As the number of posts here suggest, lots of us are watching the fast-moving and somewhat unexpected events in Ukraine with great concern and interest. Others have expertly discussed the reasons for Russian military intervention in Ukraine and how the international community might respond to it (here, here, here, and here). I’d like to contribute a different angle to this complex story by inquiring into Russian narratives for its military action in Ukraine.
When Vladimir Putin requested the Russian parliament’s approval for authorization to use the military in Ukraine, he claimed Russia needed to act because of “the threat to the lives of citizens of the Russian Federation, our compatriots, [and] the personnel of the military contingent… deployed in… Ukraine.” Putin also made this argument to President Obama during their March 1 phone conversation.
That Russia might be concerned about its security interests with the ouster of a supportive Ukrainian President Yanukovych isn’t difficult to grasp. Not only is Crimea important to Russia historically and for identity politics, but Russia’s only warm water naval base is in the Crimean city of Sevastopol. A pro-Europe government in Ukraine, turning away from Russia and controlling Crimea, can have negative impacts on these Russian interests. Concerns for these interests provide strong motivations for Russian intervention. Which is why the use of humanitarian arguments to also justify this intervention are puzzling. In addition to protecting its soldiers, Russia asked its Parliament to authorize military action in Ukraine to protect its citizens. However, at the time of the request, there were few stories in the Western media about attacks against ethnic Russians or Russian citizens in Crimea prior to the intervention. So why bother?
Prominent academic Stephen Hawking has weighed in on a public debate.
Chicago PhD Candidate John Stevenson writes in Slate about why ceasefires don't protect civilians.
Momentum last week towards a treaty abolishing nuclear weapons: Mexico leads charge.
Anti-killer-robot campaigners on the new Robocop.
Human Rights and Armed Conflict
UNHCHR's report on North Korea denounces human rights condition in country.
Mark Kersten on whether DPRK could be referred to the ICC.
Guernica on death and resistance in Camp X-Ray.
Want your loved ones to know you survived the latest suicide bombing? There's an app for that.
Dear Mr. Kristof,
Since you're getting so much hate mail from political scientists this week, I thought I'd send you a fan letter. I teach international relations at University of Massachusetts. I am an avid reader of your columns, especially on human rights advocacy. You have put issues like fistula on the global agenda. You put privileged young people in touch with global issues. You are a master at boiling down complex issues to accessible human interest stories.
What I have admired most about your work is that you so rarely limit yourself to complaining. So many pundits write atrocity porn, decrying human rights abuses with little context as to how to change them. But you typically write not about victims but about social change agents trying to make the situation better - like your column "How Brave Girls Helped Break a Taboo" about domestic rape in Kenya. In every story of dysfunction and oppression, intrepid individuals swimming against the tide exist, and through their efforts, successes and setbacks, we come to both understand problems and engage with solutions. Through chronicling these successes, you inspire readers to do more of what's working instead of giving up.
Precisely because of the high standard I've come to expect from you in chronicling social change, I felt your Sunday op-ed this week missed the mark. It's not just because I'm a political scientist who works hard to incorporate public outreach into research, teaching and service, who felt unjustly snubbed by your sweeping language. Mostly I felt like this column just wasn't up to your usual standards and worse, missed an opportunity to showcase the effervescent and positive changes in academia generally, and political science in particular. This is, exactly as you say, a significant issue in our time - especially in an era where policymakers are prone to be dismissive of science and scientists.
Fans must content themselves with some trivia this week. Here are "15 Things [Most People] Don't Know About Game of Thrones."
My students and I have just read Emilie Hafner-Burton's grand treatise on the human rights regime, Making Human Rights a Reality. Following her earlier empirical studies, this is a sweeping descriptive appraisal of how human rights law works and why it works so poorly, coupled with a level-headed argument about strategies that human rights champions or "stewards" might adopt to achieve concrete improvements in human rights performance by circumventing existing human rights machinery. The book is readable, exhaustive and pitched to a non-scholarly audience; it combines an overview of scholarship with common-sense descriptions of the human rights regime and is thus an excellent, up-to-date primer on the state of scholarship, practice and institutional design in the area of human rights.
