Thursday, April 30, 2015

Strange Stuff Abounds on Twitter

Today, we got this


Perhaps I might be right of center of the folks this guy follows except it puts a monarchist to my left, which seems strange to me.  Said monarchist suggested that I am to his right due to my views on faculty unions (blech).   Hmmm.  I am also slightly higher on the insane scale but not much. 

Something to think about in this Saideways week we have been having.


Title My Next Book

The very good news is that my next book has made it past reviewers and editorial board as well as Scylla and Charybdis.  It focuses on what we can learn about how Canada does foreign policy/defence policy/intervention/war from the Afghanistan experience.  Most of the focus is on the politics in Ottawa: parliament, the Prime Minister, the media, public opinion, the tussling among the various government agencies.

The slightly bad news is that the editorial board did not like the title
When the Gloves Dropped: Understanding the Canadian Experience in Afghanistan
Apparently, they didn't like the hockey reference.  So, I am asking my readers for suggestions.  Winning suggestion gets my thanks and a free post here at the Spew.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

It Was Mine!

I got into a twitter conversation with someone who largely holds Russia blameless.  While there was much stuff we can discuss, I want to focus on one: that Crimea was Russian/Soviet until 1954, so Russia taking it back is just fine.

This is, of course, one of the seven rules of ethnic politics (see Stuart Kaufman's Modern Hatreds or this summary).  What was mine should be mine.  What was yours?  Meh.

The big problem with this argument is that we have had enough history of boundary changes that relying on past ownership clarifies nothing and legitimates everything.  While the status quo bias in international relations is over-rated, both because countries do support secession and perhaps because some boundary changes should be made, there is something to it. 

If Russia's old ownership of Crimea allows it to annex that territory, then why not India grabbing all of Pakistan, Turkey claiming not just a heap of the Mideast but also much of the Balkans, French/Spain claiming much of Western US, and on and on and on. 

Of course, the other problem with this is that Russia went further, not just taking back that which belonged to the Russian federal unit of the USSR in 1953 but also a hunk of Eastern Ukraine.  The response, of course, is that this is just a separatist movement threatened by the regime change in Kiev.  Sure.  The reality is that Russia has invaded Ukraine and is at war with it.  Saying otherwise means one has little credibility. 

While I have pooh-poohed Russian irredentism (I thought Putin would stop after Crimea), the recourse to historical claims for Russia means not just Crimea and not just Eastern Ukraine but pretty much all of the former Soviet Union.  Since three hunks of the former Soviet Union are now members of NATO--Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, letting history be one's guide to expansion is really problematic.

As I noted yesterday, Russia's moves in Crimea and Ukraine violate a key agreement and then some.  If Russia didn't want to be the bad guy in all of this, there were other ways.  The Russians could have asked the OSCE to monitor the treatment of Russians in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine in the aftermath of the regime change, and pushed for international mediation to direct Ukraine to develop a federal system with assurances for ethnic minorities.  Russia could have pushed for a real referendum (not the sham they created), which would have probably would have led to annexation.  As much as I tease the Europeans about process, the course of action taken by Russia is the problem here.  A peaceful yet assertive approach would have gotten Russia much of what it wanted. 

Instead, we have violence, threats, and nuclear threats.  So, we cannot just accept what Russia has done.  It has altered the security environment in Europe (and beyond), making it clear that Russia is not a partner.




Monday, April 27, 2015

Why the NATO-Russia Founding Act is Dead, Dead, Dead

I have gotten some pushback about this so let's take a look at this agreement and see where it stands.  To be clear, I am not a lawyer and don't know squat about international law, but let's consider some of the key pieces:

There is a key line in the second paragraph:
NATO and Russia do not consider each other as adversaries.
Um, oops.  That has been overcome by events.  Putin/Russia has been making nuclear and other threats towards NATO members, and has been guilty of killing citizens of NATO countries via the downing of the airliner.  So, this basic assertion is dead.

Ok, now lets look at the big conditions necessary for this all to work out (my commentary in red and bold applied wherever I feel like):

To achieve the aims of this Act, NATO and Russia will base their relations on a shared commitment to the following principles:
  • development, on the basis of transparency, of a strong, stable, enduring and equal partnership and of cooperation to strengthen security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area; [do any of these terms still apply: stable, enduring partnership, cooperation?]
  • acknowledgement of the vital role that democracy, political pluralism, the rule of law, and respect for human rights and civil liberties and the development of free market economies play in the development of common prosperity and comprehensive security; [this almost reads like a joke.  How is that rule of law thing going in Russia?  Civil Liberties?  Kleptocracy and capitalism are often confused but are not identical]
  • refraining from the threat or use of force against each other as well as against any other state, its sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence in any manner inconsistent with the United Nations Charter and with the Declaration of Principles Guiding Relations Between Participating States contained in the Helsinki Final Act; [this is the killer principle that no longer applies as Russia has used force, it has violated the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, it has issued threats against Denmark and the Baltics, nuclear ones, as well as others that I am forgetting about for the moment.  Repeat: the invasion of Ukraine and seizure of Crimea is about as complete a violation of Helsinki as one can imagine]
  • respect for sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all states and their inherent right to choose the means to ensure their own security, the inviolability of borders and peoples' right of self-determination as enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act and other OSCE documents; [Do I need to repeat myself?  Irredentism is inherently a challenge to borders]
  • mutual transparency in creating and implementing defence policy and military doctrines; [Not so much]
  • prevention of conflicts and settlement of disputes by peaceful means in accordance with UN and OSCE principles; [Given that Russia's first response to political change in Kiev was the use of force, we can pretty much write this principle off as well]
  • support, on a case-by-case basis, of peacekeeping operations carried out under the authority of the UN Security Council or the responsibility of the OSCE.
 So, tell me, which principles that are supposed to serve as the basis of NATO-Russia relations are still intact?  Yes, exactly.

