Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Saudi airstrikes on Yemeni civilians may have put a target on the backs of U.S. troops

Saudi airstrikes on Yemeni civilians may have put a target on the backs of U.S. troops 

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'Anybody who fires on U.S. Navy ships does so at peril to themselves,' a Pentagon official said.





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NSA contractor thought to have taken classified material the old-fashioned way 

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Harold Martin’s case raises new questions about whether spy agencies are appropriately protecting their sensitive data.





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First Iranian-Yemeni missile attack on US flotilla

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October 12, 2016, 7:07 PM (IDT)
Contrary to Tehran’s assurance to Washington in August that Iranian arms supplies to Yemeni Houthi rebels had been suspended, the rebels took delivery last week of the largest consignment of Iranian weapons to date.
debkafile: They came with Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers and radar systems to fine-tune the targeting of these missiles by Iran’s Yemeni proxies, and were used to attack Red Sea vessels - first a UAE ship and next, a US flotilla.

Supreme Court will hear Ashcroft appeal to kill lawsuit

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WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to hear appeals from former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former FBI Director Robert Mueller and other former federal officials seeking to shut down lawsuits filed by Muslim and Arab men who were detained in the U.S. after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The ...

New challenges in Syria as militants weaponized drones

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Militant groups like Hezbollah and the Islamic State group have learned how to weaponize surveillance drones and use them against each other, adding a new twist to Syria's civil war, a U.S. military official and others say.
A video belonging to an al Qaeda offshoot, Jund al-Aqsa, ...

John Podesta links Donald Trump campaign to Russian email hacking 

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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — Hillary Clinton's top adviser said the FBI is investigating Russia's possible role in hacking thousands of his personal emails, an intrusion he said Donald Trump's campaign may have been aware of in advance.
If true, the assertion from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta would amount ...
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Russia: US Threatens Our 'National Security' - Breitbart News

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Breitbart News

Russia: US Threatens Our 'National Security'
Breitbart News
Moscow has reportedly accused the United States of “taking aggressive steps” that “pose a threat” to Russian “national security.” The day after, the Kremlin announced it was transforming its Tartus base in Syria into a permanent facility equipped with ...
Russia says US actions threaten its national securityReuters
Russia Says US 'Aggression' Threatens National SecurityWashington Free Beacon
Russia: U.S. actions a threat to our national securityUPI.com
NBCNews.com-RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty
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Lessons from the Cold War: Why Man's First Trip to Mars is a Matter of National Security - The National Interest Online (blog)

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The National Interest Online (blog)

Lessons from the Cold War: Why Man's First Trip to Mars is a Matter of National Security
The National Interest Online (blog)
The U.S. is in need of broader public support for crucial space-based national securityinvestments and the first manned mission to Mars could be the best opportunity for generating an important personal connection with this essential component of ...

Clinton v. Trump: Foreign Policy & National Security - Voice of America (blog)

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Voice of America (blog)

Clinton v. Trump: Foreign Policy & National Security
Voice of America (blog)
Foreign policy and national security issues were touched on ever so slightly, mostly regarding Syria, Islamic State, Russia and Trump's proposed ban on Muslims coming into the country. So much of the 2016 presidential campaign has been about what the ...
Could Donald Trump really jail Hillary Clinton if he wins the election?The Guardian

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Pentagon Confronts a New Threat From ISIS: Exploding Drones

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The group had been using surveillance drones, but a recent attack that killed two Kurdish fighters highlighted its success in developing an effective new weapon.

Trump's Return to Reagan 

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D. Quinn Mills, Peter Navarro
Politics, Americas
President Ronald Reagan speaking at a Rally for Senator Durenberger in Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1982. Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

The Trump global agenda is coherent in a way unseen since the Reagan era, with each piece of the puzzle fitting into a larger whole.

