Friday, September 19, 2014

Why Should Visits Matter?

Today's news had an interesting story for those studying the role of legislatures in civil-military relations (this guy): the Canadian government may be limiting access to Canadian bases for the opposition parties.  This is great news!  Well, it is good for those writing grants about the role of legislatures in civil-military relations.  It is bad news for Canada if true.

Why?  Because if parliament's job is to hold the Minister of National Defence to account for how the military is run, they probably should have some info about the military.  Oh, sure, the government and its allies might say, we can tell them what they need to know.  They can chat with the folks they ask to testify, we can bring them unclassified documents, and so forth.  Going to military bases just inconveniences the troops as they have to spend time entertaining (boring with endless powerpoint) the visitors.

Yes, visitors are inconvenient. But military base commanders do not have to entertain all three hundred and eight parliamentarians.  Just those who serve on relevant committees or in relevant positions.  There are only a handful of opposition members on the Defence committee, apparently only one search and rescue critic for the Liberal Party (wow, things must be messed up to need one of those).  So, there is not a daily parade of opposition critics seeking to hang out at military bases.  Indeed, these folks have other responsibilities that are far more demanding of their time--running for office and all that. 

What kind of info can one get from a military base visit?  Even if these visits are guided, there are opportunities for parliamentarians to talk to the sailors, soldiers, air-people (we need a better term than the joint airmen and women) who are not selected by the government.  These visits allow the parliamentarians to see what is being funded by the government (technically, the role of parliament in funding things ... confuses me).  If the parliamentarians never visit bases or do so very, very rarely, then they will not know much about their file, and can only ask questions out of profound ignorance. Might that be what the government wants?  Mayhaps.

There is another dimension to this.  That when we talk of the relationship between the civilians and military, there is often a focus on just the executive branch and not the military's relationship with the society at large.  While there are debates about whether the job of parliamentarians is to represent anyone (yes, really), the reality is that they do represent people from all over Canada.  So, they can serve as a bridge between the Canadian people and the Canadian Forces.  With them, the gap just gets wider. 

But I guess the priority of message management is more important than all of this. And to say this is a budget item is silly, as these visits are not costly at all compared to everything else, but the costs to democratic control of the military are quite another thing entirely.

The Other Side of Ethnic Domino Theory

I have been railing for days weeks months years about how a successful secessionist effort in one place does not increase the chances of another elsewhere [unless they are in the same country to begin with].  Perhaps I am irrelevant as folks continued to argue and worry about the effect of a Yes vote in Scotland would be on potential or actual secessionist movements in Europe and even beyond.

Maybe it is my confirmation bias at work, but I am pretty sure it is the conformation bias of others that matters here.  After all, how could Scotland move towards secession when the example of Quebec demonstrated that secession was out of fashion.  The last provincial election showed that Quebecker were tired of referenda talk, as once that issue came up, the Parti Quebecois dropped and flopped in the polls. Did that negative lesson spread to Scotland?  Maybe so, as Scotland failed to reach 50% Yes.  Failed by a good bit.

Yet this morning we still have the Catalans saying they are going ahead with their vote.  I certainly expect a different outcome, as the Catalans face a much less friendly bargaining partner in the Spanish government.  I would bet on Yes there.  The key here as always is not the processes elsewhere that demonstrate something but the domestic politics, the domestic dynamics that shape the real and likely and perceived benefits and costs of independence. 

People thought that Arab Spring was contagious.  Well, protest of authoritarian, corrupt rule was.  But the outcomes?  Not so much.  Only Tunisia became a democracy.  Libya had a civil war.  Syria has a civil war.  Egypt has had two coups with a pretty unattractive but yet democratically elected government briefly in between.  Bahrain?  Successful repression.  And on and on. 

People seek massive political change for many reasons.  The dynamics elsewhere can suggest strategies and tactics, but they do not shape interests.  Social mobilization is hard, so one really has to make the case that the situation in place x matters for people in place x and that independence might solve more problems than it will cause.  This is hard to do in democracies since most advanced democracies give minorities multiple ways to access the political system.  Which is why that Washington Post list of eight places as Next is pretty foolish.  Sure, Catalans but they are the exception that proves the rule.  They face a government that has limited their autonomy.  The Flemish?  Might be a Czechoslovakian case of agreeing to disagree. 

