Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014: Busy But Grateful

I think this November has been the most over-committed of my academic career, so I am grateful that the stakes of missing deadlines are low for me right now.  Because I am so busy and beat, I am only going to give thanks for stuff that is new-ish in 2014 and link to last year's Thanks for all of the usual stuff for which I am very, very grateful.
  • I am grateful that I had a heap of fun on multiple trips last winter/spring with my daughter as she was testing out various colleges/universities.  We had much fun, great food, good tourism and even got some skiing in (Whistler!).
  • Which leads to the next thanks:  I am very thankful that Frosh Spew has landed on her feet, embracing her new school, engaging in many activities and organizations, and even doing well in her classes.  We miss her a great deal, so I am most thankful to skype and facetime for making it a bit easier on us.  
  • I am grateful to Mrs. Spew for doing much of the work in preparing the kid for life.  Frosh Spew's success is mostly due to the work they did together, the patterns they set early on when she had piles of homework in first, second, third grade and so on.  I will take credit for Frosh Spew's ultimate frisbee-ness.  Mrs. Spew has a lousy forehand.
  • I am quite grateful to my co-authors--who have been most patient with my past year of over-commitment.  I am especially thankful to Dave Auerswald, as I have had a heap of fun promoting our book this year.  I have talked about it from one end of Canada to another, across the US (especially where there is good skiing) and even all the way to Australia.  That one project has really been terrific not just for my career but for my frequent flier miles and tourism.  Indeed, I have a new trip to The Hague coming up in two weeks to figure out why the civ-mil side of things (coordinating efforts across the "whole of government") tends not to go well. 
  • I am grateful to Vladimir Putin for making irredentism and the Steve and Bill book, For Kin or Country, hip again.  So much so that our publisher needed a new intro for a paperback version coming out in 2015.  Woot?
In sum, I am very lucky and very thankful.   I hope you and yours have a great Thanksgiving and clear skies/roads to and from.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Canadian Institute For Military Veteran Health Research

Blogging is light this week--partly due to travel, partly due to burnout.  But I did want to mention what I was doing yesterday.  I was attending a meeting of the CIMVHR (see title for the full name), as Carleton is a partner in this network.  It is doing amazing work, seeking to advance research on a variety of issues affecting both active military people and veterans. 

This week's meeting was chock full of announcements related to new sources of funding to make this partnership sustainable.  The network demonstrates the power of harnessing academic institutions across Canada along with government ones.  Not only are they supporting research, they are essentially creating political heft.

How so?  I think it is no accident that the Minister of National Defence announced new commitments for military mental health care, $200 million over three years, the day before the conference kicked off.  The network's big event served as a focal point for both media and politicians as they must confront the well-being of the people put in harm's way. 

Thus far, the network has focused on medical/therapeutic/hard science kind of stuff.  I don't do health care policy kind of research, but I am sure that the next iterations will have more work on the politics and policy of this stuff.

Anyhow, I was most impressed by how the organizers, Alice Aiken and Stephanie Bélangér, have been able to build this organization so very quickly and to make a big impact.  So much for academia being irrelevant.  And so much for the idea that women cannot lead and make a difference in important areas of policy.  I am proud to be part of this network, if only as an observer and hopeful imitator.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Rebel Economics

There was a question raised at PSR about the financing of rebels.  Well, not just any rebels but the Rebel Alliance.  This is a good question to ask, as the 1990s and 2000s raised heaps of questions about the role of financing in civil wars--how do insurgencies and other rebellions fund their operations.  The early answer was diamonds and other lootable resources:  other minerals, lumber, drugs (poppies in Afghanistan, for instance).  So, much study went into asking whether the prescence of such resources were associated with more conflict.  Not so much really, although duration of conflict, somewhat.