Donald Trump’s candidacy for president is a significant moment for American politics and equally so for U.S. foreign policy. Mr. Trump intends his nomination by the Republican Party to represent the return of the GOP to the muscular yet restrained foreign policy tradition of President Ronald Reagan. Trump also wishes to make a clean break with the interventionism of the last generation of presidents of both parties.
For all the media insistence that Mr. Trump’s campaign has been light on policy prescriptions, the Republican nominee gave two detailed speeches in August and September elucidating his view of foreign policy and national security. Both speeches repeat President Reagan’s “peace through strength” emphasis on overwhelming military force, used in a restrained manner, and a keen appreciation of the larger geopolitical forces shaping our world.
The Trump global agenda is coherent in a way unseen since the Reagan era, with each piece of the puzzle fitting into a larger whole. It is premised on reclaiming U.S. world leadership without losing sight of our own constraints.
There is nothing remotely conservative about unbridled foreign intervention and nation building, which Reagan rejected on multiple occasions. Trump seems to have based his foreign policy agenda on a similarly careful reading of U.S. national interests.
Mr. Trump has clearly stated that the Obama administration’s drastic cuts to the U.S. military are a major restraint on American freedom of action abroad. This includes our ability to deter major powers like Russia and China from acting contrary to our national interests.
Trump proposes to reverse U.S. military decline, measured against our capacity just a few years prior, as well measured against the growing might of our competitors. Merely initiating the Trump military buildup will signal to our adversaries that the United States is returning to international leadership. Trump argues that once our forces are rebuilt, American leaders will find their words taken far more seriously in global forums.
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The Growing Danger of Military Conflict with Russia

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Nikolas K. Gvosdev
Security, Eurasia
A Russian military honor guard welcomes U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, Russia. Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Navy

There are no risk-free options.

Once more, the circle in U.S.-Russia relations is complete. The Clinton administration took office in 1993 promising a “Bill and Boris” strategic partnership between the two countries, and ended with recriminations over the Kosovo operation, with Gen. Wesley Clark prepared to start World War III to block the arrival of Russian peacekeepers in Pristina. George W. Bush left the Ljubljana summit with Vladimir Putin in summer 2001 promising a qualitatively different U.S.-Russia relationship, which seemed to bear fruit in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, but concluded his term dealing with the Russian incursion into Georgia with calls from his own party, especially in Congress, for a forceful U.S. response. Barack Obama was going to reset relations with Russia, and now, in the weeks remaining in office, is facing demands from his own State Department and Department of Defense for drawing a line in the sand in Syria against Russian airstrikes on a besieged Aleppo—even at the risk of a face-to-face confrontation between American and Russian forces.
At various points in these pages over the past twenty-five years, serious voices—C. Fred Ikle, Robert Legvold, Henry Kissinger, Graham Allison and Dimitri K. Simes, and Robert Blackwill, to name a few—have called for a sober evaluation of U.S.-Russia relations and a concerted effort to work through the irritants and roadblocks in the U.S.-Russia relationship to find a way to concentrate on the advancing the agenda of shared interests between Washington and Moscow. Yet in both the Capitol and White House and in the Kremlin, matters have deteriorated to the point that such advice now falls on deaf and uninterested ears. Each side has a well-rehearsed litany of complaints and accusations—cyber attacks, Syria, Ukraine, human rights, NATO enlargement, color revolutions, duplicity over Libya, and so on and so forth—that makes dialogue almost impossible.
In 1992, 2000 and 2008, the expectation was that following the U.S. elections, the page would be turned. A new effort, we were assured, would be undertaken to improve relations. Candidates Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama were all critical of the engagement efforts of their predecessors on the campaign trail, and then, within six months of taking office, sought a fresh start with the Kremlin.
Now I believe that things are going to be different. Very different.
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New Alaskan Oil Will Boost America's Energy Independence

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Anthony Fensom
Economics, Americas
The USCGC Sycamore anchors off the coast of Barrow, Alaska as the crew prepares for a spilled oil recovery system exercise during Arctic Edge 2012. Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Air Force

Could this be the boost that U.S. energy needed?

