Saturday, October 11, 2014

Adios, Teodoro

Visits to Malibu by Equatorial Guinea's dictator-in-waiting may be coming to an end. On Friday, a federal judge approved a settlement in the Justice Department's civil suit against assets belonging to Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mbasogo, the second vice president of Equatorial Guinea and the first son of the country's president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mangue. The settlement, under which Obiang will forfeit approximately $30 million in property held in the United States (including an estate on fifteen acres in Malibu, a Ferrari, and items from an extensive collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia), ends one of the more prominent--and challenging--cases filed by the Justice Department in recent years under its Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. As part of the settlement, the Justice Department dropped its efforts to seize additional property that is believed to be located in Equatorial Guinea, including a Gulfstream jet and the bulk of the memorabilia collection.

The Malibu home, purchased in February 2006 by a shell corporation controlled by Obiang, has been a primary focus of attention for journalists, human rights and anti-corruption organizations, and Justice Department attorneys. It was purportedly the scene of lavish parties when Obiang was in residence. It was also the home base for Obiang's American fleet of luxury automobiles. Obiang is said on occasion to have chosen which car to drive (from among Ferraris, Bentleys, and Bugatti Veyrons, among others) based on whether a particular car matched his wardrobe for the evening.

In its suit, the Justice Department alleged that Obiang purchased the Malibu estate, the cars, the jet, and the Michael Jackson memorabilia with the proceeds of corrupt business dealings in Equatorial Guinea. Obiang's father gave him control over the state's large timber holdings while also making him Minister of Forestry and Agriculture. Corporations doing business in Equatorial Guinea have long complained that they are forced to pay bribes or kickbacks to government officials and that none is worse than Vice President Obiang. President Obiang has also been accused of amassing a vast personal fortune by treating the proceeds of Equatorial Guinea's oil leases as his own personal income, but he has been somewhat more discreet in his overseas spending. This, at least, has been true since a congressional hearing in 2004 revealed that Obiang family accounts in the now-defunct Riggs National Bank in Washington, D.C. totaled over $700 million. Riggs was forced to merge with a rival bank after a record-setting fine was levied against by federal regulators for its failure to report the large cash deposits made by the Equatorial Guinean embassy on behalf of the Obiang family.

The settlement announced on Friday does not end Obiang's legal problems. He faces criminal charges in France in a case popularly called biens mal acquis, or ill-gotten goods.

For more on the settlement, see this story in the Los Angeles Times story or this piece on the CNBC website.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Verdicts in the ECCC

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) on Thursday convicted two Khmer Rouge leaders, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, of crimes against humanity for their roles in the Cambodian genocide from 1973 to 1979. Because of the court's decision to try the charges against the two men, both in their 80s, in segments, the verdicts were more limited than they might otherwise have been. Hearings on additional charges, including genocide, are in progress and may yet produce additional convictions, assuming the defendants live long enough.

Nuon Chea, known within the Khmer Rouge as "Brother Number Two," was second in command to Pol Pot, who died of natural causes in 1998. As the party's chief ideologist, Nuon Chea was responsible for the development of a radical plan under which people were moved out of the cities and into the countryside in order to turn Cambodia into an agrarian society that could restart its social development at "Year Zero."

Khieu Samphan served as president of Cambodia from April 1976 to January 1979. Educated in Paris, like Pol Pot, he represented the Khmer Rouge to the world until the Vietnamese army removed the genocidal regime from power.

Although still on trial, both Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan have been sentenced to life in prison.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Out of Control

James Risen reported in the New York Times yesterday that Daniel Carroll, the project manager in Iraq for the private military firm then called Blackwater, threatened to kill two State Department investigators. The investigators, Jean C. Richter and Donald Thomas Jr., arrived in Iraq on August 1, 2007, and almost immediately uncovered numerous contract violations. When they confronted a State Department official at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Acting Regional Security Officer Ricardo Colon, with this information, Colon ordered Richter and Thomas to conclude their investigation and leave Iraq. Colon wrote in a email to Washington, "Regrettably, the pattern of behavior exhibited by the team members [Richter and Thomas] reached a level that became unsustainably disruptive to day-to-day operations and created an unnecessarily hostile environment for a number of direct hire and contract personnel. That left us no recourse but to request that the team wrap up its work and depart Post at the earliest opportunity (Aug. 24)."

According to an internal memorandum written by Richter, a special agent in the State Department's Diplomatic Security Office assigned to the investigation, Carroll told Richter "that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq." Thomas corroborated Richter's account of the conversation, which had begun with questions about the operations of a dining facility operated by Blackwater under its contract with the U.S. Government. Both Richter and Thomas reported to superiors that they regarded Carroll's comments as a serious threat. Carroll was never punished for his behavior in spite of the fact that State Department officials concluded that, in context, his remark met the legal definition of assault.

Although the investigation was cut short by Colon's order for Richter and Thomas to leave Iraq, Richter had apparently seen enough to raise a number of red flags that should have been noted by the Bush administration. In his memorandum to his superiors back in Washington, Richter wrote,
I was not only surprised by the unnerving remarks related to Mr. Carroll's perceived understanding of what fell under COM [chief of mission] and Department property, but also by the cavalier and unrestrained manner in which the Blackwater contractors felt they could respond to a USG [U.S. Government] official. To me, it was immediately apparent that the Blackwater contractors believed that they were the de facto authority and acted accordingly, in an alarming manner.
In addition, I witnessed Blackwater employees make disparaging remarks of superiority in reference to the FBI personnel presence in Iraq. These comments along with my COM Authority conversation sent a clear message that the Blackwater contractors saw themselves as "above the law" and actually believed that they "ran the place." Once again, this highlights conduct and performance issues that have been present throughout Blackwater's participation in the WPPS [Worldwide Personnel Protective Service] program.
Just weeks after Richter wrote these words, Blackwater contractors killed seventeen Iraqi civilians in a shooting spree in Baghdad's Nisour Square. An American investigator called the incident "the My Lai massacre of Iraq." To date, no one has been held accountable for the killings, although a federal prosecution against the contractor believed to have fired the first shots has recently been revived.

Finally, the Iraqi government's displeasure over the Nisour Square killings and the U.S. Government's response to them was one of the issues that prevented both the Bush and Obama administrations from reaching an agreement with Iraq on the basing of U.S. troops in the country beyond 2011. This, in turn, has been a factor in the ability of ISIS to take control of large portions of Iraq in recent days.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Looking Back at the Great War

Today is the one hundredth anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, in Sarajevo, then a provincial capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The assassination, the act of a Serbian nationalist named Gavrilo Princip, is regarded as the spark that touched off World War I. To mark the anniversary, many newspapers, magazine, and websites have prepared special collections of materials, including contemporary news stories, historical documents, and scholarly retrospectives. Here are a links to three of the best of these collections:
The Great War: This New York Times feature includes front pages of the New York Herald (the precursor of the International Herald Tribune and today's International New York Times) from key points in the war, and eight articles (perhaps with more to come) on the legacy of the war reported from Ypres, Chateau-Thierry, Kiel, Sarajevo, and elsewhere. 
First World War 100 Years On: The Guardian collects a large quantity of its reporting on topics related to the war in this section of its website. Even better (and somewhat more manageable), however, is a series entitled The First World War that ranges from "The Road to War" to "The Aftermath" with collected reporting--old and new--on each topic. 
World War One: The BBC provides timelines, maps, study guides, news stories, and much more in this collection of links.