The stance of the economists making these arguments was that grievances are ubiquitous but that financing varies.  Since rebellions are not so frequent, maybe it has more to do with funding and not so much with grievances.   The problem is that funding requires not the existence of resources but just enterpreneurs.  How so?  Lootable resources requires little imagination, but rebels often have much at stake, and can imagine all kinds of ways to finance their efforts.  Such as?
  • Smuggling.  Even if you don't have stuff to smuggle, you may have location, location, location.  So, smuggling of drugs, girls and women, cigarettes, etc were a key source of income for various groups in the Balkans.  Proximity to Europe was sufficient.
  • Diasporas, ethnic kin, and the like minded.  Lots of money flows from people who left the homeland.  Similarly, those who share identity but are not from the homeland--those who speak the same language, share the same religion, are of the same/similar race--may contribute money, equipment and personnel to the cause. During the cold war, one sure way to get funding was to put a red star on your helmet if you were fighting an American ally or call the US if your adversaries could be called Communists.
  • Kidnapping.  This can be a big $ kind of business.  One of the frustrations the US has with its allies is a willingness to pay big bucks.  All the US does is trade prisoners... ooops. 
  • Protection.  Organized criminals are not the only ones who run protection rackets--insurgencies engage in the same kind of enterprise: donate and you will not be harmed.  Tilly made this clear a while back.  The Viet Cong taxed the people in the areas they controlled with their punishment for tax evasion being just a bit more "kinetic" than the penalties the IRS imposes.
So, you don't really need lootable resources--you just need relatives, location, a willingness to engage in crime or coercion.  The problem is that the Rebel Alliance was a high-minded effort by principled people to fight an evil empire.  I am sure their Jedi allies would object to kidnapping for profit, for instance.

Given that the Rebels required a constant supply of non-Imperial ships (they could not just steal from the Empire as the Empire did not use X-wings, Y-wings, A-wings and the like), they had to have money from somewhere.  Sure, they allied with smugglers (Han, Chewie and their pals), but did they rely on smuggling glitterstim and other forms of drugs to fund the alliance?  Not so clear.  They may have tried to work with the Hutts, but that was very tricky business.

It is clear that ethnic ties mattered.  That the Empire, always human-centric and xenophobic, abused certain species.  The Wookies, who had been enslaved, were most willing to lend their resources to the cause.  The big ships were mostly made by the Mon Calamari, who had joined the alliance at the beckoning of their kin, Admiral Ackbar.   They were conducive to such appeals because they too had been abused by the Empire.

The history of the Alliance contains no stories of kidnapping for profit (for romance? That is something else), but it is pretty clear they relied on protection rackets--taxing the systems that they freed from the Empire.  That might look like state-building to some, but it looks like organized crime-style protection rackets to those who are fighting the rebels.

Clearly, there is a need for more fieldwork to examine the archives of the Rebel Alliance to assess how they funded themselves.  Not every major figure in the alliance had the wealth of a planet and the property that comes with royalty to help finance the effort (and unless one counts mining concessions, exploded planets are not so helpful for funding a rebellion).  Some were just farmers from planets far off the beaten path (although that path seems to be well traveled nonetheless).

Just the Right Bit of Americanization

"Americanized" is used as a slur up here sometimes--that a Canadian thinks too much like an American.  Well, apparently many Canadians don't mind knowing a wee bit about the US:

That's right--when there was a mic malfunction, the Canadian hockey crowd was able to sing the rest of the US National Anthem.  This video has been going the internet this week, as it is pretty cool--that the two neighbors support each other when one needs a hand. 

The relationship can be a bit fraught--check out the Keystone pipeline stuff or not.  And Americans are far more ignorant of Canada than vice versa--I can almost sing the English parts of O Canada (will figure it and the French part out by the time I have to take the citizenship test), and I have been living here twelve years.  But moments like these remind us that we are bothers and sisters with all the conflict that comes with being relatives.

Ukraine and the Limits of Power

Yesterday, I gave a talk at a meeting of the Ottawa Kiwanis Club as I was asked to make sense of the response to Ukraine’s Crisis.  I am pretty sure the members of the club did not expect me to be so … depressing.  I argued that there are limits to power especially when the adversary—and Vladimir Putin is an adversary—is engaged in irredentism.  How so?  The key are two dynamics at work—irredentism and alliance politics.