“The Last Frontier” might have just become the newest frontier in America’s emerging energy independence.
The October 4 announcement by Dallas-based Caelus Energy of a “significant light oil discovery” in Alaska’s North Slope has breathed new life into the state’s struggling oil industry, which has suffered from falling prices.
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker welcomed the find, saying, “We look forward to the discovery being turned into oil in the pipeline.”
In a statement, Caelus Energy CEO Jim Musselman said, “This discovery could be really exciting for the state of Alaska. It has the size and scale to play a meaningful role in sustaining the Alaskan oil business over the next three or four decades.”
The privately owned explorer said that based on two wells drilled in 2016 and 126 square miles of existing 3D seismic, the find in its Smith Bay leases may encompass six billion barrels, or up to ten billion barrels including adjoining acreage. The company says it expects to recover around 30 to 40 percent of the find, with the development having the potential to provide two hundred thousand barrels per day of light oil.
Should initial estimates prove accurate, the discovery could boost the state’s oil reserves by as much as 80 percent, and extend the long-term viability of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
The company said it planned to build an $800 million, 125-mile pipeline to connect with the existing Prudhoe Bay pipeline infrastructure, with production forecast to commence as early as 2022.
While Wood Mackenzie analyst Cody Rice told the Wall Street Journal it would be a “massively complex, massively expensive undertaking to get that [oil] to market,” the company expects support from the state of Alaska and could benefit from forecasted higher oil prices.
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Hillary Clinton's military targets

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For the first time since the dawn of the Cold War, Republicans have nominated a presidential candidate who's often been proudly more dovish than his Democratic opponent-and that's only the beginning of Donald Trump's problems with American voters who have connections to the military.
     

France creates National Guard to improve security

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France's government has approved a decree creating a National Guard to bolster security against extremist attacks across the country.
     

NSA contractor thought to have taken classified material the old-fashioned way

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Harold T. Martin III is accused of stealing classified information for at least a decade and investigators believe some of the information was taken by leaving the workplace with printed-out papers.
     

The last 100 days: Obama still has lengthy to-do list

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With 100 days to go in his presidency, President Obama still has the power to usher in long-lasting policy changes through regulation, executive orders, and the pardon power.
     

Donald Trump's Debate Talk Contradicts Growing Body of Evidence Tying Russia to Recent Hacks

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Visa Overstays Get Short Shrift in Border Security Debate

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An estimated 40 percent of the 11.4 million people in the U.S. illegally overstayed visas, a crucial but often overlooked fact in the immigration debate

DIVIDED AMERICA: The Evolving Face of US Immigration

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For all of Donald Trump's talk of building a border wall and deporting the 11 million unauthorized arrivals who are predominantly Hispanic, U.S. immigrants are now more likely to come from Asia than Mexico or Latin America

As Helmand Risks Falling to the Taliban, Afghans Blame Graft

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For the past month, the Taliban have controlled most of Afghanistan's Helmand province, source of the majority of the world's opium _ and as insurgent attacks intensify around the provincial capital, residents blame corruption for the rising threat