Sunday, June 15, 2014


"The genius of any slave system is found in the dynamics which isolate slaves from each other, obscure the reality of a common condition, and make united rebellion against the oppressor inconceivable."

--Andrea Dworkin

Friday, June 06, 2014

Nationalism or Law?

In the New York Times today, David Brooks defends President Obama's decision to negotiate with the Taliban for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the American soldier captured in Afghanistan in 2009. The argument Brooks makes is based on nationalism.

Brooks asserts that "national solidarity is essential to the health of the country" and "especially important for the national defense." The loyalty that soldiers in combat feel for comrades in arms, regardless of religious, ethnic, or other differences, is "based on the notion that we are members of one national community." And as the only officials in our government elected by the whole rather than by a part of the electorate, Brooks says, the president and vice president must work to promote national solidarity.

And yet . . .

"National solidarity" is closely akin to "nationalism," a term Brooks assiduously avoids. (In addition to "national solidarity," he refers to "national fraternity" and "national cohesion.") And just a step away from nationalism is "nativism," a sentiment that already runs rampant in right-wing discourse about immigration.

"National solidarity" was an important factor motivating Americans (as well as the British, French, Russians, and others) to resist German aggression in World War II, but its perversion is what generated Nazism in the first place. "National solidarity" is undoubtedly something that Ukraine needs more of right now, but over in Russia its perversion has led Vladimir Putin to pursue policies that continue to roil Ukraine.

Nationalism is certainly a potent force in international affairs, but its ambivalence should not be overlooked. It has inspired anti-colonial movements and the imperialism against which those movements have fought. It has generated the "melting pot" idea and exclusion acts. It may be convenient to look to nationalism--or "national solidarity"--as a basis for supporting President Obama's decision to negotiate a prisoner exchange with the Taliban, but is it necessary? Perhaps the ancient and very straightforward idea that, at the end of the war, prisoners should be repatriated is enough.

If there are problems with this approach they no doubt flow from the same legal morass that created the prison in Guantanamo--and an ill-defined "war against terror"--in the first place.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Colonialism and Presidential Sovereignty

I have just finished reading, for the second time, Paul Collier's 2009 book, Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places. It is the kind of book that is useful to read and think about when embarking on a research project because it addresses important questions with creative methods of enquiry. In this case, the important questions are ones related to political and economic development that were introduced in Collier’s 2007 book, The Bottom Billion.

In any re-reading, different points from those encountered in previous readings are likely to stand out. This time, one of the points that struck me was an observation Collier makes about the relationship between the colonial experience of most states in the developing world and their governments' attitudes toward sovereignty. It is not an especially original observation, but it is important nonetheless. Collier writes (on page 200):
The most enduring legacy of the colonial experience is the excessive respect given both within the societies of the bottom billion, and by those who are concerned about their fate, to the notion of national sovereignty. The sentiment “never again” impedes serious thought. In reality, the typical society of the bottom billion does not have national sovereignty. It has yet to become a nation as opposed to a state: so it lacks the cohesion needed to produce effective restraints upon either the conduct of elections or the subsequent power of the winner. As a result, it has presidential sovereignty. No wonder presidents are jealous of national sovereignty: they are jealous of their own power.
When the world's dictators address the United Nations, as many do during the General Assembly's period for opening statements each September, they generally speak about the importance of respect for state sovereignty and the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of states, not human rights and the emerging responsibility to protect norm. In September 2012, Equatorial Guinea's president, Teodoro Obiang, told the assembled delegates in the UNGA, "We understand that international peace and security depend critically on compliance with the principles of international law: respect for the independence, territorial integrity, and national sovereignty of each state; the sovereign equality of nations and non-interference in the internal affairs of other states; the respect for and fulfillment of international commitments, and the promotion of friendly relations and reciprocal cooperation and equitable benefits among states." In his 2013 speech before the UNGA, one that prompted the U.S. delegation to walk out, Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's president since 1980, condemned western sanctions against his regime as a violation of "fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter on state sovereignty and non-interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state." He concluded by declaring, "Zimbabwe will never be a colony again."

In a similar vein, Uganda's Yoweri Museveni used his speech before the UNGA last year to condemn the International Criminal Court for its indictment of several high-ranking Kenyan officials in connection with post-election violence in 2007-2008. Museveni called the ICC's involvement in Kenya a form of arrogance akin to the arrogance of former colonial powers, whom he called "the old mistake makers." Rwanda's Paul Kagame also condemned the ICC's Kenyan case in his 2013 UNGA address. He stated, "Instead of promoting justice and peace, [the ICC] has undermined efforts at reconciliation and served only to humiliate Africans and their leaders, as well as served the political interests of the powerful."

These few quickly assembled examples of African leaders--dictators, mostly--using their brief moments in the global spotlight to demand respect for sovereignty seem to me to illustrate Collier's point about presidential sovereignty. What Collier would call Mugabe's "sell-by date" passed long ago. The elections he has held have been shams and Zimbabweans struggle to feed themselves while Mugabe amasses a vast, illicit, and personal fortune that he is far too old to enjoy. The same is true of Obiang, who came to power (in a military coup) a year earlier than Mugabe and has repeatedly tried to legitimize his corrupt regime with sham elections.

The sovereignty that dictators defend so vigorously has nothing to do with the rights of their peoples; they have none. This is why sovereignty is conditional and the right to non-intervention must be understood in light of human rights.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Gas for China

The New York Times reports today that Russia and China have signed a thirty-year agreement for the sale of natural gas to China. The deal, which had been in the works for over a decade, was signed while Russian president Vladimir Putin and Chinese president Xi Jinping were in Shanghai for a regional security conference.

While the New York Times story correctly notes the political impetus for the conclusion of this agreement in a setting in which Russia's relationship with Europe has been imperiled by events in Ukraine, it is also worth pointing out the significance of the agreement for China's efforts to address its environmental problems. According to the EPA, the use of natural gas for electricity production generates 1.22 pounds of carbon dioxide CO2 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity. In comparison, bituminous coal generates 2.08 pounds of CO2 per kWh, sub-bituminous coal generates 2.16 pounds of CO2 per kWh, and lignite generates 2.18 pounds of CO2 per kWh. The natural gas advantage is partially offset by the leakage of methane--the principal component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas--into the atmosphere during gas production and transportation, but, at least in the United States, studies suggest that the offsetting effects of leakage are not great enough to overcome the benefits of the ongoing transition from coal to natural gas.

