The Ebola Vaccine and the Ethics of Drug Trials

By Greg Mercer

The World Health Organization recently announced that a trial of the VSV-EBOV Ebola virus vaccine in Guinea has been “highly effective,” and that randomization in the trial would be stopped to allow for expansion of the range of subjects and protection of more people against the virus.  The trial began in March, and until recently, randomized subjects so that some received the vaccine immediately, while others received it later, after the virus’ gestation period.

A paper published in The Lancet details the study, and finds that the vaccine is highly effective and likely safe to use in the affected population.  The “recombinant, replication-competent vesicular stomatitis virus-based” vaccine is administered in a single dose via the deltoid muscle.  4,123 people received the vaccination immediately, while 3,528 people received the delayed vaccination (more on the study methodology in a moment). The researchers found that no subjects developed a case of Ebola after receiving the immediate or delayed vaccination, meaning that the vaccine proved 100% effective (with p=0.0036 at 95% CI).  These findings are excellent news for researchers, government officials, and those in the affected counties, and are fascinating from a scientific standpoint.

At The New Republic, Timothy Lahey, of Dartmouth, argues that these results, while promising, aren’t necessarily confirmed.  He notes that the lack of a placebo (because of the study’s particular methodology) makes it difficult to determine effectiveness, the vaccine could have failed to protect subjects from infection in a way that the study didn’t detect, and that a statistical aberration could mean that while the vaccine is not actually 100 % effective.  Regardless of whether these potential pitfalls affected the study or not, Lahey raises an important issue in drug testing for a disease like Ebola.  He is concerned that a lower standard for vaccines could mean that lower-income countries might not receive drugs of the same quality as rich countries, and points to past failed vaccines to illustrate the fallacy of believing that all vaccines work as intended.

The ethical dilemmas of drug testing have been front and center in the Ebola crisis.  Back in November, 2014, Nature reported on public health officials weighing the question of whether to use control groups when testing treatments for a disease with 70% mortality.  At the time, some advocated for applying experimental treatments (like the ZMapp antiviral cocktail, which had been used in patients but whose effectiveness was not entirely determined) to all patients, while others argued that these treatments might not be more effective than standard care, and that randomized trials guard against harmful side effects and provide a clearer picture of a drug’s effectiveness.

The VSV-EBOV vaccine was tested in the “ring” method that was previously used in the eradication of Smallpox.  This method eschews the double-blind placebo treatments commonly associated with drug trials.  Instead, this method creates a “ring” around new cases.  Contacts and contacts of contacts were identified by Guinea’s tracking system, and eligible adults were entered into randomization blocks, and received either the immediate or delayed vaccination.  This way, all of the subjects received the treatment, but in varying circumstances to establish effectiveness.  The full study is available via The Lancet.

Ethical drug testing is a crucial consideration, and has an imperfect past.  The National Institutes of Health’s own ethics guide cites a study that led to the United States’ ethics rules: a study that withheld syphilis treatment from 400 African-American men.  And for many, there’s good reason to be concerned about the actions of international organizations and multinational corporations.  In 1996, Pfizer conducted a study of an experimental drug on children with meningitis in Nigeria. While Pfizer maintained that the study was philanthropic, allegations arose from Nigerians and international organizations that children and parents were not informed that they were part of a study, and that Pfizer withheld treatment without consent or administered dangerous drugs.  The incident spawned a series of lawsuits and a panel of Nigerian medial experts condemned Pfizer’s actions in 2006, as reported by The Washington Post.

Epidemics and drug testing present a multitude of practical and ethical concerns, but careful consideration of the issues and sound methodology can, as they did in Guinea, produce exciting scientific and humanitarian results.

Image Credit: Psychonaught

NASA’s Unique Place in American Science and Security

By Greg Mercer

We talk a lot here about the intersection of science, technology, and security studies, and NASA has sat squarely in the center of that relationship since it was called the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. The Hill reports that GOP legislation is threatening NASA’s plan to develop its own launch vehicles to carry astronauts to the International Space Station. Currently, the US relies on Russia for this capability. Defunding domestic launch capabilities would result in continued reliance on Russian launch capacity, which has cost $1.2 billion since late 2011. The House and Senate spending measures undercut the $1.24 billion needed for the Commercial Crew Program—which would pay for Boeing and SpaceX to develop manned spacecraft by 2017—by up to $300 million.

Relying on Russia for launch capacity creates an interesting contradiction. First, NASA is not a military organization, and its activities are largely in the spirit of international cooperation, especially when it comes to Russia. However, defense hawks tend to oppose Russia’s ongoing incursions into Ukraine, sometimes loudly. This generally means supporting increased sanctions and avoiding cooperation, so it wouldn’t seem to follow that while scolding Russia for their military actions towards their neighbor, the US should also continue to rely on them for launch capacity. This isn’t the first time this sort of relationship has been framed this way. Foreign oil dependence has been a buzzword for decades, and it’s an issue that combines two different issues- energy and defense- into one. The argument goes that relying on potentially unstable partners for oil is a threat to national security, since the collapse of an oil-exporting partner could require military action to protect American energy interests. Regardless of this argument’s veracity, it has persuaded lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to pursue energy production means other than oil imports. A similar argument follows for Russia: if the US wants to economically punish Russia’s aggression and remain the forefront player in the space industry, why would it pay Russia to transport its astronauts?