Here is a fun paragraph:
Provisions of this Act do not provide NATO or Russia, in any way, with a right of veto over the actions of the other nor do they infringe upon or restrict the rights of NATO or Russia to independent decision-making and action. They cannot be used as a means to disadvantage the interests of other states.
 This could be read both ways, of course, but seems to me that NATO should do what it needs to do, considering the implications for Russia's security but not subjecting itself to veto by Putin.

Another:
NATO and Russia affirm their shared desire to achieve greater stability and security in the Euro-Atlantic area.
I guess this is just a "we agree to disagree" over what stability and security mean when Russia takes a hunk of a neighbor and calls it an effort to improve its security even as it creates insecurity for the neighbors.

Here is the key commitment that should not be seen as a commitment any longer:
NATO reiterates that in the current and foreseeable security environment, the Alliance will carry out its collective defence and other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration, and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces
 Guess what?  The security environment has changed.  Russia has seized the territory of a neighbor and when that was not sufficient, invaded, using separatists as cover.  So, the security environment now is different from that in 1997. 

Of course, folks can say that it changed with Kosovo, but there are many differences.  The big one, of course, is that NATO only used force after much effort to reach a peaceful settlement.  Russia, on the other hand, used force immediately after the change in regime in Kiev and did not give peace any chance at all.  The fait accompli was not driven by real fears of Ukrainian ethnic cleansing but by the desire to impose a new reality before anyone could react.  Good for judo, but not justified.

The NATO Russia Founding Act has been overcome by events.  If the Europeans (well, if Germany, France and Italy) want to stick to the letter of the agreement, then the US should act with willing partners to do what they feel is in the best interests of the allies.  This might hurt NATO a smidge, but abandoning the Baltics because one feels like this dead agreement still constrains is probably far more dangerous to the alliance.






Process Uber Alles

I posted a pic on my facebook page and twitter today from the conference I was at last week:

My point was to illustrate the lameness of academic life--that this is an action shot in my business.  In more than a few TV interviews I have had at my office, the cameraperson wanted an action shot, which was either me reading or typing.  Woo!

My friends quickly noticed the sideways name card, or as Jacob Levy put it: saideways (see below).  This was not me being a rebel but actually fitting in.  I had forgotten but was quickly reminded at this conference that this is sort of standard procedure at European conferences--to put one's name card sideways to alert the moderator that one wants to ask a question or offer a comment. 

This speaks to a larger lesson of the conference--that Europeans care a lot about process.  That they don't want to break relations with Russia, such as completely tossing aside the NATO-Russia Founding Act, because as long the processes are processing, then all is good.  Can't have a war if the processes are allowed to process.  That the mere act of continuing the old processes is a form of conflict management/resolution, and that as long as the processes are allowed to run their course, we can get a decent outcome. 

So, that is the lesson du jour--process uber alles!

Now for the question du jour: if you had to come up with a definition for "saideways" which combines Saideman and sideways, what would your definition be?  I will ponder and get back to you on that but am willing to take suggestions.






Mea Culpa: Add This to the List of Bad Predictions

I was pretty sure that Stephen Harper would not pick Lt.Gen Jonathan Vance to be the next Chief of the Defence Staff.  Why?  Because Vance seemed to be closer to Rick Hillier than Tom Lawson in terms of speaking his mind and setting his own course.  Vance had his own ideas of how to run the mission in Afghanistan and bucked the civilians who preferred to stick to old maps and objectives.

Why does this choice surprise me?  Because I have viewed message management, along with balancing the budget, as the two keys to my understanding of this government's defence policy stances.  So, I am going to have to figure out a new rosetta stone/key to the enigma machine.

On the other hand, I think Vance is the right guy for the job--was very capable in Afghanistan, has served in key NATO posts, and was willing to talk to me (always a good job qualification in my world) about his time in Afghanistan. 

So, I congratulate General Vance on getting the new job, I salute Harper for making a good decision, and now I must find someplace to buy some crow to eat.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Social Science Done Right

Erica Chenoweth is seeking to do good stuff and is asking for our help.  She wants to understand how to communicate about non-violent resistance better.  Given that her work shows that nonviolent resistance works better than violent resistance, this makes a bunch of sense.  So, check out the survey, which will take 15 minutes or so, here.

Land for Peace, Euro Style

I hate comparisons to Munich--don't appease aggressors--as appeasement can work, and in some ways did for the British as it gave them a bit more time. 

BUT I cannot help but notice that those in West Europe tend to be comfy about trading other people's land for their peace.  During the first several years of the wars in Yugoslavia, those from the west were quite willing to give the Serbs what they wanted--division of Bosnia, ceding gains to the aggressors--as long as it meant an end to violence and, perhaps their highest priority, the return of refugees.

