The Troubling Future of Warfare

 Last week during a Google+ online town hall with citizens, President Barack Obama made a tacit admission of the CIA’s extensive use of drones to target hostiles. The President was answering a question about the oversight of the drone program and insisted that “drones have not caused a significant number of civilian casualties.” While the program is well-known in Pakistan, where the majority of the unmanned strikes take place, the federal government is hesitant to acknowledge the practice. Yet drone attacks have become an increasingly common implement of the CIA and have become far more frequent under the Obama administration.

President Obama’s comments reflect the growing role of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in combat as well an executive which is increasingly comfortable with this futuristic method of warfare.

President Obama answers a question during his Google+ "hangout"

Still, the comments did raise some eyebrows and seemed a source of consternation at least for Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Diane Feinstein who complained the next day that “once again this committee has been put in a difficult position of trying to avoid any mention of classified matters when various parts of the executive branch may be doing somewhat the opposite.” White House spokesman Jay Carney tried to downplay the significance of the President’s comments. Yet the admission could be critical. When the ACLU sued for more information on drone killings, the CIA would not confirm the existence or non-existence of any such program. The ACLU countered that CIA Director Leon Panetta had spoken candidly about strikes in Pakistan, but a judge disagreed that the Director had spoken specifically of drone attacks. The President’s own words cast a long shadow on an increasingly untenable CIA position.

It is likely, though, that the President’s response was more deliberate than it seems. Perhaps the Obama administration is preparing for a greater embrace of UAVs and sees in it the policy of the future for both United States intelligence and military. This future is sure to leave a number of people uneasy. Presumably the goal of UAVs is to remove a human element from war and thereby reduce risks. What exactly are the effects of dehumanizing warfare? In this interpretation, of course, the process is only dehumanized for one side. Even so, the battlefield can only be dehumanized so much. New reports seem to show drone pilots suffering from “burnout” and PTSD.

One troubling consequence could be the further obfuscation of responsibilities in bello. Suppose a drone attack struck a large number of civilians. When civilians are wrongfully targeted by traditional forces, there are at least processes, however flawed, for justice to be done. Can such processes exist for drone attacks? Where does blame lie? Is it with the faulty in-country intelligence? Is it the mistake of a engineer or technician half a world away in the Nevada desert? Is it simply a computer error? In the discussion on removing the human element from warfare, we hear plenty about the effects on policy or the ease with which wars can be prosecuted, but little about the legal ramifications. As we further obscure the fog of war, we risk eliminating what little options for recourse innocent civilians have.

A counter-argument could hold that the entire question is moot. Is there truly any justice for the unintended victims of war? There are certainly precedents for military justice, such as the conviction of Second Lieutenant William Calley after the infamous My Lai Massacre in Viet Nam. However, past experience indicates that seeking justice on behalf of civilian casualties of war is seldom straight-forward or easy. Last month, for example, many Iraqis were outraged that the Marine responsible for the Haditha killings of 2005—where 24 civilians including women, children, and a wheelchair-ridden old man, were murdered—was only disciplined with a demotion in rank.

Is drone warfare fundamentally different from conventional warfare? Do we need to treat it differently? The answers to these questions still seem unclear. The complications which accompany the spike in the use of UAVs are many and nuanced. These questions are crucial since it is becoming increasingly clear that drones will continue to shape the future of warfare. Moreover, if the United States presumes its cause to be just in fighting terror worldwide, these are truly important moral considerations.

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Answering the nuclear question

Twenty years have passed since the end of the Cold War but its legacy lives on in many aspects of Russian relations with the United States. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West has greeted each new Russian president—Putin’s return notwithstanding—with optimism that he will in some way lead his country on a path to peaceful democracy. However, cooperation between the two countries has continued to hit snags over the last 20 years. American recognition of Kosovo, the expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders (especially the possibility of Ukrainian and Georgian accession), and missile defense shields in Central Europe have sparked fury in Moscow. Meanwhile, Russian reactions to the Color Revolutions, cyber-warfare in Estonia, and an invasion of Georgia have drawn ire from Washington. All these events reinforce the tendency for each side to consider the other in arcane Cold War terms. This was the context for President Obama’s “restart” with Russia upon taking office in 2009. It is crucial that both the United States and Russia abandon the notion that they are military adversaries and instead begin to cooperate on mutual objectives. There are tangible steps that both sides can take in order to progress peacefully and avoid regressing to the Cold War status quo, and perhaps none more obvious and significant than the nuclear question.

