Sunday, August 31, 2008

How to Pick a VP

A lot of people are asking what the heck John McCain was thinking when he nominated Sarah Palin, the youngest governor ever of a state not even connected to the US mainland, someone who admits to smoking pot, who will certainly alienate rather than attract Hilary supporters, and whose best qualification for being Commander in Chief should McCain keel over is her ability to hunt moose.

JedReport has an answer. HT to Daily Kos.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Karadzic Pleads Not Guilty, Alleges Conspiracy

That's the big news story of the day from outside the continental United States, where all eyes are instead on McCain's bewildering VP pick. More on both when I finish hob-nobbing with political scientists at this year's APSA Conference.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"Blood Cows"??

You heard that right: bovines are the latest "conflict resource" to accurse the African continent. According to CSMonitor:

"Warring rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo are stealing and selling livestock to finance a conflict sparked by spillover from the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which 800,000 were killed.

Vast and volatile, the Democratic Republic of Congo has long suffered from conflicts fought over its reserves of gold, copper, uranium, and coltan, a mineral needed in cellphones and other electronics. For years, armed groups have sought control over mines and forests, their acquisitions of wealth fueling cycles of violence. Cattle may sound less glamorous than precious metals, but they're accessible.

"It's just like the mining resources," says Alpha Sow, head of the local office of the United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUC). "Part of this money goes to buy munitions."
OK, good luck trying to "securitize" that cause. It didn't work with coltan, it didn't work with timber; even "blood diamonds" didn't catch on in the public consciousness without a major movie (who is going to pay $9 USD to watch "Blood Cows"?) and only then because of a successful marketing campaign that appealed to US consumers.

Since most US beef is not raised in the DRC, it's not clear what purchase this trope will have on galvanizing attention to the Congo. What this news story shows is the inventiveness of militias in the Great Lakes region and the likelihood that any crackdown on a specific "conflict resource" will simply evince substitution effects. The unanswered question is what if anything the international communtiy can / ought to do.

Plus, exactly what does it say about the US media that it takes a story like this to be "news," when the regional war in Africa's Great Lakes region took 5,400,000 lives by August 2007, involves at least nine African nations, thousands of child combatants and shows no signs of abating? In comparison to the media blitz over the Russo-Georgian "war" (which may not even count by social science standards) this is appalling.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

What's so Asymmetrical About the GWOT?

Mark Tyrell at CTLab proposes an interesting definition of asymmetric warfare, based not on differential in capacity / tactics, but on whether or not an intersubjective understanding of the game rule-sets exists between a party to a conflict:

Within the broad definition of a game, i.e. the acceptance of underlying principles, any conflict where the "players" accept those principles and operate according to them will be, by definition, "symmetric" because of that agreement. Conflicts which a), do not accept those principles, and b), include "battlespaces" beyond the "rules" are, by definition, "asymmetric".
I really like this, but am puzzled by the example he provides:
Thus, for example, al Qaeda accepts a definition of media and symbol system regardless of geographic boundaries as the primary "battlespace" (workspace), while Coalition forces use the concept of bounded geography as the primary battlespace. This is a classic example of an asymmetric conflict; it is "asymmetric" because the players are using different workspaces and different game rules.
Is it so cut and dry? The USG’s strategy has also moved far beyond the concept of bounded geography: it has conceived of its battle as “global” from the beginning, and has extended that “battle” to areas as diverse as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Indonesia or the many “ghost ships” plying the high seas carrying detainees from this global war. Even the language it uses and rule-sets on which it draws suggest not only a presumption that the war is unconventional, but an insistent reliance on “post-modern” tactics and discourse as well. Moreover, al-Qaeda is not alone in waging war through media-space: the USG’s elaborate “hearts and minds” campaign is central to its efforts (if not necessarily any more effective than al-Qaeda’s).

Al-Qaeda Today

The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence has just released its assessment of the intentions and capabilities of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, seven years after the start of the war on terror.