May the bard be with you. See also "The Empire Striketh Back."
So the IR blogosphere and twitterverse are in the process of exploding over this new proposal from the ISA Governing Council, which would ban those contributing to IR blogs from holding positions on ISA journal editorial boards. I second many of the questions raised by Steve and Jon and Will Moore and will write more on this topic presently.
Fortunately for me as a prof, this news-flash happened to occur right as I headed to "Theory/Policy" day in my Human Security doctoral seminar in which we dwell on ISR's "Theory/Policy Symposium." So my initial reaction was to use this as a terrific example of why it is important to think about norms, interests, identities, regulative and constitutive rules, and institutions not only as they apply to international relations "out there" (as viewed by IR scholars), but also as they implicate International Relations (as constituted by the practices of the profession) - and what this means for what we can know about and how we interface with the world. On this class day I generally share war stories of publishing both in scholarly journals and in the beltway, and use the clash of norms and identities associated with our multiple professional hats as examples with which to interrogate these wider concepts as applied to human security. Given today's intra-professional headline, I also shared this ISA presentation on the discipline and social media from a couple of conferences back, which is essentially the video version of this paper Dan Drezner and I co-authored, as a discussion starter. Next year, I'll also assign Robert Farley's important Perspectives piece on political science and blogging.
I'd like to absorb others' reactions to the proposed ISA policy before I craft my own more extended one. For now, I will say simply here two things:
I spent last weekend with the International Organization editors and editorial board at their retreat. As a newcomer to the board, I didn't know what to expect and was happily surprised by the depth and richness of the conversations that took place for a full day and half, mostly around how to more fully realize the academic principles to which we're all committed - rigor, equity, transparency, methodological pluralism - in the context of a publishing environment that is constrained by the business model of publishing houses and the ever-changing landscape of social media.
One of the most interesting discussions was about diversity. Particular attention was paid to what IO as a journal should be doing to address the overwhelming new data on gender bias in citations in our profession, particularly strong in cases of junior women, and the important conversations this has stirred up among IR scholars and the wider profession. It will be up to the editors to decide on a policy to take the journal forward, and up to researchers to track whether any reforms put in place by a single journal would appear to have any effect on sub-field-wide citation rates. But simply the ability to have such a rich conversation, in which the issue was taken so seriously, in a room filled with a near-equal representation of senior men and women in the discipline, was extremely heartening.
I see this as a conversation that editorial boards across the subfield should be having. Gender bias in citations doesn't result wholly or even mostly from the actions of editors - it's ultimately scholars who do or do not cite and largely (we think) because of the way that our social networks and the content of our syllabi privilege our understanding of the canon. But if editorial processes can play a small corrective role, we should be making that a key aspect of our work in the scholarly publishing business.
To that end I thought I'd share a range of ideas for simple, practical reforms that came up at this meeting. I doubt IO itself will pursue all of these - some work at cross-purposes, each come with trade-offs, and all will be mitigated by journals' particular cultures, but each represents concrete steps that editorial boards in general could consider taking, based on the data we have, to address some key sources of gender bias in the discipline.
New evidence of mass atrocity in Syria sets a bitter tone as peace talks kick off in Geneva.
IRC's David Miliband in WAPO on why humanitarian issues must be a priority at Geneva. Speaking to the NYT, HRW's Kenneth Roth concurs.
Stephen Heydman in FP on whether justice could undermine peace at Geneva.
Locals and expatriates in Kabul commemorate the loss of Kamal Hamade, whose iconic Kabul restaurant was destroyed by a suicide bomber last week.
AidDatablog: new and improved methods for adjudicating conflicting reports on the efficacy of development aid.
Nicholas Kristof: why climate change is a neglected issue.
Hamden Rice in the Daily Kos on why our popular narrative misunderstands the real legacy of Dr. King.
Dan Nexon on what scholars are doing when we write about science fiction.
Nichelle Nichols on how Martin Luther King convinced her to remain on Star Trek.