The Cold War’s greatest legacy did not dissolve when the Berlin Wall fell. The United States and Russia continue to possess immense nuclear arsenals. These weapons do little to address actual security threats to both countries. At present, nuclear warfare between the United States and Russia is not a significant threat. As far as security goes, terrorism is a preeminent concern. The nature of modern warfare pits both the American and Russian militaries against non-state actors in a fight against terrorism. This reality has robbed nuclear weapons of their strategic utility.

President Medvedev and Obama sign the START Treaty

Therefore nuclear reduction, even if pursued unilaterally, would not necessarily weaken the United States’ strategic outlook. The United States government ought not to focus on an extremely expensive and out-dated program when funds could be better allocated to areas where the Department of Defense is still playing catch-up, such as cyber-warfare or counter-terrorism. President Obama’s administration has affirmed as much in its new Defense Strategic Guidance.

Russians were all too familiar with the threat of terrorism well before September 11th, 2001, due to its experience with Caucasian separatists. The possibility of nuclear warfare between the United States and Russia is unlikely, but the threat of undesirable proliferation is real. The availability of nuclear weapons or their components on the black market is a nightmare scenario for both the United States and Russia. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, reports have occasionally surfaced suggesting that a number of nuclear weapons are missing or unaccounted for. Regardless of the accuracy of such reports, nuclear arsenal reductions are the surest way of minimizing concerns over theft or mishandling of nuclear weapons. Simply put, the fewer weapons that exist, the easier they are to monitor. The new START Treaty which went into effect last year went some way towards improving accountability and reporting, but fell short of imposing truly significant reductions in tactical nuclear warheads. Neither country, for instance, is required to reduce their stockpiles of inactive nuclear warheads. The Obama administration should be commended for publicly addressing the problem. However, future START treaties must bind both the United States and Russia to serious reductions and commit them to the goal of a nuclear-free world.

Both Washington and Moscow will need to start thinking more pragmatically when it comes to halting nuclear proliferation. It is hypocritical for the United States to denounce other states such as Iran which pursue nuclear agendas if it is not serious about at least reducing its own. The Senate’s ratification process for the new START Treaty sparked considerable debate. Unfortunately, the debate was not over how to make the treaty more effective, but rather over perceptions of giving up a nuclear advantage. If non-proliferation is indeed a target—and it ought to be—then one must first start at home. The prerogative lies with the president to ensure that the American public understands the message. Failure to do so allows political opponents to use scare tactics and images of the mushroom cloud in order to secure a political “win”. The President must demonstrate the importance of not just being strong on national security, but also smart on national security. A better re-allocation of resources need not indicate weakness.

Despite the Duma passing START concurrently with the Senate, Moscow still must commit to greater de-nuclearization and non-proliferation efforts. Like Washington, Moscow clings to the idea that its strategic nuclear deterrent ought to be a key component of its national security strategy. In some ways, Russia’s inherited nuclear arsenal has ensured that the country is still relevant in global politics. The fear of losing this deterrent and the associated geopolitical role has led to the Kremlin’s aggressive reactions to NATO plans for a missile defense shield in Central Europe. Russian concerns of a European missile shield that it is not directed at them reflect an inability of the government to move past anachronistic Cold War mentalities. Russia has also persistently put up roadblocks to tougher international sanctions against nuclear-pursuant Iran. Intransigence on such issues has the tendency to poison the entire relationship and could impact even unrelated goals. Such policy standoffs fuel Western perceptions of an uncooperative Russia which will forever be an adversary. They also reinforce the Russian notions of American arrogance and unilateralism.