Key points:

* The core Al Qaeda leadership remains in place, but it is still far from recovering the position of strength it enjoyed in 2001.

* There has been a considerable backlash against Al Qaeda-inspired violence across the Muslim world, with the result that even in places where Al Qaeda used to be highly active - such as Iraq, Algeria, Egypt, and Saudi-Arabia - its campaign has lost traction and influence.

* The one geographical area where Al Qaeda has retained influence, or even consolidated or increased its standing over the last three years, is the Afghan-Pakistan border region.

* The key to defeating Al Qaeda will be to undermine its local base in the Afghan-Pakistan border area.

* It will be important to promote the drift of the Afghan Taliban away from Al Qaeda, which could be achieved by allowing President Karzai more political room to negotiate a deal.

* Al Qaeda will aim to provoke further intervention by foreign forces, knowing that this is the one thing all the tribes will combine to oppose.
Entire paper available here.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Now This is Interesting.

From the San Diego Union Tribune, a news story entitled "Civilians to Try Iraq War Case Against Marine":

When Jose Nazario goes on trial this week in Riverside on charges of voluntary manslaughter, he won't exactly face a jury of his peers.

Jose Nazario
Nazario, 28, is a former Camp Pendleton Marine sergeant accused of executing two prisoners during the battle to retake Fallujah, Iraq, from al-Qaeda militants in November 2004.

Two of Nazario's men, Marine Sgts. Ryan Weemer and Jermaine Nelson, are facing courts-martial at Camp Pendleton because they are still on active duty or in the reserves.

But because Nazario had left the Marine Corps, only a civilian federal court has the jurisdiction to try him. He's the first former service member to be tried under an 8-year-old law passed primarily to allow prosecution of U.S. civilians connected to the military who commit crimes overseas.

"This is a trend-setting case,” said Joseph Preis of Irvine, one of Nazario's three pro-bono attorneys. Opening arguments are expected tomorrow in U.S. District Court in the city where Nazario was working as a probationary police officer at the time of his arrest.
A healthy sign to see civilians in the US taking an active interest in penalizing our own soldiers for crimes against "the enemy"... perhaps Russia and Georgia could take some pointers. On the other hand:
Some observers don't like the idea that a Marine's combat actions are being judged by civilians who know little of war.

“You're talking about a group of people that validly wake up every morning with an intent to kill,” said Colby Vokey of Dallas, a Marine Corps defense attorney at Camp Pendleton until his retirement a few weeks ago. “That's a little tough to grasp for someone who has never been in that situation.”
OK, but they're not supposed to wake up thinking about killing prisoners. But there is a semi-valid critique here. It's not "war" that the civilian jury needs to know something about, it's "war crimes." Where are these jurors to be found, in a country whose populace has been systematically lied to about the actual letter of the Geneva Conventions and who prior to 9/11, was wantonly ignorant of them (not having dealt with a war on our soil in oh-such-a-long-time).

I'd be interested to know something about the jury selection process.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Lesser Evil

Ahh, the rhetoric of international politics. While Russia refers to its ¨peacekeeping mission¨ to ¨prevent genocide¨, Georgia calls for an end to the ¨armed invasion¨. Meanwhile the US escalates its involvement, accusing Russia of ¨seizing territory¨. Public statements demonstrate a predictable framing, designed for popular consumption. Yet insofar as they are engaged with each other OVER Georgia, both Russia and the US are parties to this conflict, not intermediaries. The good news is, a ceasefire is in the works thanks to a constructive intervention by France.

But the debate between territorial integrity versus right to self-determination is agan in full swing. In the current crisis over South Ossetia, I find myself curious: Which is the lesser evil - secession or forced integration?

Secession is a means to an end - political autonomy, which in itself represents group loyalty and sentiment. Decades of research on the topic demonstrates that the aspiration of national peoples for political autonomy need not come at the cost of state integrity - if state governments are able to provide that which national peoples seek.

