Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Charles Finstrom
Breaking the Rules: War Crimes and Violations of Jus in Bello in Sri Lanka

A recent BBC article states that the United Nations is calling for an international investigation into alleged war crimes by the Sri Lankan regime in its campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE).  However, rather than merely an unsupported claim, the Sri Lankan army’s use of torture, sexual violence, and indiscriminate bombing constitute blatant war crimes based off their refusal to make basic protections for the lives of the civilians caught in the conflict.
In his book, Just and Unjust Wars, Walzer (1977) presents a thorough analysis of international law and legitimate conflict during war.  Two points within his analysis are crucial for examining the case of Sri Lanka.  The first is the argument that international society has an obligation to monitor and punish war crimes.  Indeed, “[international] law must provide some recourse when our deepest moral values are savagely attacked” (Walzer, 1977: 288).  Moreover, leaders are “bound by the [international] legal code and can rightly be charged and punished for criminal acts” (Walzer, 1977: 291).  The UN is therefore well within its rights to investigate and condemn Sri Lanka for these abuses.
File:Elephant Pass rusting tank.jpg
Aftermath of the Conflict; A Rusting Tank (Wikimedia Commons)
Second, Sri Lanka’s actions clearly violate jus in bello regarding the double effect requirement to provide adequate consideration for the lives of civilians.  The widespread sexual violence, torture, and indiscriminate bombing perpetrated by Sri Lankan troops against civilians, for example, present a clear case of war crimes.  International law expressly forbids the first two because such actions violate specific rights of the people to be free from targeting by military forces (Walzer, 1977: 187-188).  Walzer’s (1977) conception of jus in bello, for example, expressly forbids the targeting of civilians for torture, death, or deliberate violence.  The use of indiscriminate bombing also violates international laws because while civilian casualties are permissible under the concept of double effect, Sri Lankan soldiers failed to make a basic effort to limit the casualties of the civilians their operations endangered.  Indeed, even if guerrilla or terrorist forces hide and operate amongst the people, civilians still have a “right to life” which “must be respected … in the course of attacks against the irregular forces” (Walzer, 1977: 193).  These cases of violence thus present a poignant example of contemporary war crimes by the Sri Lankan regime, a set of violations the international community is therefore well in their rights to investigate and prosecute.

Walzer, Michael.  Just and Unjust War: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations.  New York: Basic Books (1977).  Print.
“UN Human Rights Council Urges Sri Lanka War Crimes Court.”  BBC.  16 Sept 2015.  Web.  28 Sept 2015.
“United Nations Calls for Sri Lanka War Crimes Court.”  BBC.  16 Sept 2015.  Web.  28 Sept 2015.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Strategy - To Stand Still or Move Forward

What is strategy and why is it important? Strategy is not confined to one realm of life. Strategy is not merely political, nor is it confined to the business realm. Simply put, strategy is ubiquitous. It is a premeditated attempt to contend with situations as they arise in order to achieve a desired outcome. Lawrence Freedman, professor of War Studies at Kings College in London and foreign policy adviser to Tony Blair, describes strategy as “The best word we have for expressing attempts to think about actions in advance, in the light of our goals and our capacities.”
A clearly defined strategy for organizations, governments, and sports teams can lead to more successful endeavors. A bad strategy, or worse, a lack of strategy can lead to a grinding halt in the process, or a grinding halt may be part of a much more elaborate strategy – much like Kristina Vogel in the 2014 UCI Track Worlds. One would believe that a sprint would be a test of raw strength. However, Vogel, relying heavily on strategy, brings her bike to a standstill in the middle of the race – hoping that her competition will pass her, thus allowing her to draft behind and save her legs until she would need to pass in the last seconds. In an intensely strategic maneuver, she stops her bike not once, but twice, in the last heat. She established a predetermined final outcome and used a counterintuitive but brilliant strategy to achieve victory. Regardless, Vogel ended up beating her opponent using raw skill and strength – showing that strategy is based on real time events and must be flexible and fluid in order to be successful.

