• US and the NATO coalition regrets and aplogizes for civilian casualties from drone strike

    The NATO International Security Assistance Force "deeply regrets any civilian casualties caused by [the] airstrike" in the Afghan province of Helmand.

    Protecting civilians in war has long been a concern - but with the development of technology and weapons it has grown in importance, as the "battlefield" is no longer a place away and apart from civilians. While the ISAF drone strike targeted and killed a Taliban insurgent, Mullah Nazar Gul, it also killed a child and injured two women. Today, civilians are often in the very center of the war.

    Article 51 of the Geneva Convention forbids exposing civilians to attacks or using civilians as shields. Gul was hiding in a house with women and children.

    Above photo: General Joseph Dunford 'expressed deep regrets' over the drone strike to Afghan President  Hamid Karzai late Thursday 29, November 2013.

    ISAF Statement on incident in Helmand province:

    "The International Security Assistance Force confirms that an airstrike was conducted on a known insurgent riding a motorbike in Helmand province yesterday.  We are aware that according to the Governor of Helmand Province that in addition to the insurgent being killed, there was one child also killed and two women injured.  ISAF, along with Afghan authorities, will immediately conduct an investigation into the incident. ISAF is committed to ensuring that all measures are taken to prevent civilian casualties.  Coalition officials will work with Afghan officials to determine what happened and why. We extend our deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of those killed or wounded."

    While the drone strikes have killed civilians it is the Taliban insurgents who have caused the vast majority of civilian casualties - with roadside bombs.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     The Geneva rules call for humane conduct during war. Did the drone strike or the Taliban insurgent hiding with women and children violate such rules?

    2.     What are the reasons and implications of a formal apology from the United States to Afghanistan?


  • Chinese officials seek to diffuse tensions over newly created air defense zone in East China Sea

    The Chinese government did not correctly anticipate the reactions by the South Koreans, Japanese, and the Americans to the new claim of an air defense zone in the East China Sea (click here for more).

    Above a Japanese surveillance plane flies over the disputed islands in the East China sea. Photograph: uncredited/AP.

    Last Saturday, Chinese officials claimed a new air defense zone over a set of small islands that both they and the Japanese claim. The United States almost immediately flew into and around in the newly established zone prompting the Chinese to rethink their approach (click here for more).

    Today, Chinese officials are seeking to calm tensions while saving face at home.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Is the establishment of the air defense zone legal under international law?

    2.     What might the Japanese and or Americans do to help the Chinese government back down from the aggressive stance taken with the implementation of the new zone?


  • United States sends two B-52 bombers into newly established Chinese air defense identification zone in East China Sea

    There are a group of very small islands in the East China Sea that the Japanese call the Senkaku Islands and the Chinese call the Diaoyu Islands. The islands, in my opinion, are ugly and look like little more than shrubs on a pile of rock and yet they are currently the flash point between the world's three biggest economies - the United States, China, and Japan.

    Ownership and control of these now hotly disputed islands would allow for oil, mineral, and fishing rights in surrounding waters and control of very important shipping lanes. Interestingly, no state cared much about these islands until fairly recently - the dispute intensified only late last year (click here for more).

    On 23 November 2013, China announced that they have established an 'East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone' that quite interestingly includes these disputed islands (click here for more).

    Air defense identification zones (ADIZ) are not new in international relations. In fact, these buffer zones have been unilaterally established outside the sovereign airspace around both the United States and Japan.  States establish these zones for security reasons - any foreign aircraft traveling in an air defense zone is routinely required to identify itself before entering into that country's airspace.

    The Chinese have, however, imposed a new wrinkle with the establishment of the ADIZ.  They have stated that Chinese officials must be notified of any flight in the new East China Sea ADIZ.  Normally, ADIZ notification procedures do not apply to flights only passing through such zones - but apply only to those flights that intend to enter the establishing state's sovereign air space.

    Secretary Kerry recently stated, "We don't support efforts by any State to apply its ADIZ procedures to foreign aircraft not intending to enter its national airspace. The United States does not apply its ADIZ procedures to foreign aircraft not intending to enter U.S. national airspace."

