Iraq was not the first illegal US-led attack on a sovereign state in recent times. The precedent was set in 1999 in Yugoslavia.

The legality of the war against Iraq remains the focus of intense debate – as is the challenge it poses to the post-second-world-war order, based on the inviolability of sovereign states. That challenge, however, is not a new one. The precursor is without doubt Nato’s 1999 attack on Yugoslavia, also carried out without UN support. Look again at how the US and its allies behaved then, and the pattern is unmistakable.

Yugoslavia was a sovereign state with internationally recognised borders; an unsolicited intervention in its internal affairs was excluded by international law. The US-led onslaught was therefore justified as a humanitarian war – a concept that most international lawyers regarded as having no legal standing (the Commons foreign affairs select committee described it as of “dubious legality”). The attack was also outside Nato’s own remit as a defensive organisation – its mission statement was later rewritten to allow for such actions.

This article is old (it was first published in 2003) but is relevant for understanding current Chinese suspicions of American hegemony.

You can read the rest here.

American Versus Russian Intervention

Excellent WaPo piece about American intervention by Simon Waxman.

The point of the article is to lend understanding about why Putin supported a Trump presidency, but what I found most insightful was his point about Putin and Syria.

Of course, Putin does not oppose militant humanitarianism for idealistic reasons. He, too, claims to be a militant humanitarian. In justifying Russian policies toward Syria and Ukraine, Putin and his supporters have explicitly relied on arguments the Clinton administration used in Kosovo. If NATO can stumble into Yugoslavia’s civil war, why can’t Russia do the same in Syria? Indeed, Russia is Syria’s ally, sworn by treaty to protect its government. And if Saddam Hussein’s genocide against Kurds was a reason to violently unseat him from power, then why shouldn’t Russia protect persecuted ethnic Russians, as it has claimed to do in Georgia and Ukraine? If there is a principled difference between the Clinton and Putin approaches to militant humanitarianism, it is that the latter is essentially conservative, seeking to preserve the status quo or restore the status quo ante, and the former is transformative, attempting to build new states along lines preferred by U.S. politicians and strategists.

The rest can be read here.

His homepage is here.

 

A peace of “trumphalia”

Stephen Walt has a persuasive piece at FP that the most politically possible and the most beneficial foreign policy would be the same thing. He calls it “Westphalian sovereignty” which he describes as

If Trump is looking for a unifying concept for his approach to foreign policy, it is the idea that states are responsible for their own territory and citizens and that other states shouldn’t interfere with either. This notion is consistent with Trump’s own “America First” mentality, and it resonates with the sentiment of populist nationalism that has driven everything from the Brexit vote to the assorted European xenophobes who are so jazzed by Trump’s success. And it is hardly a controversial concept; indeed, it still forms much of the basis for existing international law.

China would be pleased by such an organizing principle to America’s foreign policy. Remember that their distaste for Hilary started in 1995 when she delivered a speech on women’s rights in Beijing.

My concern with Trump is that he has no clear and firm record of a foreign policy ideology and he may be reacting to the previous administration overreaches. President Obama also had no foreign policy record outside of opposing the Iraq War and also campaigned on restraint. But before long he was hosting the Dali Lama and authorizing weapon sales to Taiwan.

Syria and mission creep.

During the third presidential debate, the probable 45th president has confirmed her support for a no fly zone (NFZ) in Syria. Calls for a NFZ are mostly driven by humanitarian reasons. The vivid imagery of Syrian suffering pressures the west to respond and a NFZ is a way for the United States to address this suffering while minimizing risk. The problem is that the NFZ is a policy proposal that doesn’t match the facts on the ground and will most probably result in mission creep.

Mission creep is the tendency of small scale interventions to incrementally expand into more ambitious projects. The term was originally coined by Jim Hoagland when describing US involvement in Somalia. What started off as a humanitarian mission in a failed state was modified into a police action against a local warlord. The consequence was the death of 18 American soldiers and approximately 200 Somalis.

How does this apply to a NFZ in Syria? A NFZ would fail to properly address the civilian casualties in Syria and would lead to a demand for either a safe zone or result in a dent in American credibility. A NFZ is just what it says. It’s airspace that is patrolled by the west to prevent belligerent parties from entering with their aircraft. Note that a NFZ is conceptually different from a safe zone as a NFZ does not address conflict on the ground. Because the demand for a no fly zone is driven by concerns over civilian casualties, it’s important that a NFZ properly address the cause of these causalities. Unfortunately a NFZ in Syria does not and this is confirmed by the data.

Finding reliable and current casualty rates of Syrian civilians is difficult to attain. Finding how they were killed is even more difficult. Violations Documentation Center (VDC) is the only source I know of that produces data on the number and method of civilian casualties but they do not publish regularly. In September of 2015 the NYT published VDC data which noted that of the 85,404 civilians casualties they were able to record, approximately a fifth were from Syrian aerial bombings. Their most current report is part of their monthly series (which is also not published regularly) which reports that for August 2016, 39 percent of the 1,737 civilians deaths were from aerial or barrel bomb attacks. An increase but most probable from the involvement of Russia and I would assume that most of these deaths are in Aleppo which would not be included in any proposed NFZ.