Natural gas is no panacea for air pollution and climate change; energy from wind, water, and the sun remain far better options than any fossil fuel. Nevertheless, changes that can reduce China's dependence on coal--the increase in CO2 emissions from coal in China between 2002 and 2012 was roughly equal to Europe's total CO2 emissions from coal in 2011--should be welcomed even if the alternative (natural gas, in this case) is sub-optimal.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

National Climate Assessment 2014

On Tuesday, the latest National Climate Assessment (NCA) was released. Its findings are sobering and leave no room for doubt regarding anthropogenic climate change and its impact on the United States. The report documents a pattern of drought in California and the Southwest, an increase in flooding in the Northeast, increases in extreme weather across the country, and the melting of sea ice, glaciers, and permafrost (with attendant releases of methane, a potent greenhouse gas) in Alaska.

The National Climate Assessment is an intergovernmental effort to collect and synthesize studies of climate change from government, academic, and private-sector sources. It was established by the Global Change Research Act of 1990. Previous reports were issued in 2000 and 2009. Reports are peer-reviewed in a process that includes the participation of a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.

The report is detailed and thoroughly documented. It includes both thematic and regional assessments. Here are just a few of the findings:
  • "Temperatures at Earth’s surface, in the troposphere (the active weather layer extending up to about 5 to 10 miles above the ground), and in the oceans have all increased over recent decades." (Read more here.)
  • "Heavy downpours are increasing nationally, especially over the last three to five decades. The heaviest rainfall events have become heavier and more frequent, and the amount of rain falling on the heaviest rain days has also increased. Since 1991, the amount of rain falling in very heavy precipitation events has been significantly above average." (Read more here.)
  • "Warmer and drier conditions have already contributed to increasing wildfire extent across the western United States, and future increases are projected in some regions. Long periods of record high temperatures are associated with droughts that contribute to dry conditions and drive wildfires in some areas." (Read more here.)
Also this week, former Utah governor and Republican presidential candidate Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., in a New York Times op-ed, urged fellow Republicans to stop "denying the science" and "get back to [their] foundational roots as catalysts for innovation and problem solving." Huntsman wrote, "If Republicans can get to a place where science drives our thinking and actions, then we will be able to make progress." It is good that Huntsman is defending science as a driver of policy--but sad that it should be necessary to do so in addressing the entire Republican Party.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Glen Stassen (1936-2014)

Glen Stassen--theologian, ethicist, social critic, disarmament advocate--passed away in Pasadena, California on April 25, 2014. Stassen was a leader in the Nuclear Freeze movement in the United States during the 1980s and the founder of the Just Peacemaking Initiative in the 1990s. At the time of his death, Stassen was a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.

Monday, April 21, 2014

International Law for Beginners

This somehow seems appropriate to post during final exams.

(Thanks to Amy Eckert and Thomas Doyle for digging this up and bringing it to my attention. The whole trove of Bart Simpson's "prison writings" is available at Bart's Blackboard, from whence this picture has come.)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Poisoning the Rice

The environmental news out of China would be bad under any circumstances--as always--but combined with what we're learning about rice, it seems especially worrisome.

China's government has released a study conducted from 2006 to 2013 that found that 19.4 percent of all arable land in the country is contaminated. Cadmium, nickel, and arsenic--products of emissions from Chinese industry--are the chief pollutants in the soil with the heaviest concentrations located in the Yangtze River Delta, the Pearl River Delta, and the northeast corner of China.

Meanwhile, studies conducted in the U.S. have found that rice absorbs arsenic and cadmium from the soil all too efficiently. In traditional rice-growing, where a paddy is flooded with water, rice draws arsenic from the soil. But if the amount of water used is reduced in an effort to limit the absorption of arsenic, rice will absorb cadmium instead. Both elements are toxic.

In addition to a massive environmental cleanup, what China needs is not organic rice but a genetically modified form of the grain that is able to avoid rice's normal thirst for cadmium and arsenic. Until that's available, though, it might be best to go with the noodles.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Rwanda: Visions of Hell

It was twenty years ago today that a plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down in what would prove to be the opening act of one of the most hellish episodes in human history. Bypassing the civil authorities who should have been in charge in the aftermath of President Habyarimana's assassination, so-called Hutu Power advocates in the Rwandan military and government unleashed a premeditated program of genocide against the Tutsi and moderate Hutu of Rwanda. It turned the country into a macabre spectacle of death and destruction that lasted until the rebel forces of the Rwandan Patriotic Front managed to fight their way into Kigali in July. Over 800,000 were people killed in the genocide, most of them with machetes, hatchets, and hoes.

Most of the journalists, embassy officials, aid workers, and others who could have documented the Rwandan genocide fled the country in the first few days after the killing began. But some images have been preserved in photographs and in video, especially from the period immediately after the genocide ended when some journalists began to return. The incredible scope of the killing meant that evidence--in the form of bodies left unburied--was everywhere. There were visions of Hell at every turn.

What is Hell like? In Christendom from an early era, the ceilings and walls of cathedrals and monasteries commonly featured artistic depictions of Hell. For the church, an institution focused on salvation, it was important to spell out what the alternative to salvation might be. Thus, Luca Signorelli frescoed one of the walls of the Capella della Madonna di San Brizio in the Cathedral of Orvieto with the scene below.

Luca Signorelli, The Damned Taken to Hell and Received by Demons (1500-1503)
The triptych below by Hans Memling, now in the National Museum in Gdansk, Poland, offers another vision of Hell.

Hans Memling, The Last Judgment (1466-73)
These and many other representations of the damned being consigned to Hell aim to convey the human condition in its most grotesque, terrifying, and helpless form. But the imaginations of some of the world's greatest artists pale in comparison with the hellish scenes captured on film in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide.

The links that follow will take you to some of the photographs available online. The images are, in most instances, graphic and disturbing.

French photographer Gilles Peress traveled to Rwanda soon after the genocide. A selection of his photos, including some from the interior of the cathedral in Nyarubuye, where perhaps 10,000 Tutsi were killed over the course of three days beginning on April 15, can be viewed here. A photo essay by Jens Meierhenrich showing the Nyarubuye Parish as it appears today is posted here as part of a website focused on genocide memorials in Rwanda.

Australia-born Jack Picone has a portfolio of photographs from Rwanda, many of them very disturbing, here

Michael S. Williamson photographed scenes at the Benaco refugee camp during the genocide. Some of his images were published recently on the Washington Post's WorldView blog here.

Finally, there is a large trove of videos, photos, survivor testimonies, and more on the website of the Genocide Archive Rwanda.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Master of Confessions

Two months ago, the appeals process ended in the case of Kaing Guek Eav, the only person to have been convicted thus far in Cambodia's special genocide tribunal, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). Comrade Duch, to use the defendant's more familiar nom de guerre, was the top Khmer Rouge official at S-21, the infamous makeshift prison in Phnom Penh, where, between 1975 and early 1979, over 12,000 people were held and tortured before being transported to their executions in the killing fields outside of the city. The sentence handed down by the mixed Cambodian/international tribunal in 2010 had been 30 years in prison; the appellate division changed the term to life imprisonment for the 69-year-old Duch.

