Time to Scrap “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”

(Initially published on CBSNews.com, February 12, 2010)

From banking to healthcare, looking to Canada has become fashionable of late. It is also an example on equality rights. I served as an officer in one of the first Canadian warships to deploy with women among its crew. That was only after a spirited campaign waged by the military against the integration of women in combat roles, in part on the basis that they would undermine the cohesion and fighting effectiveness of combat units. There would be privacy issues, sexual tension, an erosion of the essential masculine warrior ethos, and ultimately a degradation of military effectiveness.

All of this was proved false of course. It was proved false again a few years later, in the early 1990a, when the Canadian military was again forced to adhere to the country’s constitutional values and open its ranks to openly gay and lesbian members. To the extent there was any disruption (and most studies have found there to have been none), it was minor and temporary, as the military sub-culture adjusted very quickly to the new reality – a reality that better conformed to the values of the society the military is sworn to defend.

The experience of Canada, Britain, Israel, Germany, Australia, and many other democratic allies of the United States (the troops of which are fighting alongside Americans in Afghanistan) have demonstrated that there is no significant impact on military effectiveness by the integration of gay and lesbian troops. Quite the contrary. As with the admission of women, and racial minorities before that, it broadened the recruitment base and increased the number of highly skilled personnel available to the military. … Read more…

The Use of Force and Int’l Law: The Void in American Discourse

(Initially published in the Progressive Fix)

President Obama, in accepting his Nobel Prize, spoke in lofty terms about the requirement that all nations, weak and strong, must adhere to the legal standards that govern the use of force. He noted that the U.S. had played a leading role in creating that legal framework. And he went on to underline that the U.S. too must respect international law: “America cannot insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves. For when we don’t, our action can appear arbitrary, and undercut the legitimacy of future intervention — no matter how justified.”

And yet the absence of any public discussion or analysis of the legal issues raised by America’s efforts against terrorism is striking. Whether it be torture and extraordinary rendition, military commissions, the targeted killing by drone attacks in Pakistan, the planning of CIA assassination squads, the large number of civilian deaths in air strikes in Afghanistan, or even the prospect of military strikes in Iran, all of these raise significant and complex international law issues. But you will not find any meaningful discussion of those issues in the media, or indeed in the talking points, blogs, or analysis produced by most liberal or progressive organizations. … Read more…

Debate Afghan War Goals, Then Select Strategy

(Written with Adnan Zulfiqar, and initially published in The Japan Times, Nov. 7, 2009)

The current debate in the United States over the war effort in Afghanistan contains no shortage of opinions on the best strategy for defeating the Taliban, but far too little discussion regarding the actual objectives of the war. The famous Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz wrote about war that “the political objective is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and means can never be considered in isolation of their purpose.” But in the current debate on Afghanistan we risk doing just that — arguing about strategy without a clear understanding of our goals.

So what are the objectives in Afghanistan? What is the purpose for which we are fighting this war? The problem is that they have shifted over time. At the outset, the coalition invasion of Afghanistan was an act of collective self-defense in response to the 9/11 attacks. The objective was to prevent further attack by disrupting and destroying al-Qaida forces operating out of Afghanistan, and overthrowing the Taliban regime that supported them. … Read more…

Climate Insecurity: Global Warming and National Security

(Initially published in the Baltimore Sun, September 10, 2009)

The debate over climate change legislation is beginning to heat up. The American Clean Energy and Security Act was passed by the House and is now before the Senate. The debate on this issue typically takes the form of environmental concerns about global warming pitted against economic fears about the cost of reducing greenhouse gases. It is often framed in left-right terms. But as Americans think about whether to support this legislation, they should ponder the national security implications of climate change.

The recognition that global warming will increase the threats to our national security and place ever greater demands on our military is not new. The Bush administration acknowledged the issue in the 2006 National Security Strategy. A national security think tank comprising retired military officers, including Marine General Anthony Zinni, issued a report on the subject in 2007, identifying the various ways in which man-made climate change will directly affect national security. … Read more…