Thoughts on White House Pledge to Respond to DNC Hack

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Yesterday Josh Earnest pledged that the United States would “will ensure that our response is proportional” to Russia’s hack of DNC emails, which the United States has concluded was “intended to interfere with the US election process.”  Earnest said the President would “consider a response that is proportional."  He added that "[i]t is unlikely that our response would be announced in advance," and said it was “possible that the president can choose response options that we never announce.” 
Several questions and reactions:
1.  What is a proportional response to Russia’s effort to interfere with the U.S. election process?  That’s a tricky one.    
2.  I can imagine reasons for a secret proportional response.  Perhaps proving attribution publicly is hard or impossible, and perhaps the United States has more options (and more flexibility) to inflict more pain on Russia in secret.  As Admiral Rogers said last week in connection with the Russia DNC hack, “don't just assume that because you haven't seen anything broadly, that it doesn't mean that there isn't activity ongoing.”  Fair enough.  One hopes that the absence of public responses to the many very serious cyber-intrusions in recent years did not imply the absence of private responses.  
But wait, what about the much-vaunted name and shame strategy?  John Carlin recently defendedthe sanctions + indictment approach on the ground that taking responses to harmful cyberoperations “out of the intelligence channels and be[ing] public about it” is the “only way to change the behavior of the people who are launching these attacks, but also the other countries who are watching them get away with it.”  I’m a skeptic that this approach will impose enough pain to have much of an impact on determined state actors who reap enormous benefits from cyber-operations.  And it would be embarrassing if the U.S. government responded to electoral interference with unenforceable indictments.   But I agree with two corollaries to Carlin’s point.  (1) A secret response against the perpetrators of the DNC hack may hurt the perpetrators but it cannot shame them.  And (2), a secret response cannot deter third parties, who can't know if the United States did in fact respond, or whether the response was in fact proportionate.  (Rogers seemed to acknowledge something like these points in his interview last week.)  Perhaps (as @MapleLeafLawyersuggested) Earnest was speaking loosely.  Perhaps by secret he meant covert, in which case the effects might be public and attributed to the United States even if the United States maintains nominal deniability.  (Cf. drone strikes.)  But again, what kind of response, public or private, would be proportional?      
3.  Note the awesome power of the presidency implicit in Earnest’s response.  It is the President of the United States alone who will determine what the proportional response to Russia is, and whether it will be secret, and what form it will take.Perhaps Obama will sanction Russia pursuant to authorities delegated to him by Congress.   Would further sanctions on Russia be a proportional response to an attempt to influence a presidential election?  I doubt that would suffice.  But if Obama responds with cyber or kinetic force, and especially if his response is secret or covert, he will likely do little more than inform Congress, or perhaps “consult” it (or its leadership) to take its temperature.  One certainly cannot imagine Obama seeking congressional authorization for what he will do.   And so once again, the nation’s fate on a very high-stakes foreign policy confrontation with a nuclear power turns on the judgment and discretion of our president alone.
4    Just because the White House says it will respond to Russia does not mean that it will respond.   Last summer David Sanger reported that the United States had decided that it “must retaliate against China for the theft of the personal information of more than 20 million Americans from the databases of the Office of Personnel Management.”   Sanger’s story reported on Executive branch equivocations not unlike what Earnest said yesterday.  The response may not “happen anytime soon — or be obvious when it does,” Sanger reported.  And the White House was still debating its options, he added.   In the end, as Sanger (and Nicole  Perlroth) noted over the weekend, the United States decided not to sanction China for the OPM hack despite the pledge to do so, apparently as part of the agreement with China over IP theft.*  In other words, the United States did not retaliate against China for the OPM hack even though a “senior administration official” told the lead national security reporter for the Times that it had decided to retaliate.   Might that happen again?   
*  This is the first I have seen reported that the United States decided not to sanction China for the OPM hack, and also the first I have seen reported that the non-retaliation for the hack was part of the agreement with China on IP theft.  If the latter is true, it puts the IP agreement in a rather different light, for it appears that the United States gave up not only planned sanctions for IP theft, but also planned sanctions for the OPM theft.   
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The Next Secretary-General and the International Political Environment That Awaits Him 

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The U.S. presidential election is not the only election currently going on in the world. This is also the season for the U.N. to select a new Secretary-General to replace the current S.G., Ban Ki-Moon.  The election process is indirect and opaque, and depends in the first place on the Security Council—including its veto-bearing permanent members—being able to reach agreement on a candidate.
The current 2016 S.G. election cycle has seen many different forces pushing the selection in one direction or another. These include the customary regional lobbying for one candidate or another (in a U.N. system in which informal custom dictates a regional rotation of many top level U.N. positions, including the S.G.); Eastern Europe is the only regional group that has not had a S.G. appointment, though tensions over Ukraine have raised questions as to whether any Eastern European candidate would be acceptable to all P-5 members. A concerted push by many states and international NGOs for the first woman S.G. has also been important, including support from the United States, at least to the extent of Ambassador Power encouraging the nomination of women candidates. Additionally, there are pressures to find a candidate who could win support from both United States and Russia as relations between the two countries become increasingly acrimonious.
So it was something of a surprise when a straw-poll vote (the 6th) taken among Security Council members last week resulted in the emergence of Antonio Guterres—a former prime minister of Portugal who has spent the last 10 years as U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees—as the clear, indeed, overwhelming favorite.  As the Guardian’s Julian Borger reports:
In a rare show of unity, all 15 ambassadors from the security council emerged from the sixth in a series of straw polls to announce that they had agreed on Guterres, who was U.N. high commissioner for refugees for a decade, and that they would confirm the choice in a formal vote on Thursday. “Today after our sixth straw poll we have a clear favourite and his name is António Guterres,” the Russian UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, told reporters with his 14 council colleagues standing behind him.