The rest of the list is pretty weak--yes, there are separatist groups in the places but mere existence is different from success.  The Scottish Nationalist Party compares well to the rest of these in terms of size, experience, organization and the rest yet it fell short, quite short.

I would like to see the folks who yammer about the ethnic domino theory to now come out and argue that this means that there will be less separatism in Europe.  They will not.  I will not.  But in my case, it is because I take seriously how self-centered nationalist movements are. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Real Consequences Matter

Heaps of discussion about Scotland and what happens if the Yea votes > Nay votes.  As I have argued, it will not change much for most of the rest of the world, but it will change much in the UK.  How so?

The balance of voters will change.  The Conservatives will find it easier to win elections without all of those anti-Tory votes.   That is, until people get tired of the party that helped to break up the UK.  And then the groups of folks who vote Conservative might break up a bit.  But in the short term, a huge win for the Conservatives.

It will change who governs in Scotland.  This might be swell for the Scottish National Party, which can claim a big win with the referendum.  It is not so swell for other groups in Scotland that are not fans of the SNP.  The irony is if the SNP says: we want out of UK because the Tories tend to win elections in the UK, the Shetland Islands and other spots can say: we want out of Scotland because SNP wins elections.

The new equilibrium will be better for some folks and worse for others.  There would be winners and losers, in other words, on both sides of the new boundary.  That causes me some concern as does what the new boundary means for the Hogwarts Express.

Ukraine: An Ally?

So, Ukrainian President Poroshenko was in DC, asking, among other things, to a major non-NATO ally of the US.  My first reaction was: hell no!  Why?  Because the US should not commit to the defense of Ukraine.  That Ukraine is not nor could it be put into a category where one thinks of Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.  One could imagine Americans dying to protect such places (having already done so for Australia and South Korea). 

Then I saw the list and saw that the concept of major non-NATO ally has been stretched so far as to be broken, very, very broken.  Who is on the list?
  • Australia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand.  So far, so good.  Countries that have other agreement with the US that make it clear that there is a binding commitment.
  • Egypt and Israel.  Everything has to be for both--aid, alliance, whatever--to keep the Camp David agreement buttressed.  But Egypt now?  Hmmm, not so much.  And no, the US is not committed to the defense of Israel either.  Indeed, the friction of late between Netanyahu and Obama makes this all the more strained.
  • Jordan and Argentina?  Already we are slipping to a situation where non-NATO major ally means less and less.  
  • GWB went crazy, probably to cement support for his war in Iraq with: Bahrain, Philippines, Thailand, Kuwait, Morocco and ..... Pakistan.  Yep, any list that has Pakistan on it might just be a bit sketchy.  Philippines and Thailand make sense as former members of SEATO.  Actually, Pakistan was a member of SEATO too, but that alliance is dead for a reason or two.
  • Obama added Afghanistan, probably to try to get Karzai to agree to something.  I actually commented on this at the time, but had forgotten about it.
The bigger problem, of course, is that this is precisely that which Putin fears--Ukraine in the western camp.  Of course, everything he has done to Ukraine has only made Ukraine's desire to join Western clubs all the stronger.  That is what threats do in a balancing, security dilemma kind of world.  Still, I really don't want anybody to get the idea that the US would fight to help Ukraine, especially the Ukrainians.  This way lays madness ... or what Georgia did in 2008--act with way too much confidence.

So, sorry President Poroshenko, but a major ally Ukraine is not.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Canada is Confusing to Unfrozen Caveman American

[now at CIC]

One refrain I heard during Canada’s time in Afghanistan was that Canadians were confused about Afghanistan.  Well, after more than twelve years in Canada, I can say that I am still quite confused about Canada.  How so?  Last night, there was an emergency debate about Canada’s deployment of 69 troops (Special Operations Forces) to Iraq to do training.  I think the point of the debate was to provide some clarity about this effort, but if so, it failed miserably.

The Liberals called for this debate and only had a handful of members show up.  If this is something that is vital, which is kind of implied by the term “emergency debate,” one would expect a better turn out.

The New Democrats sent a significant number of members to show up and, mostly, demonstrated that it takes the Defence file more seriously than the parties.  Of course, they still provide more confusion than clarity about whether votes are required for deployments (they are not and have rarely taken place).

