Tag Archives: war

Debating Killer Robots at the UN

Let’s debate killer robots. (Or should we? Who is for them anyway?) Not the ICRC or Amnesty International. See the Red Cross statement from the Meeting of Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, held a few weeks ago at the UN in Geneva:

The ICRC has called on States to set limits on autonomy in weapon systems to ensure they are used in accordance with international humanitarian law (IHL) and within the bounds of what is acceptable under the principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience.

Apparently, more than 80 national representatives agreed, echoing groups such as the International Committee for Robot Arms Control and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots:

In the end, they emerged with a recommendation: The key U.N. body that sets norms for weapons of war should put killer robots on its agenda.

Source: Weighing The Good And The Bad Of Autonomous Killer Robots In Battle : All Tech Considered : NPR

Not the strongest stuff you could hope for (e.g., treaty law or even a declaration or draft programme of action) but it is a step in the direction toward action. But in reality, it is harder to draw the line than some think, especially where the bottom line is that humans have to decide how to use the technology.

Although some argue that “autonomous weapons are coming and can save lives” as long as they are used ethically and within legal norms, Denise Garcia disagrees, writing in Foreign Affairs that

“Washington should…work to prohibit machines capable of killing on their own. Killer robots might seem like an unreasonable idea, but they could become an unacceptable reality.”


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After 100 Years, the Meaning of Verdun

Some facts about Verdun may surprise you: Verdun was symbolically important for both sides, had been intended by Germany to be a battle of attrition and caught the French by surprise. It resulted in roughly equal and staggering casualties: 800k dead, wounded or missing with approximately 150 dead–and many unrecoverable remains.

Did the horror and utter failure for both sides create a new era of Franco-German cooperation?

What was the meaning of this now-defining battle of World War I? Paul Jankowski writes:

To a historian 100 years later, Verdun does yield a meaning, in a way a darkly ironic one. Neither Erich von Falkenhayn, the chief of the German General Staff, nor his French counterpart, Joseph Joffre, had ever envisaged a climactic, decisive battle at Verdun. They had attacked and defended with their eyes elsewhere on the front, and had thought of the fight initially as secondary, as ancillary to their wider strategic goals. And then it became a primary affair, self-sustaining and endless. They had aspired to control it. Instead it had controlled them. In that sense Verdun truly was iconic, the symbolic battle of the Great War of 1914-18.

Source: World War I’s Iconic, Ironic Battle – The New York Times

Also, don’t miss this incredible interactive then/new photography on the war and Verdun by Guardian UK to see the destructiuon from another perspective.


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Creating a New Europe in Vienna, 1814

Ballhausplatz, the Austrian seat of power and location for 1814’s meetings (as well as some bad boy behavior in the extreme).

History allows us to look back and create convenient categories, rightly or wrongly. One such set of bookends could include the 19th century’s run of peace and cooperation ending with the Great War in July 1914 and starting in Vienna, 1814.

Was this party in Vienna such a game changer? Some sigh with apathy–or debate the notion, but as Stephen Walt writes in ForeignPolicy.com, many rightly see this as a key turning point in global affairs:

After the Napoleonic Wars, diplomats and officials from all over Europe convened in Vienna to negotiate a peace settlement to resolve the various issues that had arisen after over two decades of war. Sure, there was a lot of hard-nosed haggling over borders and other arrangements, but historical accounts of the Congress also make it clear that the participants also engaged in months of energetic revelry, much of it of a decidedly lubricious sort. Historians who regard the Congress as a great success might argue that all this frivolity helped; those who believe the Congress left many critical issues unresolved probably think the assembled plenipotentiaries should have spent less time partying and more time on their work.

via Top 5 parties in world history | Foreign Policy.

Follow this animated map of 19th century Europe through the Congress to WWI to see how events evolved in the aftermath of Napoleon and how power was maintained by the victors, with clear losers being nationalistic aspirations and French revolutionary ideals in Poland, Belgium Norway, Italy, Germany, and among Balkan Christians (Serbs, Christians, Greeks, and Bulgurs).

click for animated explanation of how European powers divided up the Continent post-Napoleon.

click this animated explanation of how European powers divided up the Continent post-Napoleon.