What does this have to do with mission creep? Everything as the policy prescription does not match the reality on the ground. As noted, most civilian casualties of the Syrian conflict are not the result of aerial bombardments but from sources other than Russian and Syrian aircraft. Additionally, most aerial attacks are in areas that would never be plausibly included in a NFZ. But even if a NFZ were to reduce civilian deaths from Syrian and Russian aircraft, overall civilian casualties may not significantly drop as the Syrian government could substitute tactics and rely less on aerial attacks and more on mortar and artillery. What is to stop renewed demands to address the civilian casualties that continue after the NFZ is erected? What do we expect the US response to be to ground conflict between the multiple belligerents occurring inside the NFZ? What would happen if a Russian aircraft entered into the NFZ? These are all questions that have not been discussed at this point and all are plausibly answered by some form of mission creep. A NFZ only serves to deepen the United States into a conflict by way of an inappropriate policy. It is deeply unfortunate but the truth is Syria has no strategic or economic (oil) value to justify American use of force in the area. If the aim of the NFZ is to save Syrian civilians, the most obvious solution would be to have some sort policy which allows for the resettlement of refugees. Such a policy would be politically difficult, especially in the age of heightened demographic anxiety, but would directly address the tragedy of civilians being caught in the middle of a civil war.

Would Hillary be a hawk if elected?  

 

Jeremy Shapiro and Richard Sokolsky say no. Stephen Walt says maybe. I disagree and largely for the very reason they raise. Both articles agree that if she becomes president Hillary will be a “domestic president.” This would mean she would be expected to focus on “health care, family issues, and promoting the rights of women and social justice generally.” But all politics whether domestic or international are local and politics do not get put on hold because you are President. And this explains Hilary’s long recorded inclination to use force abroad. It is politics (i.e. what will help her bid for pursuing power). Her political ambitions have pressured her to be more hawkish than others because of the obstacles she faces because of her 1) gender and 2) party affiliation.

Hillary’s history of being a hawk is well documented. I suspect that a good deal of her hawkish outlook was born in the politics associated with the first gulf war, a war that was by most metrics an unqualified success. With the exception of the Iraq surge of 2007, there are few instances when she didn’t agree to use the American military. Examples include Iraq (both 1991 and 2002), Hati (1994), drone strikes in Pakistan, the Afghanistan surge (2009), Libya (2011), the Yellow Sea and North Korea (2011), the Pivot, and supporting Syrian rebels.

The source of this long list of pursing political objectives through hard power is (I believe) identity based. Hillary is confronting multiple biases. She is both a women and a member of the Democratic Party and both sets of identities have an uphill battle in earning credibility for their security credentials.

Since the height of the Cold War, the Republicans have typically been the party many believe to be more competent on security matters. Noah Gordon has an excellent piece in the Atlantic discussing this. According to Noah, “Republicans have owned domestic security since 1970. For nearly all of the past 40 years, polls have consistently shown that Americans trust Republicans to handle security—and the related issues of foreign affairs and the military—better than Democrats.” The perception of Republican strength on military matters is mostly a result of the different party’s priorities. Republicans focus federal monies on bombs, Democrats on alleviating poverty. The perceptions that take shape by these spending priorities are confirmed by signature events like Carter’s mishandling of the Iran Hostage crisis, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Bill Clinton dodging the draft, and an awkward Michael Dukakis in a tank. This bias is so strong that it was John Kerry, and not George Bush, who had the more difficult time persuading the voters of the quality of his military service. This is all ironic considering the Democratic party has usually been the party that as lead the country into war.

The gender bias Hillary faces is more obvious. Typical gender associated traits which shape our lives are too banal to discuss here (men are aggressive, women are nurturing). These biases permeate all aspects of life and the voting public will evaluate a female candidate against what they expect a female to be. See here and here. Assuming women are soft on security is odd as history is littered with women leadership taking their state to war. Margaret Thatcher invaded the Falkland Islands. Golda Meir presided over the Yom Kippur War. And Indira Gandhi fought Pakistan. Nevertheless, gender norms are powerful constraints that, unless Hillary changes gender, will be a factor in Hillary’s foreign policy decision-making process. She wouldn’t let the first female president be the administration that lost Taiwan or allowed Iran to cross the nuclear threshold.

So Hillary has two attitudes that she needs to address. One is that she is soft on security because she is a Democrat. The other is that she is soft on security because she is a woman. Because these biases are rooted in her identity, they are perceptions that need constant attention whether Hillary Clinton is a Senator, Secretary of State, or President. I may be reaching but I assume that combating such perceptions played a large part in guiding her decision making process on employing American force abroad during her public career. I see no reason why she would not make such political calculations once in office and expect her to be just as much as hawk while president as she was in the past.