Friday, 25 July 2014

Posh only

Socioeconomic segregation is being practiced in new residential developments in London. From the Guardian:
A Guardian investigation has discovered a growing trend in the capital's upmarket apartment blocks – which are required to include affordable homes in order to win planning permission – for the poorer residents to be forced to use alternative access, a phenomenon being dubbed "poor doors". Even bicycle storage spaces, rubbish disposal facilities and postal deliveries are being separated.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

First do no harm

What would you do if rockets were falling on your city? (See here for the IDF’s message to Paris.) I really don’t want to say that’s a loaded question, but.... Let me try a different approach.

What I want to do find a way to understand when it’s permissible to harm to another human being, so I’ll ask this question: If a person is shooting at me may I shoot back? The answer most of us would give is yes. Exceptions are made for self defence.
At this point we usually get to talking about proportionality. For example, if someone is shooting at me with a BB gun may I reply with a .44 Magnum and a cold eyed stare, asking: Are you feeling lucky punk? Most of us would say – okay maybe just me – that it is permissible to use only the amount force i.e. to do no more harm, than is required to maintain our safety.

I see a problem. The step from self defence to a proportional response presumes the necessity of doing harm.  What, for instance, if I am able to hide behind a concrete wall and make my way out of a backdoor to my car? Does the reasonable chance of an escape mean that I must choose to flee rather than using violence to protect myself? I would say if an opportunity for escape is available and there is a good chance of success, then yes we have “a duty to retreat”. (see here for what this means in law in the US)

But what if I can’t retreat? Well, is there any other way available to protect myself, say a thick plank of wood to shield me from the BBs. I would say that, again, this action is moral superior to shooting back with my .44.

Then there is the question of making a trade for something my attacker values. What if I offer my wallet or watch in exchange for my safety? I would argue that this too is morally superior to causing another person harm.

So then, what if rockets are falling on my city? Morally speaking my first response should be to evacuate or seek shelter. Perhaps I have some kind of shield. Let’s call it, figuratively of course, an iron dome. If bomb shelters, evacuations and iron dome prevent rockets from causing me or any of my neighbours physical harm, is it morally correct to use violence to suppress rocket fire? I would say no.

How about if we offer something of value to the people shooting the rockets in exchange for a ceasefire? What if I offer to allow the free flow of goods and people across the borders of the territory our attackers are living in? An objection could be that this will only encourage attacks in the future. My reply would be that should there a new wave attacks in the future it would be morally correct forgo this option due to a lack of trust.


My point here is to show that there are morally superior options to consider before the use of violence even in self defence. Our failure to do so is usually the result of considerations arising from something other than morality: namely politics. 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The main obstacle to a Gaza ceasefire

Hamas must not win.  What does a Hamas victory look like? Any improvement in the day to day lives of the people of Gaza that arises from concessions made to Hamas to achieve a ceasefire. Denying Hamas a victory is now easier said than done.

According to Michael Gordon of the NYT the U.S. and Egypt are in agreement on the general formula for a ceasefire:
From the start, State Department officials have signaled that the United States is hoping to quickly arrange a cease-fire and avoid being dragged into detailed discussions about the political demands of Hamas, the militant organization that governs Gaza and that Israel has been targeting since the latest hostilities broke out two weeks ago.Hamas’s demands include opening a major border crossing with Egypt and the release of prisoners held by the Israelis. Discussions of them might be unavoidable, officials say, particularly because demands to open the border crossings were addressed in a 2012 cease-fire agreement.
The 2012 commitment to open the border crossing was made during the Mursi presidency. Does anyone believe that the current government, one that has outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood, is going to allow unrestricted access to the Sinai from a territory controlled by Hamas?
Nevertheless the U.S. position appears to be synchronized with the Egyptian position:
Sketching out a two-stage process, Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister, told Mr. Kerry at the start of their meeting on Tuesday morning that he hoped that Mr. Kerry’s visit would result in a cease-fire “that provides the necessary security for the Palestinian people,” and that “medium- and long-term” issues on Gaza’s future could be addressed after the fighting stopped.
Of course Hamas will have to have some incentive to observe a ceasefire – killing the people of Gaza has now reached the point at which the Americans start to get extremely uncomfortable – however the goal will be to deter any concessions made to Hamas to some point in the future. The benefit of doing so is to first, avoid any appearance of a direct exchange, and second, to provide Israel or Egypt and the U.S., the opportunity to delay or renege on their commitments.  

The Israeli approach to militant groups is to first batter them, then to proclaim victory and finally, in a display of magnanimity, to step aside so that they may be provided first aid. This time there’s a hitch in the IDF’s strut.

 The problem facing Israel is that since the attack on Shuja’iyeh the tenor of the public discussion over the war has changed. Increasingly world opinion is shocked at the number of civilian causalities while Hamas sympathizers can take pride in the effectiveness of Hamas fighters. Israel’s current war with Hamas is looking less like its experience in Gaza in 2008 and more like the 2006 war with Hezbollah.


We’re now at a point where the cost to Israel of continuing the offensive is increasing: soldiers are dying, the criticism of its war is growing and the economy is at risk of being disrupted by flight cancellations. It is now Israel that has more to lose over the coming days than does Hamas. Ending the war now is the best way to minimize Hamas' gains. 