At Grand Blog Tarkin Jon Jekyll analyzes why the Jedi are a uniquely poor choice to run a military. Love the citations.
That is the justification made by senior lawmakers last week for adding a secret provision into appropriations bill that would block President Obama's efforts to place the CIA's drone program back under military control.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a member of the Appropriations Committee, said last year that she had seen the CIA “exercise patience and discretion specifically to prevent collateral damage” and that she “would really have to be convinced that the military would carry it out that well.” Feinstein declined to comment on the budget measure this week. But a senior aide said that the senator “stands by her earlier statements” and that the Intelligence Committee has “recently reviewed this issue, and Senator Feinstein believes her views are widely shared on the committee.”
But this claim that this is all for the good of civilians seems fairly far-fetched. It's not obvious to me that CIA strikes yield a significantly lower proportion of civilian to combatant casualties for CIA v. military strikes (if you are aware of who has shown this to be true please let me know). Datasets I follow either don't disaggregate drone strikes by source, or drastically under-count civilian casualties by excluding adult men.
On the other hand, available data-sets do suggest (for what they're worth) that the more pilots are trained in war law the fewer civilian casualties per strike. For example a classified study last year presumably found a much lower rate of casualties for manned air attacks than for drone strikes precisely because air pilots go through LOAC training whereas drone pilots don't always. If that's true, it suggests that CIA officers are even less likely to respect the laws of war, being untrained in them.
Of course that's all speculation in the absence of really good studies. Still, here are three other reasons to doubt the claim that keeping drones in CIA hands will limit violations of international law.
The new and quite awesome-looking Season 4 trailer promises "war, death, hell," or as the Christian Post puts it, "action and intrigue." Duh. But it also hints at many more diversions from the books to come. Here is a breakdown.
For Game of Thrones book fans, this may be appropriate:
Digital Media and Human Security
- At Lawfare Blog, Jean Marie Simon's review of Robert Nickelberg's Afghanistan: A Distant War explores the role of digital photography in constructing wartime imaginaries.
- At Reductress, Andi Sharavsky describes the "Cutest Ways to Photograph Yourself Hugging Third-World Children."
- Is there no end to the damage caused by Edward Snowden? Iranians are now privy to the US' most important national secret: that America is actually run by space aliens.
- HP: "Facebook wages war on the nipple" in reaction to new anti-topless-law documentary Free the Nipple.
Human Rights and Humanitarian Action
- Pope Francis made waves when he stated that babies were the most important people in the Sistene Chapel and instructed mothers to go right ahead and breastfeed them if they were hungry. (He isn't afraid of nipples.)
- At WhyDev.org, 'J.' argues against the concept of the 'field' in the humanitarian sector.
- A conference on Humanitarian Technology bringing together academics, practitioners and industry will be held in Boston in May. "HumTech2014: Science, Systems and Global Impact" seeks proposals here.
- Check out Dan Nexon's new personal blog in which he opines on the politics of editor-ing a major IR journal.
- On the backlash against unpaid internships.
- CHE on how to change the tenure and promotion system.
- The evolving science of human origins. (It all goes back to Caprica, right?)
- On the political power of gender-swapping characters in classic children's lit.
- Game of Thrones Season 4 trailer here.
Ever since Wikileaks hit the headlines with the release of its Collateral Murder video I've been thinking (and sometimes blogging) about what kind of actor it is, what kind of politics it represents, what this means for global governance. But I could never for the life of me figure out how to really tackle these questions using IR theory.
So I was thrilled to see Wendy Wong's and Peter Brown's piece in a major polisci journal, Perspectives on Politics, exploring these questions in the context of what the discipline has to say about transnationalism. Kudos to Jeffrey Isaac for publishing this article as this issue's cover piece. I expect it will get a lot of attention.
In the article, "E-Bandits in Global Activism," Wong and Brown discuss not just Wikileaks but also Anonymous as exemplars of a new sort of non-state actor on the global scene: "extraordinary bandits" who "engage the politics of no one via anonymizing Internet technologies." According to Wong and Brown, e-bandits use theft instead of lobbying as a tactic, the internet as a field of protest instead of a mechanism for organizing protest as previously understood, and are unprecedentedly open in terms of who participates.
