When did you last hear ‘gas’ and ‘humane’ in the same sentence?

This morning, I came across an item on the BBC website entitled: Princess Anne: Gassing badgers is most humane way to cull.

According to the piece, Princess Royal’s comments came after the British government said it would not expand badger culling from two pilot culls aimed at reducing TB in cattle.

Interest groups of course welcomed her remarks. As a representative of the National Farmers’ Union said in a BBC radio interview ‘The Princess Royal is noted for outspoken views and her forthright honesty. I think it’s an option that needs looking at. And provided we can tick all the boxes as far as humaneness goes then it would certainly be an option to consider.’

When was it the last time you saw ‘gassing’ and ‘humane’ juxtaposed? The humanitarian argument was definitely advanced after the end of the First World War to justify the continuation of the chemical warfare programmes in Allied countries. (Germany lost its sovereign right to armament with the 1919 Versailles Treaty.)

Just check this little item in the The Lewiston Daily Sun of 4 June 1932:

Gas is championed as a humane weapon of war by Maj. Gen. Amos A. Fries, who was chief of chemical warfare for the United States during the world War. […]

General Fries said the humaneness of gas lies in the fact that, while it disables an enemy temporarily, it makes possible a high percentage of recoveries.

The irony shall not escape the badgers.

[Cross-posted from The Trench]


Accountablity of armament inventors and manufacturers in International Law: the confession of Mikhail Kalashnikov

During the League of Nations, there were some attempts, including a drat convention, which were meant to strictly regulate or even ban private manufactures of arms. Interestingly, such efforts were also supported by countries such as the USA. In contrast, the UN and its members appear to see the manufacturing of conventional weapons outside the reach of international law. Some studies have been conducted on the feasibility and desirability  of regulating manufacturing of armaments by the UN, but without any substantive success. 

However, the UN Firearms Protocol 2001 which supplements the UN Convention again  Transnational Organised Crime 2000 came up with a regulatory framework such as the duty to hold a licence, record keeping, marking and reporting of  arms manufacturers, without touching the debate over the accountability of arms manufacturers for the use of their weapons in armed violence abroad (and internally).

 

The debate over manufacturing, although not at the heart of conventional arms control as same as arms transfer across borders, divides countries and others. Some argue that manufacturers (which may or [may not] include inventors) must be accountable for what they produce and the consequences of the use of their products; such accountability may also be attributed to a state provided that the requirements of attribution are satisfied. This is a strong position given that most manufactures are also exporters and dealers of arms. The opposing view is that armament manufactures do their business based on the laws of manufacturing countries; they are important actors in defending a state’s national  security and promoting the  technological and economic advancement of countries.  Mikhail Kalashnikov, the famous Russian engineer who invented the worst killing (but also defending) automatic riffle, Kalashnikov, was among those who defended manufacturers and inventors from any accountability (moral or otherwise) of the consequences of the weapons they make. His position was that those who receive and use the weapons are the ones who must not use and abuse them to commit terrorism and other crimes. 

Kalashnikov died last month at the page of 95; it is reported that the confession he made and sent to the religious leader of the Orthodox Church of Russia includes the following  question: “My spiritual pain is unbearable. “I keep having the same unsolved question: if my rifle claimed people’s lives, then can it be that I… a Christian and an Orthodox believer, was to blame for their deaths?”.

 Please read the rest from the news article here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-25709371

It must be noted that more than 100 million AK-47 rifles are said to be in circulation, and they are the main, but not necessarily the only,  tools of armed violence in most trouble parts of the world. It must also be noted that the position of the Russian Church was not different from state position -we may well hear a confession on this subject from the Church itself sooner or later?


Getting Beyond the Benedict Arnold of the Cyber Age: Crafting Post-Snowden American Policy and Law

This past week brought more discomfort in the United States produced by Edward Snowden’s disclosures about NSA surveillance activities:

  • The House of Representatives narrowly defeated a proposal to restrict NSA authority to collect telephone metadata in the United States, a vote that caused intra-party clashes within both the Democratic and Republican parties;
  • Legislators in Congress grilled NSA officials on the NSA’s collection of telephone metadata within the US, producing testimony that only heightened congressional concerns about the executive branch’s metadata surveillance activities and their legal justification;
  • The NSA released previously classified documents related to the now infamous Verizon Order leaked by Snowden, an effort at transparency that, apparently, did not make anything more transparent;
  • Courtesy of Snowden, The Guardian revealed another NSA program, called XKeyscore, which caused another round of national and international controversy about US surveillance policies and practices; and
  • The Russian government granted Snowden asylum for one year, allowing him to leave his limbo-laden life at the Moscow airport, a development that perhaps guarantees Snowden’s place in history (and not Bradley Manning) as the Benedict Arnold of the cyber age and made already fraying US-Russian relations worse.

