Tuesday, September 27, 2016

nuclear builddown

In the long ago days of the cold war, people joked that "even one nuclear weapon could ruin your day." That's still true.  And the likelihood of the deliberate use of such weapons, especially in places like India and Pakistan, is dangerously high. Despite their great power rivalry, the United States and the Soviet Union developed numerous ways to reduce the chances of accidental war or a hyper-reactive escalation to a deliberate one -- the hot line, incidents at sea agreements, Permissive Action Links. The rivals also concluded a series of arms control agreements that worked, despite shared mistrust.

Yesterday the government declassified the bottom line stockpile data -- how many nuclear weapons the United States had at the end of each year for the past half century. Look at the numbers.The peak was in 1967: 31,255. At the end of the G.H.W. Bush administration, following the breakup of the USSR, the number dropped sharply, to 13,708. They continued to fall, reaching a low point last year of 4,571. That's still too many for deterrence, so we need to continue working to bring the numbers down -- and to keep others from adding significantly to their own arsenals. I don't have much faith that we could safely do away with all nuclear weapons, but it helps to keep working for limits and reductions.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

powerful antiwar book by a civilian warrior

Another book to recommend: Kael Weston's The Mirror Test, a memoir and reflection on his seven solid years in Iraq and Afghanistan, mostly in deadly Fallujah and in Taliban-infested provinces of Afghanistan. Weston served as a State Department official, a civilian in the war zone fighting for U.S. goals and interests with a diplomat's weapons -- meetings and memos. He views the Iraq war as unnecessary and Afghanistan as a badly managed one. His greatest anger, however, is at the stupidities he saw in war: missions conducted to satisfy Washington's symbolic goals; the Americans who disrespect their local partners;  the arrogant Special Forces troops indifferent to civilian casualties; the members of Congress who care more about pictures with constituents than understanding the war. Weston risked his life almost daily as he went, unarmed, to meet with local people and try to win their support for American activities. He records and honors the names and stories of many he worked with -- American, Iraqi, and Afghan -- who died in the combat. He puts human faces on the casualty lists and asks us to recalculate the costs and benefits of these wars.

Friday, September 9, 2016

air strikes in six countries this week

I occasionally like to remind readers here how many wars the United States is currently involved in. In June, the figure was 16.  That's how many countries the President told the Congress that America had troops deployed equipped for combat even if that was  not their primary mission.

While Congress passed the War Powers Resolution in 1973 in order to prevent another Vietnam, I think the general concern then was to be sure Congress was notified and involved regarding major military operations, especially those with ground troops. In recent decades, Congress and the American public have been much less concerned about air operations and raids by Special Operations Forces.

But the Washington Post reminds us that U.S. forces are busy, with air strikes conducted in recent days in six separate countries. I'm not complaining, just taking note.

Monday, September 5, 2016

another missing AUMF

I used to pride myself on the list of congressional authorizations of military force [AUMF] that I included in Congress at War. What was and remains significant is that lawmakers have voted military action many more times than the five conflicts in which they specifically declared war.

Then, reading by chance a history of the Madison administration, I discovered that Congress had authorized -- in secret in 1811 -- a war in Florida. So my list was incomplete.

And now, reading a book on U.S. foreign policy before the Civil War, I saw reference to a congressional action in 1839 authorizing the President to "resist any attempt" by Britain to enforce jurisdiction over disputed parts of Maine, to call forth the militia, to accept up to 50,000 volunteers. It even appropriated $10 million to carry out the act. [U.S. Statutes III, chap. LXXXIX, March 3, 1839.] As things turned out, of course, there was no war. I guess that's why this law never made the lists I mentioned earlier, or the extensive list in a paper by the National Security Network.

The lesson for me: there's always more to learn from history.

the "deep state" of the Slave Power

Analysts of Turkey's political system have pointed to a "deep state," subterranean networks especially among military and civilian officials that worked to suppress threats to the secular order. In recent years, President Erdogan argues that Gulenists, once his ally, are now threatening his rule.

These notions of a state within a state or secret organizations of revolutionaries is a recurring theme even in America, notably in the late 1940s fears of communists in government. Now, without using that term, a young scholar is arguing that southerners in the decades before the Civil War dominated the U.S. government and promoted foreign and military policies to defend slavery.

Matthew Karp notes that southerners frequently held positions as secretaries of state, war, and navy and a large majority of envoys sent overseas. He then details various episodes in which these officials promoted policies clearly intended to protect or promote slavery. Adherence to the Monroe Doctrine not only protected U.S. economic relations with the nations of the western hemisphere but also prevented foreigners from interfering with slavery where it existed and persisted.  There was a special alliance of interests, Karp argues, with Brazil and Spanish-ruled Cuba, neither of which abolished slavery until the mid-1880s.

I don't know how other historians will view Karp's analysis, but I find it exciting and provocative to use a foreign policy lens to examine the Slave Power's efforts to defend their peculiar institution.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

What if the civil war did not take place?

In a final burst of summer reading -- for fun -- I just finished Ben H. Winters' Underground Airlines, a thriller in which a former slave, now serving as a U.S. Marshal, is sent to capture an escaped slave. The intriguing premise of the novel, however, is that the time is the present, and the civil war never took place. Instead, Congress in early 1861 passed a series of Constitutional amendments allowing slavery in a limited area of the country and forbidding any subsequent amendments abolishing slavery. Winters describes a country where slavery was confined to a "hard four" southern states, with trade and travel strictly controlled, and with much of the rest of the world boycotting goods linked to the slave states.

That counterfactual history sent me into my basement, searching for civil war books. Therein I learned that a proslavery compromise almost happened. Of course it didn't, and historians depict the last-minute efforts as futile. But I know that votes are votes, and even unintended legislation can have huge consequences.

So consider, on January 16, 1861, five proposed  amendments to the Constitution were defeated in the Senate by a narrow 25-23 vote. The measures, authored by Kentucky Senator John Crittenden,would have prohibited slavery only north of latitude 36, 30 minutes and allowed it in perpetuity elsewhere.

Even more surprising was a proposed 13th amendment to the Constitution that actually passed both House and Senate by 2/3 margins and was sent to the states for ratification. This measure, called the Corwin Amendment after its Ohio sponsor, would have prohibited any future amendment limiting slavery where is currently was legal. The actual text:
No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.
Only 3 states ever ratified it, and by then the civil war was raging. But what if...