Deteriorated relations inevitably lead to consequences. These consequences have manifested themselves in new missile defense systems in Kaliningrad and threats to place missiles on EU-Russian borders. Sometimes they have manifested themselves in near-armed conflict, as was the case in Kosovo at the Pristina Airport. Other times they have manifested themselves in actual armed conflict, as was the case in August 2008 in Georgia. Improving the relationship means creating a culture of cooperation.

While important in its own rite, the nuclear question is indicative of the Russo-American relationship on the whole. Each side must work to shred the Cold War legacy. It is high time both Washington and Moscow recognize that the Cold War is over and that aggression and posturing lead only to negative outcomes for both parties. Briefly after September 11th, the United States and Russia appeared ready to work together as they realized the enemy was no longer one another, but the common foe of terrorism. President Putin was in fact the first international leader on the phone with President Bush after the 9/11 attacks. Both countries must prioritize de-nuclearization and commit to significant reductions in both active and inactive stockpiles. Failing to do so impairs any authority, moral or actual, to pursue a global non-proliferation policy.

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The Great Divide

By Zavi Engles

On the surface, it appears that the death of North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong Il will bring little change to the tense and hostile relationship between North and South Korea. Yet, as the world warily focuses on the shift in power occurring in North Korea, only a few media outlets have been paying attention to more subtle shifts occurring in South Korea. Despite their government’s official hard-line policy towards their neighbors of the North, many South Korean citizens have come out to voice their own opinions regarding the matter. Further, other changes, including the recent election of a former activist and human rights lawyer as the mayor of Seoul, as well as the numerous scandals that have damaged the ruling Grand National Party’s popularity, signal that there may be a drastic shift in North-South relations in the coming year.

Within a week of Kim Jong Il’s death, the North Korean state media issued the following statement:“We declare solemnly and confidently that the foolish politicians around the world, including the puppet group in South Korea, should not expect any change from us.”

North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong-un

Though South Korean President Lee Myung-bak addressed the matter with more optimism and discretion, even claiming the regime change was a “new opportunity” for peace, he also ended by saying that South Korea would “thoroughly maintain national security as long as there is a possibility of provocation by the North.” Further, a day after Kim’s death, the South Korean government announced its decision not to send an official delegation to express condolences.

Relations between North and South Korea have been even further strained in recent times due to two military attacks within a year: one on a South Korean warship in 2010 and another one on a border island, both of which were blamed on North Korea. In late 2010, President Lee also ended South Korea’s longstanding Sunshine Policy, which provided unconditional aid to North Korea, and instead attempted to negotiate providing substantial assistance if the late Kim Jong Il would agree to denuclearization (an offer that Kim rejected several times up until his death).

Though both governments have not changed their oppositional stances, some say that this is not necessarily reflective of changes in public opinion, particularly in South Korea. A little over a week after Kim’s death, a group of South Korean activists created a peace memorial displaying Kim with a former South Korean president. The display was dismantled by the police within minutes. Seoul Mayor Park Won-Soon has also stated his disappointment that local governments are not allowed to give condolences to North Korea. Lastly, despite South Korea’s governmental decision not to send official condolences, two women-headed delegations were allowed into North Korea to pay their respects to the former North Korean leader. The first delegation was led by Lee Hee-Ho, the former first lady whose late husband, Kim Dae-jung, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the now-defunct Sunshine Policy. The second was headed by Hyun Jeong-eun, the widow of a former chairman to Hyundai. Both delegations stated that they were visiting in a personal capacity but hoped to see an improvement in North-South Korean relations.

As these and other examples illustrate, there appears to be a great divide between the current official policies of the South Korean government, and what South Korean citizens desire to see change. President Lee’s approval ratings have dropped so low that an unofficial poll indicated that a popular businessman and public intellectual named Cheol-soo Ahn, who is not affiliated with a particular party but has hinted at political aspirations, could win the upcoming presidential elections of 2012. Further, a recent report from the International Crisis Group has stated that “the right in the South is facing the paradox that voters may blame Lee’s tough line for the increased tensions…The North Korean leadership could calculate that rising tensions will push the South Korean electorate towards candidates who favor a more conciliatory policy.” In the days following Kim Jong Il’s death, the official state media vowed that“North Korea would ‘never deal’ with South Korean leader Lee Myung-bak.” Given President Lee and his party’s tanking popularity, as well as the South Koreans’ demonstrated sense of renewed desire for genuine peace talks, it is likely that North Korea will hold to their promise, as they may be negotiating with a very different South Korean government in the near future.