The Conservatives sent only a few members and only their B team.  There was no Prime Minister, there was no Minister of Foreign Affairs, and there was no Minister of National Defence.  I have engaged in long discussions on twitter and in person with some smart people about Canada and how accountability is supposed to work up here.  As a result, I get that having any representatives of a party with strict party discipline means that the entire party, including its ministers, are being represented and held to account.  But the optics, well, suck. 
If the idea of such efforts as this debate is to hold the Ministers to account, should not the Ministers show up?  Are they incapable of discussing these issues?  Is it that the Conservatives do not want to lend this debate any gravitas that comes with the Ministers? 

Indeed, the government has done a fine job of sowing confusion.  What are these troops going to do?  Advise and assist.  Ok, does that mean that they will serve as mentors to the Kurdish forces and the Iraqi army?  That is, will they provide the same kinds of functions as “omelets” in Afghanistan—Observer, Mentor, Liaison Teams—that went into battle with the Afghans?  Probably not since there is all this discussion of non-combat.  But what purpose can advisers serve, especially if they are only to be sent for a thirty day mission that might (will certainly) be extended?  Given the crisis in Iraq and Syria, how is non-combat training likely to make a difference in the short term?  Don’t the forces in Iraq really need the US, Canada and others to embed their advisers to provide leadership during battles and connections to American air support and to logistical support?

To put the confusion cherry on top of the confusion sundae, Jason Kenney, the Immigration Minister (interesting choice), argued that this mission is a Responsibility to Protect [R2P] effort.  That may be so, but this government has opposed the concept of R2P rather consistently and refused to label the Libyan effort as such even as R2P by everyone else involved saw it in this light.  I understand that foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, but rampant inconsistency suggests that opportuntism is driving things rather than principle.  Which is fine, but it does lead to more confusion.
To be fair, one Conservative consistency that proves most confusing is its stance on deployments and the necessity of votes.  Harper has called for votes when troops are being sent into combat—the two extensions of the Afghan mission and the three votes for the Libyan effort.  For non-combat deployments, he has felt that votes are not necessary.  The Liberals are being more inconsistent on this, especially given that their past has involved few votes but many deployments.  The NDP would like to have votes all the time, but did not force a vote (that they would lose) here. 

Here is where it gets tricky: votes may not be helpful.  I have been persuaded by Phil Lagassé that holding a vote where opposition parties end up voting with the government can serve to “launder” responsibility for a military effort through parliament.  Once the 2nd extension vote took place in 2008, Afghanistan largely fell off the political agenda in Canada except for the detainee issue.  This substituted for any real discussion of the larger issues at stake. 

One last bit of messiness: the troops being sent are from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment.  This makes sense as the Special Operators of the advanced democracies used to spend most of their time abroad training the militaries of other countries.  It is only after 9/11 that SOF spent far more of their time doing “kinetic” stuff—fighting.  In Canada, the deployment of SOF is very tricky since one cannot really discuss the secret stuff on the floor of the Parliament, yet the Defence Committee members do not possess security clearances so closed meeting are pretty useless. 

The secrecy involved helps to explain why the government has been so incredibly vague.  Of course, that still does not explain why a deployment with a thirty day mandate has an unknown start time.  That is, we do not know when the clock started on the mission (but we will be told when it ends... and then we can subtract 30).  Is there some reason why this must be secret?  I have no idea, and neither does Parliament.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Call for Papers: International Education

International Journal: Canada’s journal of global policy analysis, is planning a special, peer-reviewed, issue on the past, present, and future of international education.  IJ combines policy briefs (3,000 words, limited footnotes) with longer scholarly assessments (up to 8,000 words, including up to 60 notes) of interest to foreign policy-makers and analysts in Canada and abroad. The journal is cross-disciplinary, combining the insights of history, political science, and economics with anthropology and other social sciences to advance research and dialogue in the field of international relations, broadly defined.

We welcome submissions that consider any of the following elements of international education as an element of international policy or scholarship:

·         How, when, and/or where the idea of international education evolved from a primarily domestic preoccupation to a global foreign policy challenge
·         Historical and contemporary case studies of individual states’ approaches to international education
·         Comparative assessments of national and/or subnational approaches to international education
·         The state of global governance in the field of international education
·         The future of international education as a global policy issue
·         The scholarship of international education

Authors who wish that their essays be considered for publication in the special issue are asked to submit complete manuscripts by 20 February 2015 to allow time for peer review.  Papers that reach IJ after the deadline will be considered for publication in the journal at a later date.  IJ accepts submissions through the Scholar One website at the Scholar One website, which is accessible at  Full details on submission format and style can be found at   