I support NASA’s budget pretty vehemently, but for somewhat more optimistic reasons. I’m a strong proponent of space exploration of a national goal and a human endeavor, but I’m not adverse to a simple economic argument. Take a look at the list of NASA spin-off technologies. NASA has developed a huge range of technologies that undeniably benefit technology investors, the US, and the world at large.

For the first time since the shuttle program, NASA’s Orion program is providing the agency with long-term goals for manned spaceflight. And if you want to talk about a real security threat, no organization is better suited to detect and potentially avert objects that pose a threat to Earth. NASA pays science and security dividends in spades. Hopefully the hawks and the doves can come together to support it.

Image Credit: MrMiscellanious

America’s War on Terror: Democracy is No Panacea

Nine days after the attacks of September 11, the President declared America’s war on terror had begun. After the Bush Administration perceived early successes in Afghanistan, spreading democracy became one of the key policies supporting America’s strategy for the war on terror. Over time, the President came to view the promotion of democracy as a positive and transformational change agent for the Middle East and Muslim-majority countries. Empirical analysis, however, suggests democracy promotion did not help America achieve its broad objectives in the war on terror, though democracy indicators did marginally improve.          

This is Part 4 of 4 of Erik Goepner‘s paper. In case you missed them, read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3; the full paper is available here.

America’s efforts in the war on terror have not achieved the desired objectives. Whether measuring the number of global terror attacks, number of attacks against the U.S. homeland, fatalities caused by terrorists, number of Islamist-inspired terror groups or the amount of fighters aligned with Islamist-inspired terror groups, the data suggests U.S. efforts in the war on terror have achieved disappointing results. During the 12 years prior to 9/11, terrorists committed an average of just over 3,200 attacks annually. In 2001, that number dropped to under 1,900 attacks. Since the U.S. initiated its war on terror, however, the average number of attacks has climbed to almost 4,300 per year.[1] Regarding the U.S. homeland, the attacks of 9/11 were a statistical outlier, making it difficult to determine if other similarly sized attacks might have followed. In the 13 years before 2001, there were five Islamist-inspired terror attacks in America. That compares to four attacks in the 13 years since.[2] Another 63 Islamist-inspired terror attacks against the homeland have been thwarted in the past 13 years, as well.[3]

Similar to the rise in worldwide terror attacks, the number of fatalities have likewise climbed, but at a faster rate. Nearly 6,500 people were killed worldwide per year in terror attacks for the decade-plus before 9/11. In 2001, more than 7,700 were killed. Then, in the 12 years since, the annual average has risen to just under 9,500. The before and after numbers for U.S. citizens killed by acts of terrorism are similarly discomforting, with 45 killed per year before 9/11 and 64 each year since.[4]

A final macro measurement for the war on terror examines the number of Islamist-inspired groups identified by the Department of State (DoS) as foreign terrorist organizations and how many fighters comprise those groups. Since 2000, the overall number of foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) increased by 86 percent, from 29 to 54. The subset comprised of Islamist-inspired FTOs, though, grew by 185 percent, from 13 to 37 groups.[5] Moreover, the number of fighters within those groups has dramatically increased from an estimated 32,200 in 2000 to more than 110,000 in 2013.[6]

Unlike the overall measures of performance for the war on terror which have all worsened since 2001, governance and democracy measures are not as clear-cut. Freedom House’s indicators show a marginal, though statistically insignificant, improvement for the 47 Muslim-majority countries since 2001. The average political rights and civil liberties’ scores for all Muslim-majority states were essentially identical in the years prior to, and including, 2001. Since that time, they have improved by nearly 6 percent (Freedom House scores range from 1 “most free” to 7 “least free”).[7] However, a chi-square statistical analysis indicates the difference in pre- and post-9/11 scores were not statistically significant (X2=7.819, p=0.729). Though insignificant, the modest improvement occurred as average freedom scores declined worldwide for the past nine years.[8]

Afghanistan and Iraq had the lowest possible Freedom House scores for the years prior to 9/11 (i.e., 7). Scores for both countries have improved since, though neither has yet been listed among the 125 countries currently meeting the definition of an “electoral democracy.” The Polity IV Project from the Center for Systemic Peace provides another governance measurement. Their assessment of Afghanistan is unchanged from 2001. Throughout the past 13 years, they have assessed the country as “moderately fragmented,” meaning 10 to 25 percent of Afghanistan is ruled by authorities unconnected to the central government.[9] The assessment of Iraq, though, has changed rather dramatically. In the decade prior to the U.S. invasion, they assessed Iraq as extremely autocratic. Beginning in 2003 and holding for the next six years, they assessed Iraq as seriously fragmented, with between 25 and 50 percent of the country being ruled by authorities that were not connected to the central government. Then, beginning in 2010, Iraq was listed as slightly democratic and that assessment remained through 2013, which was the last year recorded. [10] No assessment has been made since the Islamic State seized sizeable portions of the country, so it is quite likely that the next report will list Iraq as moderately or seriously fragmented.

In conclusion, the decision to include democracy promotion as a key part of the war on terror did not happen immediately. Rather, it appears to have occurred in response to perceived early successes in Afghanistan. Policymakers apparently missed or ignored much of the research and intelligence available at the time that highlighted the numerous challenges to successfully democratizing Afghanistan and Iraq. Additionally, the research since 9/11 largely corroborates the earlier research. Finally, the quantitative analysis indicates democracy promotion did not help achieve the desired outcomes in the war on terror, though modest gains in democracy measures were observed.