No less than Henry Kissinger, the realpolitik living dean of international relations cut his teeth on the Congress of Vienna, writing his dissertation on Metternich the statesman. But an exciting new book on the topic by historian Adam Zamoyski takes on Kissinger’s conclusion directly, as noted in this Guardian book review:

For those who believe that jaw-jaw is more interesting than war-war, this is an exhilarating book. Zamoyski starts with the exhausted emperor hustling back to Paris after the retreat from Moscow to try to keep French domination of Europe alive. He finishes with a demolition job on Henry Kissinger, whose doctoral thesis on the diplomat Metternich praised the Congress of Vienna for giving Europe a century of peace. Zamoyski has no time for Kissinger or his Austrian hero, Metternich.

The system that came to be called the Concert of Europe, Zamoyski writes, “imposed an orthodoxy which not only denied political existence to many nations; it enshrined a particularly stultified form of monarchical government; institutionalised social hierarchies as rigid as any that existed under the ancien régime; by excluding whole classes and nations this system nurtured envy and resentment, which flourished into socialism and aggressive nationalism.”



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Why Civil Wars are So Tough to Solve

The headlines reveal (and will continue to show) the failures and stumbles with Geneva II. Careful and insightful reporting by Somini Sengupta this week shows exactly how “time, words, and ultimately, trust” shaped the invitation process that included the ultimate exclusion of Iran.

Research in 2010 by Monica Duffy Toft shows that civil wars ending with rebel victors lead to a greater stability. That doesn’t seem to be in the cards in Syria. And a “failed peace implementation can lead to more deaths than the conflict the agreement was meant to end.”

Even so, there are serious diplomatic efforts to end the killing–even if they fail.  Behind the scenes there is an enormous amount of effort among key states such as the U.S. and Russia and the UN to find a solution to the Syrian civil war. There are many sad precedents:

What are the lessons? If there is a general one from Bosnia for the parties meeting in Switzerland, it is the need for humility. As determined as the international community may be to resolve conflict, civil war is extraordinarily resistant to outside intervention. This has three important implications.

via Bosnia’s Lessons for Syria – NYTimes.com.

As Philippe Leroux-Martin further notes, “The Dayton agreement was far from perfect…but Mr. Holbrooke’s strategy did succeed in creating the conditions required to enforce a settlement.”

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Booklist| Illustrating the “Great War,” 24 feet long

Joe Sacco grew up in Australia where tales of victory and disaster in WWI were part of the cultural milieu–and so the few steps from artist to historical recreator don’t seem to be too much of a stretch. He makes a great effort to illustrate the horrors of war that were the first chapter amidst failed global efforts to prevent conflict on a massive scale.

Via Solemn Panorama of Battle, NYT

Source: Q&A with Joe Sacco, author of “The Great War” Posted on November 5, 2013 | By jmcmurtrie@sfchronicle.com (John McMurtrie)

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Idealism or Realism When It Comes to Syria?

Should the US engage militarily in Syria? A soldier’s thoughtful consideration:

One unanticipated effect of my service in Iraq has been the running debate in my head about what justifies our involvement in future conflicts. I’m not naïve enough to ignore the widespread perception that the conflict I served in was an unnecessary mistake – a strategic blunder made by policy makers who expected quick victory, but which instead devolved into a nearly decade-long slog of bloodletting. Sometimes the wars we get involved in are worth the cost, and sometimes they aren’t. Anecdotally, at least, it seems the majority of Americans think that mine wasn’t.

I often agree, and with the heavy heart of a man who has watched other men die, I’m far more hesitant to support military action these days. It wasn’t always this way.

via Part 1: Idealism or Realism When It Comes to Syria? – NYTimes.com.

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200 Years After Battle, Some Hard Feelings Remain – NYTimes.com

In Waterloo’s commemoration some see “British triumphalism,” a historical battlefield, and  war that Germany doesn’t have to apologize for.  But Belgians (and the French) are not so keen on the idea:

While the battle ended two centuries ago, however, hard feelings have endured. Memories are long here, and not everyone here shares Britain’s enthusiasm for celebrating Napoleon’s defeat.