Please forward any questions to either of the journal’s co-editors, Adam Chapnick ( or Mairi MacDonald (

Relevant in International Security? Hell Yes

Last night, my chain got pulled by Tom Ricks, who has written some fine books on the U.S. military including the well-named Fiasco about the Iraq war.  He was frustrated with the content of International Security* and then went on a tear about how irrelevant and "made up" political science is.  Given my respect for his work and the importance of his blog within the policy community, I found this view profoundly frustrating.  I promised to come up with a list of relevant poli sci stuff, and here I shall do so.
* [Update] Tom's original post was how boring the latest issue of IS is.  The twitter conversation turned into a broader discussion, which is why this post is more about relevance than non-boring-ness.  Still, most of the stuff I list below is actually quite engaging.

But I would like to start with a few comments.  First, this entire effort may be wasted since Ricks believes that politics is an art and not a science.  He, like others, may think that we cannot generalize about political behavior, that there are not recurrent patterns of which we cannot make sense.  This post might be akin to a climate scientist explaining climate change to someone who does not believe in science.  He asked whether political science will be around in 200 years.  Well, since it has been around in one form or another since either Thucydides or Aristotle, and that politics is not going away anytime too soon, I doubt that people will stop trying to figure it out.

Second, Ricks in his books admires General David Petraeus.  While his record may not be spiffy in retrospect, there is no doubt that Petraeus was influenced by people who study political science.  Even if we forget about Petraeus having a PhD from Princeton in International Affairs (which is just chock full of poli sci), Petraeus included all kinds of social scientists in the making of counter-insurgency doctrine.  So, there is some inconsistency there.

Third, Ricks needs to look around his office. Nora Bensahel should kick is butt, given that she is a top analyst on alliances and other security stuff, and she happens to have a PhD from Stanford in Political Science.  My guess is that she ain't the only one at CNAS.

Fourth, one criticism of some political science work is that the findings of x or y are just "common sense."  Maybe.  But common sense is often not all that common.  Sometimes there is more than one thing that seems to be common sense but they are in conflict--how do those different views get adjudicated?  Perhaps with some analysis.  Sometimes the common sense is wrong.  Also, the best work takes something that people have thought about, points out a new perspective, and makes people think "huh, why didn't I think of that before, that makes so much sense," which then becomes common sense. 

Fifth, it is strange for me to arguing on behalf of International Security since I have never reviewed for them, nor have I have published anything in it.  I have tried, with the most recent effort turning into an ISQ piece because it was not sufficiently mature when we submitted it to IS.  The feedback we received from the IS reviewers helped us revise the piece so that it could make it into another journal. That article and the related book are very much policy relevant as they seek to explain why the various members of NATO behaved differently in Afghanistan.  This was not just a theoretical question but one so interesting to the policy community that the military head of NATO at the time, Admiral Stavridis, asked us if he could share the pdf version of the book with his staff. 