Image Credit: Cpl. James L. Yarboro


[1] Data from the Global Terrorism Database, available at http://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/.
[2] National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). (2013). Global Terrorism Database [globalterrorismdb_0814dist-1.xlsx]. Retrieved from http://www.start.umd.edu/gtd.
[3] David Inserra and James Phillips, “67 Islamist Terrorist Plots Since 9/11: Spike in Plots Inspired by Terrorist Groups, Unrest in Middle East,” The Heritage Foundation, April 22, 2015, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2015/04/67-islamist-terrorist-plots-since-911-spike-in-plots-inspired-by-terrorist-groups-unrest-in-middle-east.
[4] Data from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). (2013). Global Terrorism Database [globalterrorismdb_0814dist-1.xlsx]. Retrieved from http://www.start.umd.edu/gtd.
[5] Bureau of Public Affairs Department Of State. The Office of Website Management, “2000 (Patterns of Global Terrorism),” March 23, 2006, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/ 2000/; Bureau of Public Affairs Department Of State. The Office of Website Management, “Country Reports on Terrorism 2013,” U.S. Department of State, April 30, 2014, http:// http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2013/index.htm; Martha Crenshaw, “Mapping Militant Organizations,” Stanford University, accessed March 27, 2015, http://web.stanford.edu /group/mappingmilitants/cgi-bin/groups.
[6] Martha Crenshaw, “Mapping Militant Organizations,” Stanford University, accessed March 27, 2015, http://web.stanford.edu/group/mappingmilitants/cgi-bin/groups. See also Department of State Country Reports and Patterns of Global Terrorism at http://www. state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/.
[7] Data from https://freedomhouse.org/report-types/freedom-world#.VTwGJBd422k.
[8] Arch Puddington, “Discarding Democracy: A Return to the Iron Fist,” Freedom House, 2015, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world-2015/discarding-democracy-return-iron-fist#.VRIay2Z422k.
[9] Monty Marhsall, Ted Gurr, and Keith Jaggers, Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions, 1800-2013: Dataset Users’ Manual (Vienna, VA: Center for Systemic Peace, 2014), 13.
[10] Monty Marshall, Ted Gurr, and Keith Jaggers. 2014. Polity IV Project: Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions, 1800-2013. [p4v2013-2.xls]. Retrieved from http://www.systemicpeace.org/inscrdata.html.

America’s War on Terror: Democracy is No Panacea

Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, the scholarly research has burgeoned, enabling a more thorough examination of the Bush Administration’s policy choice to aggressively promote democracy as part of their overall war on terror strategy. Scholars have advanced a number of compelling findings and arguments about the Bush Administration’s policymaking process, as well as why democracy has proved so problematic in both countries.

This is Part 3 of 4 of Erik Goepner‘s paper. In case you missed them, read Part 1 and Part 2.

James Pfiffner suggests President Bush did not employ a systematic decision-making process with respect to Iraq, and that the president preferred substantive discussions with only a small cadre of his closest advisors.[1] This style could easily result in intelligence and research being overlooked, or the close-knit group unwittingly succumbing to groupthink.

Regarding the challenges of democratizing both countries, researchers point to the historic challenges of Muslim-majority states adopting democratic norms, ethnic and / or religious fractionalization, lack of liberal institutions or culture, poor rule of law, and the animus felt towards the democracy promoter (i.e., the U.S.) by many in the Muslim world.[2]

In addition, two lesser-known arguments are germane and will be addressed further. The first focuses on how the Bush Administration promoted democracy and the second looks at who was being democratized. While the idea of America promoting democracy abroad is nothing new, how it has been promoted over time has changed. Jonathan Monten outlines the two predominate ways in which America has historically sought to export democracy.[3] The first, and preferred choice until the 20th century, relied on America’s example, akin to the shining city on a hill. America’s efforts to win other nations to democratic forms of governance primarily took place within America’s borders, such that other nations could see the example and be enticed to emulate it. Monten refers to the second method as “vindicationism.” It includes setting a positive example, but adds active, external measures to promote democracy. President Bush, Monten argues, embraced a version of vindicationism-plus by also adding a coercive element. Monten goes on to say the U.S.’ hegemonic status not only made coercion possible, but in some respects almost unavoidable.[4] Had U.S. power not been such an overmatch for any would-be competitor, the Bush Administration would likely have been less bold. Policymakers believed their use of power was virtuous. As a result, they did not consider that their use of power might be coercive, unwelcome, or self-seeking.[5]

Moreover, the Bush Administration believed democratic success would beget democratic success, such that bandwagoning would result rather than other nations and actors attempting to balance against U.S. power.[6] Assumed bandwagoning also contributed to the expectation that U.S. military power would facilitate a pacific transition to democracy beyond Iraq and Afghanistan. As the President claimed, a “free Iraq can be an example of reform and progress to all the Middle East.”[7]

The second argument looks at who was being democratized. It does not appear that U.S. policymakers gave any consideration to the mental health status of the Afghan or Iraqi populations prior to pursuing a policy of democratization. Specifically, the effects of decades of severe trauma visited upon both populations were ignored—Afghanistan for 20 of the 21 years preceding the U.S. invasion, and Iraq for the preceding 17 years.