Four others who bear even more responsibility for the slaughter in Cambodia, people much older and more feeble than Duch, have been indicted by the ECCC, but it is entirely possible that Duch will be the only person the court ever convicts. Of the four remaining indictees, one died on March 14, 2013, and another had her case dismissed in November 2011 when she was deemed unfit for trial due to the advance of Alzheimer's disease. The two remaining named defendants, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, are 87 and 82, respectively. (There are two additional cases under investigation involving a total of five possible defendants, but their identities remain confidential at this point.)

During his trial, Duch confessed and apologized to his victims' families, many of whom crowded the visitors' galleries when he testified. At one point Duch said, "I sincerely regret to giving in to others' ideas and concepts and to accepting the criminal tasks I was asked to do. When I think about it, I am first angry at the steering committee of the party, who used all sorts of tricks to lead the country to a total and absolute tragedy. I am also angry at myself for agreeing on others' conceptions and for blindly respecting their criminal orders." Duch later angered those to whom he had apologized by asking the court to release him on the grounds that his case did not fall within the competence of the ECCC. He was not, his lawyer argued, a "senior leader" of the Khmer Rouge nor was he one of those "most responsible" for the crimes committed by the regime. The court rejected the claim.

French journalist Thierry Cruvellier has just published a book--The Master of Confessions--about the Duch trial. Farah Stockman, who met Cruvellier while both were covering the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, writes about Cruvellier, his book, and genocide trials here. She notes that Cruvellier is "the world's most dedicated genocide trial junkie," having covered trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and the ECCC. Everywhere, she says, Cruvellier asked these questions: "Who is this expensive international justice for? The peasant farmers who give their testimonies, only to return home to poverty and meals less delicious than what the killers eat in UN jails? Was it for the 'international community,' which needed absolution for its failure to stop the killings? Or for killers to get one last shot at forgiveness?"

Stockman concludes that, perhaps, the trials are for history--to help us understand how and why genocide occurs so we can prevent it in the future. Maybe. But trials are a slow and cumbersome way to build knowledge. I would venture to say that the trials are simply for the sake of justice. Certainly not perfect justice: too many killers--in Cambodia, Rwanda, the Balkans, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and elsewhere--escape prosecution for us to speak of justice except in the highly qualified way that humans must always speak of justice. But, justice nonetheless--as an ideal, perhaps. So that even if Kaing Guek Eav is the only person ever convicted of crimes connected to the Cambodian genocide, we can still affirm that what happened was heinously offensive and that the victims deserve  recognition.

In what kind of world would we not at least attempt to do justice?

Update: George Packer of the New Yorker has a thoughtful review of Cruvellier's book here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

War and Peacekeeping

On the same day that President Obama paid homage to Americans who died fighting in World War I on a visit to a cemetery in Belgium, I saw the monument honoring Canada's war dead that stands in front of City Hall in Toronto. The Toronto Cenotaph, modeled after a similar monument in London, was originally designed to honor only those who died in World War I. Thus, the Cenotaph bears the names of the places in Belgium and France where Canadian soldiers fought: Ypres, Somme, Passchendaele, Amiens, and others.

After World War II, however, the dates of that great conflict were engraved on the monument.  After all, Canadians fought and died in that war, too. The Cenotaph also bears the dates 1950-1953, testifying to the fact that Canadians died in the Korean War.

There are no other wars noted on the Cenotaph, but at the bottom--engraved on both sides of the base--is the word "Peacekeeping." It is a reminder that Canadians have served all over the world in peacekeeping missions and that some have died in the course of those missions--in the Golan Heights, in the Belgian Congo, in Cyprus, in Haiti, and elsewhere.

Dulce et decorum est pro pax mori.

Monday, March 24, 2014

China in Africa

It's more than just oil . . . but not much more.

Since the early 1990s when China's economic liberalization began to produce high annual GDP growth rates, Chinese foreign economic policy has tilted toward the Middle East and Africa in a bid to ensure adequate supplies of energy and other resources necessary to sustain that growth. China's courtship of Africa has been intentional and, by any economic measure (with economic being an important qualification), it has been successful.

Just a few examples are necessary to illustrate how extraordinary China's diplomatic effort to build ties with Africa has been. First, in October 2000, China hosted a ministerial meeting in Beijing to inaugurate a new organization called the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). At this meeting, President Jiang Zemin announced a series of Chinese initiatives designed to aid Africa (and promote China's interests there). These initiatives included a doubling of China's development assistance to Africa, the construction--at China's expense--of a new headquarters building for the African Union, the cancellation of all African debts, the establishment of a $5 billion fund to promote African investments by Chinese firms, a doubling (to 4,000) of the number of scholarships for African students in Chinese universities, construction of 30 hospitals and 100 schools in Africa, the training of 15,000 Africans in the professions, and more. Since that initial meeting, FOCAC has held meetings at the ministerial level every three years, alternating between Beijing and an African capital. Second, between 2004 and 2006, China hosted at least 29 leaders from Africa; some who had been shunned for human rights-related reason in Washington were given red-carpet treatment in Beijing. Meanwhile, President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao between them made 15 state visits to Africa in the same period.

The results of these and other efforts can be quantified. The value of trade between China and Africa increased from $8 billion in 1997 to $106 billion in 2008. In 2009, China overtook the United States to become Africa’s largest trading partner; by 2012, trade between China and Africa reached a total value of $198.5 billion divided between approximately $85 billion in Chinese exports to Africa and just over $113 billion in African exports to China. According to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China today maintains embassies in 41 African states. (Three African states with no Chinese embassy--Burkina Faso, Sao Tome and Principe, and Swaziland--maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan.)

To the extent that there is political and economic competition involved, China has a number of advantages over the United States and Europe in its dealings with Africa. First, as a victim itself of Western imperialism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, China is able to engage with former colonial states with a measure of credibility and trust that is lacking for those states that once ruled colonial empires. This is no small matter on a continent that for centuries was divided up and exploited by a handful of European states. Second, China's history and ideology give it a worldview with respect to sovereignty and human rights that more closely matches that of many African governments than the worldview of the West. Paradoxically, in its relationship with Africa, the West suffers both from the illiberal policies of the past and the liberal policies of the present. Third, China offers what to many African leaders appears to be a very attractive model of state-centered development. Thus far, Beijing has managed to achieve impressive economic gains without conceding the need for more open political processes. This is appealing to the long-time rulers of Zimbabwe, Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, and other African states. Fourth, the Chinese political system makes possible forms of investment in Africa that are generally difficult, if not impossible, for the United States and Europe to match. Specifically, China is able to tie the contracts its state-owned enterprises make with African governments to government aid packages. It is as if a U.S.-based oil company were able to promise that, upon the completion of a deal, USAID would follow with a new set of grants. Fifth, China's economic dealings in Africa are unaffected by concerns over the quality of governance. What human rights and anti-corruption advocates in the West decry as “dirty aid” or tainted contracts appears to some African leaders merely to be business as it should be--without conditions external to the matters at hand.