I could go on to address all of the debates about policy relevance of political science, but let's get to a  list of eleven scholars (fairly randomly selected) that are quite relevant for the people who analyze/write about international security.  At the end of this post, I will list a bunch of stuff people recommended but not provide any comments (this post is already long).
  1. Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan,  Why Civil Resistance Works, convincingly demonstrates that the best way for movements to get their way is NOT to use violence.  This work has gained attention around the world from governments and private actors.  The International Security version of the book is here.  Chenoweth also works on terrorism, and has gotten the attention of multiple governments for her insights in that area (IS piece here).
  2. Kelly Greenhill,  Weapons of Mass Migration.  A work that simply altered the way I viewed the flow of peoples.  Countries with lower standards of behavior can use the threat of forcing their people to leave, which would send a flow of unwanted migrants/refugees to democracies that would then have to deal with them.  It is very much an asymmetric approach for weaker authoritarian regimes to mess with advanced democracies.  Is this policy relevant?  You betcha, as democracies such as the US have to figure out how to react to these kinds of threats.  It certainly pressured France and Italy in different ways when Qaddafi was threatening to send refugees to Europe.  The article version is at Civil Wars, volume 10, issue 1, pages 6-21.
  3. Debbi Avant is one of many scholars taking seriously the challenge of private military contractors.  How do governments grapple with their new dependence on these firms that they use in wartime?  I am sure you, Tom, have had questions about PMC's in Iraq, right?  Her first book is a nice companion to Feaver's stuff as she uses a similar framework but compares the British and Americans and how they adapt when faced with insurgencies.
  4. Jennifer Lind has written pieces in Foreign Affairs and Security Studies on apologies in international affairs along with a book.  You might not think this is policy relevant, but the policy people do.  She has been sought out by the governments of US, Japan and South Korea to share her work. 
  5. Page Fortna, Does Peacekeeping Work?  Is that relevant for policy-makers?  Probably.  
  6. Scott Sagan has written so much it is hard to choose, but how about this IS piece on nuclear proliferation.  If we want to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, we need to know why countries develop them.  And it is not as simple as people think.
  7. David Edelstein on Military Occupation.  Not that we really need to understand that in the 21st century, right?  The IS piece is here.
  8. Jonathan Mercer, Reputation and International Relations, is one of those books that changed how I viewed pretty much everything.  The basic idea is that we attribute the behavior of our friends differently than the behavior of our adversaries, so that our friends can rarely fail us and our adversaries can rarely be seen as anything but implacable.  
  9. Michael Horowitz, Diffusion of Military Power.  Pretty sure we care about which military technologies spread and why.  He also wrote on the duration of crusading.  Given the rise of ISIS, that might just be a bit relevant too.
  10. Risa Brooks, Shaping Strategy: The Civil-Military Relations of Strategic Assessment.  Her work focuses mostly on Mideast militaries, and this book considers how the relationship of the civilians and the military affect how countries assess threats.  Given yet another American involvement in the Mideast, it might just be handy to understand how our adversaries and our "allies" assess the various threats they face--ISIS, the U.S., each other.  Like other folks, she is now doing some terrorism stuff.  Link is to a piece in Security Studies, which may actually have better stuff than IS (and I am not just saying that because I have a couple of SS pieces.  Ok, sort of).
  11. Jason Lyall, doing heaps of stuff on whether counter-insurgency works.  I blame sleep deprivation for not including his stuff: here, here and here.

I could go on and on.  As someone tweeted to me last night, people who study international security start not with data and often not with theory but a policy problem that they seek to understand.  They then get the best ideas together to figure out how to explain that puzzle and then subject it to some tests (of logic, using simulations, experiments, case studies or even, dare I say it, statistics) to see if the idea holds up.  Articles and books contain a lot of stuff that may seem boring to outsiders--the "how do you know what you think you know" sections--but that is where we claim to be political scientists.  That we are not just speculating about stuff--that would be Sam Huntington's Clash of Civilizations--which is horrible social science--but also, alas, policy relevant.

The best work these days communicates clearly to non-academics what the claims are and their relevance while communicated to academics how that knowledge was gained.  Blogs, such as Monkey Cage, Duck of Minvera, Political Violence at a Glance, and others, do an excellent job of providing the wider community with the punchlines of the scholarly work.  But to be clear, without that scholarly effort to see how the question fits into past work (literature reviews), what are the causal dynamics at work (theory), and testing (that methods stuff), the punchlines have no set up, no legitimacy, and no veracity.  And, of course, even after all of that work is done, we will still disagree and argue with each other.  Out of that process comes stuff that policy-makers take seriously either directly (SACEUR reading our book) or indirectly (Nora Bensahel at CNAS providing keen analyses based on what she had learned in her training as a political scientist).

So, Tom, if you don't have the time to read a bunch of books, do visit the blogs to find the interesting stuff, and then maybe chase down a few articles and see what you find.  You might just learn something.

People also recommended:
Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception
Alexander Downs, Civilian Victimization in War
Erin Baines, Vulnerable Bodies on UN refugee policy
Darryl Press, Calculating Credibility: How Leaders Assess Military Threats
Max Abhrams, Why Terrorism Does not Work
Stephen Rosen, Winning the Next War; Societies and Military Power; War and Human Nature
Lieber and Press, Why Countries Will Not Give Nukes to Terrorists, IS
Peter Feaver, heaps and heaps of stuff on civil-military relations.
Robert Farley, Grounded on how the USAF should be disbanded

Jessica Chen Weiss. Powerful Patriots: Nationalist Protest in China's Foreign Relations because Chinese nationalism might just matter soon-ish.
Michael Colaresi, Democracy Declassified: The Secrecy Dilemma in National Security
and on and on.

I have class now so I will not list yet more work.  Please do not take omissions as insults--just finite time and too much policy relevant security stuff to discuss in a "short" blog post.