Examining e-bandits both for what they do and what they tell us about our notions of transnationalism, Wong and Brown argue they are neither NGOs (lacking organizational missions, bureaucratic structures or legal standing), nor social movements (lacking specific policy proposals for change), nor international criminal networks (though they use extra-legal means they do so not for pecuniary profit but rather for ideological goals, primarily stealing (data) from the powerful on behalf of the disempowered. In aiming to find a new framework for understanding these actors, Wong and Brown focus on "the politics of no-one" and particularly the politicization of anonymity to facilitate whistle-blowing and cyber-theft. They argue "e-bandits show us that technology changes resistance."
I love this piece and hope to see more like it. That said it left me with some questions. Two stand out:
Greetings readers! And apologies for my slap-happy blogging record of late. Among my several resolutions this year is a return to blogging at the rate of at minimum one substantive post per week, in addition to my bi-weekly linkage posts. We'll see whether I can sustain or (more hopefully) exceed this while managing the transition of a teen from home to college, just as we'll see whether I can keep up my regimen of 7-minute workouts, my plan to learn tango and get scuba certified, and my pledge to send one random thank-you note to some individual every week this year. (If you're looking for other New Year's Resolution ideas see this and this; for the science on how to stick with changes that work, see this.) Anyway, let's start off some overdue linkage - the best of things I've read or glanced at over the last hectic weeks of grading/holiday travel/college application stress:
Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs
Rights groups criticize incendiary attacks in Syria.
Important new report on Syrian child casualties.
On corpse-counting in former war zones.
"Terminator ethics" discussions among autonomous weapons proponents.
Momentum among humanitarian stakeholders how to curb explosive violence.
972 Mag on tensions between animal rights and human rights movements. Time on how trauma journalism worsens relief efforts in the Phillipines. Killer Apps on US military basing and humanitarianism.
Obama Administration is under fire again on drones after drones hit a Pakistani seminary. Opposition forces in Pakistan are calling for the government to start shooting drones on sight. Former drone sensor operator Brandon Bryant on what's being a drone co-pilot is like. Meanwhile weaponized drones are proliferating: WAPO on Pakistan's new domestic drones; BBC on China's emerging drone arsenal.
via PolsciRumors: is scholarship broken?
Academia according to The Onion.
Berkeley professor's viral email on why he will not be canceling class tomorrow.
Maya Mikdashi on Thanksgiving as a teaching moment.
NASA: Comet Ison may hit a solar storm.
Humans can now touch things far away by reaching through their computer screens.
Short film portraying the other side of Ryan Stone's Gravity distress call is in running for an Oscar nomination.
I realize I am putting my Twitter standings at great risk by potentially appearing to make light of an important social issue.* But when I found this treatise on the importance of tighter regulations for dragons I couldn't resist sharing. Happy Friday!
*Though I hate to disagree with anyone whose work I admire so greatly, and though no one can really argue with Katee Sakhoff's call for gun safety, as a political scientist I must say that Sakhoff is wrong on gun control. First, there is important evidence from experimental studies that on average, children (especially boys) cannot be trained in gun safety reliably enough to prevent the sort of accidents in the article to which her tweet referred, so the idea that training children in gun safety will solve these problems is mistaken. Second, her claim that tighter gun laws can "never happen in the US" flies in the face of much evidence to the contrary. US history is replete with norms - civil rights, women's suffrage, etc - pushed through by the federal government against the vocal opposition of a conservative minority, and eventually accepted. Comparative examples (like Australia) suggest the same could ultimately be true for guns, and the lynchpin would be conservative leadership in favor of stricter rules. Given Sakhoff's new standing with the gun lobby on the basis of her tweet and star(buck) power, she herself could exercise a positive or negative influence on this debate.
The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots secured an important victory last week when delegates of States Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) voted unanimously to take up the issue as part of their work to oversee the implementation and further development of the 1980 treaty, which regulates weapons causing inhuman injuries to combatants or civilians.