These days, the deal that Germany negotiated with Russia at Minsk essentially gives Russia de facto control over Ukraine's future and creates a failed state within Ukraine.  This is not just recognition that Ukraine is not getting Crimea back, but is not likely to gain control over the parts that currently are occupied by "separatists." 

I am not saying that Russia will engage in further aggression because of getting what it wants now.  I am just saying that West Europe is very casual with the lands belonging to others, giving off hunks that do not belong to the west whenever it is convenient.

Of course, the other pattern here is the US delegating to the Europeans... so the Americans cannot really complain. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Mad Men Dead Pool Belated but No One is

I just watched the recent episode of Mad Men thanks to my trip to Brussels.  It was a delightful one since any Sally episode is a delightful one.  Spoilers dwell below:


Brussels Conclusion

After more than a week in Brussels, it is time for me to come home.  What did I learn along the way other than the European Union has a heap of big, shiny buildings?
  1. That the Common Agriculture Policy has its own ads?  On the side of its building(s).... okaayy.
  2. Brussels has the pickiest cab drivers--you tell them where you want to go and then decide to let you in the car or not.  Good times.  
  3. They strike like other Europeans.  General strike on one of my last days turned out not to be too inconvenient despite blocking one street and closing the train station.  Cabs became hard to find but not impossible.
    closed train station.
  4. Crowdsourcing dessert on twitter is amusing--apple tart or waffle?  Nearly everyone chose the latter, but I was full so I just bought candy/chocolate on the way back to the hotel.
  5. My attempts at French in restaurants here are mostly silly as everyone speaks English pretty well, and I don't want my stuff served rare or medium rare....
  6. The NATO community still rocks.  Had very interesting conversations with folks from a variety of delegations, but mostly with US and Canada (double identity pays off again).  
  7. Lousy TV options means grading efficiency.  Maybe I should always head out of the country when I have to grade a stack of papers.  Of course, I haven't transcribed my notes from interviews, but that is too much like.... grading.
Thanks again to all the folks who tolerated my pesky questions and hawkish opinions (trip-wire, please).  

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Beer Tourism FTW!

Today is my last full day in Belgium, and then back home for a month before going to the Netherlands for a workshop and then some research.  The interviewing was kind of thin on this visit--just didn't snowball as much as I would have liked.  This did let me finish my grading, and then I went out to enjoy a bit of Brussels before I went home.

The last time I was here was for interviewing folks at NATO so I stayed on the outskirts of town.  The time before that?  Just a pit stop on the way to Afghanistan.  The time before that?  When I was a college student and Brussels was my last stop after seven weeks in London and four weeks railing it through West Europe.

In those days and many times since, my tourist strategy was to pick out a few key spots I wanted to see and then walk between them so that I could see much of the city (plus metros/subways intimidated me--how to pay and all that).  Today, the target was a brewery/museum, and I saw much along the way.

What did I learn?
  • That it is not good to be stuck behind a French tour in a brewery--very long explanations require me to wait, and I am not patient.
  • That the brewery is still very much in the family as the person telling us about the place is the great granddaughter of the founder.
  • That Lambic beers are not my thing--at least those that are classic/purest.  Trappist stuff is more my taste.
  • The idea of spontaneous fermentation is surprisingly new to me.  I should have heard of it before since this is how we got all of our booze before the 1800s apparently.  
  • I learned all week that Brussels (and NATO) is at a higher level of alert due to foiled terrorist attack.  I saw pairs (and more) of Belgian army soldiers around town, guarding various places. In many cases, I had no clue about the targets they were protecting.  At the Belgian Jewish Museum, it was easier to figure out since they had an attack just last year that killed two people there.   
And as always, I love my job.  The tourism is accidental byproduct of doing the research and being invited to conferences.  I got to have very interesting conversations with Canadians I see rarely, with German scholars, policy makers and media folks, and with Canadian and American folks working at NATO either as part of their national delegations or on the International Staff.  This did lead to an outburst of NATO related blogging as the week forced me to think about stuff and worry.

The good news is that the worries were assuaged by much wonderful beer and food.  If only the ISIS folks could sit down and chat over a beer and frites....

Raising the Right Alarm

This piece raises the question I have been asking for the past week in Brussels: can we credibly commit to the defense of the Baltics?  Without a permanent NATO (or at least American) presence, is our Article V commitment (an attack upon one is an attack upon all) believable?

There are two ways to look at it.  First, to be clear, any nuclear threat is incredible.  That is--not to be believed.  At any single point, it really is not that believable that country x will use nuclear weapons since they are always so disproportional and always raise the question of a global exchange and mutual destruction.  So, the NATO commitment to use nuclear weapons to defend the Baltics is not to be believed.

However, if you summon the ghost of Thomas Schelling, he would remind us all that it is not so much the threat of global thermonuclear war that deters but "the threat that leaves something to chance."  That is, that one does enough to create a credible possibility that if the other side escalates, it may start a process by which the two sides keep reacting to other that ultimately unleashes the nuclear weapons.  Because nuclear war is so very destructive, one just needs a very, very small chance of it happening to deter.  Perhaps the mere extension of Article V is sufficient to put this into play--that attacking a NATO member has a decent probability of leading to conventional war and that might lead to escalation, making that attack too costly.

This leads us to the second way to look at this.  That NATO has not done enough to ties its hands to escalation.  That the presentation of a fait accompli, such as Russia seizing the Baltics in a day or less, may freeze NATO into not responding, putting the onus of responding and risking the escalation that ultimately leads to nuclear war in NATO's hands.  Yuck. 

