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…

The Legal Issues of Firing on North Korea’s “Rocket”

(Initially published in JapanInc.com, April 3, 2009)

As tensions mount and there is increasing talk of shooting down the “debris” from a pending North Korean rocket launch, there has been little discussion of what would happen if Japan shot down the rocket instead. While there is great public support for action, there should be some pause to consider the constitutional and legal issues of Japan’s military deployment in these circumstances.

North Korea continues to prepare for the launch of a an experimental satellite delivery system, widely suspected of being a Taepodong 2 long-range ballistic missile, scheduled for some time between April 4-8. While North Korea touts the launch as an attempt to put a satellite in orbit, many view it as a missile test in violation of a 2006 U.N. Security Council resolution. North Korea has provided notice of the flight path, which will take the missile over Japan and into the middle of the Pacific.

It was announced on March 28, that Japan’s Minister of Defense had issued orders to the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to deploy Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) assets (the land-based Patriot Missile batteries or PAC-3, and the maritime Aegis Cruiser based SM-3 systems) to shoot down “any part of a North Korean rocket that might fall toward Japanese territory” (link). The order, authorized by the prime minister, is said to be based on Article 82 of the SDF Law.

The provision provides the authority to order the SDF to take measures to destroy missiles or other falling objects (other than aircraft), which are suspected to be heading for Japanese territory and which could cause serious harm to persons or property (link). Others have written about the considerable technical difficulty that the SDF might encounter in trying to intercept actual debris from the first stage of the rocket, which is supposed to separate and fall to earth prior to the rocket passing over Japanese territory (link). … Read more…