    It seems that the United States intended to underscore Secretary Kerry's statement with an actual flight. A joint U.S. and Japanese exercise in the East China directly challenged China's new ADIZ procedure.  Yesterday (26 November 2013), the United States flew not one but two Air Force B-52 bombers over the disputed islands without so much as a nod to Beijing.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Should the international community be concerned about the new condition placed on the air defense identification zone in the East China Sea?

    2.     Should the United States have flown the B-52 bombers into the newly established airspace? 


  • Bitcoin: Are unregulated virtual currencies a threat to security?

    Imagine a completely unregulated and anonymous virtual currency that you could use in a completely anonymous financial market.

    Imagine Fredrick Hayek and John Maynard Keynes arguing over a completely unregulated currency.  Imagine a currency unguided and unprotect by any government or central bank.

    A "virtual currency" is a medium of exchange circulated over the Internet and may or may not be backed by a government.

    At present, there are several different virtual currencies - from Second Life Linden dollars to Bitcoin.  However, much of the international community - from the UN to central bankers to presidents to multinational corporations to organized criminals - is now focused on the virtual currency known as Bitcoin.  Bitcoin was designed to make it possible for users of the virtual currency to keep transactions hidden from law enforcement officials.

    Transnational organized crime has enjoyed a period of massive growth (see the Silk Road). Organized criminals have been enjoying huge profits generated through the trade of drugs, weapons, and sex.  Much of this boom illegal economy is the product of the internet and Bitcoin - an untraceable, no-fee-charged cash used for purchasing anything online.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Because it enables crime and makes it easier to dodge paying taxes must states and the international community find some way to regulate Bitcoin?

    2.     What security risks might we incur by using a global virtual currency that central banks are unable to control and guide?


  • Building walls: Does the construction of walls advance human liberty and peace?

    In 1987 at the Brandenburg Gate, President Ronald Reagan said, "We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace." President Reagan went on to demand that the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. 

    According to report in The Guardian humans have built about 6,000 miles of new concrete and steel walls to separate themselves from others in the last decade alone (click here for the analysis).

    Above: the Israeli-Syrian border on the Golan Heights - photo Moshe Shai/Flash90 (see Jon Henley's excellent article "Walls: an illusion of security from Berlin to the West Bank").

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do the ideas of liberty and openness fit or work with walls and security?

    2.     Do former US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano's words, "Show me a 50ft wall, and I'll show you a 51ft ladder" indicate a real futility in building walls?


  • International intervention: Does the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis call for United Nations collective action?

    Cross border problems are not unusual in international relations. But the nature of the problem and the potential of the risks of the current Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant crisis may be unique. The situation at the devastated nuclear plant has the potential to get worse and could threaten life and security for billions of people in many countries. In the two years since the plant was decimated (in March 2011) by a tsunami the plant's private owners and operators and the Japanese government have struggled to contain the crises at the devastated facility.

    Later this month (November 2013) the nuclear power plant is set to undergo a major cleanup - the removing of the 1,500 nuclear fuel rods. If mishandled - if the rods break, they are capable of producing radiation at levels 14,000 times greater than what was released when United States dropped an atomic bombs on Japan in 1945.

    Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), the Japanese utility company that operates the plant, holds the lives of millions in the balance of those spent fuel rods.  According to Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki should the reactor collapse, it would be "bye bye Japan," and "everybody on the west coast of North America should evacuate. Now if that isn't terrifying, I don't know what is."

    Reports indicate that Tepco has been ill-equipped and unprepared to handle the crisis brought on by the tsumani. Plant managers and the Japanese government have been deceptive and guilty of downplaying the impacts of the problems at the plant - for obvious reasons.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Should we rely on Tepco and the Japanese government to handle the disaster?

    2.     Does the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant crisis meet requirements for collective United Nations action? Should the rest of us take steps to intervene? 


  • Dr. Paul Farmer: the man who would cure the world focuses on accompanying the poor

    A few years ago, Mr. Tracey Kidder, the award-winning author of the book Mountains Beyond Mountains, described Dr. Paul Farmer to the freshmen on my campus as a "man who would cure the world."