Persons who have been heavily traumatized, similar to the Afghans and Iraqis, are more likely to succumb to learned helplessness.[8] This psychological phenomenon manifests over time, as an individual increasingly perceives no connection between their own efforts and the outcomes that result. Self-efficacy gives way to hopelessness. As a result, the individual no longer puts forth effort, instead they surrender to their circumstances.[9] The behavioral and cognitive changes that frequently accompany severe trauma would appear to inhibit the successful initiation of democracy.

The decision to include democracy promotion as a key part of the war on terror did not happen immediately. Rather, it appears to have occurred in response to perceived early successes in Afghanistan. Policymakers apparently missed or ignored much of the research and intelligence available at the time that indicated the numerous challenges to successfully democratizing Afghanistan and Iraq. Additionally, the research since then tends to corroborate the earlier research.

Next week, part 4 will take a final look at democracy promotion as a key part of America’s war on terror strategy. This last examination will focus on the numbers. How effective has the U.S. been in democratizing Afghanistan, Iraq and the broader region? And, more broadly, how have the efforts to democratize affected the overall achievement of U.S. goals in the war on terror? Erik Goepner’s full paper is available here.


[1] James Pfiffner, “Decisionmaking, Intelligence, and the Iraq War,” in Intelligence and National Security Policymaking on Iraq: British and American Perspectives (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2008), 217–8.
[2] Zakaria, “The Rise of Illiberal Democracy”; Bernard Lewis, “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” The Atlantic 266, no. 3 (1990): 47–60; Samuel Huntington, “The Lonely Superpower,” Foreign Affairs 78, no. 2 (March 1, 1999): 35–49; Francis Fukuyama, “Why is Democracy Performing So Poorly?” Journal of Democracy 26, no. 1 (January 2015): 13.
[3] Jonathan Monten, “The Roots of the Bush Doctrine: Power, Nationalism, and Democracy Promotion in U.S. Strategy,” International Security 29, no. 4 (April 1, 2005): 112–115.
[4] Monten, “The Roots of the Bush Doctrine,” 116.
[5] Monten, “The Roots of the Bush Doctrine,” 146.
[6] Monten, “The Roots of the Bush Doctrine,” 148–9.
[7] Monten, “The Roots of the Bush Doctrine,” 150.
[8] Steven Maier, “Exposure to the Stressor Environment Prevents the Temporal Dissipation of Behavioral Depression/learned Helplessness,” Biological Psychiatry 49, no. 9 (May 1, 2001): 763; Neta Bargai, Gershon Ben-Shakhar, and Arieh Y. Shalev, “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Depression in Battered Women: The Mediating Role of Learned Helplessness,” Journal of Family Violence 22, no. 5 (June 6, 2007): 268, 272, 274.
[9] Lyn Abramson, Martin Seligman, and John Teasdale, “Learned Helplessness in Humans: Critique and Reformulation,” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 87, no. 1 (1978): 50.

Image Credit: U.S. Navy

AMERICA’S WAR ON TERROR: DEMOCRACY IS NO PANACEA

America’s goal to democratize Afghanistan started haphazardly, no doubt buffeted by the chaos of the days immediately following 9/11. However, what began as a relative afterthought soon became the perceived cure-all for Islamic extremism—bring democracy to the Middle East and watch the underlying causes of terrorism erode away. As the Bush administration began developing that policy, a fair amount of scholarly research and intelligence (now declassified) was available to assist policymakers.

This is Part 2 of 4 of Erik Goepner‘s paper. Read Part 1 here

The pre-9/11 scholarly research

The pre-9/11 scholarly research could have helped answer two key questions:

  1. Would democracy be likely to succeed in Afghanistan and Iraq?
  2. Would a shift from autocracy to democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq help reduce the number of terrorists and terror attacks?

The research suggested that establishing a functioning democracy would be quite challenging in either country. Regarding democracy in Muslim states, ample research cautioned that many democracy enablers—cultural and institutional—could not be found within Islamic tradition.[1] Several notable scholars agreed obstacles existed, but they assessed them as surmountable.[2] Looking at democracy more broadly, the eminent democracy scholar, Seymour Martin Lipset, highlighted cultural factors as determinants of success, cautioning that culture is “extraordinarily difficult to manipulate.”[3] Seven years prior to 9/11, Lipset wrote that successful democracies in Muslim-majority countries were “doubtful.” He argued that an enduring democracy necessitated a connection between efficacy and legitimacy that could be observed by the population. Progress in either the political or economic arenas, he said, would build perceived legitimacy and help cement democracy.[4] With respect to Afghanistan in particular, Robert Barro observed that democracy was unlikely to take hold because of low education levels, the marginalization of women, and the patchwork of different ethnicities.[5] Fareed Zakaria stressed the potential problems associated with ethnic fractionalization and democracy, noting the chance of war could actually increase if democracy were introduced in a country that did not yet have a liberal culture or institutions.[6] Similarly, Amitai Etzioni, a former advisor to President Carter, noted the difficulties of a society jumping from “the Stone Age to even a relatively modern one.” He pointed to the failed experiences of the World Bank and U.S. foreign-aid programs, ultimately concluding that democratic failure would result in Afghanistan.[7] These observations highlight the tension between the legitimate aspirations of President Bush and his national security team and the numerous obstacles that the pre-9/11 research had already identified.