Which is why I have been calling for NATO, and if not NATO then the US, to forget the obligations made under the NATO Russia Founding Act of 1997.  Since Russia has abrogated it, we should not feel bound by it.  We should have significant numbers of troops based in Poland and especially the Baltics.  These should be permanent bases and not continuous or persistent.  We need to make it clear to Putin that an attack upon the Baltics would not lead to the possibility of decisions in Brussels but an automatic reaction in Washington, DC.  That an attack upon the Baltics would more clearly be the start of a process that would leave something to chance.  The way we used to make that most credible was by putting American bodies in the way--a trip wire that would force American decision-making. 

Of course, this would make the situation seem like a new cold war.  Ok and?  More importantly, our NATO allies, especially those in the middle of Europe--far enough not to be directly threatened, close enough to have economic ties to Russia and a deep desire for the situation to return to normal--resist such steps.  The US can and should move anyway. 

Yes, this would escalate things with Russia, but it would then leave to the Russians the responsibility of not escalating further.  In this game of chicken, it is best to make sure that one's threats are credible and that the responsibility of avoiding disaster is in the hands of the other side. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Clear Eyes, Full Heart

and don't rape:


Excellent use of Friday Night Lights to make a key point. 

Thanks Coach Taylor-knockoff and Mrs. Coach.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

When Realists are Bad Realists, Part XIV

I have addressed this theme before, but a discussion at a conference in Brussels made me look at this whole "Realists are lousy realists" line of thought in a different way.  Yes, I am going to pick on Mearsheimer again for his take on Ukraine

I realized as people lamented the cuts in NATO forces in Europe over the past twenty years that anyone arguing that Russia is motivated by the threat posed by NATO must not care about conventional military balances.  After all, the balance in Europe after the Soviet Union fell apart was strongly in Europe's favor with all of that spiffy American hardware recently proven in Iraq (1991) and all of that other stuff that NATO countries had accumulated.  Ever since then, the Europeans have fully taken advantage of the peace dividend to cut their forces.  The Germans have cut back so far that few of their planes and helos can fly. 

So, this is scary to Russia?  Well, the irony here is that Mearsheimer spent much of the 1980s researching and writing about force to space ratios and other ways to measure the balance of forces in Europe.  If Mearsheimer stuck to his original expertise, he might be arguing something different now--that Putin is not threatened by NATO enlargement but rather encouraged by NATO weakness. 

The second irony is that Mearsheimer is giving a heap of value to NATO.  This is a man who blasted international institutions as being irrelevant--or false promises.*  If institutions are epiphemenonal and otherwise not so important, why should enlargement matter?  It shouldn't.  Not to Mearsheimer.  Same goes for the European Union--why should Putin care about this toothless organization.  I mean: ESDP?  Really?  Europe has made little progress on developing as a security and defense organization, so how can it threaten Russia? 

The third irony is that if Mearsheimer was being true to himself as an offensive Realist, he would be arguing that countries seek power and that Putin is doing that when the opportunity presents itself.  So, the blame should not be on NATO enlargement but a combination of NATO weakness and Putin's thirst for power. 

But for some reason, he wants to blame the US and NATO.  Again, if he were consistent, he would focus on their weakness--the defense budget cuts, the pivot--and not enlargement.  There is plenty of blame to go around.  Of course, if one blames the west for being weak, then perhaps one has to blame Putin for being aggressive.  And that, for whatever reason, just does not fit into Mearsheimer's narrative.

The funny thing is that Mearsheimer and I see NATO enlargement to Ukraine similarly in one respect--that it is an incredible commitment that should not be made.  But we diverge over where to point the finger for the current crisis.  I point to the east and he points to the west.

*  That piece demonstrates how good Mearsheimer is good at trolling: 2700+ cites for a piece that treats its opponents as the thinnest of strawmen. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Always Bet on Xenophobia

I have been in Brussels for several days, and was amused to find our first meetings in the shadow of the European Union.  I tweeted thusly:

I am an ESDP skeptic because the EU tends not to move at all when there is a crisis.  Efforts to develop a common defence stance tend to fail.  Well, with one big exception.  It turns out the EU can move decisively when the threat would be migrants from North Africa.  This should not be that surprising as the Libyan mission in 2011 was shaped by the fear of Libyans fleeing Qaddafi and finding their way to European shores.  Italy and France even threatened the heart of the single market by suggesting they might suspend the Schengen border stuff.



As a scholar of xenophobia, I can only be pleased... buy our revised edition this August, please.  But as someone frustrated by the responses to the Ukraine/Russia crisis, I am, well, more frustrated.  There should be a straightforward division of labor on this: NATO does stuff to improve the credibility of the commitment to the Baltics (bases!) while the EU pours money into the Russian speaking areas of the Baltics so that the locals are unfriendly to any little green men who show up.  Alas, as far as I can tell, the EU ain't doing the latter while Germany and others are blocking the former.  FFS! 

I guess what we need to do is gin up a migration crisis--that thousands of Baltic residents are ready to flood into France.... that would do the trick, right?

Maybe not.   But it does remind me of what one person working at NATO suggested: that the US and Canada open up special immigration opportunities for the Baltics' Russian speaking populations--10-20k per year.  In ten years, the Russian speaking populations of the Baltics would not be a problem geostrategically-speaking.  Hmmm. 