¨Peoples who are denied basic cultural, linguistic, and political rights by their rulers are more likely to resort to violence than those who have been given a large measure of local autonomy¨ (¨Self Determination: Soveriegnty, Territorial Integrity, and Right to Seccession¨, United States Institute of Peace).

This hypothesis of violent conflict is largely borne out by decades of research by Ted Gurr´s Minorities at Risk Project among others, from which USIP relies for data. He draws more concrete conclusions, but they essentially they come down to felt perceptions of security. In short, secessionist conflict based on insecurity is likely to the extent that a state cannot ensure:

  • Protection and promotion of legitimate political and cultural interests
  • Substate autonomy for regional minorities

And this holds true for ¨seccesionist conflict¨ whether we are talking about national peoples (regionally concentrated cultural groups) or locally concentrated identity groups in a completely different kind of environment. The recent decision to ¨forcibly integrate¨ Los Angeles penal institutions has led (and will lead) to protests and violent conflict within US prisons. Inmates, who voluntarily segregate themselves within LA prisons, are fearful of the new mandate handed down by the Supreme Court. They voiced opinions at a recent meeting in the San Quentin Garden Chapel (grouped together voluntarily in whole pews of different ethnicities).

  • ¨We protect our own. It´s always been that way.¨
  • ¨If I get into a fight with a black cellmate, then I´m out in the yard, they´re all gonna get me.¨
  • ¨What if 80% decide together that we don´t want these new rules? Will you still enforce the program?¨ (The answer by the way: Yes, and through ¨progressively coercive methods.¨)

Compare these narratives of fear and insecurity to those voiced by Ossetians and Georgians:

  • ¨The Georgians bombed us, they wanted to destroy us¨ (NPR interview with Ossetian civilians).
  • Saakashvili close to tears said ¨he will ´never, ever surrender´in the showdown with much-larger Russia. ´You are dealing with a people who despise anything human´¨(reported by the Associated Press ).
  • A recent referendum shows Ossetians are against integration, viewing Georgia see as incapable of guaranteeing their collective security (view article here)
  • South Ossetians fear annibiliation by Georgians, reports Hasan Dzutsev (an Ossetian sociologist), a fear that Georgians brush aside.
  • Georgians are afraid that ¨Moscow´s real goal is to remove their president¨, a fear that Moscow brushes aside.

Although there may be rational reasons for integation, the desire for autonomy is a fundamentally emotional aspiration. Only when collective institutions (whether political, economic, or social) can genuinely substitute for the trust and predictability of our most salient identity-based connections, can humans trade in kinship for associational bonds. And the jury is still out on the strength of these bonds for minorities in Western pluralistic societies.

The bottom line? Most ethnonational conflicts begin with the quest for autonomy, and end with some arrangement of sub-state autonomy. It´s less costly for governments to settle, and seperatist movements are generally outmatched (though not out-right beatable). Yet loyalty and love of nation are not negotiable, not easily traded - even for ¨economic development¨ or ¨greater political participation¨. The worse for human ¨rationality¨once violent conflict has entered the picture. Violence fractures the associational bonds that tie diverse groups together, driving humans into more local and trusted networks - as both US prisons and the crisis in Georgia demonstrate all too clearly.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Was Russia Exercising a Responsibility to Protect?

With Russia justifying its actions in Georgia through reference to the Canadaian "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine, it's worth reminding ourselves what this doctrine actually says about international interventions to protect civilians. This doctrine, first laid out in the report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty and later endorsed by the international community in the 2005 Millennium Document, begins by spelling out the "threshold requirements" for such an intervention - in other words, the conditions under which human rights abuses inside a state justify grounds for breaching the territorial integrity of that state through the use of force. Such an intervention must be in response to:

"large scale loss of life, actual or apprehended, with genocidal intent or not, which is the product either of deliberate state action, or state neglect or inability to act, or a failed state situation; or

large scale "ethnic cleansing," actual or apprehended, whether carried out by killing, forced expulsion, acts of terror or rape."
The report demurs on what constitutes "large-scale loss of life"; and if it was justifiable for NATO to enter Kosovo after only a few hundred Kosovar Albanian civilians had been killed, then it might be said that Russia has something like a valid claim in this case.

