Monday, July 30, 2012

A Warning on Cyber Attacks

"Destructive cyber-attacks against critical infrastructure are coming."  This was Gen. Keith Alexander's warning to the Aspen Security Forum last week.  Gen. Alexander heads the National Security Agency and the U.S. Cyber Command.  He should know what he's talking about--although he also clearly knows how to grow a budget.

According to Gen. Alexander, efforts to hack into U.S. infrastructure systems increased 17-fold between 2009 and 2011.  However, the number of attacks for any given year were not provided.

A video of the interview with Gen. Alexander, conducted by NBC News correspondent Pete Williams, is available here.

The Arms Trade Treaty: A Postmortem

On July 2, representatives of 193 UN member states met in New York City for the UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty. The objective of the conference was to agree on the text of an international agreement that would provide for greater coordination among states in the regulation of trade in conventional weapons. On Friday, the meeting concluded without an agreement. The search for consensus was impeded by the reluctance of some of the biggest arms-trading states, including the United States, to see a treaty adopted.

Expectations for reaching an agreement ran high but were probably unrealistic given three key factors influencing the actual outcome of the negotiations.  First, the conference operated on the basis of a rule of consensus.  This meant that a single state could play the role of spoiler in the negotiations, both with respect to individual provisions of the treaty being considered and the final outcome of the negotiations.  Put differently, all participants had to accept the results in order for a treaty to be adopted.  Second, although most of the world's states were willing to sign on to rules that would make it more difficult to transfer weapons to governments that support terrorism or abuse human rights (and in fact many already adhere to domestic restrictions on arms sales to unsavory regimes), a few states profit greatly from their willingness to sell in a market made less competitive by the moral scruples of others.  The most important aim of a treaty to regulate conventional arms sales was to correct this flaw in the system, but the consensus rule meant that diplomatic pressure--shame, basically--rather than democratic processes would be required to prevent the unscrupulous from shutting down the negotiations.  Finally, one of the major players in global arms sales that also happens to be fairly scrupulous in its choice of customers--the United States--faced a significant domestic barrier to benign participation, much less effective leadership, at the conference.  As it did during the 2001 UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, the American gun lobby said, in effect, "Go ahead, make my day" to all in the American political system who might have considered support for any form of regulation of the international arms trade.  On the eve of the conference's final day, a letter signed by 51 senators that expressed reservations about a potential treaty's effect on gun ownership in the United States--a matter explicitly and consistently excluded from treaty negotiations--was delivered to the White House and the Department of State.

Supporters of the ATT, as the treaty is called, were frustrated that the Obama administration broke with the consensus by claiming on the last day of the conference that more time was needed to reach an acceptable agreement.  The call for more time came after the conference had agreed on limits in the treaty designed to appease those in the United States with concerns about the domestic protection of gun ownership.  (These concerns were, in the first place, "irresponsible demagoguery" and addressed thoroughly in this issue brief from the Arms Control Association.)  It is not the first time that the United States has lobbied to weaken the substantive provisions of a major international agreement only to reject the final product after getting what it wanted.  (See the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.)

While the control of the American gun lobby over the United States Senate combined with the two-thirds majority vote required for treaty ratification makes U.S. participation in an agreement unlikely for the foreseeable future, the rest of the world seems certain to reach agreement on the Arms Trade Treaty soon.  A statement at the end of the conference, issued on behalf of over 90 participating states, called on the conference president, Ambassador Roberto García Moritán of Argentina, "to report to the General Assembly on the progress we have made, so that we can finalize our work."  Such a report is expected to give the UN General Assembly an opportunity to vote on the text of the ATT.  Under the rules of the General Assembly, a two-thirds majority vote would be needed to adopt the treaty and send it on to UN member states for ratification.  No veto would be possible.

As incredible as it sounds, the solution posed by the American gun lobby to the problem of gun violence outside the borders of the United States is the same solution offered for the same problem inside our borders:  more guns.  The putative right to own guns of any size or class is held by merchants of death to be more important than the very real right to life.  This, at least, seems to be the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from opposition to a treaty designed to curb arms sales to governments like those in Syria, Iran, Burma, and North Korea.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The London Olympics . . . and Gender

Whether legal or cultural, gender barriers--almost all of which cause women to be left out or otherwise disadvantaged, in case that needs to be said--remain all too common in the modern world.  My own university has never had a female president or provost; my college within the university has never been led by a female dean.  The United States, Mexico, France (etc., etc.) and 52 of the 53 countries on the African continent have never had a female president.  In spite of the remaining barriers, not just in education and politics but in business, the arts, religion, and many other fields, progress is occurring.  In this year that just happens to mark the fortieth anniversary of the adoption of Title IX, there will be more women than men representing the United States in the London Olympics.  That has never happened before.  And in the upcoming Olympic Games, every single country participating will do so with both female and male athletes.  That, too, has never happened before.