So, maybe multiculturalism FTW in the long term?  Still, I would bet on xenophobia if I could.

Last Day of Canada-Germany Conference: Remaining Thoughts

Because of Chatham House rule, I cannot say what each person said, but it was very interesting to hear directly from Helga Schmid, who is the EU's negotiator at the Iran talks.  She also looked like my aunt, but that is neither here nor there.

Alas, she did not answer my question--she got a ton of them and didn't address my concern: what are the EU and Germany doing in the Baltics?  Given the threat of hybrid warfare--that Putin would stir up trouble in the Russian-speaking populations of Estonia and Latvia--shouldn't the folks with the biggest bags of cash be throwing some of it at the Russian speakers?  That is, give them a clearer/better stake in the status quo, reduce the resentment, and encourage the locals to report to their governments if there is any shenanigans going on. 

Thus far, the answer I can only infer is that the EU and Germany are not doing this.  It is bad enough that some folks are still abiding by the NATO-Russia Founding Act (that created a new council in which Russia could participate in exchange for NATO not basing troops in the east) even though that act is, how shall I say it, ....

Dead
Dead
Dead!!!!!

Indeed, one of my greatest frustrations in my short time in Europe this week is that there seem to be plenty of people who think not much has changed.  Well, they are right for the wrong reasons--Russia has been futzing around in neighboring states at the expense of the sovereignty/human rights/etc of those places since .... 1991.  I was pleased and surprised that one of the speakers this week started with Nagorno Karabak, which was taken by Armenia in a fit of irredentism but abetted by Russia.  Transnistria came a bit later and then Abkhazia, South Ossetia and now Crimea and Ukraine. 

Perhaps Germans don't mind Russia's tossing out the Helsinki Accords (no violent border changes in Europe) since German irredentism reunification was somewhat counter to the intent of Helsinki.  Anyhow, in conversations at the conference and at NATO, it has become clear that concern with Russia is curvilinear--those closest and furthest (US/Canada) are far more serious than those in between (Germany, France). 

I have some ideas about what we should do, but I don't want to spoil a potential op-ed.  If it does not get published, I will post it here.  But the basic idea is that if multilateralism does not work, then let's try some minilateralism.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Good Insights, Good Beer and Great Company

I had another great day in Brussels.  We went over to NATO HQ (the new building is not yet ready but looks very 21st century/spaceship-ish) for a briefing from a NATO official.  Chatham House, so I cannot name the official but can summarize and assess before moving onto the afternoon Fish Bowl and then the beer with the NATO tweeps!

The NATO official (not SACEUR who apparently has a busy schedule) started with the NATO strategic concept which focuses on the threat situation and on NATO core tasks--collective defense, crisis management and cooperative security.  Apparently, NATO has decided recently that the pre-Crimea definition of threat is still accurate (I call b.s.), and the intra-NATO fight is over priorities--collective defense (focusing on deterring Russia) vs crisis management (focusing on the instability to NATO's South/Southeast.  Geography still matters in the globalized 21st century as Eastern Europe cares about Russia, southern Europe cares about Northern Africa and the Mideast, and France/Britain are, um, disarming quickly?  Hmmm.

The official recognized that NATO has always been a two tier alliance--the US and all the rest?  Hmmm, maybe three tiers: US, those doing more, those doing less? [see Danish discussion below].  I pushed back in the Q&A on the efforts to develop a Very High Readiness Force, learning that the idea of pre-delegating authority to SACEUR to move troops quickly in case of a crisis is a subject of much conflict within NATO.  That many countries do not trust a military officer to make a move in response to a political threat (hybrid war).  I hope this changes because a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force is not very quick if a decision has to be made at the North Atlantic Council.

I was surprised that NATO has not been able to get consensus to toss the NATO-Russia founding act into the garbage--which means that NATO cannot permanently base troops in the Baltics.  Which once again leads to my advocacy of the US engaging in a series of bilateral moves to deploy troops to the region.  The 173rd Airborne Brigade does not have to be based in Italy--move them North and East.

The second panel sought to understand Russia's ambitions.  A key point was that Russia is not really threatened--that any argument falls apart when one considers the general pattern of NATO countries disarming.  Indeed, one of the ironies of certain realists being apologists for Putin and the threat of NATO enlargement ignores this very basic reality despite the fact that these realists spent much of the 1980s calculating force to space ratios to figure out the Soviet threat.  Hmmm, short memories, I guess.

I then participated in a Fish Bowl, which was a dynamic sort of presentation where the only people who could talk were those four or five people in the center of the room, and that people could be tapped out and replaced by others who wanted to speak.  The topic was the West.... which led to a surprisingly interesting and fun conversation.  The strange process worked.

I then left NATO with the rest of the group (NATO security rules) and returned to have beers with the US and Canadian folks associated with their twitter accounts/public engagement efforts.  We were joined by British, Estonian, Lithuanian, and Danish folks working at NATO.  The conversation was most interesting and the beer selection at the NATO bowling alley was quite excellent.  Oh, and the US Mission at NATO turned out to be the legendary USEmbSAfrica who did quite well at TFC a few years ago.  She was delightful as were the rest of the folks.   It was fun to talk to a Danish NATO person over beer as he was a big fan of the recent piece that juxtaposed Denmark and Greece re burden-sharing.