Much of what China gets from Africa is oil. Eighty percent of the value of African exports to China comes from oil. China imports more oil from Angola, the second-largest oil exporter in sub-Saharan Africa, than any other state. It has a significant stake in exploration and production in many other African states, and has had, in some cases, for a decade or more. Two Chinese IOCs, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (SINOPEC), began operating in Sudan in 1995 with petroleum production beginning in 1999. Chinese companies began oil exploration in Libya in 2001, Nigeria in 2002, and Ethiopia in 2005. China began purchasing petroleum from Congo in 2000, from Equatorial Guinea in 2002, and from Gabon and Mauritania in 2004.

China's efforts to increase and diversify its sources of petroleum are essential to the maintenance of the economic growth that has so far kept the Communist Party in power by lifting millions of people out of poverty. China surpassed Germany and Japan to become the second-largest car market in the world in 2005. It is expected to have 130 million vehicles on the road by 2020, surpassing the U.S. By 2030, the number of cars and trucks in China is expected to reach 270 million. Quite apart from the urban road construction necessary to accommodate 270 million vehicles, China will require significant increases in its supply of petroleum to meet future demand.

In a world of scarcity, this might be a problem. It is not clear, however, that we are living in world of scarcity at this point. The BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013 puts the world supply of petroleum (proved reserves) at 1.669 trillion barrels of oil--more oil than has been produced since the beginning of petroleum exploration and production. Of course, demand is accelerating, so a better indicator may be the reserves-to-production ratio. BP puts the reserves-to-production ratio (the ratio of petroleum reserves remaining at the end of the year divided by that year's rate of production) for the end of 2012 at 52.9 years. That's not a long time, but with a few new finds it may be long enough to see even China and India move away from oil consumption as the U.S. has begun to do.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Predicting Mass Atrocities

Can we predict where mass atrocities and other forms of political violence are likely to occur based on known variables such as infant mortality rates (which happen to be good indicators of state failure) or instances of hate speech on Twitter? We're getting there.

An article in today's New York Times by UN correspondent Somini Sengupta describes a number of ongoing projects that use content analysis from newspaper archives, state-level data (on, for example, defense budgets and infant mortality), social media postings, and more in an effort to predict various forms of violent conflict. Efforts to turn data into foreknowledge--or at least better risk assessment--have been funded by the U.S. intelligence community for years. The Political Instability Task Force, based in the Center for Global Policy at George Mason University, is the center of CIA-funded open-source analysis.

Choeung Ek, Cambodia

Thursday, March 20, 2014

TNO's Legal Problems

Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, Equatorial Guinea's second vice president (and oldest son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo), was notified this week that French authorities are putting him under formal investigation for money laundering. The move is roughly the equivalent of an indictment in an American court.

France has been investigating corruption involving the leadership of three African states--Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Cameroon--in a case known as les biens mal acquis--"the ill-gotten gains"--since December 2010. As part of the investigation, France has seized property belonging to the younger Obiang, including a fleet of expensive cars and an estate in central Paris.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Syria: Year Four Begins

The horrendous civil war in Syria is entering its fourth year with conditions steadily worsening. The New York Times presents this snapshot of conditions in Syria:
  • An estimated 150,000 people have been killed.
  • The number of refugees has climbed to 2.5 million.
  • Forty-two percent of Syrians have been forced out of their homes. (The majority are IDPs--internally displaced persons.)
  • About 700,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed.
  • Unemployment is at 50 percent.
The CBC provides another overview of the civil war in Syria here.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Borderline Insanity

Today's referendum in Crimea, conducted with Russian troops patrolling the streets, offers voters a choice between two options neither of which is acceptable to the government of Ukraine. In fact, pro-Ukraine voters appear to be boycotting the election, thus providing even greater assurance that the vote will show a strong preference for Crimea's reunification with Russia. The result, like the vote itself, will be rejected by the Ukrainian government and the governments of the United States and the European Union. This sets up the possibility that Russia will annex Crimea and the status of Crimea will fall into a form of legal limbo that persists for decades.

In 2008, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. Most UN member states (including the United States) recognized Kosovo's independence; Serbia, Russia, and China did not. Later in 2008, following the Russo-Georgian War, Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states; the United States (and most UN member states) did not. Of course, each of these cases differs from the Crimean case in that new states were created. The most likely outcome of events in Crimea is that Crimea will be annexed by Russia. This means that adverse impacts--sanctions, to be more specific--will be directed at Russia rather than Crimea itself. (Kosovo, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia remain outside the United Nations--and likely will remain outside the UN as long as the U.S. and Russia have vetoes in the Security Council. This stamp of illegitimacy will not apply to Crimea if it is annexed.)

Meanwhile, for those interested in thinking more about the mutability of borders, Wikipedia's list of post-World War I border changes is worth examining. There are many possible takeaways from the list--the role war plays in boundary changes, the potential for international judicial settlement to effect peaceful change in cases of border disputes, or the ongoing influence of the national self-determination norm as a maker of boundaries--but perhaps the most obvious and important point is simply that boundary changes are not terribly unusual in the modern international system.

Finally, NPR's Greg Myre asks, "What Are the Rules for Changing a Country's Borders?" Many of the commenters seem convinced that might makes right.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Crypto-War

Here's the question: Would you rather have perfect encryption capable of ensuring that you (and everyone else who uses the Internet) can keep your movements online hidden from the government or would you prefer that the government be able to hack into the Internet accounts of traffickers and terrorists (even if that means innocent people also lose their privacy online, at least some of the time)? Put another way, to what extent are you willing to trade privacy rights for some additional increment of security? Or is that even the right way to think about the encryption issue?

BBC News security correspondent Gordon Corera provides an informative history of data encryption in a story that asks who's winning the crypto-war?

Meanwhile, Google is playing its part in the crypto-war by routinely encrypting Google searches in China, thus complicating the Chinese government's efforts to monitor or censor certain sites. The Google search engine, however, has only a small share of China's market, which is dominated by Baidu.

Universal Jurisdiction: The French Connection

A high-level intelligence official in the Rwandan government during the genocide has been convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison for complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity. That official, Pascal Simbikangwa, is the first person to be convicted in a French court for crimes related to the Rwandan genocide. The genocide began almost 20 years ago after a plane carrying Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntayamira was shot down on April 6, 1994. An estimated 800,000 people--most of them ethnic Tutsi--were killed in only 100 days.