Three countries--Qatar, Brunei, and Saudi Arabia--had to overcome their long traditions of gender discrimination in order ensure that every team participating in the London Olympics has both male and female representatives.  Ironically (given what I said about my university), a Pepperdine student, Sarah Attar, will be half of the female contingent on Saudi Arabia's Olympic team.  A member of the women's track team at Pepperdine, Attar will compete at 800 meters in London.

Attar was born and raised in California but has both U.S. and Saudi Arabian citizenship.  Given the limited opportunities for women in sports in Saudi Arabia, going outside the Kingdom to find Attar or someone like her was one of the few options for bringing a woman onto the Saudi Arabian Olympic team.  (The other woman on the Saudi Arabian team, Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, is from Saudi Arabia and will compete in judo.)

As this essay by Eman Al Nafjan points out, terrible discrimination against women persists in Saudi Arabia; giving in to the International Olympic Committee's threat to bar Saudi Arabia from participating in the Olympics hardly qualifies as a magnanimous gesture on the part of the royal family.  Nevertheless, from small beginnings great things sometimes emerge.  Just ask the 269 women on the U.S. team, most of whom are beneficiaries of a law called Title IX.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Torture from the Inside

Worth watching.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The French Arrest Warrant Appears

France has issued an arrest warrant for Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, vice president of Equatorial Guinea and son of the country's president.  (The existence of the warrant, previously concealed, was first reported in April.)  Obiang failed to appear for questioning as ordered in France's Biens Mal Acquis case in which it is alleged that millions of Euros worth of goods, including a lavish home near the Arc de Triomphe, were acquired with the proceeds of corruption.  Obiang is currently facing a civil action brought by the U.S. Department of Justice last fall that seeks to seize American property, including an estate in Malibu, and almost $2 million worth of Michael Jackson memorabilia, for the same reason.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Clinton Confronts a Legacy of the Vietnam War

Secretary of State Clinton is in Phnom Penh where she attended the just-concluded annual foreign ministers' meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  Earlier in the week, she became the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Laos since John Foster Dulles visited in 1955.  In the interim, there was the Vietnam War.

Like Cambodia, Laos was a sideshow in the Vietnam War.  But that hardly means it was ignored.  In fact, on a per capita basis, there is no country in the world that has been bombed as much as Laos.  Because the Ho Chi Minh Trail passed through Laos and the Viet Cong used Laotian territory both as a refugee and as a source of supplies, the United States extended its massive bombing campaign to Laos.  According to testimony by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Scot Marciel before a subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 2010, the United States dropped 2.5 million tons of bombs on Laos during the Vietnam War--more than were dropped on Germany and Japan, combined, during World War II.  Many of the bombs were cluster munitions with failure rates as high as 30 percent.

Even now, an estimated 300 people per year die when unexploded ordnance (UXO) explodes--because they stepped on unexploded submunitions from a cluster bomb, because they were trying to recover the valuable scrap metal from unexploded bombs, because they stepped on landmines--in short, because they were going about the normal activities of daily life in Laos.

Secretary Clinton met a survivor during a stop at an artificial limb center in Laos.  Phongsavath Sonilya, who lost both forearms and his vision when a cluster bomb exploded three years ago, had a message for the secretary of state.  The nineteen-year-old suggested that more needs to be done to halt the use of cluster munitions like the ones that contaminate many places where the United States has made war:  Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

There is a Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), an international agreement that prohibits the use, manufacture, stockpiling, and transfer of cluster bombs.  It was adopted in May 2008 and entered into force on August 1, 2010.  Seventy-four states have ratified the CCM, binding themselves to eliminate this particular weapon and to aid those countries, like Laos, that have suffered so much from its use.  The United States is not a party to the CCM.  No one could make a better case for why the United States should ratify the agreement than Phongsavath Sonilya did when he met Secretary Clinton.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Silverstein on Obiang

As usual, Ken Silverstein has Teodorin Obiang in his sights and is right on target.  As he points out in his New York Times op-ed today, there's more that the United States needs to do to make it difficult for dictators--and their families--to launder their ill-gotten gains here.