I was asked about lessons learned from the book for the new (old) problems.  A key lesson, I think, is that countries should educate their politicians and their publics that the Baltics/Poland are not matters of expeditionary efforts but collective defense--which means different laws and expectations apply.  Another is that we need to get more flexible forces to be the ones leading the VJTF (France, Denmark, Canada, US) and not those that proved be fairly lame in Afghanistan (Spain, Italy).

 I am not surprised that my favorite day of this trip thus far was the one at NATO.  Tis as it should be.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Comparative IR Problems: Lessons from Day 1 of a Conference

On my second day in Belgium, the Atlantik-Brücke conference, a Canada-Germany conversation, got underway and was immediately quite interesting.  The opening session had two speakers that provided broad surveys of the world's crises, and I was struck that there seemed to be some comparisons that did not work for me.  Why? Because some crises are harder than others and that we can focus on three dimensions of each crisis so that we can compare apples and oranges: the degree of difficulty of the actual policy problem, the stakes, and the level of consensus among the key players.

I recently argued that Russia is fundamentally an easier problem than the IS/ISIS/ISIL/Daesh challenge because we don't have to do state/nation-building in the Baltics or in Poland/Romania.  Indeed, one of the attendees recently visited a Baltic Republic and found that the Russian-speaking populations get it--that they are better off where they are now than in a potential frozen conflict or a Greater Russia.  We can still do more to assuage/reassure/bribe the Russian-speakers to drain those three Baltic countries of any sea in which little green men-fish can swim (yes, mixing metaphors), but the problem then becomes mostly of improving the credibility of the NATO deterrent.  Not easy, especially with German resistance, but not impossible.  

But Russia involves higher stakes--nuclear war, existential threats and all that.  IS/whatever is not those things.

Which, of course leads to a two-by-two:
I need to find a low, low case, but you get the idea.  China is harder than anything else because there is greater complexity than Russia: economic  entanglements, military growing, territorial challenges with many neighbors, Taiwan, etc.  And the stakes are pretty high.

The consensus dimension is the only one that can change and the only one that can be changed via diplomacy and effort, but also shapes how hard this stuff can be.  China is very difficult since getting the Japanese and South Koreans to work together can be quite difficult.  Iraq and Syria is not as difficult right now--there is consensus among enough countries to get the cooperation that is needed.  If Assad gains an upper hand in Syria, consensus might be difficult to maintain.

Anyhow, that is my first set of thoughts about that.

The second session involved breakout panels, and I was sent off to hybrid wars.  Jean-Christophe Boucher did an excellent job of describing the challenge.  I did push back a bit--that hybrid wars are actually a signal of success.  That it is the choice for those who cannot win conventional wars--in the bad old days of the Cold War, the US and NATO had to figure out how to deal with the threat of Soviet conventional supremacy.  Not so much these days.  The other thing I pointed out is that the subversion via cyber/little green men/propaganda works best and perhaps only in places that are already messed up---such as Ukraine.  The Baltics are functional, so hybrid efforts are unlikely to work so well. 

The third panel of the day was on cybersecurity and it was very interesting.  Chatham House rules prohibit me from being specific, but I am now going to have assign more Ron Deibert in my cybersecurity week--provocative stuff.

The fourth panel was on Canadian and German politics.  I learned much about both--that the German resistance to easing up on the Greeks has a strong political foundation, so don't expect any movement on that.  Also, there are pretty strong domestic political constraints to doing anything more about Russia.

Dinner was at the residence of the German Ambassador to NATO.  Very good food and good conversations.  The only big surprise was when a Canadian former diplomat chose to throw more gas on the fire of "Canada teaching Germany about immigration" conversation.  How undiplomatic.

Tomorrow is at NATO, which means I will be offline and on my game--I will be taking part in the Fishbowl (to be explained tomorrow).  I hope to have a post conference beer with the Americans and Canadians who work at NATO. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Belgium 2015, Day One

The weather here is just amazing--blue skies, nice temps... living in Canada makes me forget that much of the rest of the northern hemisphere is deep into spring.  I am here in Brussels for two reasons: a) to participate in a Canada-Germany foundation's conference; and b) then to do some research for the next project.  I am also looking forward to meeting the people behind the wonderful Canadian NATO and US NATO twitter accounts. 

Today was the transition day, as I arrived this morning via Frankfurt airport, which always astonishes me with its size and less than helpful signage.  This time, I was also confused--am I supposed to pick up my baggage and move it through customs and then re-check?  No, that is just a non-Schengen thing to do....

I am staying in a super-spiffy hotel for the first few days (when it is on the conference organizer's dime), and it has confused me.  Best shower I ever had in Europe, probably, but it took me a minute to figure out how to turn it on.  My post-walk nap was in full sunshine since I only realized afterwards that among the many light buttons next to the bed is one for raising and lowering the curtain.  Really. 

I did walk about to see the city.  While my 2011 trip to Belgium was chock full of tourism (Mons, Vimy, Bastogne), the research was conducted at NATO HQ, so I stayed on the outskirts of town and only drove in to drop off my co-author at his hotel.  Driving in Brussels scared me and scared the GPS.  So, no tourism last time.  I should have, alas, plenty of time to check out Brussels as my interview calendar for next week is a bit thin.