Simbikangwa was arrested on charges of carrying fake identification documents on the Indian Ocean island of Mayotte, an overseas department of France where he was living, in 2008. While serving a two-year sentence on that charge, he was charged in connection with the Rwandan genocide. A judicial enquiry in the case lasted four years before the trial began in early February. 

There are 25 cases linked to the Rwandan genocide--along with others in Algeria, Congo-Brazzaville, Libya, and Syria--currently being investigated by a new unit in the office of the prosecutor in Paris that was created to deal with genocide-related cases.

For more (in French) on the Simbikangwa case, go here.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Beehive Radio

In today's New York Times, Thomas Fuller profiles a 72-year-old Cambodian--Mam Sonando--who is into Lil Wayne, Eminem, and Jay Z, but not Hun Sen, Cambodia's longtime leader. (Hun Sen has led Cambodia since 1985. His Cambodian People's Party won a majority of seats in parliament last summer in an election that most believe was fraudulent.)

Mam Sonando owns and operates Beehive Radio in Phnom Penh, a station that provides a platform for his pro-democracy, anti-corruption message. It is a message that has gotten him arrested three times.

Ou Virak, the president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, says of Beehive Radio that "there's nothing else out there that is so critical of the government." This, no doubt, explains why the station has been repeatedly denied its requests to expand its operating range.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Getting Paid to Hack in China

Panasonic, the Japanese electronics company, has announced that it will begin providing bonus pay to its employees working in China to compensate for the risks posed by China's high levels of air pollution.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

On Drones and the Law

Recently the UN Human Rights Council's Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism, Ben Emmerson, presented his third annual report. This report focuses on the use of drones in counter-terrorism operations with special emphasis on civilian casualties in drone strikes.

The report notes that while the number of drone attacks in Pakistan declined in 2013, drone strikes increased in Afghanistan and in Yemen. The decline in Pakistan came amid complaints from the Pakistani government that U.S. drone strikes were undermining its authority.

Paragraph 71 of the report lays out a series of questions regarding the legal status of drone strikes and suggests that there is "an urgent and imperative need to reach a consensus between States" on the answers to these questions. Included among the questions are these:
  • Is the international law principle of self-defence confined to situations in which an armed attack has already taken place, or does it entitle a State to carry out pre-emptive military operations against a non-State armed group on the territory of another State, without the territorial State's consent, where it judges that there is an imminent risk of attack to its own interests? . . .
  • Does international humanitarian law permit the targeting of persons directly participating in hostilities who are located in a non-belligerent state, and, if so, in what circumstances? . . .
  • In the context of non-international armed conflict, when (and under what circumstances) does international humanitarian law impose an obligation to capture rather than kill a legitimate military target where this is feasible?
While the Special Rapporteur is no doubt correct that the international community thus far has failed to reach a consensus view on these (and other) matters, the report notes (in Paragraph 31) that on February 25, 2014, the European Parliament adopted a resolution (by a vote of 534 to 49) that concludes that "drone strikes outside a declared war by a State on the territory of another State without the consent of the latter or of the UN Security Council constitute a violation of international law and of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of that country."

The complete text of the 21-page report is available here. For the Guardian's take on the story, go here.

MQ-9 Reaper over Afghanistan (USAF Photo / Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The C.I.A. Torture Cover-Up

The title of this post is the title of a New York Times editorial that says exactly what needs to be said at this point.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, today publicly accused the CIA of what amounts to a criminal act in its efforts to impede the Committee's investigation of a program of torture ("enhanced interrogation" according to the euphemism used by the George W. Bush administration) involving terrorism suspects that was initiated in 2002. The text of Senator Feinstein's statement on the floor of the Senate is available here and a video of the speech can be seen below.

This is no small matter.

To Sweeten the Deal?

What do Dennis Rodman and 10,000 tons of sugar have in common? You can insert your own punch line, but a new report from the panel of experts appointed by the United Nations Security Council to monitor the sanctions regime imposed on North Korea suggests that both may have been involved in the shipment of prohibited goods.

Last summer, Panama intercepted a North Korean ship traveling from Cuba to North Korea with 10,000 tons of sugar in its hold. Beneath the sugar were containers holding two disassembled MiG-21 jet fighters and fifteen MiG-21 engines, all being shipped to the DPRK for repair. (North Korea is one of the few places in the world where Soviet-made weapons from the 1950s can be sent for repair.) The report, according to the New York Times, shows that "North Korea is using increasingly deceptive techniques to circumvent international sanctions."

Reuters reported recently that the panel of experts was investigating whether Rodman, whose travels to North Korea were lampooned last fall in this brilliant ad for Foot Locker, may have violated the ban on shipments of luxury goods (including spirits) into the DPRK.

Meanwhile, amid dancing in the streets, North Koreans have just voted unanimously to approve Kim Jong-un and his entire slate of parliamentary candidates.

Phrases Loaded with Dynamite

Territorial integrity. Self-determination. Sovereignty. Human rights. Non-intervention. Responsibility to protect.

Each of these is an important principle in international politics. Taken together, however, they cause problems.

From Versailles after World War I, U.S. Secretary of State Robert Lansing expressed in his diary the angst he felt regarding Woodrow Wilson's call for "the self-determination of peoples." He wrote:
The more I think about the President's declaration as to the right of "self-determination", the more convinced I am of the danger of putting such ideas into the minds of certain races. It is bound to be the basis of impossible demands on the Peace Congress, and create trouble in many lands. . . .
The phrase is simply loaded with dynamite. It will raise hopes which can never be realized. It will, I fear, cost thousands of lives. In the end, it is bound to be discredited, to be called the dream of an idealist who failed to realize the danger until too late to check those who attempt to put the principle into force. What a calamity that the phrase was ever uttered! What misery it will cause! Think of the feelings of the author when he counts the dead who died because he uttered a phrase! A man, who is a leader of public thought, should beware of intemperate or undigested declarations. He is responsible for the consequences.
Lansing, one of the founders of the American Society of International Law and the author of a book on state sovereignty, clearly leaned in his views in the direction of territorial integrity. Wilson leaned toward human rights and the breakup of multinational empires. In part because Wilson insisted on throwing open the gates of "the prison of nations" (to use the phrase that Soviet propagandists, referring to Russia under the stars, had coined), there is today a Ukraine--and a Crimea intent on holding a vote on secession from Ukraine.

On Saturday, Peter Baker wrote in the New York Times about the tensions between the right of self-determination and the territorial integrity of states as the two principles are exemplified in the Crimean crisis. As Baker points out, fifteen years ago when Kosovo sought to secede from Serbia, Russia and the United States took positions opposite where they stand today. 

Saturday, March 08, 2014

The Impact of War

This brief video, from Save the Children UK, is worth watching . . . twice.

Friday, March 07, 2014

To the Water's Edge

Where do the obligations of the United States as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) apply? The Obama administration's deliberations on this question are the subject of an interesting piece by Charlie Savage in yesterday's New York Times.

