FM newswire for April 15, interesting articles about geopolitics

Today’s links to interesting news and analysis. If you find this useful, pass it to a friend or colleague.

  1. French bread spiked with LSD in CIA experiment“, Daily Telegraph, 11 March 2010 — “A 50-year mystery over the ‘cursed bread’ of Pont-Saint-Esprit, which left residents suffering hallucinations, has been solved after a writer discovered the US had spiked the bread with LSD as part of an experiment.”
  2. Crisis in slow motion“, The Economist, 8 April 2010 — “Japan’s government will eventually have a disaster on its hands if it fails to tackle the deep-seated problems of debt and deflation”
  3. Krugman Removes All Doubt“, Roger Pielke Jr, 13 April 2010 — Krugman goes delusional about our ability to build a carbon-free economy.
  4. Does psychiatry make us mad?“, blog of New Scientist, 14 April 2010 — Review of Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic bullets, psychiatric drugs, and the astonishing rise of mental illness in America by Robert Whitaker.
  5. A balanced analysis of the Greek crisis:  “Portents of the Greek Rescue“, Barry Eichengreen (Prof Economics, Berkeley), Eurointelligence, 15 April 2010
  6. So now, it’s no business of the state” Mark Styen, Macleans, 15 April 2010 — Why not? Almost everything else is in Canada.  An explanatory note about the article is here.
  7. Don’t Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight“, Mark Steyn, National Review Online, 15 April 2010 — “Not in the United Kingdom anyway”
  8. Behavioral economics — the governing theory of Obama’s nanny state“, Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard, 19 April 2010 — The title should have a “?” at the end (it’s not a fact), but it raises some good questions.  Many of the author’s statements are false (often bizarrely so), so read with care.  Actually it’s mostly propaganda, best read as example of well-written twisting of facts.
  9. Move evidence of a link between solar activity and Earth’s climate:  “Are cold winters in Europe associated with low solar activity?“, Mike Lockwood et al, Environmental Research Letters, April-June 2010
  10. See this for good background to the above article.  The BBC story about the article is here.

Today’s Feature Article

(11)  “The Price of Assassination“, Robert Wright, blog of the New York TImes, 13 April 2010:

President Obama, who during his first year in office oversaw more drone strikes in Pakistan than occurred during the entire Bush presidency, last week surpassed his predecessor in a second respect: he authorized the assassination of an American — Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical Imam who after 9/11 moved from Virginia to Yemen, a base from which he inspires such people as the Fort Hood shooter and the would-be underwear bomber.

Students of the law might raise a couple of questions:

  • Doesn’t it violate international law to fire missiles into Pakistan (especially on a roughly weekly basis) when the Pakistani government has given no formal authorization?
  • Wouldn’t firing a missile at al-Awlaki in Yemen compound the international-law question with a constitutional question — namely whether giving the death penalty to an American without judicially establishing his guilt deprives him of due process?

I’m not qualified to answer these questions, and, besides, it doesn’t really matter what the correct answers are. The Obama administration has its lawyers scurrying to convince us that the answers are no and no, somewhat as the Bush administration dispatched John Yoo to justify its torture policy. And these answers, regardless of their legal merit, will be accepted so long as Americans are convinced that being safe in the post-9/11 world requires accepting them.

(12)  “When Heads Roll: Assessing the Effectiveness of Leadership Decapitation“, Jenna Jordan, Security Studies, October 2009 — Abstract:

Leadership targeting has become a key feature of current counterterrorism policies. Both academics and policy makers have argued that the removal of leaders is an effective strategy in combating terrorism. However, leadership decapitation is not always successful, and existing empirical work is insufficient to account for this variability. As a result, this project answers three primary questions:

  • Under what conditions does leadership decapitation result in the dissolution of a terrorist organization?;
  • Does leadership decapitation increase the likelihood of organizational collapse beyond the baseline rate of collapse for groups over time?; and
  • In cases where decapitation does not result in group collapse, to what extent does it result in organizational degradation and hinder a group’s ability to carry about terrorist attacks?

I develop a dataset of 298 incidents of leadership targeting from 1945–2004 in order to determine whether and when decapitation is effective.

First, I identify the conditions under which decapitation has been successful in bringing about organizational decline. The data show that a group’s age, size, and type are critical in identifying when decapitation will cause the cessation of terrorist activity. As an organization grows in size and age, it is much more likely to withstand the removal of its leadership. Organizational type is also significant in understanding the susceptibility of an organization to decapitation. Ideological organizations are most likely to experience a cessation of activity following the removal of leader, while religious organizations are highly resistant to leadership decapitation.

Second, I determine whether decapitation is an effective counterterrorism strategy that results in organizational collapse. The data show that decapitation does not increase the likelihood of organizational collapse beyond a baseline rate of collapse for groups over time. Organizations that have not had their leaders removed are more likely to fall apart than those that have undergone a loss of leadership. The marginal utility of decapitation is negative for many groups, particularly for larger, older, religious, and separatist organizations.

Finally, I look at the extent to which decapitation results in organizational degradation and hinders a group’s ability to carry about terrorist attacks. Case studies illustrate whether decapitation has an effect on the operational capacity of an organization by identifying whether the removal of key leaders changes the number and lethality of attacks. If certain organizations are more resilient than others, it is important to know when decapitation should be effective and when it could lead to counterproductive outcomes. Overall, these findings illustrate the need to develop a new model for evaluating the efficacy of leadership decapitation and for developing effective counterterrorism policies.

(13)  Juan Cole has some interesting thoughts on this debate here.

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