States in transition from autocracy to democracy have more political violence within their borders than do either strongly democratic or autocratic states. In terms of stable, entrenched democracies, the research is divided on whether democracy reduces terrorism more effectively than other forms of government or not. On the one hand, scholars like Rudy Rummel and Ted Gurr contend that democracies provide a system within which grievances can be non-violently addressed, whereas autocracies are much more prone to political violence because they deny their citizens alternate forms of political communication.[8] On the opposite side, researchers like Havard Hegre suggest that democracies are home to increased amounts of political expression, both non-violent and violent.[9] Empirical studies suggest developed and stable democracies do have lower levels of political violence, but so do harshly authoritarian states. Higher levels of political violence, however, tend to occur in intermediate regimes, such as infant democracies.[10]

Based on the pre-war intelligence

The Bush administration planned the Iraq War for more than a year, and authorities have declassified much of the pre-war intelligence. As a result, ample intelligence is now available to the public. Conversely, for the war in Afghanistan, essentially no intelligence regarding governance issues is available since the war came quickly after the 9/11 attacks and the military had no plans for Afghanistan until after September 11th (beyond tactical plans to attack bin Laden).[11] Much of the available intelligence regarding Afghanistan comes from the 9/11 Commission Report, but it does not include useful information for analyzing the decision to democratize. Therefore, only an analysis of the pre-war Iraq intelligence is provided.

The policy choice to promote democracy appears to have discounted significant portions of the pre-war intelligence. In August 2002, a CIA report noted that Iraqi culture has been “inhospitable to democracy.” The report went on to say that absent comprehensive and enduring US and Western support, the likelihood of achieving even “partial democratic successes” was “poor.”[12]

In late 2002, the CIA provided a slightly more optimistic assessment which said most Shia would conclude that a “secular and democratic Iraq served their interests.”[13] At the same time, though, a DIA report asserted that Shia preferences could not be accurately assessed because of the fear and repression they lived under.[14] Several months later, the CIA released another assessment indicating the potential for democratic stability would be “limited” over the next two years, but a US-led coalition “could” prepare the way for democracy in five to 10 years.[15]

Additionally, the National Intelligence Council (NIC) published two Intelligence Community Assessments in January 2003, which the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence described as the “best available ‘baseline’” of prewar assessments on postwar Iraq.[16] The reports described democratic concepts as “alien to most Arab Middle Eastern political cultures.”[17] The NIC also noted “Iraqi political culture does not foster liberalism or democracy.” As a result, they assessed the potential for the democratization of Iraq as a “long, difficult, and probably turbulent process.”[18] In a particularly prescient set of comments, the NIC assessed that “political transformation is the task…least susceptible to outside intervention and management.”[19]

Considerable scholarly research and intelligence were available to policymakers before the decision was made to aggressively pursue democracy in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the broader region. The numerous cautions contained in the intelligence and research, however, were either missed or ignored.

Next week, part 3 will examine the research published since 9/11 in light of the decision to pursue broad democratization. Erik Goepner’s full paper is available here.


[1] Alfred C. Stepan, “Religion, Democracy, and the ‘Twin Tolerations,’” Journal of Democracy 11, no. 4 (2000): 47.
[2] Niloofar Afari et al., “Psychological Trauma and Functional Somatic Syndromes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Psychosomatic Medicine 76, no. 1 (January 2014): 2–11; John Esposito and John Voll, Islam and Democracy (Oxford University Press, 1996).
[3] Seymour Martin Lipset, “The Centrality of Political Culture,” Journal of Democracy 1, no. 4 (1990): 82–3.
[4] Seymour Martin Lipset, “The Social Requisites of Democracy Revisited: 1993 Presidential Address,” American Sociological Review 59, no. 1 (February 1, 1994): 6, 17.
[5] Robert Barro, “Don’t Bank on Democracy in Afghanistan,” Business Week, January 21, 2002, 18.
[6] Fareed Zakaria, “The Rise of Illiberal Democracy,” Foreign Affairs, December 1997, 35.
[7] Amitai Etzioni, “USA Can’t Impose Democracy on Afghans,” USA Today, October 10, 2001.
[8] W. Eubank and L. Weinberg, “Terrorism and Democracy: Perpetrators and Victims,” Terrorism and Political Violence 13, no. 1 (March 1, 2001): 156.
[9] Eubank and Weinberg, “Terrorism and Democracy.”
[10] Håvard Hegre, Tanja Ellingsen, Scott Gates and Nils Petter Gleditsch, “Toward a Democratic Civil Peace? Democracy, Political Change, and Civil War, 1816-1992,” American Political Science Review, no. 01 (March 2001): 42; Daniel Byman, The Five Front War: The Better Way to Fight Global Jihad (Hoboken, N.J: John Wiley & Sons, 2008), 158–9.
[11] The 9/11 Commission Report, 135–7, 208, 332.
[12] United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Report on Prewar Intelligence Assessments About Postwar Iraq (Washington, D.C., May 25, 2007), 103.
[13] U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Report on Prewar Intelligence, 100.
[14] U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Report on Prewar Intelligence, 93–4.
[15] U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Report on Prewar Intelligence, 97.
[16] U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Report on Prewar Intelligence, 4.
[17] National Intelligence Council, Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq, January 2003, 30.
[18] National Intelligence Council, Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq, January 2003, 5.
[19] National Intelligence Council, Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq, 9.