But the R2P doctrine is not simply a green light for great powers to violate small states' territorial integrity whenever they can reasonably claim civilians are at risk. Rather, it carefully balances humanitarian concerns with the UN Charter regime. Intervening governments must not only demonstrate just cause, but they must meet six other criteria as well:
Right Intention: The primary purpose of the intervention must be to halt or avert human suffering...

Last Resort: Every diplomatic and non-military avenue for the prevention or peaceful resolution of the humanitarian crisis must have been explored.

Proportional Means: The scale, duration and intensity of the planned military intervention should be the minimum necessary to secure the humanitarian objective in question.

Reasonable Prospects: Military action can only be justified if it stands a reasonable chance of success, that is, halting or averting the atrocities or suffering that triggered the intervention in the first place.
Anyone can see that Russia's intervention satisfied the last of these criteria quite nicely. And although the jury is still out, for the sake of argument let us accept Russia's claim that the Georgian government's crackdown on separatists in S. Ossetia was indiscriminate and thus constituted just cause for an intervention. Even if so, it is hard to argue that Russia's means have been proportionate to its goals, that Russia exhausted any non-military avenues first, or that Russia has actually acted solely out of humanitarian objectives.

Perhaps most importantly is the question of right authority: who decides on the legitimacy of such a move? The Commission recognized the validity of such arguments, then made by Russia and China, that a humanitarian intervention norm would create a slippery slope toward the dissolution of the non-aggression norm entirely. So they devoted an entire chapter to the question of the authority to determine whether such an intervention should take place. It first stresses that to be genuine, humanitarian intervention must be multilateral, not unilateral; that it ought to be endorsed by the Security Council; and failing this (as it did in the case of Kosovo and now Darfur) could be legitimized under a Uniting for Peace resolution in the General Assembly. Point being, a single state exercising this "responsibility" on its own, without even a discussion among its peers, would negate the concept entirely.

Specious Russia's claims may be, but it is heartening to see them made. Paying lip service to a new international norm, even as a smoke-screen, legitimizes that norm. But it also provides the international community with an opportunity to apply and clarify the norm itself. This is greatly needed in the case of R2P, and the events in the Caucasus provide a useful test case.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hope for a New Republic?

Emmanuel Kant forsaw a march of history that would lead to a cosmopolitan world government, but also was one of the first to suggest that in the interim, a global international scene consisting solely of liberal republics would greatly increase stability and security throughout the world.

The reason for this, Kant supposes, is that republican peoples are less likely to go to war, because:

This would mean calling down on themselves all the miseries of war, such as doing the fighting themselves, supplying the costs of the war from their own resources, painfully making good the ensuing devastation, and, as the crowning evil, having to take upon themselves a burden of debts which will embitter peace itself...
But, though no two liberal republics have fought each other in over 200 years, they have nonetheless waged plenty of wars; both offensively and defensively, and against both more authoritarian regimes, native populations, and secessionist movements.

Why is this, and more importantly, is it preventable?

I would argue that the reason for this continued warlike behaviour by liberal republics, including the United States, is twofold: First, none of these so-called republics are very republican; though the population may elect a leader and an executive, once that leader is in power, be it for 2 years, 4 years, or what have you, they function as an autocrat- in Kant's words:

For the head of state is not a fellow citizen, and war will not force him to make the slightest sacrifice so far as his banquets, hunts, pleasure palaces, and court festivals are concerned. He can thus decide on war, without any significant reasons...

Truly, one might observe without a trace of cynicism that no fundraising dinners have been canceled of late, no Texas hunting trips or escapes to Kennebunkport have been missed on account of the trivial matter of a 5 year war that has cost the lives of a mere 4000-odd soldiers on foreign sands...

In the second place, the populace also fails to meet Kant's criteria in that neither the whole population, nor even a large or representative slice of it, is required to bear the misery of fighting; they are also not specifically required to make good the resultant devastation, though one can suppose that through taxation and the potential for war rationing, the populace will indeed bear the domestic financial costs of the war...