Irredentism refers to the effort to take “back” “lost” territory inhabited by ethnic kin—such as in the case of Crimea, which had been Russian far longer than it had been Ukrainian.  Such efforts are always costly because the targeted country resists, usually leading to war.  In For Kin or Country, Bill Ayres and I argued that these efforts can happen when those making the decisions are not bearing the costs.  Indeed, we argued that there are those who benefit from international isolation—globalization is not everyone’s friend—so that the nationalists advocating policies that might lead to their country being alienated have allies in those who are hurt by ties to the international economy or who are helped by having greater isolation.

President Obama did promise/threaten that Russia would incur significant costs for its actions.  This was not false bravado but recognition of the reality of the circumstances.  Russia has spent much in resources and effort in its war in Ukraine.  The sanctions have had a significant bite, leading to the dramatic decline in the ruble and deepening Russia’s recession.  Yes, Putin has created his own sanctions, limiting sales from the West, but the reality is that his country is not a very important market for Western goods.  The problem is that most of these economic costs are hitting those who have little power to influence Putin.  Despite the appearances of Russian democracy, Putin does not rely on democratic institutions, such as a parliament for support.  He relies on a network of like-minded individuals who he has helped put at the commanding heights of the Russian economy and political system.  They have a stake in his rule AND they are not suffering from the consequences of Western sanctions.  Which means there is little we can do for now.

And this leads to the second dynamic: that to confront Putin, we need consensus, which is mighty hard to achieve.  NATO only operates by consensus—this does not require everyone to agree to do something but that no members object strenuously.  The problem is that members of NATO face very different threats and interests.  The US and Canada are distant, so they do not have to fear so much the Russian bear so they can talk a more aggressive game.  Germany is much closer and is more concerned about escalation.  The US and Canada are distinct in a second way: they have key domestic audiences that care about Ukraine, Poland and the Baltics—those whose origins are in this region.  Ukrainian-Canadians are relevant politically, especially in an election year—so Harper talks quite aggressively, confronting Putin at the G20 meeting. 

In Europe, the politics are quite different.  Instead of considering the voting intentions of members of the East European diaspora, the politicians face a surprising amount of agreement on the left and the right that Putin is a hero.  How so?  Putin is challenging the hegemonic, the imperialist Americans.  That those who celebrate Edward Snowden and the fight against American secrecy and surveillance are also celebrating Snowden’s host—Putin.   So, rather than seeing the Ukrainian Crisis as an act of Russian aggression, they blame the west for destabilizing Ukraine with its support of regime change. 

Of course, the fundamental problem with that story is that the first response to a questionable regime is to seize hunks of its territory.  A genuine concern about what a nationalist Ukraine government might due should have led to other steps, such as confidence building measures, deployment of observers, and the like, rather than annexation and war.  Still, these delusions of Europe’s left and right, perhaps built on the justifiable grievance that the austerity measures have done far more harm than good, pose a critical challenge to European leaders, making it far more difficult to confront Putin.

Of course, even consensus at NATO has its limits, as no one has the stomach for fighting Ukraine’s war for the Ukrainians—not after Afghanistan, not while Iraq/Syria are going on, and not if it means a confrontation with a nuclear armed Russia.  All we can do is strengthen the commitments to NATO’s most vulnerable members, maintain the sanctions and prepare for the long run.  This sounds a lot like the Cold War, as the current crisis requires patience, tenacity and humility.  That is, there is not much we can do to roll back Russia’s gains, but we can try to limit the trouble Russia causes beyond this current status quo. 

A new cold war which recognizes the limits of what we can and should do?  Not a happy message for a lunchtime meeting of a group that aims to make a difference and improve the world.  Sorry about that.

Monday, November 17, 2014


I always went to tell the US Embassy in Canada "shush" after they tweet about the Nexus program.  It is fairly easy to apply to get a card that serves as the equivalent of a passport for traveling in between the US and Canada.  The GOES card is more expensive and covers travel between the US and the rest of the world.  The semi-hidden secret is that if you get a NEXUS card, you can use the GOES machines as well. 

Why did I get the card?  It speeds up travel on land and by air (not sure about by sea).  There is often (not always) a separate lane at the border.  The hard part is usually trying to maneuver around the cars stuck in the long regular lines to get to the short and snappy NEXUS line.  For flying, it means bypassing a heap of lines and also helps get me TSA pre-screened--the faster lines with less stripping (keep the coat on, the laptop in the bag, etc). 