Image Credit: Library of Congress

NDAA Update: The House Says Keep the A-10

By Greg Mercer

There are many fights and quirks intertwined with the National Defense Authorization Act.  One of them is the A-10 Thunderbolt II (sometimes called the “Warthog”) close support aircraft.  A lot has been made of this particular aircraft, given the Air Force’s desire to phase it out of combat and eventually replace it.  Congress, however, appears to have different plans.

An amendment to the NDAA introduced by Martha McSally (R-AZ-2) in the House Armed Services Committee prohibits the Air Force from using appropriated funds to retire, store, or replace any A-10 aircraft—effectively mandating that the Air Force maintain at least its current stock of 171 A-10s.  Planes, of course, need pilots (well, most of them do), so the amendment also requires that the Air Force not “make significant reductions to manning levels with respect to any A-10 aircraft squadrons or divisions.”  This means that not only does the Air Force have to keep the planes, it has to keep flying them too.  The Air Force has warned that maintaining the A-10 will mean cuts to other programs.

This isn’t an indefinite measure, though.  The amendment calls for an outside study commissioned by the Department of Defense to explore options for retiring and replacing the aircraft.  The Air Force can continue to explore retirement of the A-10—a clearly articulated goal—but it must do so on Congress’s terms.

What, then, motivates Congress?  While mandating the continued operation of the A-10, seemingly against the wishes of the Air Force, might paint Congress as a backwards facing, wasteful organization in contrast to the Air Force’s progressive, cost-saving efforts, this definitely isn’t a fair take on the relationship.  After all, the Air Force also recently asked for 1000 more Air-Launched Cruise Missiles at a cost of $9 billion.  So, it’s not as if the Air Force is desperate to save money at every turn.

Two possible Congressional motivations stand out: First, the A-10 is currently operated by 16 Air Force, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve Command squadrons throughout the United States—those are plenty of constituent jobs.  Second, members of Congress were likely impressed by the A-10’s record in Iraq and Afghanistan, where its close support role was used to support troops in combat.  While this might not represent a statistical study of its effectiveness, the A-10 has an obvious reputation of saving lives.  Thus, Congress likely views A-10 retirement as something that isn’t yet broken, and doesn’t need fixing.  The Air Force disagrees.

It’s a frustrating situation, but it also calls out the need for checks and balances in military priority setting.  We’ll find out more about the fate of the A-10 when the House NDAA is voted on and reconciled with the Senate version.

Image Credit: U.S. Air Force

America’s War on Terror: Democracy is No Panacea

Nine days after the attacks of September 11, the President George W. Bush declared America’s war on terror had begun. Over time, the spread of freedom and democracy came to be seen as key objectives of the war. Freedom and democracy, it was thought, would be the solution to Islamic extremism.[1]

This is Part 1 of 4 of Erik Goepner‘s paper. 

Afghanistan

The goal of democratizing Afghanistan came haphazardly. As U.S. policymakers prepared to launch strikes to root out al Qaeda, they did not initially plan to conduct regime change in Afghanistan. Planning efforts left open the possibility that the Taliban might cooperate sufficiently and, therefore, be allowed to remain in power.[2] Soon after the CIA initiated covert operations, however, it became obvious regime change was coming. The first formal expression of regime change appears to have occurred at an October 3 meeting. At that meeting, Secretary of State Colin Powell said he wanted leadership in Kabul available to fill the void left by the removal of the Taliban, leadership that represented all of the Afghan people.[3] The U.S. launched its first airstrikes four days later.

The Taliban had to go, but what a future Afghan government might look like received scant attention early on. Part of the disconnect resulted from the rapid success of military operations. Within the first week of airstrikes, Pakistani and U.N. officials began pressuring the U.S. government to slow the Northern Alliance advance. They wanted an interim government in place before the Northern Alliance took Kabul.[4] Despite those attempts, the Northern Alliance did enter Kabul and establish a quasi-government before a broad-based, internationally recognized interim government could be appointed.

On November 10, President Bush spoke before the U.N. General Assembly, where he articulated his support of U.N.-led efforts to broker a post-Taliban government that would represent all Afghans.[5] A month later, the U.N.-brokered talks concluded in Bonn, Germany. The talks aimed to place the various Afghan groups front and center, with the U.N. and international community taking a supporting role.[6] Afghans would govern themselves, assisted by a light international footprint to help bolster their capacity.[7] The final agreement read, in part, “Acknowledging the right of the people of Afghanistan to freely determine their own political future in accordance with the principles of Islam, democracy, pluralism…”

Hamid Karzai took the oath as interim President of Afghanistan on December 22, 2001.

Iraq

Five years before the U.S. invaded Iraq, Congress and President Clinton enacted a law authorizing 97 million dollars for opposition forces who would remove Saddam from power and promote democracy in Iraq.[8] The Bush Administration, though, needed little encouragement. By this point in the War on Terror, buoyed by perceived success in Afghanistan, the President frequently spoke of America’s responsibility to free the oppressed.