In the United States, as in most liberal democracies, our modern wars are fought by a small percentage of professional soldiers, led by an elite officer corps. These armed forces, even the massive ones that exist in America, have much more in common with the mercenary troops of yore than with those truly citizen-soldiers such as marched in the phalanxes of Sparta and Athens, and the volunteer Federal and Confederate regiments of the Civil War.

Having discovered this deficiency between Kant's ideal liberal republic and today's liberal, democratic, capitalist states, can your humble scribe offer a prescription for change?

But of course. A two-fold problem calls for a two-fold solution.

First off, while it's no doubt convenient to foist off the day-to-day administration of the State to a group of corrupt, inefficient bureaucrats, the decision to commit the armed forces of the Nation to combat should be subject to a national referendum; today's modern technology makes it entirely possible that one could vote, swiftly, securely and uniquely, via, say text message:

To: White House (703-xxx-xxxx)
From: Cleitus (202-xxx-xxxx)

Re: War in Ossetia

Vote: NO

Supposing that one will not now go to war without the consent of the majority of the citizenry, one would like to ensure that those citizens are not signing up to wars which they themselves would not be willing to fight.

The simple solution would be to mandate a limited period of military service for all persons who are mentally and physically capable, and then make them liable, in the future, to be called into service to augment the standing forces for a term of 3 years or so, and of course to be activated in a time of war.

Full citizenship (ie, the right to vote for or against a war) should be limited to those citizens who have served, or are serving - those who are exempted for mental or physical reasons should have no say, lest they bring down upon the heads of the Nation's warriors an undesired battle.

Both these prescriptions are easily manageable with today's technology; whether true republican spirit is palatable to either America or its rulers is less certain.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Clarifying the Law Re. Treatment of Individuals Allegedly Detained by Russia

At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Robert Farley has some intel on the alleged capture of at least one American by Russian forces in Georgia. If true, and if this was a member of the US military fighting with Georgian troops, this would be a pretty big deal. (Of course the US will disavow this, claim he was at best a private contractor not a combatant and likely do nothing to protect him... so far no coverage of this in the Western press.)

In comments at Farley's blog there are various claims that if he was not a regular combatant this prisoner would have no rights under the Geneva Conventions. This is false. The Geneva Conventions apply in full to international armed conflicts, of which this is one. They apply to all persons who fall into the power of the enemy, not just lawful combatants. If not taking part in hostilities, this person would need to be treated as a civilian and repatriated to the US. If taking part in hostilities unlawfully (that is, without the authorization of his government) the person could be held and prosecuted, but all the provisions regarding the treatment of detainees, including the right to due process, would apply to him nonetheless.

Besides, even if this weren't an armed conflict in which the full conventions applied, Article 3 of the four 1949 conventions would still apply - this is where basic guarantees of humane treatment are laid out for everyone, not just for lawful combatants.

Of course, the US has given up its right to any moral high ground with respect to its own detainees by disavowing/reinterpreting international law. US hypocrisy, however, doesn't invalidate Russia's treaty obligations, and we shouldn't be acting as though it does.

As an aside, Dan Nexon has a fantastic post up at Duck of Minerva outlining the Russian perspective on recent events - a nice antidote to the propagandistic pro-Georgia bent of much of the US news coverage.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Over the Brink

Friday, the Times Online reported that Russia and Georgia moved “to the brink of war” after the initiation of hostilities. By evening, war had been officially declared by both sides; yet yesterday morning, I woke to find out that Georgia and Russia were merely “nearing all out war” with the mobilization of Russian warships and commencement of bombing raids. By afternoon, Bloomberg had reported that Russia (at least) was “waging full-scale war.”

At what point does a pair of countries cross the threshold between almost being at war and actually being at at war? Important question since, among other things, the laws of armed conflict only apply to wars and occupations, not to skirmishes, riots, or low-intensity conflicts. (Human Rights Watch: there's definitely a war happening, and the rules definitely apply.)