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Cantonese and Mandarin – Identity Politics in China

Compared to America, China appears to be a more homogeneous country. Government propaganda portrays the 55 different ethnic minorities as a “harmonious” and “united” bunch that love the idea of belonging to China. However, people who have heard of or visited Tibet and Xinjiang know that reality differs from official intentions. Last month, for example, the local government of Yining Xinjiang started a campaign that discouraged people from wearing headscarves or growing beards.

Even among the hegemonic majority Han, linguistic differences exist. While the stereotypical the Chinese person in American pop culture is the Cantonese speaker who lives in Chinatown, Mandarin Chinese is mainland China’s official language. Tension exists where there is difference. Recently, Hong-Kongers staged an incredible protest in Dolce & Gabbana, accusing the luxury brand for targeting Mandarin-speaking customers, mostly from the mainland, while discriminating against Cantonese speakers. My initial reaction to this piece of news included scoffs and a snide comment—the Hong-Kongers’ “need” for luxury goods and first-rate services caused a rather large commotion, while many other urban cities around the world have harbored Occupy movements. This trifle problem of the privileged class was worth of a spot on


However, I then considered the many Cantonese speakers in mainland China that have protested against the Chinese government’s linguistic and educational policies. On July 25th 2010, young urbanites of Guangzhou mobilized each other through social media to demonstrate their Cantonese pride as well as anger against reductions in Cantonese broadcast channels. One writer of the Economist’s Banyan blog observed that “the protest in Guangzhou seems more to reflect youthful resentment at interfering bureaucrats.” Banyan also argued that this incident showed that Guangzhou citizens could demonstrate for more political causes in the future, a suggestion with which I wholeheartedly agree. Still, police forces detained a few protestors. At the same time, Hong Kongers also rallied in support of their neighbors’ Cantonese pride.

Viewed in this light, Hong-Kongers’ demonstrations against Dolce & Gabbana show that they are laudable citizens of their democratic polis. Not only do they have political awareness and a strong sense of identity, they also have the right to demonstrate against authorities of all kinds, be it a crucial component of consumer capitalism (luxury goods) or the symbol of communism (“The mainlanders are coming!”). As a former resident of mainland China who only speaks Mandarin, I might be just a little jealous when I scoff at Hong-Kongers’ fuss over Docle & Gabbanna.

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The Journal will be taking a break for the holidays. See you in 2012!

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Mayoral election shakes South Korea’s Seoul

By Zavi Engles

On October 27th, voters of Seoul, South Korea made history by voting in an independent, left-leaning civic rights activist as mayor. Won-soon Park is also perhaps the first politician to be elected based on what has been referred to as an “Occupy Wall Street platform,” due to his activist (rather than political) background as well as his fervent support for the people and his lack of hesitation to call out the current national government’s conservative policies. The importance of his momentous rise from civic rights activist to independent, underdog candidate, to mayor of one of the largest, most economically important cities in the world cannot be understated.

Newly-elected mayor Won-soon Park

The mayoral election of Seoul is typically seen as a “litmus test” for subsequent parliamentary and presidential elections. Many Korean presidents first rose up in the ranks by becoming the mayor of Seoul, including the current President Lee Myung-Bak. Further, Park is already in a position of considerable power and influence as Seoul is a city of 10 million people (larger than any city in the United States) that is also responsible for almost 50 percent of the country’s national GDP.

Park’s background is firmly rooted in social justice action, as opposed to politics. Park practiced as a human rights lawyer and he is also one of the founders of the watchdog organization People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD). Though he has been in office for less than a month, Park has been busy reversing many of his conservative predecessor’s policies, for example, expanding the free lunch program to all elementary school children in the city (the former mayor stepped down after a low-voter turnout on a referendum to reduce the city’s free lunch program to only the neediest children). He has also been using his new position as a platform to denounce the direction of the conservative regime, even claiming that he will override national laws to protect Seoul citizens from the new United States-South Korea free trade agreement.

