criminal Court indictments of high-profile Kenyan officials (including Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto) for their alleged involvement in stoking the 2007 violence.
A third, related question is how western countries will react, given those indictments, to a Kenyatta victory. The top African official in the Obama Administration, Johnnie Carson, claimed recently that while Kenyans have the right to choose their own leaders, “choices have consequences”. Presumably this is meant to suggest that the U.S. commitment to justice and ending impunity would mean a clear effort by Washington to distance itself from a Kenyatta government. But this too seems remote, given how much the United States continues to need Kenya – arguably even more than Kenya needs the United States.
Faced with numerous financial and fiscal crises among its membership, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is pushing “Smart Defence.” Smart Defence is just the new name for a not so new effort – to get NATO members to better coordinate their defence procurement and planning so as to reduce redundancies. The basic idea is that each member will specialize in a given military capability. Indeed, the NATO folks recognize that austerity will likely mean specialization, whether it is coordinated or not, as defence budgets shrink. More …
So, the push is to have planned specialization where there is “strategic sharing by those who are close in terms of geography, culture, or common equipment.” Given what I have learned in the course of co-authoring a book on NATO and Afghanistan (with a chapter on Libya), I am rather skeptical about this entire enterprise unless we redefine what we mean by “close.” In both Afghanistan and Libya, what different NATO members brought to the battle varied significantly, including whether they showed up at all. Only once we figure out the sources of such variation, can we figure out which countries are suitable partners in planning a coordinated “smart defence” specialization strategy.
In Afghanistan, each democracy participating in NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (and even those that were part of the ad hoc U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom) maintained control over the forces they sent. Different countries imposed different restrictions on what the contingents could do. There were caveats on where their soldiers could serve – more than a few countries refused to send their troops to the more violent areas in southern and eastern Afghanistan. Some prevented their troops from engaging in any offensive operations at all.
There were a number of other ways countries influenced how their forces acted on the ground. Some countries sent limited capabilities. The Germans had only six helicopters to provide transport for all of Regional Command North. Other countries required their soldiers to call home before any operation could commence. The Dutch were notorious for this, but Canadians forget that their troops faced a similar requirement in 2002. Some countries told their commanders that if they suffered casualties, they should not expect to be promoted, leading to very risk-averse behaviour on the ground.
The point is that when the soldiers of one country went into battle, they couldn’t count on their allies to show up and be helpful. This uncertainty bedeviled operations, and created political problems where the burden-sharing, especially in terms of the casualties borne by each country, was most uneven.
NATO faced the same challenges during the Libyan effort. Only half of the alliance participated at all. Of those, some opted to only take part in the naval embargo, which was the least risky operation. Indeed, given on-going NATO naval cooperation in the Mediterranean and counter-terrorism and counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia, opting out of the embargo required more work than opting in, in terms of changing policies. Some countries were willing to participate in the No Fly Zone, which was largely rendered risk-free by U.S., British, and French air strikes in the opening days of the campaign. Only eight NATO members were willing to drop bombs on Libya, and only some of those allowed for enough flexibility to go after moving targets or targets of opportunity (dynamic targeting as opposed to pre-planned missions). To put it most simply, NATO’s attendance record in the skies over Libya was spotty.
What accounts for such variation? It’s tempting to say that it is all about public opinion, but our research shows that caveats and other restrictions did not co-vary with the willingness to accept risks and give discretion to the troops in the field. Nor is it the degree of threat posed by events in the targeted country. In our book (coming out towards the end of this year),1 we find that the most important factor is the political system: whether the country is governed by a coalition government or not, and if so, which parties are in the coalition, and if not, what are the personalities of the key decision-maker (the president, the prime minister).
Simply put, coalitions mean bargaining, and bargaining means compromise. To get the less enthusiastic parties to go along, the more enthusiastic parties have to agree to restrictions on the mission – size, area of responsibility, capabilities to be deployed (tanks or not tanks), and so on. Without compromise, not only does the mission not happen, the government may collapse, as the Dutch government did in 2010 over Afghanistan. The broader the coalition, the more intense the bargaining and the greater the likelihood of significant restrictions. In the case of Libya, the R2P aspect of the operation made it easier for left-wing parties to support the effort.
In presidential systems, and when prime ministers depend on a single party to stay in power, it all depends on the individual who makes the decisions. France’s stance in Afghanistan changed almost overnight from being quite restrictive to engaging in combat in some of the more dangerous districts when Sarkozy replaced Chirac, despite the fact that both leaders were on the right side of the political spectrum.
Getting back to Smart Defence, since budget cuts are inevitable, the key question is with whom to cooperate. If governments are meant to share with those that are “close,” I would suggest defining “close” not by geography or culture, but by institutions.