Political scientists answer this question through reference to the body count. The standard threshold between low-intensity political violence and a genuine war, for the purposes of studying wars, is generally set at 1,000 battle deaths. However political scientists differ on whether this is deaths per side or deaths total, and whether “battle deaths” includes collateral damage against civilians, or simply intentional deaths by targeting.

Even then, it can be pretty hard to sort out who is dead. Currently, Russia is reporting 2,000 dead; but then, they’re also claiming that Georgia is committing genocide. Georgia makes a variety of counter-claims.

Is the willingness to target civilians, possibly, the difference between "war," "all-out war" and "full-scale war?" Hmm.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Guns of August?

Curiously enough, I was recently pondering the question of whether granting autonomy to seccessionist movements increases the security and stability of both the break-away entity and the state from which it is seeking independence.

Certainly the latest developments in South Ossetia would appear to lend some credence to this line of thinking; attempting to maintain control over such a state, especially when they are backed by a regional hegemon appears likely to lead to conflict.

Georgian forces attacked to "restore constitutional order" in the separatist republic, shelling the capital of Tskhinvali with Grad Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS).

Russian tanks and aircraft have retaliated, ostensibly to protect Russian peacekeepers on the ground in South Ossetia. At least 10 of those peacekeepers were apparently killed by the "steel rain" that fell on Tskhinvali, giving the Russian Bear the perfect excuse to flex its military muscle.

U.S. forces have been engaged in military exercises in Georgia recently, and there are at least 127 US advisers still in the country. Georgia has participated in the Coalition of the Willing, providing the 3rd largest contigent of forces in Iraq; 2000 troops, which is more than twice the South Korea presence and an order of magnitude greater than Australia. One might be tempted must evaluate this involvement with a realist view that with such a contribution, they have sealed the loyalty of the U.S. to back them in any conflict with Russia.

For the time being, the U.S. and Russia are vowing to seek a negotiated end to the conflict, whose timing, as the world focused it's intention on the opening of the Olympic Games, was hardly a coincidence.

The outcome of this struggle will have repercussions both locally, (for not only the South Ossetians, but also for Abkhazia) and around the world as separatist entities, including Kurdistan, Southern Sudan, and the Sri Lankan Tamil movement evaluate their positions relative to the states from which they are seeking independence.

One is also obliged to wonder at the difference between Kosovo, a recognized separatist region, and South Ossetia; is recognition in the international community merely a Hobbesian matter of expedience to the greater powers? Or is there a Grotian "rule of law" that would apply to all those seeking independence, whether they be African, Slavic, Islamic, or Sikh?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Friday Star Trek Blogging.

The crew of the Enterprise NCC-1701 D ruminates on NGOs, celebrity campaigns, and human security.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Hamdan Verdict

Boy, that was quick. The New York Times reports that Salim Hamdan has been found guilty in a split verdict.

Daniel Graeber at War Crimes Blog has more, though he seems to think this trial was the first since WW2, which we know is wrong. The Moderate Voice has a great round-up of other blog responses to this story here.

John McCain says the verdict "proves the system is working." To see how wrong he is, don't miss Kevin Heller's post at Opinio Juris explaining why the charges in Hamdan make no sense at all in the context of existing treaty law on armed conflict, to which McCain has claimed to be committed. In brief:

"There is no question that the military commissions have jurisdiction over the crime of “murder in violation of the law of war,” defined by the Manual for Military Commissions as “intentionally kill[ing] one or more persons, including lawful combatants, in violation of the law of war.” That war crime only exists, however, in the imagination of the United States: it is not a war crime under IHL for a unprivileged belligerent — the correct label for the mythic “enemy combatant” — to kill a soldier.