In January 2003, the President Bush met with several Iraqi dissidents. They articulated a favorable picture of what a post-Saddam Iraq might look like. Each spoke optimistically regarding democracy’s future in Iraq, noting the technological skills of the citizenry while discounting what they perceived as overblown commentaries regarding the Sunni-Shia split. When the President asked about the possibility of the U.S. being seen as imposing its will, they had no response.[9]

On March 4, Doug Feith, the Under Secretary of Defense, briefed the President and the NSC on U.S. objectives in Iraq. Moving Iraq towards democracy was high on the list. Iraq, they hypothesized, would soon serve as a model for the region. U.S.-led coalition airstrikes began March 20, 2003.

Eight months after the invasion of Iraq, President Bush presented a “new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East.”[10] The President’s lofty ambitions for the Middle East could be interpreted as politically motivated perhaps, but the consistency of his message and his passion on the subject suggest he truly did perceive a responsibility to liberate the oppressed. Whether feasible or not, whether politically motivated or not, President Bush appeared to believe that bringing freedom to other nations was the right, and necessary, thing to do.

In June 2004, the United States transferred power to an interim Iraqi government and elections were held in January 2005.[11]

After the Elections

After the first elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, President Bush intensified his calls for democracy in the Middle East. Promoting democracy became a cornerstone of his War on Terror strategy. [12] Mentions of freedom, liberty, and democracy can be found throughout his speeches during that time. His 2006 National Security Strategy celebrated the “extraordinary progress in the expansion of freedom, democracy, and human dignity” that had occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The January 2006 elections that brought Hamas to power, however, may have had a tamping effect on the Bush Administration’s push for broader democratization in the region. The Hamas victory, along with electoral inroads by the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah, brought a chorus of criticism against the President.[13]

Efforts to democratize Afghanistan started haphazardly, but what began as a relative afterthought in Afghanistan soon became the perceived cure-all for Islamic extremism.

Next week, part 2 will examine the decision to democratize in light of the intelligence and scholarly research available in the run up to both wars. Erik Goepner’s full paper is available here.


[1] Council on Global Terrorism, State of the Struggle: Report on the Battle against Global Terrorism, ed. Lee Hamilton and Justine A. Rosenthal (Washington, D.C: Council on Global Terrorism : Brooking Institution Press [distributor], 2006), 83.
[2] Bob Woodward, Bush at War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003), 130.
[3] Woodward, Bush at War, 191–2.
[4] Peter Baker, Molly Moore and Kamram Khan, and Washington Post Foreign Service, “Rebels Delay Move Against Kabul; Devising Plan for New Government in Afghanistan Becomes Priority,” The Washington Post, October 11, 2001, sec. A.
[5] George Bush (United Nations General Assembly, New York, November 10, 2001), http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/11/20011110-3.html.
[6] Simon Chesterman, “Walking Softly in Afghanistan: The Future of UN State-Building,” Survival 44, no. 3 (September 2002): 39.
[7] Chesterman, “Walking Softly in Afghanistan,” 38.
[8] Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack: The Definitive Account of the Decision to Invade Iraq (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), 10.
[9] Woodward, Plan of Attack, 258–60.
[10] Mark N. Katz, Leaving without Losing: The War on Terror after Iraq and Afghanistan (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012), 23–4.
[11] Dominic Johnson and Dominic Tierney, Failing to Win: Perceptions of Victory and Defeat in International Politics (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2006), 245.
[12] Raphael Perl, Combating Terrorism: The Challenge of Measuring Effectiveness, November 23, 2005, 4.
[13] Steven R. Weisman, “Bush Defends His Goal of Spreading Democracy to the Mideast,” The New York Times, January 27, 2006, sec. Washington, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/ 27/politics/27diplo.html.

 

Image Credit: U.S. Army

2016 NDAA: Helicopters, Counters for Unconventional Warfare, and a Bunch of Ships

By Greg Mercer

Every fiscal year, Congress passes the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a piece of comprehensive legislation that funds the Department of Defense and the national security programs operated by the Department of Energy. Since the military is extraordinarily expensive to maintain, and Congress famously “holds the purse strings”, the NDAA is a catalyst for major changes and reforms, and the process of authoring and passing it can tell us a lot about the gap between Congressional and military priorities. The NDAA is going through the House markup process (House first, then Senate, because it’s a financial bill), with subcommittee markups taking place this week and the Full Committee Markup taking place Wednesday, April 29 (Rayburn House Office Building Room 2118 at 10 AM if you’re really interested). The process has already highlighted some trends that will have a major impact in FY16.

Defense News reports that the Armed Services Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee has requested that the Pentagon replace some helicopters. The subcommittee requested that the Pentagon create a plan to replace existing AH-6 and MH-6 “Little Bird” helicopters within 90 days of the NDAA’s passage and to indicate how they plan to do so with “anticipated funding requirements… for development and procurement of an A/MH-6 replacement platform.” A/MH-6s are commonly used by special operations forces, so it’s no surprise that the Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee would be concerned about the future of Special Forces aviation.

The subcommittee also notes that they are concerned about the “unconventional warfare capabilities and threats” posed by Russia and Iran. The proposed legislation defines this as: “…activities conducted to enable a resistance movement of insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary, or guerrilla force in a denied area.” Clearly, this refers to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and Russian aggression, as well as the involvement of Iran in combatting ISIL forces in Iraq, which has seen Iran training and equipping as many as 30,000 troops and deploying missiles.