Those countries that either have presidential systems or are generally ruled by single parties can work together. Instead of thinking of an Anglosphere as many aver, we need to think of a presidential-sphere. France can be and often is among the more forward-leaning countries, but we would hardly say that it is a member of the Anglosphere. As long as their leaders get along, countries can be counted on to show up during combat (most of the time).
Countries with coalition governments tend to be restrictive when it comes to military action, so they can and should plan on working together. They are similarly reliable (or unreliable), so the risk averse should work with each other.
Of course, the big problem is that defence procurement decisions are binding for a generation or two, with planes frequently being older than the pilots flying them these days. Today’s most suitable partner (Denmark!) may not be so suitable in five, ten, or twenty years when it has a less cooperative coalition government.
And the best news of all for those worried about specialization and its consequences are that many countries may simply refuse to choose, leading to less of everything. For instance, see this piece for a discussion of the possible Canadian choices and why the government may choose not to decide. Of course, as some great Canadian political theorists have argued, when choosing not to decide, you still have made a choice.
“If the Obama administration blocks the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, relations between Canada and the United States will enter a deep freeze the likes of which have never been seen.” This statement by John Ibbitson in the Globe and Mail is so astonishing in its overreach, in its threat exaggeration, that I cannot help but to comment, even though my expertise lies elsewhere.
To put it most simply: Is Canada a one-issue country? Does the entire Canadian public share a single point of view on this issue? Is this the be-all of Canadian foreign policy? Is Canada a “banana republic” in the sense that it has only one commodity to export upon which everything else depends?
I am pretty sure the answer to all of these is questions is a very clear “no”. More …
After all, have there not been some significant battles between provinces over pipelines? B.C. can take issue with how oil might flow through its territory, so why not a sovereign country? Not every Canadian is huge fan of increasing the amount of oil extracted from the Alberta tar sands, as the consequences for the local and global environment are significant.
Ibbitson goes on to suggest that the rest of Canada’s relations with the U.S. will suffer if President Obama “betrays” Canada on this issue. This would make a heap of sense if the only thing of benefit to Canada from its bilateral relationship with the U.S. is an oil market. But can Canada really present a “cold shoulder” to the Americans when it has so many other interests at stake? Last time I checked, an overwhelming majority of Canadian exports went to the U.S. Many Canadian jobs depend greatly on a comprehensive bilateral relationship, not just on the continued development of the oil patch. And Canada’s security depends on a bilateral institution: NORAD.
So, the threat that Canada would punish the U.S. for its “betrayal” on Keystone is incredible. That is, it is not simply hard to believe – it’s just not credible. Yes, this issue is an important one, particularly for Canadian domestic politics. Alberta is Harper’s political base, so we understand why he is so concerned. But Obama also has domestic politics to keep in mind – much of his base has concerns about the environmental consequences of the project. This is what makes the last sentence of Ibbitson’s piece simply amazing: “Of course none of this would happen, if Mr. Obama simply said yes.” Ah yes, the American president can simply wave a magic wand and make constraints and conflicting interests disappear. The reality is that there is nothing simple about this issue or the pressures it places on Obama.
There is no doubt that the Obama administration understands that this issue is important to Harper and some Canadians (not all Canadians fixate on Keystone like those writing op-ed pieces). I am sure he would like to help out the Harper government, which has proven to be a good partner, both in the skies over Libya and on the ground in Afghanistan. But Obama has domestic concerns as well. A second-term president may not have to worry about re-election, but his political capital is finite and declining. He must pick and choose his battles. Perhaps cancelling Keystone would require more political capital, perhaps not. It will be interesting to see what Obama will and will not fight for in his second term.
Recognizing the constraints on other participants is the first step one needs to take in order to figure out how to get one’s preferred outcome in any negotiation. Threatening to nuke U.S.-Canada relations may not be the best approach to finessing the obstacles Obama faces. Threatening massive retaliation might make Keystone’s supporters feel better, but it also marginalizes them. People who make foolish threats lose credibility and, with it, influence. There are probably better arguments to make to gain support for this pipeline. Threatening suicide is not one of them.
What did I learn at the Conference of Defence Associations’ (CDA) two-day annual Ottawa conference? Well, the first rule of Fight Club is not to talk about Fight Club, and the first rule of this conference was not to disparage the F-35 … unless you were prepared to be buttonholed by a Lockheed representative. But the major lessons from the two days are this: (1) Canada has not made any choices, (2) Canada will be forced to make choices due to declining military budgets and increasing costs of new programs, and (3) Canada will try to delay and defer these choices for as long as possible. More …
The first day was mostly focused on what a national security strategy is, whether Canada has one, and what should one be. The basic idea, as I have discussed at CIC before (here and here), is that one’s assessment of threats, capabilities, and commitments should drive how the Canadian Forces are designed, equipped, trained, and “doctrined.” The CDA folks released a new Vimy paper that tries to provide Canada with a “strategic outlook”, which is especially handy since the Canadian government does not seem that interested in enunciating anything similar to this or to the United States’s Quadrennial Defense Review. However, the paper does not really recommend any hard choices – which was definitely in line with the trend of the conference.