The CCW process, which includes yearly meetings of state parties as well as review conferences every five years, have become a periodic forum for discussions not only of how to enforce existing rules, but of norm-building around the humanitarian effects of conventional weapons broadly. Norms around landmines, cluster munitions, blinding lasers and incendiary weapons have been incubated in this forum in the past, so it is no surprise that anti-AWS campaigners used this year's meeting in Geneva as an opportunity to press their cause regarding the dangers of autonomous weapons.
As Matthew Bolton writes, that governments voted to "mandate" the CCW process to examine AWS means the issue is decisively on not just the humanitarian disarmament advocacy agenda but also on the international agenda. This "mandate" to consider the issue will include a
threefour-day meeting next year, and a report by the Chair to the States Parties. A single veto could have prevented this international body from further consideration of the issue, and the fact that important stakeholders like Russia and the US did not forestall a larger discussion signals the salience of the issue and the tremendous agenda-setting success enjoyed by the campaign so far.
As captured in the final images of this important new documentary, there seem to be at least three different debates going on about drones:
The first is reflected in a recent op-ed titled "Five Ways Obama Could Fix Drones Right Now." Here, Sarah Holewinski of CIVIC and Larry Lewis, a Center for Naval Analyses researcher whose classified data on drone deaths made headlines a few months back, argue that the US' drone strike policy is ok on its merits but could be far more humane, both in measures taken to reduce collateral damage and restorative justice for civilians harmed in drone attacks. First, by taking drones out of CIA hands, and letting war-law-trained DOD folks handle the program, the US increases the chances of hitting militants instead of the civilians. Second, in cases where civilians are harmed, the US government could do far more to acknowledge, atone for and make amends for that harm. (Condolence payments would be helpful, but so would mere acknowledgement: the fact that only five Congresspersons showed up to hearing of drone strike survivors who had traveled from Pakistan to brief US policymakers is an embarrassing example of how far the US has to go in this regard.)
This is in stark contrast to a view reflected in this new report co-authored by two human rights heavyweights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which suggests that the US drone strike policy itself is probably unethical and illegal irrespective of the collateral damage problem. Even if the US hit only the targets it is aiming for - high-value targets and their associated 'suspected militants' - this violates international rules against the arbitrary deprivation of life when undertaken outside a conventional battlefield. The issue here is extrajudicial executions - an issue bigger than Pakistan and bigger than drones.
In even greater contrast to Holewinski/Lewis' argument is a consortium of NGOs who argue weaponized drones should be banned altogether - whether or not they are used for targeted killings or for lawful military operations. This argument draws on a frame soup of arguments having to do with the psychological costs of "joystick warrioring," the fear that drones make war easier, the slippery slope toward automated killing, the civilian body count problem, and the general public fear of "flying killer robots," on top of the opprobrium against targeted killings that this movement shares with the mainstream human rights community. While I do not see this as a campaign that is likely to pick up speed among international elites and result in an actual drone ban anytime soon for several reasons, it is notable that for a large number of civil society organizations the key policy solution is to ban drones altogether rather than use them more lawfully.
In my view, all these arguments have some merit but the most important thing to focus on is the issue of extrajudicial killing, rather than the means used to do it, for two reasons.
Killer Robot Blogging:
This week, NGOs are massing in Geneva to encourage states party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons to consider banning autonomous weapons under the auspices of this treaty. This follows the UN Disarmament Committee meetings in New York in October, where multiple countries expressed concern about this issue. As in New York, NGO campaigners will be holding side events and briefings in Geneva to press their claim that these weapons should be banned.
A report form the Institute on Medicine as a Profession at Columbia University outlines the complicity of US medical professionals in Bush-era "enhanced interrogations" at Camp X-Ray.
OpenGlobalRights kicks off a series on human rights funding.
Swedish cinemas have introduced a new rating for gender bias based on the "Bechtel system."
After several years of urging by scientists, the United Nations has finally adopted an asteroid defense policy.
Don Howard on the moral imperative of driverless cars.
Iron Man will soon be a reality.
Invisible bike helmets already are.