Every year, in districts of Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium, there are fetes to honor Napoleon, according to Count Georges Jacobs de Hagen, a prominent Belgian industrialist and chairman of a committee responsible for restoring Hougoumont. “Napoleon, for these people, was very popular,” Mr. Jacobs, 73, said over coffee. “That is why, still today, there are some enemies of the project.”

via 200 Years After Battle, Some Hard Feelings Remain – NYTimes.com.

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Terrorist Haven in Mali, France Pushes for UN Peacekeepers


France’s foreign minister is seeking for the U.N. vote next month to approve peacekeepers for Mali. These peacekeepers would be put in place because of the Islamic extremists who had taken control of northern Mali. Mali used to have French colonial rule and France is deeply concerned that Mali is becoming a terrorist haven, including links to al-Qaid. Canada has become involved with Mali by sending a C-17 military transport plane. French Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, stated, “The entire region’s security is at stake and, in fact, our own security is at risk as well. Not only France or Europe, but all democracies. This is why we can act together.”

Source: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/03/14/3285295/france-april-un-vote-on-mali-peacekeepers.html


-Kelsey (post for the week of 18th-24th)

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Gaza Violence Is Unabating as Other Nations Push for Truce – NYTimes.com

Blasts in Gaza and in Israel as the conflict moves steadily toward all-out war:

Sharon Galili, a lawyer who has 3-year-old twins and a 5-year-old, drove to his office in Ashdod but after 90 minutes and four or five rocket alerts, sent his staff home and returned to his family in the nearby village of Aseret.

“The children are terrified,” he said. “Every noise they hear — a truck or motorcycle — they ask if there is an alert. You feel their fear. We are not right-wing or left-wing; we just want quiet. The situation is surrealistic, but that is the reality we live in.”

There are no warning sirens here in the Gaza Strip, where the wee hours of Sunday were punctuated by airstrikes as well as a series of missiles fired from Israeli Navy vessels off the coast.

via Gaza Violence Is Unabating as Other Nations Push for Truce – NYTimes.com.

Who is in charge?  The question of leadership among Arab states will be tested and also critical to a peaceful resolution of the problem in a new lineup of regional heads of state. And maybe, as Daniel Kurtzer argues, this is the time for the US to step up and push the peace process once again.

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Rethinking the ‘Just War,’ Part 2 – NYTimes.com

Is just war unjust?

Traditional theorists seek to justify their extraordinary claim — that those who fight and kill in an unjust war never do wrong provided they kill in accordance with the rules — by appealing to the familiar idea that, while it is not permissible to attack people who are innocent, it can be permissible to attack and kill those who are noninnocent.  But the Theory uses these words in a special way.  Innocent means “unthreatening,” so that in war non-combatants are innocent while all combatants are noninnocent. Thus, in Walzer’s words, the right not to be attacked “is lost by those who bear arms…because they pose a danger to other people.” This is true of the just and the unjust alike. “Simply by fighting,” Walzer claims, they lose “their title to life…even though, unlike aggressor states, they have committed no crime.” According to this view, all violent action that is defensive is self-justifying, assuming it is also necessary and proportionate.

This account of defensive rights accords no significance to the distinction between wrongful aggressors and their victims, or between unjust and just combatants. Each has a right of defense against the other. Such a view has no plausibility outside the context of war. If a police officer, for example, is about to shoot a murderer on a rampage, the murderer has no right to kill the officer in self-defense, even if that is the only way to save himself. In this and other situations outside of war, the morality of defense is asymmetrical between wrongful aggressors and innocent victims (and third parties who attempt to defend them). While the victim has both a right against attack and a right of defense, the aggressor has neither. This asymmetrical understanding of the morality of defense is found even in the traditional doctrine of jus ad bellum, for the Theory accepts that the morality of defense among states is asymmetrical. It is only in the doctrine of jus in bello, which applies to combatants, that the morality of defense is symmetrical. The Theory thus comprises two distinct accounts of the morality of defense — an asymmetrical account for states and a symmetrical account for combatants.

via Rethinking the ‘Just War,’ Part 2 – NYTimes.com.