The second day had Canadian defence leaders speak – the new Chief of Staff Tom Lawson, and the Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay (via video since he was in Brussels for a NATO meeting). While both seemed to deliver remarks almost entirely devoid of meaningful content (I tweeted that they were vanilla), Lawson’s speech actually had a bit of bite to it. How so? He identified the fiscal challenge at home as the Canadian Forces’s “centre of gravity”. What does that mean? Well, when military people talk about “centres of gravity”, they are talking about the vulnerability of the adversary that should be attacked or the vulnerability of oneself that needs to be defended. For instance, in the Afghanistan campaign, stating that, “the people were the prize” reflected that there were two centres of gravity in the counter-insurgency campaign – the Afghan people, and the publics back home in the ISAF countries; that we could win if the Afghans sided with the Afghan government; and that the Taliban would win if the publics back home got sick of the war and demanded a withdrawal.
That the Canadian Chief of Defence Staff identified the fiscal situation as THE focus of the Canadian Forces is pretty striking. Usually, we think that militaries should be focused on preparing for the next war, but this seemed like a call for the Canadian Forces to be prepared for very tough times ahead. Lawson and others tried to make it clear that this would not be the 1990s all over again, which is all fine and good, but thus far it seems as if no choices are being made. Lawson enunciated four priorities: current operations, equipping the future Canadian Forces, taking care of the people (the folks in the Canadian Forces and their families), and professional development. The problem is that priorities imply choices – some stuff will get more attention and money and other stuff will get less. But Lawson’s “priorities” were really a framework to discuss the entirety of his mandate – present operations, future planning, the people, and maintaining professionalism. What will be left out? What will get less attention in these days of declining resources?
The reality is that Canada will not be deploying land forces in situations of significant combat anytime soon. It is far easier not to spend money on a deployment than to cut somewhere else to pay for such efforts. This should be the starting point for planning – does Canada need to invest in significant upgrades of its land forces for the next ten years? Might the land force face real cuts in its size to help cover the costs of the new ships and planes? Can Canada afford to completely modernize its surface fleet at this time? Or should it sink most of the money into planes – not just the F-35 but long-range search and rescue planes? The latter actually got far more questions this week than the former.
Reading the tea leaves in the speeches, there were some hints. The recent Jenkins report pushes for more Canadian production of the stuff the Canadian Forces buys. MacKay mentioned this report in his short video. How should one read this? Well, one can be cynical, of course. One way to make defence spending seem more attractive and less of a drag on the budget is to argue that making stuff ourselves rather than buying it from other countries can create jobs and prosperity at home. Using defence spending as a jobs program increases the political positives. This is an old lesson that has driven much of American defense spending over the years. congressional representatives and senators see planes and ships and such as providing jobs to their districts and states. As a result, most modern systems are built in over four hundred congressional districts (out of four hundred and thirty-five) and over forty states. This makes it very hard to cancel programs.
What does this imply for Canada’s choices? Build ships, not planes! The shipbuilding program promises many jobs for Canadian shipyards (well, some of them). The F-35 is mostly produced elsewhere with relatively modest benefits for Canadian industry. One of the most surprising sponsors of the conference this week was Rafale, a French aerospace company that produces one of the competitors to the F-35. Perhaps, if this company is smart, they will align with Bombardier and produce much of their plane in Quebec (this is not my idea, just something I heard at the conference).
But there is a larger problem here – is this era of budget cutting a good time to treat defence policy as industrial policy? DND would already be buying domestically produced defence materials if they were cheaper and better. So, favoring domestic production is likely to cost more than foreign production and exactly at a time where additional costs must be avoided. Interesting contradiction.
Where does all this leave us? Well, in a conference call with the media, MacKay mentioned that the revised “Canada First Defence Strategy” would come out after the budget. This means that the budget will shape how Canada assesses and plans for the threats of tomorrow, and the design of the Canadian Forces that will face those threats. This is backwards, of course, but perhaps some hard choices will finally be made rather than deferred. Maybe. It is clear that the toughest battles ahead for the Canadian Forces, the “centre of gravity” as identified by Lawson, will be in Ottawa, over who wins and who loses in the procurement decisions.