Monday, 21 July 2014

One day we'll all star in an episode of COPS

Policy body cams are all the rage. Robert Muggah explains:
....... there is heavy criticism of the use of mobile cameras by police forces. Critics believe they presage a dystopian future where “everyone is under suspicion” and Big Brother is watching. They have a point. If unchecked, there is a risk that crime prevention turns into pervasive surveillance. 
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California – a regular critic of police abuse – has come out in favour of the technology. Along with the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, they have argued that with the proper controls – including regularly deleting videos and keeping them private except for prosecutions – the gains in accountability outweigh privacy concerns. 
Also from the column - too be filed under never get arrested in Brazil - we learn:
Between 1985 and 2002 one in every 23 people arrested by Rio de Janeiro’s police force was killed before making it to trial. Compare that to the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) record – 1 in 37,000. Rio’s police kill some 80 civilians a month, making them among the most violent anywhere. 

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Politicizing air disasters

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was apparently shot down in Ukrainian airspace leading to the deaths of all 298 people on board. Vox has a good summary of what we know and don't know. Mark Galeotti writes about what this means for Russia and its proxies if they prove to be responsible. Because this tragedy occurred in Ukraine it is likely that there will be a through investigation. 

My own question: Why would this tragedy be any different than previous air disasters caused by errors of judgement by military personnel? Remember:

Each case triggered a crisis in America's bilateral relations with a rival state. However it's doubtful that either event changed the long term trajectory of American foreign policy. Within three years Gorbachev and Reagan were beginning the process of ending the Cold War, while the existing enmity between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the U.S. continued (or perhaps continues is more apt.)

The current crisis will be exploited to gain a political advantage in the Ukraine – the downside risks are obviously looking much greater for the Putin regime, which will probably looking for a means to end the conflict – but the medium to long term  quality of US-Russia relations will be affect by matters closer to America’s foreign policy priorities. 




Monday, 14 July 2014

Explaining Israel's tactics in Gaza

The Israeli approach to war with Arabs is best explained by how Israeli understands to key terms: deterrence and proportionality.

Deterrence as it was developed in the context of the academic literature focuses on the use of threats to prevent the target of deterrence from taking undesirable action. Deterrence works because nothing happens, which is why deterrence often seems like a dubious concept. Israeli policymakers see deterrence as requiring actual punishment, often through the application of destructive force, to dissuade the target from continuing with an action or repeating it in the near future. You'll often hear an Israeli policymaker speak  of "reestablishing deterrence" . The Israelis believe that they cannot have "quiet" until they have killed enough militants to intimidate the rest into passivity. 

Proportionality as a legal principle requires that an actor balance the risk of civilian casualties with the value of achieving its military objectives. Israelis whether they admit it or not have applied a different understanding of proportionality, namely the ratio of Jewish Israelis to Arabs in the Middle East. At it's worst this was seen in the actions of the relatively young Ariel Sharon during the Qibya Massacre. Today, it manifests itself in the belief that Arabs have a higher tolerance for fatalities - after all, suicide bombers come from Gaza - or so it goes. 

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Germany: Too big to ignore, too distant to trust


According to the German tabloid Bild (as reported by Deustche Welle), the CIA has recruited more than a dozen spies within the German government.  (I would suggest that German intelligence had recruited at least 9 of Brazil’s stating 11 at the World Cup but that’s another discussion).  This adds to earlier revelations of a double agent in German intelligence. The bi-lateral relationship is at a point of crisis. While the revelations of American spying may be a proximate trigger for the crisis, resolving the immediate cause may not itself stabilise the relationship.

Henry Farell believes that
...the declining U.S. hypocrisy reserve will be much likelier to hurt U.S. relationships with democracies — and especially likely to damage relationships with democracies where the public cares about relevant foreign policy issues. Under this analysis, the U.S. relationship with Germany — a democracy which is trying to figure out a new foreign policy role, and which is perhaps the only country in which privacy issues can mobilize mass demonstrations — is almost bound to be extremely difficult. 
While Jacob Heilbrunn sees long term challenges:
The roots of this antipathy to the U.S. rest in what a number of Germans see as the vassal-like status they have occupied toward the U.S. since end of World War II. They want to see Germany strike out a more independent course that returns to the older precepts of foreign policy in which Berlin was an honest broker, steering between East and West and pursuing its own interests. Why get entangled in America’s conflicts? Most recently, many Germans feared that they would become ensnared in a military conflict between Washington and Moscow over the Ukraine.
A Spiegel poll found unsurprisingly that the German public would like a more independent foreign policy. The revelations of American espionage in Germany have come at a time when as Heilbrunn notes, the German public is re-evaluating the direction of its foreign policy.

We should recall the almost unique character of Germany’s relationship with the U.S. I say almost unique because it is for obvious reasons similar to Japan’s however with important differences.

Germany should by mechanistic and materialist accounts of geopolitics be a great power. In practice Germany prefers to cut weight and compete at the lower weight classes.

Nevertheless Germany has provided the U.S. with military basing rights, broad intelligence cooperation and the opportunity to operate NSA installations on German soil. The size of the German economy means that its cooperation is vital in American efforts to isolate it rivals e.g. Iran. Germany’s importance is for these reasons greater than European middle powers like the Netherlands, Denmark or Norway. You’d think this would earn them some respect, yet the Germans find themselves being spied on like a hostile power or even worse: France.

Germany’s reliability is in stark contrast to the fraught relationship that the U.S. has with France; yet unlike the U.K., Canada and Australia, Germany neither participates in anything like the “Five Eyes” community nor does it have the same kind of deeply integrated military relationship that Canada and the U.K. share with the U.S.


Germany is too big to ignore yet too distant to be fully trusted. It’s the relationship that it has chosen to have with the U.S.