Monday, March 30, 2009

Winning the War on War?

Professor Joshua Goldstein recently presented his newest research project, "Winning the War on War," as part of the Middle East Seminar Series at the University of Maryland.

His talk is advertised with the following blurb:

"The number and size of wars is near an all-time low. From the killing of tens of millions in the World Wars, to millions in the Cold War, hundreds of thousands in the 1990s and tens of thousands today, war appears to be waning. Is this a stable trend or merely an interlude, and what explains the decline in war over recent decades?"

The most interesting part of the talk was Goldstein's point that the oft-quoted statistic that the majority of deaths in the 19th century were military but that the majority of deaths today are civilian is the result of a measurement error and in fact civilians have always been the source of most casualties. He frames the research project as a response to reports that emphasize the increasing incidences of civil conflict and generally increasing global levels of violence that are assumed to characterize contemporary society.

There were of course a lot of critiques of Goldstein's thesis, among them that levels of indirect deaths from conflict did not reflect this general downturn in battle deaths; that large conflicts are being replaced by smaller ones that are more diffuse and more difficult to track; and that although wars may be less lethal they are not less disruptive to society. I would agree with all of these, although Goldstein does point out an interesting quantitative trend.

I would argue the source of the trend is the increasing sophistication of technology that allows militaries to avoid civilian casualties - but which may also make war more likely (Iraq would certainly be evidence of this). And that this increasingly sophisticated technology probably isn't driven by international norms regarding the sanctity of civilian life so much as the increasing participation of communications and IT companies in the production of defense material. They can't exactly get new contracts for weapons that are less-precise and involve less engineering and technological implements. . . .

Perhaps as weapons get increasingly accurate incidences of attacks will increase. Casualties may also decrease, but living with the imminent threat of being a target won't, and therefore neither will the indirect effects of war like psychological trauma and low levels of economic investment.

Pink Taxis in Beirut: Women-Only!

I think there should be more businesses that cater to women and are operated by women. If male religious leaders and chauvinist politicians are going to continue to dictate the terms of life for women then we should just create our own society and shut them out as much as possible. Besides, women are in charge of something like 80% of family budgets so any business catering to them is bound to do better. Although this might put a lot of Syrian secret police out of a job now that demand for male-driven taxis in Beirut will go down . . . . .

Article here:

Write some new legislation already! If Congress can give the President unlimited power in waging war, why not in canceling contracts?

If the Administration can get GM's CEO to step down why can't they get the AIG financial services division employees to give up their bonuses?

Can't they just have a shareholder meeting and vote on these contracts? And isn't the government now the single largest shareholder?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ending Diplomacy Before It's Begun?

The Times reports that:

"At a Gaza donors’ conference in Egypt on Monday, Mrs. Clinton told the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates that she did not believe that Iran would respond positively to the Obama administration’s offer of direct talks."

Everyone knows (presumably including Secretary Clinton) that the UAE is embroiled in a conflict with Iran over ownership of a small chain of islands, and that the UAE would be interested in de-railing any US rapprochement with Iran. So why make a comment like this? Was it calculated? - to signal to Israel and other allied states (Egypt and Saudi Arabia) that their interests were still more important than healing the rift between Iran and the US? True, Iran has made far fewer "good faith" demonstrations than has Assad's regime in Syria (which has lost significant domestic capital each time it did so). Either way, comments like these damage diplomatic efforts - even before they've begun . . . .