The debate about U.S. targeted killing policy has become repetitive and familiar. The policy’s proponents argue that the precision and accuracy of drones keep civilian casualties to a minimum, and that drones are the most viable tool in fighting an asymmetric war, particularly in places that are off-limits to U.S. troops. Opponents of drone strikes argue that civilian casualties are much higher than U.S. government estimates, and that the policy is counterproductive because it leads to the radicalization of a new generation of terrorists. The number of civilian casualties from drone strikes is perhaps the most complicated of these questions, […]

Did the liberal international order get a little less liberal last week? Western diplomats and human rights activists faced an accumulation of challenges across the United Nations system. On Tuesday, the General Assembly elected a clutch of repressive regimes—including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam—to the Human Rights Council. On Friday, African countries forced a showdown in the Security Council over the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) pursuit of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto for stirring up election-related violence in 2007, accusing the U.N. of disrespect for Africa. To pessimistic observers, these developments are symptomatic of a […]

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In the wake of reports that the U.S. engaged in extensive spying on allies, Brazil and Germany this month introduced a draft U.N. resolution aimed at limiting such surveillance. In an email interview, Craig Forcese, vice dean and associate professor at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, explained the norms governing international spying. WPR: What are the existing treaty requirements concerning whether and how states can spy on one another? Forcese: Put simply, there aren’t any. States have never had much incentive to regulate peacetime spying through treaties. All states spy, and all want to be free to condemn […]

On Jan. 21, 2009, President Barack Obama pledged to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The announcement’s timing and setting highlighted its importance. On just his second day in office, and flanked by former generals and admirals, the president had made it a top priority to shut the U.S. prison that had become synonymous with human rights abuses and lawlessness. That same day, Obama issued an order banning torture and closing secret CIA “black sites” in an effort to align America’s fight against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups with due process and the rule of law. Obama […]

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The term “shadow wars” aptly describes the U.S. approach to the war on terror. Policymakers perceive they are fighting an enemy composed of shadow and dust, one hidden in and facilitated by the dark underworld of global politics. But to prosecute this campaign, the U.S. has itself, to borrow a term from the writer J.R.R. Tolkien, “fallen into shadow”: Its moral high ground and once-principled politics have been replaced by a recourse to policies such as arbitrary detention, torture and extrajudicial killings that have tarnished its reputation and bolstered its enemies. The blowback from these policies demonstrates that a just […]

The deaths by drowning of more than 350 people on Oct. 3 as they tried to reach Europe from Libya unleashed a wave of sympathy and horror on both sides of the Mediterranean for the victims and for Lampedusa, the small island stepping-stone to Italy from North Africa. Six days later, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso traveled to Lampedusa to reassure the people of the island, and the European Union, that something would be done to prevent further tragedies and to assist those who bear the burden of migrant arrivals. Also present was […]

The World Health Organization confirmed this week that there has been an outbreak of polio in Syria, where war has devastated the health care system and there is little hope of doing much to stop the spread of infectious disease. Trend Lines spoke with three experts about the issues of restricted access, the targeting of health care workers and the inability to move people and supplies across borders. “This is clear evidence of the collapse of the health care system in Syria and the terrible humanitarian consequences,” said Elizabeth Ferris, co-director of the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement, explaining that […]