Under IHL, in other words, an unprivileged belligerent can only be prosecuted (1) for a domestic crime if his act would have been legal for a privileged belligerent, such as killing a soldier; or (2) for a war crime if his act would have been illegal even for a privileged belligerent, such as killing a civilian. What he cannot be prosecuted for is (3) a “war crime” whose underlying act would not have been a war crime if committed by a privileged combatant."
'Nuf said 'bout that.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Fan Mail

Michael Innes has written a glowing review of Elected Swineherd at Complex Terrain Lab. Referring to me among others as a "gent" (seemingly Mike has intel as to my gender! OMG, our cover is blown! oh, never mind, he refers to Cleitus the Black as a 'gent' as well...), he commands his readers to immediately subscribe to our blog, a sentiment with which we heartily concur. [Click the button at four o'clock to comply.]

Actually, this is high praise coming from CT Lab, one of the best post-9/11 security blogs out there and one of my regular reads. Innes leads a community of scholars, commentators and bloggers who reflect upon and post about "the transformation, newness, or changing character of war, simultaneously striving to identify elements of continuity and change, and to redress emergent practical and conceptual imbalances in the way war is governed." Their emphasis on the intersection of international law, security policy and social science will be of particular interest to ES readers: in fact the blog is an outgrowth of an important project begun at the Maxwell School at Syracuse to reconsider the laws of war in the face of asymmetric conflicts:

Conflicting political and security metaphors of spatial knowledge, simulation and control - "failed states", "human terrain", "terrorist sanctuaries" - have revealed deep divisions over the perception and management of threat... [and] challeng[ed] social scientists to investigate and illuminate the textures, nuances, implications and consequences of variable geometries of violence.
Besides being already chock full of substantive and witty observations (check out the latest post on the whereabouts of Ratko Mladic), Innes has issued an open invitation to ES bloggers to contribute from time to time at CTLab, so look for an occasional post by Cleitus, Empedocles or myself over there.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Beastly Behaviour?

Well, despite having soldiered around the globe and spent a great deal of time among my continental brethren, I must admit that even I had to do a little research into the term beasting, which has a variety of connotations according to the Urban Dictionary, and which is described in more detail in this BBC report, which mentions running and push-ups while wearing gas masks and chemical resistant suits (a miserable experience, to be sure) running with rifles held overhead, and doing calisthenics while holding a log.

Harsh? Perhaps... But consider this course of punishment; the Royal Marine Commando Course. Many of the physical challenges that are simply a part of training could certainly be considered beastly, but the difference is, they represent obstacles that must be overcome to achieve a goal.

Beasting in and of itself is simply the use of intense exercise to condition a young, recalcitrant person not to behave in certain manners, such as performing poorly during normal training, smarting off to his superiors, etc.

This soldier didn't die because he was beasted; he died of heat stroke (among other things, because he had Ecstasy in his system - something he probably hadn't mentioned to his superiors.) He also may simply have had a low tolerance for heat stress; (some people do) I have personally seen several otherwise fit individuals laid low while making a standard march or run due to that fact. He would probably have suffered the same effect had he been undergoing any other intensive exercise under the same condition.

In the final analysis, this case, like previous instances of hazing and hard training in the U.S. will result in the Brits seeing more administrative punishment (restricted liberty, reduced pay), a softer and less disciplined soldier, and senior staff reminiscent for the bad old days.

Floggings? Well, at least with the lash, we did have the rum ration... Now it's a cyclic dose of Ambien and amphetamines, but only for pilots.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Besting "Beasting"

BBC reports on the acquittal of Army personnel whose junior colleague died after being subjected to harsh physical exercise as punishment for a misdemeanor. Pte Gavin Williams, 22, of Hengoed, Caerphilly, collapsed and died at Lucknow Barracks in Tidworth in 2006.

Admittedly, I need to know more about the details - I don't mean to be insensitive to this family's terrible loss; and it does sound like these soldiers went too far. But will someone who has spent time in the military explain to me and the rest of the ignorant civilians how "beasting" is qualitatively different from disciplinary exercise generally? And if it's not to be however-many pushups or a long hike for insubordination, what are we back to in order to keep recruits in line? Flogging?

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