To have Congress close to over-turning a key law passed after 9/11, to deepen tensions between the legislative and executive branches, to provoke the masters of secrecy to try to be more transparent, to wrong-foot the NSA again with a new disclosure, to cause rifts within both major US political parties, and to exacerbate problems between great powers is, ladies and gentlemen, one hell of a week, in more ways than one.

Each development of this past week deserves its own scrutiny, but my objective here is to try to assess what the sum of these episodes means for the US. The initial disclosures from Snowden brought forth calls for a “national conversation” about the implications of the revelations of NSA surveillance activities and the policy and legal justifications for them. This conversation has been extremely awkward because a proudly open and free society found itself debating critical issues kept secret by its government and only revealed by a law-breaker who sought succor in the sovereignty of anti-American governments. To quote one of history’s great admirers of the US, not our finest hour.

But, this past week should signal that the “national conversation” requires decisions needed to shape post-Snowden American policy and law on issues ranging from the privacy of American citizens dependent on digital communications technologies to the impact of cyber espionage on the power and reputation of the US in geopolitics. No one should underestimate the gravity of these decisions because the questions to be answered go deep into what America means at home and abroad. In its main leader of its August 3rd issue, The Economist–hardly an American nemesis–embeds the Snowden affair along with other post-9/11 policies in what it calls “liberty’s lost decade.”

Provocative, to be sure, but The Economist is trying to piece together what it all means for the US, from Mohamed Atta to Edward Snowden, and is encouraging Americans to re-evaluate where their government has been–from detention cells in Guantanamo Bay to “collecting it all” in cyberspace–and whether and how they want the future to be different. We might not like the headlines, the harsh questions, and the flippant or cynical condemnations of American behavior as hysterical hypocrisy. But, when someone like Edward Snowden can affect this country’s domestic politics and foreign affairs as wrenchingly as he repeatedly has (see, this past week), we have serious work to do in crafting policies and laws less dependent on the fear secrecy breeds and more confident in the resilience openness brings when betrayal from within and enmity from without test our interests and values.


First modern chemical warfare: 98th anniversary today

On this day, 22 April at 5 p.m. CET the first major chemical attack in modern warfare began 98 years ago, when German Imperial Forces released between 150–168 tonnes of chlorine gas  from almost 6000 cylinders along a 700-metre front near the Belgian town of Ieper.

In a study for SIPRI published in 1997, I summarised the opening of the 2nd Battle of Ypres as follows:

Modern chemical warfare is regarded as having begun on 22 April 1915. On that date German troops opened approximately 6000 cylinders along a 7-km line opposite the French position and released 150–168 tonnes (t) of chlorine gas. Tear-gas (T) shells were also fired into the cloud and at the northern flank, the boundary between French and Belgian troops. Between 24 April and 24 May Germany launched eight more chlorine attacks. However, chemical warfare had not been assimilated into military doctrine, and German troops failed to exploit their strategic surprise. Chemical weapon (CW) attacks in following weeks were fundamentally different as they supported local offensives and thus served tactical purposes. In each case the amount of gas released was much smaller than that employed on 22 April, and crude individual protection against gas enabled Allied soldiers to hold the lines.

Prior to the April 1915 use of a chlorine cloud, gas shells filled with T-stoff (xylyl bromide or benzyl bromide) or a mixture of T-stoff and B-stoff (bromoacetone) had been employed. In addition, as early as 14 February 1915 (i.e., approximately the same period as CW trials on the Eastern front) two soldiers of the Belgian 6th Division had reported ill after a T-shell attack. In March 1915 French troops at Nieuwpoort were shelled with a mixture of T- and B-stoff (T-stoff alone had proved unsatisfactory). In response to the British capture of Hill 60 (approximately 5 km south-east of Ypres), German artillery counter-attacked with T-shells on 18 April and the following days. In the hours before the chlorine attack on 22 April the 45th Algerian Division experienced heavy shelling with high explosive (HE) and T-stoff.

Such attacks continued throughout the Second Battle of Ypres. Although Germany overestimated the impact of T-shells, on 24 April their persistent nature appears to have been exploited for the first time for tactical purposes. Near Lizerne (approximately 10 km north of Ypres) German troops fired 1200 rounds in a wall of gas (gaswand) behind Belgian lines to prevent reinforcements from reaching the front. The park of Boezinge Castle, where Allied troops were concentrated, was attacked in a similar manner.

Just a small thought that almost a century later we are still worrying about the possibility of the use of gas in war.