Oh, and I met the key mission objectives: beer, omlette and then latter waffle
Time to suit up for dinner as the conference kicks off.




Rank Rankings, NATO Edition

There is a renewed debate about how to measure one's contribution to NATO.  This reminds me of the academic enterprise of ranking--that any effort to rank universities or programs always produces a new ranking that improves the ranking of those doing the re-ranking.   So, it is not surprise that focusing less on the 2% of GDP on defense expectation and more on what countries do, as argued here, is an approach Canadians like a great deal.

John Deni, the author, is sharp in using key cases to make the 2% standard look foolish.  By that measure, Greece looks great and the Danes not so much.  But Afghanistan and Libya, the Greeks did little and then none while the Danes did much.  So any metric that focuses on what countries do as part of the NATO alliance will favor the Danes and denigrate the Greeks.  The Canadians would find their ranking rise as well.

While caveats are not everything, our research does show a fairly consistent division between do-ers/risk-bearers and the rest:
Of course, one could use other metrics of burden sharing, such as size of contingent deployed or killed in action:

So, one can develop all kinds of rankings.  I do think taking into account the actual "doing" makes sense, but I do see the point of the 2% expectation being key in pressuring countries to spend enough money so that the actual operations are done by troops that have been trained with equipment that is in good shape and all that.

The key point here is: rankings, like love, are a many splendored thing.... or something.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mad Men Dead Pool Game: Limited Progress

This week's episode did not have any direct implications for the game, but let me speculate below the break:

Politics Over Humility: Canada Trains Ukrainians

There are at least two ways to look at the decision by the Canadian government to train Ukrainian soldiers:
  1. Canada always joins Anglo-American efforts to foster stability and confront aggression (the Iraq 2003 was, um, something else).  
  2. Never say that this government has not leaved any stones unturned in its efforts to pander to a Canadian diasporic segment.
Both are correct.  One can pitch this new training mission as something that is quite typical of Canada--doing it what it can as part of a coalition effort.  The CF has learned, at great cost, how to deal with landmines/improvised explosive devices, and has other expertise that they can impart to the Ukrainians.  Of course, two hundred trainers can only do so much (as Canada is learning in Iraq with a lesser number), but the Ukrainians could certainly perform better.  This will not give the Ukrainians the chance to win their war with Russia,* but it might raise the costs that Russia incurs.  It might also help to limit how far Russia advances.  To be clear, the effect here can only be a limited one, but still might have some impact.

* I am not a big fan of the fiction that this conflict is between Ukraine and a band of separatists--Russian soldiers are dying in Ukraine, and Russian equipment is killing Ukrainians as well as the passengers of a Malaysian airliner.
The impact at home might be a bit clearer.   Stephen Harper and his dual hat-ed Minister of National Defence and Minister of Multiculturalism Jason Kenney have been making sure to be in front of most of NATO in speaking fervently for helping Ukraine.  The passion here has a domestic component, aimed at one of the larger diasporas in Canada.  While Harper may have some animus towards Putin (something that we share), the Ministry of Multiculturalism has been mostly focused the past few years on playing towards different ethnic communities in advance of the next election.  Sending a small number of troops to Ukraine about six months ahead of the election is a happy coincidence?

Up to now, most of Canada's efforts in this area have been in support of NATO's reassurance missions--flying planes over Romania and the Baltics, small units of troops taking part in training exercises in the region.  This is a significant step forward, as most of NATO is not doing this, and it does mean that Canada will have troops in a country that is at war.  To be clear, the training effort is on the other side of the country, so there is little risk to the troops or of escalation.  Still, it is not something to be done lightly.

There may be other dynamics involved in this, but the combination of Anglo-American-Canadian cooperation AND ethnic politics at home makes this move almost inevitable.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Marvel Forever! DC Sometimes

I have long been a Marvel fan, and only rarely read DC comics.  The Marvel movies have utterly dominated the DC ones in my mind.  The latter go for darkness for darkness sake just a bit much.

But the CW's televised versions of DC shows definitely dominate Marvel's:





Just more fun, more interesting stakes than Agent of Shield.  Agent Carter was great but too short.

Of course, if the rest of the Netflix Marvel is as good as the first five episodes of Daredevil, we may see a new winner in comics fight club.  We definitely live in a golden age of superhero stuff in the movies and on TV.  And for that, I am grateful.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Logistics, Logistics, Logistic: Cold Hard Realities

Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino "says he’s confident Canada can hold its own when it comes to defending the Arctic in the face of any threats from Russia."  Sounds like empty boasting or incredible commitments but there is something to this.

No, it is not about the small exercises that Canada has in the far north that demonstrate a capability to deal with the Russian menace.  No, it is precisely the reality that operating in the far north is so very expensive and so very difficult that Canada has invested far less than promised.  Whuck?

"Hold its own"  is not so much about what the Canadians can send to the Arctic, but a basic reality that the Russians, to threaten Canada's ability to hold its own, would have to not only get stuff to the highest part of the Russian Arctic but then move it even further to the Canadian side and then sustain it.  And that is truly difficult.

People do not really appreciate how far away these places are, but the length of time for rescue ships, for instance, to get up to the northwest passage is measured in months, not days.  Yes, the Russians are building bases in their side of the Arctic, including air defenses that can reach out beyond their territory.  But to be a serious threat, Russia would need more--the ability to extend its control and stick with it.  The stopping power of water is something the Realists get right, and when combined with the cold climes (Arctic may be getting warmer but it ain't warm), it is very difficult to operate over long distances and/or for long periods of time.