Finally, the subcommittee touches upon a trendy, favorite topic, expressing concern about DOD’s cyber capabilities. It requests a briefing on the process of identifying and remedying current vulnerabilities by February 1, 2016, and a briefing on the DOD’s cyber mission force and whether it can meet its intelligence collection and analysis needs but November 1, 2016.

Elsewhere, Defense News also reports that the Navy’s FY16 budget requests have generally enjoyed support from the Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee. The subcommittee approved requests for building three new Littoral Combat Ships (a program which has seen controversy in the past), two destroyers, two attack submarines, the completion of a new amphibious ship, continued construction on two new aircraft carriers, procurement of new Tomahawk cruise missiles, and the development of an unmanned, carrier-based jet.

The NDAA will remain dynamic and likely controversial as it works its way through the legislative process. Its position at the center of DOD’s operations for the upcoming year makes the NDAA perennially attractive to those in Congress and the Administration who seek reform or procurement changes. I’ll try to offer more as the process continues.

Image Credit: U.S. Navy

Freedom

By Erik Goepner

Promoting democracy, particularly in Muslim-majority countries, has been a cornerstone of America’s war on terror since the early days after 9/11. To many Americans, including our policy makers, democracy is virtually synonymous with liberty and freedom. Not everyone shares this perspective. Some view democracy as incompatible with freedom and liberty.

After perceived initial successes in Afghanistan, President Bush frequently spoke of America’s responsibility to help free other peoples.[1] In 2003, he spoke of a “new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East.”[2] The President’s State of the Union addresses delivered during his two presidencies reached a crescendo in 2005, when he mentioned “democracy,” “liberty,” “freedom” or some variant thereof 46 times. The following year, the White House’s National Security Strategy celebrated the “extraordinary progress in the expansion of freedom, democracy, and human dignity” that had had occurred over the past four years in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.

Such concepts are interwoven throughout our nation’s history, whether declaring our independence or stating that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We elect our leaders. We have the right to assemble and to protest. We have an active press and we enjoy the right to worship (or not) as we please. Give me liberty or give me death. Live free or die. It is no wonder, then, that for Americans, the words democracy, liberty, and freedom may often substitute one for another.

Other perspectives, however, while endorsing the concepts of liberty and freedom, reject democracy. Sayyid Qutb, an early member of the Muslim Brotherhood, outlined such a perspective in his provocative book, Milestones. Written in 1964, two years before the Egyptian government executed him, Qutb argued that freedom and liberty were antithetical to democracy. He asserted that Americans were ignorant and rebellious, as evidenced by our legislating of rules for collective behavior and our perceived right to “choose a way of life…without regard to what Allah has prescribed.” God, he said, is the Regent, while the faithful followers are to be his vice regents. How, then, he argued, could the vice regent legislate on issues that the Regent had already decreed as good or bad? For Qutb, Western democracy was the enslavement of one man over another. By encouraging the vice regent to elect human leaders who would then fashion laws in opposition to the will of the Regent, democracy would keep the people in darkness. Only the equivalent of a Muslim theocracy, he argued, offered people the opportunity to be truly free and sufficiently liberated to pursue life.

Polls suggest a majority of Muslims prefer democracy, seeing it as complementary to freedom and liberty. Recent democratic victories, however, for groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas raise interesting dilemmas. Some argue that, absent pre-existing democratic institutions and culture, democratic elections can be used effectively by illiberal groups to trap their countries into undemocratic futures, while others see a decidedly brighter short-term future for Islamic democracy.

Image Credit: Bluszczokrzew


[1] See Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack.
[2] See Mark Katz’ Leaving without Losing.

Worth Reading: Informative Research on the Islamic State

By Erik Goepner

“The sobering fact is that the United States has no good military options in its fight against ISIS. Neither counterterrorism, nor counterinsurgency, nor conventional warfare is likely to afford Washington a clear-cut victory against the group. For the time being, at least, the policy that best matches ends and means and that has the best chance of securing U.S. interests is one of offensive containment: combining a limited military campaign with a major diplomatic and economic effort to weaken ISIS and align the interests of the many countries that are threatened by the group’s advance.”

From Audrey Kurth-Cronin’s “ISIS is Not a Terrorist Group” in Foreign Affairs. Full article available at http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/143043/audrey-kurth-cronin/isis-is-not-a-terrorist-group


“The United States and Europe already have effective measures in place to greatly reduce the threat of terrorism from jihadist returnees and to limit the scale of any attacks that might occur. Those measures can and should be improved—and, more importantly, adequately resourced. But the standard of success cannot be perfection. If it is, then Western governments are doomed to fail, and, worse, doomed to an overreaction which will waste resources and cause dangerous policy mistakes.”

From Daniel Byman & Jeremy Shapiro’s “Be Afraid. Be A Little Afraid: The Threat of Terrorism from Western Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq” in the Brookings Institution’s Foreign Policy Paper series. Full paper available at http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2015/01/western-foreign-fighters-in-syria-and-iraq-byman-shapiro


Finally, for a good general overview, take a look at “The Islamic State” by Zachary Laub and Jonathan Masters; a Council on Foreign Relations Backgrounder available at http://www.cfr.org/iraq/ islamic-state/p14811.