Daily Archives: June 12, 2012

Dictatorships and tyrannies may be casual about spilling their people’s blood, but not democracies. When the people get to decide whether to go to war, they rarely do so willingly. This was why Immanuel Kant said the spread of democracy was the best guarantee of world peace. As he wrote in 1795, “if the consent of the citizens is required in order to decide that war should be declared nothing is more natural than that they would be very cautious in commencing such a poor game”.

When contemporary thinkers such as Michael Doyle have tested Kant’s intuition, they have had to add a significant caveat: democracies may not like fighting each other – which is why war has become unthinkable between EU and Nato countries – but they can be very warlike indeed towards tyrants and ethnic cleansers.


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Drones and cyberwarfare, the latest revolution in military technology, will force us to revise still further Kant’s connection between democracy, peace and war. Virtual technologies make it easier for democracies to wage war because they eliminate the risk of blood sacrifice that once forced democratic peoples to be prudent.

Virtual war in Kosovo meant piloted F-18s and precision air strikes. In Afghanistan, too, the Taliban was routed initially with precision air strikes guided by forward air controllers. Libya was the same story. Now democracies do not even have to put their pilots in harm’s way. Cyberwar and drones offer Nato democracies enticing prospects of cheap, risk-free warfare – and not just democracies. A new arms race is already under way.

Before succumbing to these technologies, leaders should remember how little virtual war has actually accomplished. Kosovo is still a corrupt ethnic tyranny; Libya will take years to put itself back together; and no one can see a stable state in sight in Afghanistan. Virtual war turned out to be the easy part. Democracies have little staying power for the hard part.

Looking at the options in Syria, drone attacks on regime tank formations and a cybercampaign to immobilise Bashar al-Assad’s command and control would be the easy part. Creating a Syria free of sectarian warfare and ethnic political domination would be very hard.

If war is the continuation of politics by other means, the chief factor limiting the use of these new weapons will be whether they help leaders to attain their political ends. Where these ends seem unattainable or futile, as in Syria, the weapons will remain unused.

The larger problem is that these new weapons are bound to escape political, and therefore democratic, control. Previous revolutions in military affairs, such as the coming of nuclear weapons, strengthened the hand of presidents and prime ministers. Drones and cyberwar technologies are so cheap that it will be impossible to keep them under the lock and key of the sovereign. The age of the super-empowered, and therefore super-dangerous, individual has arrived.

In deciding how to control drone and cybertechnologies, it is worth remembering that democracies are resilient because they are free. Our cybersystems are now under constant attack and it is in responding to these attacks that they become more secure. States will have to allow the global community of coders and engineers who built and maintain the internet the freedom to keep the malware at bay and keep the system open for the rest of us.

The new technologies are so easy and cheap to produce that the best international law and state action can hope for is to generate a limited set of shared norms to prohibit their most harmful uses. Even with these in place, drones and malware will fight our wars for us and serve our eternal human desire to inflict harm without consequences. They will be the mercenaries of the 21st century.

In thinking about what can keep these technologies under control, we need to remember Kant’s original bet on human prudence. Kant’s insight was that human beings who can freely choose and reason know full well that if you inflict harm, it will come back to hurt you. Everything must be paid for. If you hit Iran with Stuxnet, you render your own nuclear systems vulnerable to the next hacker, individual or state. If you perfect the killing of individuals with drones, you had better confine your acts to bona fide enemies of your state; otherwise you expose your population as a whole to the same heaven-sent vengeance.

These new technologies promise harm without consequence. Kant tells us there is no such thing. In this shared human understanding, even between adversaries, lies prudence, and in prudence – caution, care and restraint – lies hope.

The writer teaches human rights at the University of Toronto and is author of ‘Virtual War’

Everyone hopes that the €100bn bailout of Spanish banks will calm the eurozone financial crisis and buy enough time for the further fiscal, banking and other integration that is required.  That is possible but, unfortunately, it isn’t likely.

There are three reasons why not.  The first involves the structure of the bailout itself.  While details remain sketchy, the weaker Spanish banks need new equity, but, apparently, senior secured loans are being made.  That is not a real solution.  It may also subordinate existing lenders and thus disincentivise other financing for eurozone banks.

Then, the €100bn is being loaned to the Spanish government for downstreaming to the local banks.  This reflects the lack of a eurozone mechanism, like the US Troubled Assets Relief Program, for injecting capital directly into banks. But it results in another sub-optimal feature.  Spain, already at risk of losing its own access to borrowing, may be further weakened by this loan. After all, this new loan will push its debt to 90 per cent of its gross domestic product.

Further, the downstreaming approach makes it harder to attach conditionality.  We don’t know whether necessary restrictions will be imposed on the recipient banks, relating, for example, to their dividends, capacity to acquire even more Spanish sovereign debt, and the like.

The size of this bailout also illustrates that the emerging €750bn European Stability Mechanism is too small. Emergency financing already extended to Greece, Ireland and Portugal amounts to nearly €250bn. Adding this new commitment for Spanish banks would leave only €400bn for other, emergency needs.  That is not nearly enough.  If either Spain or Italy lost access to bond markets, the amounts needed could overwhelm the ESM.

Second, this Spanish bank bailout does not solve the issues at the heart of the eurozone crisis; namely, the disconnect between the currency union, on the one hand, and the lack of a fiscal or banking union, on the other.  The imbalances among member states in competitiveness, national deficits and debt and banking soundness can blow the eurozone apart unless there is such integration. Global capital markets remain sceptical that the eurozone’s leaders are prepared to implement it.

Third, the pattern of big financial crises, like this eurozone one, is that they flare, then abate and then flare again.  Like a hurricane, the crisis itself passes through several phases in the markets. We saw this phenomenon in both the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 and the great credit market collapse of 2008-09.  Initially, markets often react positively to a move like this bank rescue.  But, after consideration, they determine that it is not enough, the crisis psychology reasserts itself and the situation is back on the brink.  That is probably going to happen here.

It is healthy that the eurozone leaders took this step to rescue Spain’s banks and committed to an aggressive amount.  I hope that I am wrong, but this isn’t likely to be a turning point in the crisis.

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