    Dr. Farmer is a well-known humanitarian who works everyday to provide first world healthcare for the long-suffering poor in the third world. I have written about Dr. Paul Farmer and his idea of accompaniment here before (click here).

    Dr. Farmer argues that we need to adopt a policy of a "preferential option for the poor." In his latest book, he further develops his "accompaniment model" (click here for the first chapter).

    In an "accompaniment model" of international aid delivery we must not only occasionally send food or aid dollars (when disaster strikes), but we must also work to change the very conditions that keep people poor (click here for more).

    Above: Melinda Gates and Paul Farmer - photo by Marton Perlaki.

    Caitlin Roper with Wired.com sat down for an interesting visit with Melinda Gates and Paul Farmer about the best ways to improve health all over the world (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you think a international economic policy could be refocused with a preference for the poor?

    2.     Would the "accompaniment model" reshape the way we fund and support overseas development? 


  • Natural disasters and UN collective action: a future in prevention?

    Five days ago the strongest typhoon ever recorded devastate the Philippines.

    Today, the United States Marines landed 25 tons of US AID food for the starving survivors. The United Nations is appeal for $300 million in aid

    The United Nations reports that more than 670,000 people have been displaced by the storm.  The best reports to date indicate that some 10,000 people died in the storm.

    Natural disasters are nothing new - even if the size of this typhoon was unprecedented - should the international community work together to safeguard at risk populations? Perhaps collective United Nations action and policy could limit the devastation and loss of life?  

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Is the United States doing enough to help by having sent some 1000 personal and provided just over $20 million in humanitarian assistance?

    2.     What can or should the United Nations do to prevent such a tragic event in the future?


  • As U.S. military speeds aid to Philippines most Americans vastly overestimate the share of the US budget going to foreign aid

    On Friday, the people of the Philippines were devastated by widespread loss of life from fast-moving Typhoon Haiyan.

    Above: U.S. Marine Corps in Manila to deliver humanitarian aid.

    Over the weekend, aid agencies worked to get emergency supplies to the area hit by the typhoon. The United States Marines were en route from Okinawa, Japan, with helicopters, logistics officers, and cargo planes to assist in the relief effort.

    Many Americans will donate to NGOs and relief organizations to help meet the needs of the people in the Philippines. News reports of both the needs and the donations made by Americans help create a misunderstanding about US aid.

    A recent Kaiser Kaiser Family Foundation survey indicates that Americans hold serious misperceptions about foreign assistance.

    Americans think that as a nation we spend far too much of our budget on the needs of those abroad. According to the Kaiser survey, on average, Americans think 28 percent of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid. Americans think that we give an enormous percentage of our tax dollars directly to those in need around the world to use as they see fit. In reality most U.S. aid is directed to specific program areas and directly supports American business interests.

    In fact, the United States government spends about 1 percent of its budget on foreign assistance.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Does the very low percentage of the US budget spent on foreign aid surprise you?

    2.     Should Americans increase overseas development assistance?


  • As a message to Chinese consumers and poachers the US to crush six tons of ivory

    The killing of elephants for their tusks has increased dramatically in recent years in great part due to rising demand from newly affluent Chinese consumers. President Obama wants to send a message - illegally traded ivory should not be perceived as having value.

    Poachers are increasingly well coordinated and carry out orchestrated attacks on elephant herds. They then use the money made from the sale of the ivory to fund other crimes like human trafficking and wars.

    President Obama signed an executive order to have the US Fish and Wildlife Service crush six tons of illegal African elephant ivory next week (click here for more). According to the Times, the Philippines, Kenya, and Gabon have also destroyed their stocks of ivory.

    Chinese ivory demand has made it more valuable than gold - selling on the streets in China for more than a $1000 a pound.

    According to the Wall Street Journal, the Chinese demand for ivory was ignited in 2008 when a one-off sale of ivory stocks took place (that ivory sale was of old or had been collected from already-dead elephants). In that sale, southern African nations sold about 108 tons of ivory to Japan and China, flooding the market for the first time in almost 10 years (click here for more).