                An end goal is paramount to the development of a strategy. Freedman emphasizes that “strategy comes into play where there is actual or potential conflict”. It would be quite accurate to call the current situation in Syria a conflict. The ongoing civil war along with the influx of other powers in the region has caused not only a major migrant problem, but has raised several questions of international human rights violations.
                In 2012 President Obama issued a “red line” for the Assad regime which was additionally bolstered by a 2003 congressional legislation aimed at forbidding Syrian use of chemical weapons. This red line was crossed and surprisingly enough no promised military action or “enormous consequences” have been taken against those responsible for the violation. This begs the question: Did the Obama administration have a strategy for dealing with Syria or did they rely mainly on bluffing in hopes that the Assad Regime wouldn’t advance further? The US’s delayed reaction to the crisis in Syria has allowed many other players such as Russia to assert themselves in the region, leaving us with even worse intervention prospects. As noted above, a proper strategy must be both fluid and flexible, something that the US response has not been. The lack of strategy in this scenario left us blindsided and thus hurt our international credibility. Additionally, the influence of Russia in the region has shown us Russia’s desire to be an international player and the strategy used to establish this status.

                If we look to continue to be a world leader it is imperative that we formulate a strategy. Whether this strategy is driven by a heavy reliance on international intervention or a withdrawn international presence, it is crucial that we have a strategy. As a leader it is inappropriate to speak in one way and act in another. We should first look internally and decide who we want to be, how we wish to act, and most importantly develop a strategy that mirrors these two ideals.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Master Strategist

The Master Strategist: Vladimir Putin

Strategy, as defined by Lawrence Freedman, is the ability to think from short-term, to long-term, addressing causes not symptoms, and taking action in advance to achieve goals. No other leader shows more dedication to the idea of “strategy” than President Vladimir Putin when dealing with the US.

In contrast to the West, Putin has developed a strategy consistent with one over arching idea: control of his region. This isn’t an accident. It is evident in Russia’s invasion of Georgia, annexation of Crimea, and in Eastern Ukraine. Now, we can see this strategy expanding to Syria, as Putin facilitates the Assad regime to stay in power. In each circumstance, Russia has out-maneuvered the West. NATO has not become involved, and the US has not been able to stop Putin from continuing his expansion of regional influence.

While Russia’s economy isn’t capable of supporting an all out war with the US or NATO, Putin is certainly able to stir up trouble in strategic areas like the Black Sea, the Middle East, and other post-Soviet countries. The US is reactive in all of these circumstances, while Russia has been entirely proactive. Russia has a goal, capabilities, and a drive to maintain and exert its regional power and exclude the West. The US has only half-heartedly reacted to the events in Syria, Ukraine, Crimea, etc, not adhering to the original plan of action (Let’s not forget Obama’s “red line” fiasco). 

What to do now? Clearly, the winner in this situation is currently Russia. If strategy is thinking long-term, the US has none because it is too preoccupied being reactive to Russian aggression. The US needs to identify goals, capabilities, and then a plan of action. These goals and plan need to have a regional focus. Then the United States, and the President, needs to be committed to carrying out the plan. The US cannot continue to promise action and then shy away when that action is directly confronted. There is nothing worse for a nation’s reputation than diluting its threats, and the US has been committed to doing just that in conjunction with Putin’s strategic aggression.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Coerced into Concessions?

Coerced into Concessions?

Today, North Korea announced that it reopened its nuclear plant at Nyongbyon nuclear complex to begin reproduction of its atomic bomb. This announcement comes a day after the communist state declared intentions to launch long-range rockets under the guise of putting satellites into orbit (again). These actions are banned by the United Nations sanctions, and the International Community is wary of the threats. However, according to Al Jazeera, analysts believe that these threats are a means of coercing the US to extend concessions to North Korea in the form of aid.
Coercion, according to Schelling in his “Arms and Influence,” is the act by which a bargain is met by both parties because one party is better off giving into the other, and worse off if not. Policy makers have to decide if the United States is better off giving concessions to North Korea, or allowing them to hypothetically expand their nuclear program. Currently, North Korea is prohibited from launching long-range rockets and from growing their nuclear program. In fact, to receive aid from the US, North Korea agreed to suspend its nuclear program. However, N. Korea argues that the rockets are actually for a peaceful space program to monitor weather patterns and that the state has a right to develop this technology.