This unexpected victory also signals the possibility of a paradigm shift in the Korean political scene. Recently, another unexpected possible political contender is making waves in public polls. During the mayoral elections, support for Park increased dramatically when he was endorsed by Cheol-soo Ahn, a businessman and current dean of the graduate school of science and technology and Seoul National University. Prior to the elections, a Korean political pundit named him as a possible mayoral candidate and surveys conducted thereafter showed that he was popular enough to win the presidential elections set to take place the December of next year. However, Ahn did not end up running and instead endorsed Park, while also urging South Korean voters to oust the current political order. Critics are now speculating the Ahn may run for president, though he has not confirmed this.

Though it is still too early to tell, Park’s victory may signal that the political tides are turning in South Korea. If this is the case, South Korea’s relations with the United States may change drastically, as many voters and progressive politicians, including Park, are urging the current government to move away from policies such as the new US-South Korea free trade deal. Further, both Park and Ahn have called for a change in the hard-line approach that the current President has towards North Korea. Whether next year’s parliamentary and presidential elections usher in a new era of progressive, liberal policy-making in South Korea is yet to be seen. However, if current trends continue, the United States and others may be contending with a very different administration in the near future.


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Perspectives on Proliferation

By William Mitchell CMC ’14

Although the days of the Cold War have long since passed, the specter of the mushroom cloud still hovers over our heads. GOP candidates loudly stress the “unacceptability” of a nuclear Iran and headlines trumpet the latest IAEA report or North Korean missile launch. But at least one man remains cautiously optimistic about the prospects of the nuclear future.

Speaking on October 27th before Claremont students and local high school debaters, Dr. Jim Walsh, an international security expert at MIT, offered a refreshing and realistic perspective of the future of nuclear proliferation and proliferators like Iran and North Korea.

According to Walsh, forecasts of nuclear weapons proliferation relied on the concept of “proliferation chains.” In essence, the development of nuclear weapons would lead to a domino-like series of inevitable events, with each new nuclear-capable state causing its concerned neighbors and/or adversaries to pursue weapons programs of their own, a prime example of an unresolved security dilemma. Initially, history supported these theories as the United States’ nuclear development was followed by the nuclearization of the Soviet Union, the PRC, and France in much the same way that Pakistan’s program followed India’s model of nuclear development.

As Walsh observed, however, modern proliferation chains have been less resilient than expected. Instead of rampant proliferation, only a handful of nations have initiated nuclear programs. Since 1990, 75% of all states which have inherited nuclear technology or seriously considered pursuing it, did not ultimately become nuclear states. Today, proliferation is not the inevitability it once seemed to be. So, what explains these successes?

Dr. Walsh argued that two factors have been instrumental in slowing nuclear proliferation. Firstly, international agreements like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) have increased the costs for prospective proliferators since by refusing to sign the NPT they face increased international scrutiny.

Secondly, the inherent complexities of developing nuclear capabilities (weapons and/or energy) require the efforts of diverse domestic actors. In order to build the Bomb, military officers, scientists and civilian bureaucracies must all cooperate.

Walsh argues that these two elements transform the domestic dialogue of prospective proliferators. Increased international pressure gives diplomats incentives to counter the nuclear ambitions of military leaders. Furthermore, inertia and internal rivalries of bureaucracies hamper the considerable efforts required to develop and deploy nuclear technology.

At the same time, however, the good news must be taken in perspective. As Walsh pointed out, nuclear energy and nuclear weapons programs are not synonymous. While the development of a nuclear plant does not automatically mean that a nation has plans to also pursue nuclear weapons, the two nuclear programs can be complimentary, with the scientific know-how and resources from one aiding future developments in the other.

So is it right to be optimistic? Perhaps. But optimism cannot change the realities of the world. If recent IAEA reports are accurate, Iran may be actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. Regardless of sanctions, deterrence, or declamation, a nation with the willpower and the resources can still build a nuclear weapon.

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