II
The Security Council does not formally appoint the Secretary-General.  Article 97 of the UN Charter provides that the “Secretary-General shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.” In theory, the General Assembly could reject the Security Council’s recommendation, although that is only a beyond-remote possibility in Guterres’ case.  There will be plenty of analyses of Guterres’ political views (as Prime Minister, he was a socialist), his performance as UN High Commissioner for Refugees, his managerial and diplomatic skills, and his likely approach to the office of Secretary-General.
More interesting at this point, however, is the question of where Guterres’ (or anyone’s) upcoming Secretary-Generalship fits within the apparent trajectory of current international politics, governance, and the role of the U.N. Also important is the question of U.S.-U.N. relations in a period of both a new U.S. administration and a new U.N. Secretary-General, set against a background of increasingly jostling and competitive Great Power politics, and the relative decline of American hegemony. (I think my 2012 book on U.S.-U.N. relations, Living With the UN: American Responsibilities and International Order, still bears reading today; you can read the first four chapters here on SSRN. Chapter 4 deals with the relationship between international collective security and the US as hegemon.) 
The Secretary-General, to be even modestly successful or at least avoid failure, has to adapt to the current of international politics—a trivial observation, but true. There is important institutional risk in this, however, particularly for the next Secretary-General.  The period in global politics from 1990 and the end of the Cold War until, roughly, the early 2000s marked a "golden age" for the aspirations (if not the reality) of liberal-internationalist global governance. By “liberal internationalism," I mean the dream of a world in which international law and international institutions would overcome the anarchic power-relations of competing sovereigns; sovereignty itself would, if not fade away, be radically tamed in a new global order under a global rule of law presided over by global institutions.
In terms of U.N. Secretary-Generalships, this was the era of Kofi Annan, more or less, whose S.G. term ended in 2005. He was the “rock star” of Secretary-Generals, and his visibility and charismatic personal presence raised hopes among many that the office of Secretary-General would gradually evolve into a kind of informal, moral “presidency of the world.”
The 1990s through around 2000 were also the high water mark of enthusiasm for international NGOs, re-intellectualized as “global civil society”—an independent source of legitimacy for the U.N., beyond and apart from the U.N.’s sovereign state members.  Annan assiduously courted the international NGOs, and in turn they ascribed to the institutional U.N. and Annan’s office itself a legitimacy in global governance of a different kind from the legitimacy afforded it by merely sovereign member states.  In the final years of his S.G. term, Annan began describing the Security Council as the “management committee” of the world’s “fledgling collective security system"—ascribing to the Security Council a governance role that assumed a commonality of global purpose among the P-5 that one would be hard-pressed to detect today.