The US threat assessment must take into consideration the credibility of North Korea. Several failed threats to launch rockets (as satellites) and develop nuclear capabilities have been directed at the West. One cannot forget the failed attempt in April 2012, where the launched rocket crashed minutes after launch. North Korea did subsequently launch a successful satellite into space 8 months later. These rockets are similar to the missiles that could deliver nuclear warheads long range, possibly reaching US soil. If the US takes these coercion measures seriously, lending more aid to North Korea will decrease US and UN credibility in enforcing non-proliferation. However, if the US ignores the threat, North Korea’s capabilities could very well expand to threaten the international community.


"Deficit of Deterrence" in US Cybersecurity Policy

Today, the New York Times cited David Rothkopf saying that the United States has a deficit of deterrence in regards to our current cyber security abilities. As more countries like Russia, China, and Iran turn to cyber attacks and cyberespionage efforts, it is increasingly difficult for the US to find ways to combat and deter these threats. Due to the somewhat anonymous nature of these intrusions, it is difficult to track any of these attacks back to the state from which they’re sent. In addition, responses from the US towards cyber attacks often seem weak. President Obama issued an order following the Sony attack from North Korea which enables him to issue sanctions against states involved in such activities against the US, but has yet to use them. The US has taken a stand against China by indicted the five PLC officers involved in hacking US companies, but those officers are likely to never enter any courts within our country. The US government has yet to formulate a useful method for deterring cyber attacks, and will likely continue to be the target of such efforts until it develops one.
          Meng Jianzhu, a high-level envoy from the Communist Party in China recently visited DC to discuss how the two countries should act in response to these internet actions. While he did express a willingness for the Chinese government to deal with criminal hackers from its country, Meng went quiet on how they would deal with government supported hackers.

          President Obama has claimed that the US is currently preparing sanctions against China in response to its cyber actions, but there is little agreement as to when these sanctions should go into action. If the US chose to invoke sanctions too early, they risk a negative response from China that could disrupt Xi’s upcoming visit.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Charles Finstrom
National Security Policy Blog Post Week 3

Credible Threats and the Willingness to Employ Coercive Diplomacy
                Schelling’s (1996) discussion on coercive diplomacy in Armsand Influence raises an intriguing paradox.  While it is vital for the state to keep some level of coercion in reserve to make threats (Schelling, 1996: 173, 172), they must also be willing to employ it.  Otherwise, the credibility and effectiveness of threats decline, regardless of how much “unspent capacity for damage [is] kept in reserve” (Schelling, 1996: 172).  However, while Schelling (1966) does not examine this, few to no states today appear willing to engage in the wholesale slaughter that characterized previous conflicts, particularly against a beaten foe.  To what extent then, should states actually employ the brutal violence they threaten if they are limited in the extent they can bring to bear?

                          File:Firing M1A1 tank in Djibouti.jpg
                 US Capacity for Coercion: The M1 Abrams Tank (Wikimedia Commons)
The USA currently struggles with this phenomenon, particularly after its highly visible backing away from bombing  Syria after Assad’s blatant crossing of the ‘Red Line’ of using chemical weapons against Syria’s own people.  A threat is only effective if it is credible.  At times, an opponent may call the state’s bluff.  In response, the state must then decide if it is truly willing to carry out its threatened “power to hurt” (Schelling, 1996: 3).  Yet are developed nations truly as willing as other regimes to deliberately hurt a recalcitrant state?  There is also a question of the limits of western coercion during the conflict itself, a self-imposed limitation that other actors may be less inclined to respect and can exploit.  In such situations it is perhaps better to not rely on coercive threats at all, at least so far making it the primary bargaining chip, since obstinate enemies know they must only endure a certain level of violence above which they are confident the US and other developed nations will not exceed.  This has also plagued US efforts in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  The insurgents know that they must only endure pain up to a point, past which the US will be too concerned with preventing collateral damage.  This is not to label this is a policy failure.  Instead, it simply denotes that the United States is unwilling to employ the brutality of a Genghis Khan or a Tamerlane and as a result will have limits on the scope and effectiveness of the violence it is willing to employ because its enemies also know that these limits exist.