Article 2(1) of the ICCPR states:
Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status. (emphasis added)
As the article notes, it has been the policy of the United States since its ratification of the ICCPR to regard this clause as a limit on the extraterritorial reach of U.S. obligations under the Covenant. The George W. Bush administration extended the reasoning to the Torture Convention for obvious and unfortunate reasons. Savage notes that the Obama administration seems unlikely to change U.S. policy on this matter.

Katanga Convicted

One of the longest-running trials at the International Criminal Court (ICC) has ended with the conviction of Germain Katanga, a warlord involved in fighting in the Ituri district of Democratic Republic of Congo. Katanga was found guilty of one count of being an accessory to crimes against humanity and four counts of war crimes.

The charges against Katanga stemmed from an attack on the village of Bogoro on February 24, 2003. In that attack, villagers were shot or killed with machetes, in some cases while sleeping. Prosecutors alleged that the attack was intended to "wipe out" the village, which was considered strategically important due to its proximity to the Ugandan border in a gold-rich region.

Katanga made his first appearance before a pre-trial chamber of the ICC on October 22, 2007. His case was originally linked to that of another defendant, Mathieu Ngudjolo, but the cases were severed and Ngudjolo was acquitted late last year.

The first conviction obtained by the ICC, of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo in March 2012, also involved fighting in the DR Congo. Lubanga was sentenced to fourteen years in prison.

Katanga's conviction is only the second in the ICC's twelve-year history. 

Thursday, March 06, 2014

The Long Arm of the Law

How difficult is it to prosecute cases in U.S. courts that involve extraterritorial jurisdiction? In a word, "very." Gaining custody of the defendant may involve complex extradition procedures that bring both legal and diplomatic considerations into play. Prosecutors must work with police officials who follow rules for the collection and handling of evidence that are different from those here. Often, witnesses must be deposed using interpreters. If asked to testify, witnesses must be brought to the U.S., housed, and fed at government expense. This is not all. The prosecutors in such cases could generate much longer lists of the special problems inherent in cases that involve multiple jurisdictions.

Last week, a sentence of 210 years in prison was handed down in the case of Michael Joseph Pepe, a former Marine who was convicted back in 2008 in federal court on charges involving the sexual abuse of seven young girls in Cambodia. Pepe was arrested in Phnom Penh in June 2006 by Cambodian authorities and expelled the following February. He was brought to Los Angeles in the custody of U.S. law enforcement officials and arraigned. His trial, which included testimony from six of the seven girls, lasted three weeks and concluded on May 29, 2008. Here is a portion of the press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California:
During the trial, government prosecutors presented testimony from six of the seven girls that Pepe sexually abused. The girls, who at the time of the abuse were between the ages of 9 and 12, testified that Pepe drugged, bound, beat and raped them. . . .
In addition to victim testimony, prosecutors presented corroborating evidence seized by the Cambodian National Police from Pepe’s Phnom Penh residence, including rope and cloth strips used to restrain the victims, Rohypnol and other sedatives, and homemade child pornography.
The prostitute who acted as Pepe’s broker testified on videotape about bringing him young victims. Pepe paid the broker and the victims' families for unlimited access to the victims.
The press release also notes that Pepe was the fifth person to be tried in the Central District of California under the PROTECT Act of 2003, a statute designed to strengthen protections in federal law against the sexual abuse of children. Section 105 of the law establishes a maximum sentence of thirty years in prison for anyone who travels abroad "for the purpose of engaging in any illicit sexual conduct with another person."

U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer imposed the maximum sentence in each of the seven cases and ordered that they be served consecutively rather than concurrently. She called Pepe's crimes "unspeakable" and "heinous" and indicated that she wished to send a message to other Americans who might consider traveling abroad for the purpose of engaging in illicit sex.

The long delay between the conclusion of Pepe's trial in 2008 and his final sentencing in 2014 was the result of a defense motion to throw out the verdict due to concerns about bias in some of the Vietnamese-language interpretations of witness testimony presented to the court. After the trial ended, an interpreter revealed that she was involved in a sexual relationship with a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent investigating the case. In the end, Judge Fischer ruled that the ICE investigator's misconduct did not invalidate the overwhelming evidence of Pepe's guilt.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Ukraine: Two Realist Assessments

"'Do something' is a platitude, not a strategy." So says Sean Kay in an essay titled "America's Strategic Dilemma in Ukraine" that appeared on The Duck of Minerva on Sunday.

Kay takes to task those who are urging some sort of muscular American response to Russia's invasion of the Crimea. It is not a liberal critique, however. On the contrary, Kay's analysis is focused on the realists' traditional concern with national interests and geopolitics. It's a reminder that sometimes the realists are the ones who provide the counsel of restraint where the use of force is concerned.

In another essay worth reading, Thomas Friedman reminds us--yet again--of the many health benefits (to U.S. foreign policy) of reducing our appetite for fossil fuels. The bottom line is this: oil and natural gas exports are what allow Putin (and many other autocrats around the world) to stay in power and occasionally launch invasions of neighboring countries.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Ukraine's Cyberwar

It should come as no surprise that Russians and Ukrainians are skirmishing in cyberspace. (The term "cyberwar" is probably too strong for what seems to be happening at present, but there could easily be some exploits lurking that, if unleashed, would justify the term "cyberwar.") The Bits blog on the New York Times website reports that distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against news organizations in Ukraine have escalated.

In addition to knocking various services offline, hackers today managed for a time to replace the word "Russian" with "Nazi" on the Russia Today website. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that cell phones of Ukrainian members of parliament have been blocked. Also, Ukraine's main government dark after Russian troops entered Crimea, but experts are unsure whether or not a cyberattack was responsible.

The Russian government has disavowed all responsibility for cyberattacks in Ukraine, just as it did in Estonia and Georgia. In those earlier episodes, officials blamed "patriotic hackers."

Fighting Words

A recent post on the "Wired Campus" blog of the Chronicle of Higher Education describes efforts by the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary to strengthen the dictionary's collection of words created by soldiers who fought in World War I. The OED is using crowdsourcing (a word coined in 2005) to find, for example, early references to the phrase "Zeppelins in a cloud" (as a substitute for bangers and mash or, to the unBritish, sausages with mashed potatoes).

As the article notes, wars tend to produce a lot of neologisms. Some originate in soldiers' mangling--or playful distortion--of foreign words and phrases they pick up while fighting in a different country or alongside troops speaking a different language. In World War I, British soldiers took the French phrase "jusqu' au bout" ("to the end") and turned it into "jusqu'auboutiste" ("someone who fights to the bitter end"). "Napoo," a synonym for "dead," seems to have come from the French phrase "il n'ya plus," which means "he is no more."

The OED Appeals web page is located here, for those who want to be part of the crowd helping the editors source these and other World War I words.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Cold War Lessons

In an insightful news analysis published in today's New York Times, Sam Tanenhaus suggests that the real lessons we should be drawing from the Cold War as we contemplate possible responses to Russia's violation of the Ukraine's sovereignty are lessons about restraint. "The truth is," Tanenhaus writes, "that the Cold War was less a carefully structured game between masters than a frightening high-wire act, with leaders on both sides aware that a single misstep could plunge them into the abyss."

