FM newswire for May 4, interesting articles about geopolitics

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

  1. Great graphics:  “Generating Electricity by Going With the Flow“, New York Times, 21 April 2010
  2. Concentrated Solar Set to Shine“, MIT Technology Review, 29 April 2010 — “Large investment could jump-start concentrated photovoltaic deployments.”
  3. Lies of the Ethics Industry“, Terry Michael, Reason magazine, 30 April 2010 — “How the champions of “good government” suppress speech and sow cynicism”
  4. Bad news!  “Catastrophic retreat of glaciers in Spitsbergen“, 3 May 2010
  5. Huge National Debts Could Push Euro Zone into Bankruptcy“, Der Spiegel, 3 May 2010 — “Greece is only the beginning. The world’s leading economies have long lived beyond their means, and the financial crisis caused government debt to swell dramatically. Now the bill is coming due, but not all countries will be able to pay it.”
  6. History’s Mad Hatters – The Strange Career of Tea Party Populism“, Steve Fraser and Joshua B. Freeman, TomDispatch, 3 May 2010
  7. More provocative thoughts from Spengler:  “General Petraeus’ Thirty Years War“, Spengler (nom de plume of David P. Goldman ), Asia Times, 4 May 2010
  8. No Principled Advocates of Small Government in An Oil Spill“, Matthew Yglesias, ThinkProgress, 4 May 2010

Disturbing data

Afghan anger at NATO Grows“, Juan Cole, Informed Comment, 4 May 2010 — Excerpt:

Now, turning to the other side of the Durand Line. Opinion polling in war zones is fraught with difficulties, but the results of a new poll by the International Council on Security and Development carried out among over 400 male respondents in parts of Helmand Province and Qandahar, Afghanistan, in March, 2010, are extremely troubling. (Executive summary here in html, the whole report is here in pdf format.) I conclude from this sounding that the planned US invasion of Qandahar city is likely to be a disaster that turns millions of Western Pashtuns against the US and NATO. The Eastern Pashtuns are already regularly demonstrating and demanding that the foreign troops depart their provinces.

Today’s recommendation

The Trouble with Drones“, Scott Horton, blog of Harper’s, 3 May 2010 — Excerpt:

The current drone-warfare program marks the first time in U.S. history that a state-of-the-art, cutting-edge weapons system has been placed in the hands of the CIA, marking the continued evolution of the CIA as a paramilitary force with advanced tactical weaponry. Moreover, this occurred without the sort of rigorous policy discussion involving Congress and the entire national-security community that should have occurred.

… Next, the CIA is itself a civilian agency, not a military force accorded privileged combatant status under the Geneva Conventions. Moreover, the drone program has been developed, rolled out and implemented with exceptionally heavy reliance on civilian contractors. Not only did contractors design and fabricate the drones, they also play the key operational role in maintaining the drones, in arming and piloting them. The finger behind the trigger that releases death on the villages of North Waziristan is likely as not that of a civilian contractor. Moreover, the United States is now relying heavily on at least six private security contracting firms to do on-the-ground work in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area, much of it inside of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province. These civilian contractors are collecting information used to guide the predator drones to their strikes; they serve as the “eyes” of the predator drone force. They are usurping a traditional core military reconaissance function.

All of this is occurring at the same time that the United States, as a matter of legal policy, denounces prisoners taken in the current hostilities as “unlawful” or “unprivileged” combatants and presses charges against them for using lethal force. But private security contractors and CIA operatives are every bit as “unlawful” and “unprivileged” under the laws of war. America’s posture on this issue is shamefully hypocritical, and needlessly so. American law and doctrine provide the correct answers. They just need to be remembered. Indeed, the segregation between intelligence and military functions envisioned in 1947 was driven by precisely this policy concern about training to and compliance with the laws of armed conflict, a fact that seems now largely forgotten.
The CIA should not be running predator drone strikes in a combat theater, and civilian contractors need to be removed from the operation of drones outfitted with lethal weaponry. The current operations constitute a serious distortion of existing command-and-control doctrines surrounding military weapons systems. As a weapons system, the drones must be committed to the uniformed military, which should use the drones following well-established protocols covering military operations.

My second major concern goes to the power of example that the United States is now setting with respect to the use of drones away from an acknowledged battlefield, especially in connection with targeted killings. No weapons system remains indefinitely the province of a single power. Drone technology is particularly striking in this regard, because it is not really all that sophisticated. It seems clear that other powers have this technology–Israel and Iran have each been reported to be working with it, Russia and China could obviously do so easily if they desired, and the same is probably true for Britain, France, and Germany, not to mention Japan and Taiwan, where many of the cutting-edge breakthroughs in robotics actually occur.

The way America uses this technology is therefore effectively setting the rules for others. Put another way, if it’s lawful for America to employ a drone to take out an enemy in the desert of Yemen, on the coast of Somalia, in a village in Sudan or Mauretania, then it would be just as lawful for Russia, or China–or, for that matter, for Israel or Iran. What kind of world is this choice then creating? Doesn’t it invariably lead us closer to the situation in which a targeted killing will be carried out in a major metropolis of Europe or East Asia, or even the United States? And doesn’t that move us in the direction of a dark and increasingly lawless world?


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