Works Cited
Schelling, Thomas C.  Arms and Influence.  London: Yale University Press, 1966.  Print.

Thiessen, Marc A.  “Obama’s Weakness Emboldens Putin.”  The Washington Post.   3 March 2014.  Web. 2015.  13 Sept. 2015.
Charles Finstrom
National Security Policy Blog Post
Parameters of Violence
Schelling ‘s (1966) Arms and Influence presents a stark depiction of the methods and effectiveness of state coercion.  While it may often be seen as a form of “dirty bargaining” (Schelling, 1996: 9), it is nevertheless a potent tool at a state’s disposal, one that has been a facet of diplomacy throughout recorded history.  What Schelling (1966) fails to address, however, is the variations in state willingness to employ this coercion.  Indeed, he seems to assume that all states engage in as much coercion as their capacities allow.  However, a brief scrutiny of international society shows that this is clearly inaccurate.  Some nations, such as Russia, appear to be far more aggressive with coercion, while others such as Switzerland or the Baltic states often do not exploit power at their disposal.  Thus, while all states have some capacity for coercion, they vary markedly in their willingness to engage in this behavior.

     The Utility of Coercion: Capacity and Will (US B1 bomber; Wikimedia Commons)
The extent of violence and/or the willingness to threaten it vary markedly between countries.  In effect, these are partially self-imposed limits, resulting in differing parameters of coercive behavior that states are willing to exploit.  As figure 1 depicts, most states are willing to engage in a baseline of coercion, such as sanctions.  Few, however, choose to employ the most brutal forms of coercion at their disposal, as shown by the outer rungs of the diagram.  The variations along these parameters of coercive behavior, as well as the relative ease with which states can legitimate them, are often a result of domestic structures.  While numerous cultural and historical factors influence each nation’s decision-making in this regard, it is also due to regime-type.  Schelling (1996) does not address this explicitly, though his recognition that coercion affects governments differently based upon their receptiveness to the public implies that they also vary in their ability to employ violence against others.  Autocratic leaders, for example, are generally less beholden to censure by their people than democracies.  It should therefore be easier for them to employ violence to coerce their opponents.  Within this category, personalist leaders should be particularly unrestrained in this behavior.  The greater domestic accountability of democracies, in contrast, makes using and justifying asymmetric violence more difficult.  Therefore, while Schelling (1996) has aptly examined the phenomenon of coercion, it is now important for future scholars to expand upon this work to better understand the varying willingness of states to employ these threats.

Works Cited
Schelling, Thomas C.  Arms and Influence.  London: Yale University Press, 1966.  Print.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Vietnam and the Philippines to finalize strategic partnership

The Philippines and Vietnam are set to sign the “Joint Statement on the Establishment of a Strategic Partnership between the Republic of the Philippines and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” before the end of this year. In the agreement, the two countries will “reaffirm their commitment to resolve territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, as well as to the freedom of navigation in and over flight above the SCS (South China Sea) all in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).” Once the deal has concluded, Vietnam would be the Philippine’s second strategic partner, besides Japan. It is possible that they will choose to sign the deal during the APEC leader’s summit in November, held in Manila.
The announcement of an official strategic partnership follows years of relatively minimal strategic ties between the two South East Asian countries, though they have worked with one another on various ASEAN initiatives. This new partnership is likely the consequence of increasing Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. Each country has spent a considerable effort defending their claims and territories in the region, and could only benefit from further collaboration in maritime affairs with a fellow ASEAN nation.
In regards to territories within the South China Sea, they committed to resolves differences in a “constructive manner without resorting to threat or use of force,” and to “exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes.” The agreement, however, does not mention developments on islands and reefs the Philippines or Vietnam already inhabit.
Once the partnership is officially finalized, it will be interesting to see China’s response. The hope is that the cooperation between these two nations will better enable them to stand up to the regional super power. However, there is always the possibility that such an agreement will only serve to incite further Chinese aggression.