Saturday, March 01, 2014

"Banana Man"?

NPR reports that an editorial in a Chinese state-run newspaper called outgoing U.S. ambassador to China Gary Locke a "yellow-skinned white-hearted banana man." Locke, who is Chinese-American, earned the affection of ordinary Chinese and the scorn of  China's government officials for his common touch.

The editorial also suggested that Beijing's heavy smog had arrived with Ambassador Locke and then left with him.

Locke, for his part, called on the Chinese government to respect human rights in his final news conference.

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Report Card for 2013

The U.S. State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013 has been released and is available here. The introduction to the report states:
More than six decades after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a widening gap persists between the rights conferred by law and the daily realities for many around the globe. More than one third of the world’s population still lives under authoritarian rule. Serious human rights violations continue to occur, often unchecked and en masse, in closed societies. Millions are denied civil liberties, persecuted, harassed or silenced for their beliefs, subjected to torture, detained arbitrarily and unlawfully, or labor in harsh or coercive conditions, often without mechanisms for redress or accountability.
And yet, as demonstrated this past year, the courageous pursuit of human dignity remains enduring and undeterred. At the end of 2013, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians were braving violence and political repression to demand their rights and freedoms. Libyans risked their lives, marching to replace the rule of militias with the rule of law. The world came together to mourn the passing of human rights icon Nelson Mandela and saw a new generation celebrate a new champion, Malala Yousafzai, the youngest person nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. We witnessed the continued release of political prisoners in Burma and the implementation of a law that prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in Haiti.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Human Rights Inflation:
A Real Problem but a Flawed Argument

Pedro Pizano, writing in Foreign Policy, takes on the troubling issue of human rights inflation. His argument, briefly, is this: When every good thing is framed as a "right," the significance of core rights (to life, freedom from torture, freedom of conscience, etc.) is diminished and dictators get off the hook for their crimes.

Unfortunately, Pizano weakens a good and necessary discussion of the way the language and institutional structures of human rights are sometimes mishandled by supporters and manipulated by opponents with a spurious and long-discredited argument that claims there is some sort of fundamental difference between political and economic rights. He even claims, falsely, that of the 30 provisions in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "18 were considered rights, provisions that impose immediate obligations on the state at the level of the individual, [while] the 12 social, economic, and cultural provisions were considered aspirational." Is this why Article 3 reads, "Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person" while Article 23 reads, "Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment"? We're supposed to read "everyone has the right" in the first instance as a genuine right and somehow know that "everyone has the right" in the second instance is just a way of saying "it would be nice if everyone had the right"?

Pizano also claims that economic, social, and cultural rights "were controversial from the start." According to whom? Not according to those whose political freedoms seemed insignificant when compared to the economic deprivations of the Great Depression. Not according to those who were struggling to regain some semblance of economic and social normalcy in the aftermath of World War II. Not according to those who, today, will be free to concern themselves with the struggle for civil and political rights only when they have achieved some measure of food security.

Pizano's fundamental misunderstanding of the International Bill of Human Rights (which comprises the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) is further demonstrated in this statement: "In 1976, to address these issues, the rights were correctly divided up into separate binding treaties that impose obligations on the state through oversight bodies: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)." Setting aside the questionable statement about the role of oversight bodies in imposing obligations, it is worth noting that this division took place much earlier and was the product, in large measure, of Cold War politics. It followed a period in which the United States had taken itself out of international human rights conversations almost completely as the Eisenhower administration attempted to appease a Congress toying with major restrictions on executive power through the Bricker Amendment. In fact, the U.S. returned to formal negotiations over human rights  treaties only in the 1960s. The ICCPR and the ICESCR were adopted by the UN in 1966. The year that Pizano says "the rights were correctly divided up," 1976, was in fact the year the two Covenants entered into force. Their texts had been formalized--and the division of subject matter had been effected--for a decade at that point.

There is a need--an ongoing need, in fact--for conversations about human rights inflation, just as there is a need for conversations about the flaws in our institutions and procedures for human rights enforcement. Pizano's attempt to contribute to this conversation, unfortunately, is rather poorly informed.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Super Mario Meets the Sheng

The release of Super Mario Bros. almost 30 years ago may seem like ancient history, but it's nothing time-wise compared to the invention of the sheng in China over 3,000 years ago. What links the two events--in a sort of "Lexus and the olive tree" way (if an IR spin on this story is necessary)--is that Koji Kondo's theme music for Super Mario Bros. sounds great played on the sheng. Take a look at the video and the story here, courtesy of the BBC.

The Uncertainties of Cyberwar

The front page of today's New York Times carries a fascinating article by David Sanger (with reporting from Eric Schmitt) on considerations being raised within the Obama administration regarding the possible use of cyber weapons against the Assad regime in Syria. It is not clear whether a cyberattack against Syria "would be seen as a justified humanitarian intervention, less likely to cause civilian casualties than airstrikes, or whether it would only embolden American adversaries who have themselves been debating how to use the new weapons."

There are some very significant--and obvious--differences between cyber weapons and nuclear weapons, but it is entirely possible that certain restraints on their use may operate in much the same way. Consider this passage from Thomas C. Schelling's 1966 classic, Arms and Influence, in which he discusses the possible impact of the first (post-1945) use of nuclear weapons:
This is not an event to be squandered on an unworthy military objective. The first nuclear detonation can convey a message of utmost seriousness; it may be a unique means of communication in a moment of unusual gravity. To degrade the signal in advance, to depreciate the currency, to erode gradually a tradition that might someday be shattered with diplomatic effect, to vulgarize weapons that have acquired a transcendent status, and to demote nuclear weapons to the status of merely efficient artillery, may be to waste an enormous asset of last resort. 
Or, as others noted, it may be best not to let the genie out of the bottle.

Even though cyber weapons have certainly been used before--think Stuxnet and its progeny against Iran (as well as Iranian retaliatory attacks against the U.S.), the Russian denial-of-service attack against Georgia in the 2008 South Ossetia War, Israel's combined cyber/kinetic strike against a Syrian nuclear facility, and more--there may still be some wisdom in thinking of the carefully designed cyber weapon as Schelling suggested, as "an enormous asset of last resort." Or as a genie not to be let out of the bottle. In any event, it seems essential to avoid the temptation to treat cyber weapons as weapons of first resort. While they may provide the United States and other countries an unusually effective and precise means of weakening the military capacities of states such as Syria, retaliation--even with cyber weapons--is likely to be much more indiscriminate.

As we already know, military dominance in any domain commonly produces asymmetric responses that target the weaknesses of the dominant power. At present, America's Achilles' heel in cyberspace is its commercial sector thanks to businesses that, time and again, have demonstrated an unwillingness or an inability to address Internet security problems.