Defense analyst Lawrence Lewis has authored an unclassified report critically analyzing the metrics used to estimate civilian casualties from drone strikes.* Lewis is an analyst and field representative for the Center for Naval Analysis, which published the report today. He has led numerous projects on operational effectiveness for DOD, including the Joint Civilian Casualty Study in support of General Petraeus, and knows of what he speaks. He is also the author of a classified study of casualties from manned and unmanned air attacks in Afghanistan.
This remarkably balanced analysis begins with the observation that US casualty statistics are significantly lower than NGO counts, and provides an explanation of how institutional cultures and estimation techniques can result in such a gap. The report argues that this can be explained by three factors: the irregular nature of the enemy that makes it difficult to distinguish civilians from combatants, misidentifications that often occur as a result, and the fact that the US uses air surveillance rather than ground surveillance to conduct battle damage assessments.**
Although the report primarily serves as context on the production of casualty estimates, Lewis also uses his analysis to make at least two other important conceptual points that are generally lost in the debate over drone casualties:
- 11% of IR scholars at the conference tweet, compared to only 2% of the global population
- The most popular tweet of the conference contained the Sheraton lobby wifi password
- Most prolific tweeter: Annick Wibben
- Number of tweets sent by Laura Seay while simultaneously participating on the Twitter roundtable: 61
Haas also details how he gathered and coded the tweets, which itself is interesting methodologically in terms of how social scientists can leverage Twitter for content analysis. (His data is non-exhaustive for example, but that is partly due to the limitations of the Twitter API.) And last but not least, Haas reveals his position in the Great "What is Star Wars?" Twitter Battle of 2014.
At around 7:30pm on Tuesday, March 18, around 300 protesters scaled the fence around Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan (Taiwan’s equivalent of a parliament) and occupied the building. The protesters then barricaded themselves inside the legislative chamber and began organizing, with the help of opposition legislators and the acquiescence of “patient, though confused police.” The executive branch in Taiwan probably* does not* have the authority to send police inside the legislature, so when Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) refused President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) request to evict the occupiers, they gained a certain measure of security.
By the following day, the protest leadership had elaborated its demands, while the streets outside the building had filled with sympathetic protesters, advocacy groups, volunteer staff, academics leading discussions, and stages for speeches and musical performances. This core protest organization developed very quickly and persisted – despite the trials of March 24, when riot police used force to decisively end an attempt to occupy the Executive Yuan, and even after April 2, when notorious “former” gangster Chang An-le (張安樂) raised a counter-protest. What became the “Sunflower Movement” organization also led a massive rally last Sunday, March 30 outside the Presidential Palace that drew close to 500,000 people; the coordination of this event was so thorough that by two hours after the rally ended, the streets were entirely clear of both people and detritus. The protest continues today, though the leadership has just announced they will leave the Legislative Yuan on Thursday, April 10.
To many, the spark motivating this protest was oddly obscure. On July 3, 2013, Taiwan and China signed the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA), which would, for example, allow greater Chinese investment in Taiwan’s banking and telecom sectors. After working its way though a series of widely criticized consultations, on March 17 the chair of the relevant review committee, in violation of an agreement with opposition lawmakers, announced the CSSTA had cleared committee (timeline here*). This amounted to legislative approval of the bill, since the ruling KMT party has enough votes to pass it. The protesters moved to block passage, and demanded that a new oversight structure be put in place governing agreements with China. They also demanded that the CSSTA bill be carefully reviewed after implementation of oversight.
These events raise a host of fascinating puzzles, but I will limit my discussion here to two that draw on the social movements literature. First, how did anger at an ostensibly minor procedural violation explode into what some continue to call a “constitutional crisis”? Second, what are the likely outcomes of the protest?
Many Ducks are posting about their highlights from #ISA2014. Mine - aside from the Bloggers' Reception and the many smart junior scholars I met in the lobby - was a meta-theoretical twitter conversation with former Duck Patrick Thaddeus Jackson occurring as I was headed to the airport.
First the context. Just before departing, I live-tweeted Chris Tenove's "Representations Beyond Borders" panel (description here) after my presentation on same. There were many terrific papers: Wendy Wong and Ron Levi on "money as representation"; Chris on who gets to represent the aggrieved at the ICC; Hans-Peter Schmitz on how representations of acoholics prevent alcohol from being taken seriously as a global problem despite its global health burden.
My paper was on science fiction representations in advocacy campaigns (here is the YouTube trailer). While discussing my paper, Sarah Stroup observed that scholars of the sci-fi/IR intertext have largely (and surprisingly) neglected Star Wars. When I tweeted thus, the great PTJ (from somewhere else at the conference) replied with:
The rest of the conversation is below the fold, but suffice to say even if I accept PTJ's definitions of science fiction and high fantasy (and I'm not at all sure I do) I am unconvinced that Star Wars is
- a) pure theology and no science/naturalism*
- b) a morally ordered rather than contingent universe** or
- c) that either of these claims would render Star Wars apolitical if true.***
Indeed as an empirical if not interpretive "fact," (though let it be noted that PTJ and I also disagree on the definition of 'facts'), Star Wars is understood as and increasingly invoked in ways that are extremely political and subversive.
Now I don't know exactly what is going on here - the Sith Lord has been barred from the ballot in Ukraine - but I do (tentatively) think PTJ and I agree on three things:
- 1) We need a stronger research agenda linking the interpretation of sci-fi artifacts to the study of their circulation in our world
- 2) Sarah Stroup is right that the Star Wars gap in the IR/sci-fi literature is interesting and puzzling and
- 3) there is much-greater-than-zero chance of a Star Wars roundtable at ISA in New Orleans in which PTJ will show up in costume.
Game of Thrones Season 4 premieres this Sunday. For your viewing parties, check out this website for Westeros-inspired fare. For those of you not yet familiar with the show, and therefore ill-advised to read Season 4 commentaries, here's a helpful series trailer to whet your appetite. (She said with a straight face.)
- Chemical weapons are alleged to have been used on civilians in Benue State, Nigeria.
- Daily Kos on why the protests in Taiwan are being under-covered.
- I have mixed feelings about this Guardian photo-story about children born to genocidal rape survivors in Rwanda, but it's well worth a look.
- Hawaii has become the first US state legislature to put forth a bill banning the use of lethal autonomous weapons.
- International Studies Quarterly's new and very blog-like website is now up and running, with a symposium revisiting Yosef Lapid's "Third Debate." Check it out.
- Harvard study: dressing down and sticking out can signal status in academia.
- Visualizing procrastination.
- Cryogenics has arrived.
- Cylons over Texas.
- This visualization of how "the world's most brilliant people spent their days" is quite thought provoking... and extraordinarily gendered.
As the gods of the International Studies Association have seen fit to place my panel at 8:15 on a Saturday morning, I decided to advertise my talk in the blogosphere in hopes of drumming up some attendees. Below please see the teaser trailer for my working paper this year, which explores the impact of science fiction on global policy making in the area of autonomous weapons.
The paper itself is not yet ready for distribution (research is still in progress), but I should be able to circulate later this year and feedback at the panel will help me refine my conceptual framework - so if you are interested in these matters please come join us in the Richmond Room at the Toronto Hilton this Saturday! The panel, organized by UBC's Chris Tenove, is entitled "Representation Across Borders": Richard Price is chairing and other speakers include Wendy Wong, Sirin Duygulu and Hans-Peter Schmitz. Panel abstract is below the fold.
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.