III
International politics were already in transition by the time the current S.G., Ban Ki-Moon, took office. Ban Ki-Moon was known as a diplomat’s diplomat, and his instincts, especially after 9/11, the Iraq War, and the events of the 2000s were to pull the S.G.’s role back to something closer to the concept of the S.G. as “humble diplomatic servant” of the sovereign state members of the UN.  This brought him in for considerable criticism in the first several years of his tenure, particularly from those who believed he was sacrificing gains made by Annan toward an independent “president of the world” role for the S.G.. International NGOs, who had gained a great deal in the way of access, power, and legitimacy from Annan, were particularly critical.  Some prominent journalists such as James Traub (author of a fawning 2006 biography of Annan) sharply criticized Ban for his lack of visibility.
Ban did gradually undertake a visible global role on some issues, such as climate change, but the terms of his tenure on core issues of international peace and security inevitably have reflected changing international politics.  Given a rising China with aims at regional dominance and a Russia re-emerging in both its “near abroad” and also just “abroad,” the Security Council could no longer be conceived, as the “management committee of our fledgling collective security” system.  Chapter 4 ofLiving With the U.N. offers three fundamental modes of activity for the Security Council:
(i) “management committee of our fledgling collective security system,” in a genuinely collective and corporatist way;
(ii) "concert of the great powers," who at least sometimes come together to establish and maintain order in the world but still as sovereign players acting in concert;
(iii) "talking shop of the great powers," the place for diplomacy and debate in a multipolar world of increasingly competitive powers not typically in any concert; less still as manager of a collective for security.
David Bosco, whose 2009 book Five to Rule Them All is essential reading on the history and role of the Security Council, has written in somewhat related terms on the modes of activity for the Security Council. The “management committee” role is the is the one most consonant with liberal internationalist global governance—but it only works under the limited circumstances of agreement among the P-5 on their interests (or indifference, because of lack of interests at stake). The "management committee" modality does have important functions even in today's acrimonious environment, it should be stressed—for example, authorizing and supporting U.N. peace-keeping missions.  But the circumstances in which it is the mode of Security Council action are circumscribed.
The Security Council that has increasingly been characteristic of Ban Ki-Moon’s later tenure as S.G. has been much more either (ii) or (iii)—and most recently (iii), the talking shop of the Great Powers. In that case, the role of S.G. is much closer to that of a coordinating diplomat providing a negotiating table, while cajoling Great Powers toward one goal or another (and exercising some moral suasion, to be sure). Fundamentally (iii) embraces a U.N., and office of the S.G., in which sovereign states, Great Powers, and the P-5 (rather than international NGOs, “good global governance” states without significant militaries or willingness to fight, or the office of the Secretary-General itself as independent global actor) are the key actors around which the rest revolve.  This has been Ban Ki-Moon’s world during the last several years.

IV
The question most central to the global role and institutional possibilities of the incoming Secretary-General—almost certainly António Guterres—is how he will address himself to an international security environment and a Security Council whose Great Powers are increasingly at odds with one another. Amid this environment, the implicit American security guarantee of global order, the existence of which has meant that U.N. collective security has never been put to a make-or-break test, is increasingly in retreat.  The Obama administration’s “withdrawal into multilateralism,” as I put it, can be spun as the U.S. finally embracing U.N. collective security. But, as many U.S. allies have noted with dismay and states hostile to the U.S. have noted with satisfaction, in reality it is the withdrawal of the security guarantee of the global hegemon.
The Security Council will have to be S.G. Guterres’ focus in the next few years at least, including articulating the U.N.'s role in the midst of major conflagrations, such as Syria, in which P-5 members are both deeply enmeshed and at odds with each other.  The Security Council itself will increasingly be in its “talking shop of the nations” mode. This is to say that the golden age of liberal internationalist aspirations is over, and the nostalgia that many in the field of international law and organizations have for it will be a trap and a snare for the new S.G.  This "nostalgia," expressed more precisely, consists of clinging to the (mistaken) belief that utopian promises of liberal internationalism are still the best hope for resolving conflicts among the Great Powers at the present moment, rather than some more pragmatic understanding of international law and organizations expressed in state action.
This is a moment in which the U.S. and Russia are warning each other that they will protect themselves over Syrian airspace including by attacking air defense installations or shooting down jets. Whatever other U.N. topics look large, the incoming S.G. will need to frame (whether publicly or not) the rising issues of international peace and security in terms that take account, even if not acknowledged explicitly, of the fact of disagreement on at least some fundamental premises of the international order. The incoming S.G. would be prudent not to assume agreement or acquiescence in (all) those norms—least of all by assuming general agreement with an ideal of liberal internationalist global governance that was formed in the golden age of the 1990s. The golden age is over, for better or worse.