    The US Fish and Wildlife Services claim that selling the ivory is not a viable option because small sales (like the one in 2008) only stimulate demand.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Does it seem to make sense to crush the US stock of ivory rather than reintroducing it into the legal market?

    2.     How might and should the United States further protect the African elephants?


  • Five Eyes of mass surveillance and the Human Right to Privacy

    Our global village has many concerns that ignore the borders of states.  From environmental concerns to terrorist's attacks and transnational crime to arms sales, globalization is reshaping the way we must think about our interactions with one another on our pale blue dot. Technology is wirelessly pulling us together in a tight web of interdependence. The have been many recent revelations of governments using digital communications for mass surveillance - within, across, and ignoring state borders.

    The "five eyes" club (which includes the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) has been sharing technical knowhow and access to mass surveillance information with each other and reportedly not spying on each other.

    The stated reason for all the mass surveillance is the search for suspected terrorist plots. Each of the national security agencies say that they share what they find with other national intelligence agencies - so all are safer.

    Does all this mass surveillance in the name of security erode fundamental the human right of privacy?

    The United Nations sponsored International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) contains a statement on the right to privacy.  Article 17 of the ICCPR states that "no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Is the protection of national security a legitimate reason for restricting the privacy rights under international law?  

    2.     Does mass surveillance create an environment that discourages those who could reveal information and hold those in power to accountable from doing so? 


  • Doctors, torture, and national security: The practice of not inflicting harm intentionally?

    Since the 9/11 attacks of 2001, prisoners taken in the war on terror have been the focus of much lengthy and heated debate.  The United States government has captured many suspected terrorists and held them in prisons in Afghanistan and Cuba. Those prisoners have been subject to harsh and server treatment - many say torture.


    A newly released report titled "Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror," concludes that after 9/11, health professionals working with the military and intelligence services "designed and participated in cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture of detainees."

    Are not doctors professionally sworn to, "First, do no harm?" Do medical ethics apply in every situation?

    Doctors and psychologists working for the US military violated the ethical codes of their profession under orders from the US Defense Department and the CIA. Health professional were required assist in the gathering of intelligence by causing harm to detainees, from water-boarding to sleep deprivation and force-feeding (click here for more).

    The United States Congress renewed US anti-torture policy in 1994 by ratifying the 1984 "Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment."

    Facing an unusual and dangerous national security climate, President George W. Bush and his administration asserted that neither the US 5th Amendment nor the Third Geneva Convention did not apply to prisoners of the war on terror.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Does it not seem that the 5th Amendment should protect against torture?

    2.     Should a doctor who is also a US soldier abrogate the fundamental principles of the medical profession on orders from above?


  • Concerned about the spread of ideas the Chinese People's Liberation Army makes a movie for its own troops: Competition Without Sound

    China has the world's largest standing army (about 2ml troops) and that army, the People's Liberation Army (PLA), has made a movie titled "Competition Without Sound." The hour and a half long movie was made for internal distribution - to be seen by the PLA's rank and file - but as most things do it found its way online (click here for more).

    Don't expect a screening of Competition Without Sound at a theater near you anytime soon. The movie posits that the United States is trying to overthrow China, according to the Hollywood Reporter (click here).

    The filmmakers want the soldiers of the PLA to be concerned about the infiltration of the American culture into China (click here for more).  They are concerned about the insidious nature and power of ideas.  The film warns that the United States is using cultural and political infiltration to manipulate young Chinese minds into undermining support for the Chinese Communist Party.

    The movie states that where the government and people of the United States were once focused on undermining the communist Soviet Union they now are focused on the Chinese Communist Party as the enemy.

    The above video is another similar propaganda piece. I was unable to find a link to Competition Without Sound.  

    The film warns the PLA soldiers that the United States is also attempting to recruit Chinese agents to destroy the Communist Party from within in the same way it destroyed and took down the Soviet Union.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What might the real impact of such a propaganda film be on the soldiers of the PLA?

    2.     Why might the PLA and the Chinese Communist Party be so very concerned about the spread of political culture and ideas?