This weekend, I did something I had never done before--rely solely on the NEXUS card.  Why?  Because when I went to get my passport, I mistakenly took my wife's instead.  No problem, right?  Because the NEXUS card is good enough?  Legally?  Yes.  Procedurally?  Almost. 

As I traveled into the US, I had to go through airport security and Customs in Canada.  The Canadian border folks didn't know if the card was good enough, so they had to ask the US Borders people.  Who said: yep.  So, that slowed things down a bit on a day where I already was randomly selected for a more intense search (the TSA pre-screen does not apply up here--although the NEXUS card does get one into the shorter line).

At the US Customs post in Ottawa, the official wanted my passport, and I explained.  He said it was ok, but that the passport would have been handy to see if I had been, for instance, in West Africa lately.  The GOES machine had questions about West Africa and Ebola, so that was new.  Anyhow, he said he could check my travels electronically and did so.  So, phew, right?  Almost.

On the way back, the United gate attendant who seemed to be pre-agitated was puzzled by my NEXUS card and by another guy's.  She had to get a superior to ask about it, and when the superior said, yep, it's ok, the gate attendant asked again about two more times.  Apparently, yes was not the answer she wanted to get. 

But it meant I could take the plane back to Ottawa and find myself at a new NEXUS machine.  It worked fine, and then I just had to wait for my bag.... which apparently wanted to spend the night at Newark.  I got it finally today. 

Anyhow, the lesson, as always, is that the stereotype about absent-minded professors is dead on.  That, and bureaucracies learn slowly.  NEXUS cards have been around for several years (more than five)....

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday Silliness: The Audacity of Lame Duckies

Nice Brian McFadden comic on the suddenly bold Obama:

Of course, ACA was ambitious, but too much triangulation/hedging is too much triangulation/hedging.

Austin is Serenity

I have often heard about the Alamo Drafthouse via various web stuff, including Doug Loves Movies podcasts.  So, while I was in Austin, I decided to check it out.  That the movie of the night was a Serenity Quote-Along made the decision much easier and far more delightful.

I had seen Serenity--the movie that provided an ending (of sorts) to the Firefly series--before, but not recently.  I had  very recently re-watched Firefly, so the timing was good.  A quote-along at the Alamo Drafthouse means that you get props and they throw key quotes up on the screen along the way so that the audience can deliver various lines.  The props included pop guns with heaps of ammo and glow sticks (for laser space battles).  The pre-movie instructions were quite good--it was a quote along, not a quote before along or a quote after along.  The host also had fun with the one person in the room that had never seen the movie before.

Even without the quote-along stuff, it would have been a good time.  While waiting for the movie to start, they played a series of videos including interviews with Joss Wheedon, Whedon's anti-Romney ad from 2012 (that Romney would bring on the zombie apocalypse) songs from Dr. Horrible (the folks near me knew all of the words and could sing very, very well), a video with Nathan Fillion and Neil Patrick Harris where the latter has a medical problem--dreaming of muppets.

What else?  Well, unlike any other movie theatre, this one had a shelf in front of every seat with a menu.  One would write on a piece of paper what one wants and then ninjas would come by and take one's order and bring back food.  The beer list was quite good but I opted for a Baileys milkshake.  The food looked great, but I was still stuffed from lunch, so I just had the chocolate chip cookie.  Which turned out to be three of them, freshly baked and still quite warm.  So very good. 

Anyhow, it was a great experience.  The Alamo Drafthouse is expanding, so I will look for it in my travels. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Austin is Awesome

I am in Austin for the annual meeting of the International Security sections of the ISA and APSA.  A busy day of travel which started with a key oversight (will discuss after I get home).

I was amused that the "night club" featured in Friday Night Lights, the Landing Strip, is on the way from the airport to downtown Austin. 

I was struck by how many pinata stores were on a stretch of road on the way to the hotel.

I pondered whether the group in town at the Convention Center, the National League of Cities, is a force for good or evil.

I accomplished what I needed to accomplish this weekend: found some tasty sopapillas.

Next step: BBQ.  Ok, next step is serving as discussant on Saturday and then to present a paper on Sunday.... but the BBQ is calling.