V
My own view, for what it’s worth, is that the golden age was valuable insofar as it yielded certain fundamental norms in international law; I am loath to see those norms disappear. (We can debate another day what those norms are.) But it seems to me that their disappearance (or downgrading), if that happens, would be the result, in significant part, of the extent to which they were ascribed—as part of a “package deal,” so to speak—to a general view of liberal internationalist global governance. When the “package deal” turns out to have overreached and no longer carries broad legitimacy on its own, and thus finds that it is losing its place as a general normative framework of international governance, then many of these particular fundamental norms are also undermined along with the general framework, because they were treated as necessarily part of the “package.”
Additionally, the Obama administration’s conflation of U.S. hegemonic power with the international order of collective security through the U.N. system, such as it is, has succeeded merely in undermining the legitimacy of each in its own realm, rather than one strengthening the other. (This seems to me the best understanding of the Libya regime change operation.) In any event, whether any of the above commentary turns out to be true or not, the incoming Secretary-General is going to have to give some view about the nature of global governance, its legitimate basis, and the role of the U.N. and the office of the Secretary-General in it.  Maybe incoming-Secretary-General Guterres can find some way to elide the question and avoid having to answer it, but in the currently fraught inter-state security environment, I doubt it.
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Why French President’s Threat of War Crimes Prosecutions against Russia, Syria Rings Hollow—But Needn’t

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CNN is reporting that Russian President Vladimir Putin has canceled a visit to France next week following French President Francois Hollande’s statement that he would tell Putin “those who commit those acts [in Aleppo] will have to pay for their responsibility in front of the International Criminal Court.” The French President’s statement rings hollow because the international court in The Hague simply does not have jurisdiction over Russian or Syrian government actions in Syria. However, an earlier post I wrote on Just Securityshows another legal path for Hollande and other political leaders to pursue against Putin along this front.
First, why is the International Criminal Court a nonstarter? The court would not have jurisdiction since neither Russia nor Syria has ratified the court’s statute, and the Security Council will never be able to refer the situation in Syria to the court due to the Russian veto. Recall France itself tried to get the Security Council to refer the Syrian situation to the Court in 2014, but failed due to a Russian and Chinese veto. And that was even before Putin’s forces were inside Syria like they are today. Putin now, more than ever, has every reason to block any prospect of such a referral.
Second, what about other legal pathways to achieve the same objective? Well, what is the objective?
President Hollande explained the reason for his statement was to incentivize Putin to stop assisting Assad in the commission of war crimes. In prefacing his statement on the International Criminal Court, Hollande remarked: “Could we do something that pushes [Putin] as well and stop what they’re doing with the Syrian regime — that is to say the help they are providing to the Syrian regime, which sends bombs to the population of Aleppo?”
As I explained in my post this morning, one major move that political leaders might pursue is to acknowledge that an “international armed conflict” exists in Syria. Such a legal condition would trigger the universal jurisdiction provisions of the Geneva Conventions—which places an obligation on national jurisdictions to apprehend suspected war criminals who pass through their territory. As I wrote: “Think what that might mean for Syrian officials, and for handing diplomats a new stick in efforts to confront Damascus and Moscow.” The threat of such criminal proceedings—accentuated by the fact that state parties to the Geneva Conventions are required to initiate them—can provide special leverage.
Two final points worth mentioning.
First, my post this morning explained why an international armed conflict currently exists in Syria even under a conservative approach to the application of the Geneva Conventions. Another approach to the Conventions, indeed the one supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (see analysis by Prof. Adil Haque), would lead to the conclusion that an international armed conflict has existed since the moment US, French, and other foreign forces crossed into Syria to bomb ISIL.
Second, the International Criminal Court and national prosecutions do not exhaust all the options in this space. As Beth Van Schaack has outlined (here and here), the creation of a hybrid tribunal can, as a legal matter, also address the commission of war crimes in Syria. The political will for such a tribunal is a different story.
Read on Just Security »
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