So, Canada can hold its own in the Arctic not so much because it has much capabilities, but because the Russians are still not that close and are not likely to be able to maintain their ops over a long time.  A nice comparison is China's island building campaign in the East/South China seas.  Is anything like that imaginable in the far north?  Only if one is really drunk or high.

I am not an expert on the Arctic, but the few basic facts suggest that defense is far easier than offense way the hell up there.  So, it is not time to panic.  And if the Russians want to keep sinking lots of money in the Arctic, let them.  Don't interrupt an adversary when they are making a mistake, Napoleon said.  He got much many things wrong, but that is not one of them.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Chillaxing About the Arctic

There is often much concern about Arctic security these days.  Russia is investing in bases and equipment, and Canada lacks both.  So, the concern is that Canada would not be able to defend its arctic possessions.  Despite lacking in arctic knowledge, I feel pretty confident in my comeback: who is going to take what and how?  Russia, of course, Russia.  Oy.

The Arctic is a hard place to operate because it is cold and it is very, very far away.  This is not just true for Canada but for everyone else and especially Russia.  That is, to poach Canadian territory means operating on a regular basis in the high, high north.  It is very, very expensive and for what?  Resources?  Seems like the reality is that the resources to get there and stay there will continue to challenge those who want to dig up the stuff.

So, as I have been fond lately of quoting Napoleon: do not interrupt your adversary when he is making a mistake.  Russia is, indeed, an adversary, and spending heaps of money on arctic capabilities is a mistake. 

The other countries--US, Norway, Denmark--aren't adversaries.  So, chillax.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

True Confessions: Not Born to be an Academic

I shocked my wife at dinner tonight.  Somehow, I got started talking about my attitudes long ago.  I guess it is because my daughter does not think she is a good writer when we have seen her do some great stuff.

Anyhow, I told Mrs. Spew two things: that when I was in college, I didn't like to do research; and I also didn't like public speaking.  Sure, I liked acting, but talking about stuff that was not scripted by someone else and memorized?  Oh my.  She really had a hard time buying it, but I was nervous in front of audiences, and didn't like that feeling when I was talking about my own stuff.

When did that change?  Probably at the University of Vermont, when I first started teaching.  I enjoyed the material (Intro to IR) so much that I forgot the nerves.  I still got nervous speaking to groups of professors at conferences, but having information supremacy over the students (I had done the reading and then some) helped remove the fear.  Over time, repetition helped me shake off the nervousness in front of prof audiences (except for job talks where the stakes were high--that never went away).  Of course, this tale is shocking to anyone who has tried to shut me up, which is pretty much everybody. 

About that research thing, sometimes it is still a chore, but when I realized it meant that I could pursue whatever I want, it became less of drudgery to be avoided and more of an opportunity to engage in my curiosity.  I think that shifted in my junior year in college when I had the chance to write my first long piece of research.  Still, research really became fun when I started getting out of libraries and talking to people about it--both interviewing subjects and presenting the findings.

I think the key for both of these things is that when I was in high school, I sucked at anything that didn't interest me (French, music, art).*  Once I found stuff that engaged me more than anything else--International Relations--the research of and the talking about it got much easier and more fun. 
* This does not bode well for me when it comes to administrative work.

Snowflake Memories

I have written before about my Rummy experiences, but wanted tor revisit after seeing this post yesterday at vox.  I was able to dig through Rummy's website and found the document that spawned a heap of paperwork at my desk on the Joint Staff.
  In the aftermath of 9/11, many allies, partners and others offered to help the US, and since Rumsfeld didn't want allies on the battlefield (with a few exceptions), he wanted to use these offers to get the US out of a variety of commitments around the world.  Backfill refers to finding other forces to fill the gaps after one removes one's troops.

I didn't see this snowflake directly, but it produced a memo with a "wishlist" of a number of missions around the world that Feith thought might be good places to withdraw American troops and have someone else replace them: the Multinational Observation Force in the Sinai, SFOR in Bosnia, KFOR in Kosovo, a handful of folks helping out in East Timor, Korea, and on and on.  It listed pretty much every American contingent in a peacekeeping operation around the world as well as many overseas contingents.

I got to be the "stickee"--that I was stuck with it.  Why me?  Partially because Bosnia was on the list and I was one of two guys on the Bosnia desk.  Mostly, I think it was because I was still learning the job and they didn't want to waste the time of a more productive member of the Joint Staff.  Let''s use Saideman on this--he has not much on his plate, and the other folks are doing stuff that will amount to something.  Just a guess.


I did my job, which was to coordinate with the Joint Staff desk officers responsible for these various missions.  Each one came back with basically the same message: nope, not now.  Our troops in place x were part of a commitment that had politico-military equities that still exist--we did mission x for a reason and that reason has not evaporated--so we should not pull these folks out.  For example, I wrote the Bosnia response to the memo directly (the rest I essentially summarized/cut and pasted/plagiarized from the other JS folks), and I probably wrote something about how we made a commitment to our allies, citing the George W. Bush statement: In Together, Out Together.  That we would not leave our allies behind, handling this thing that we helped get many of them into (France, UK, Canada were already stuck in Bosnia in 1994 before SFOR, of course).  Plus 9/11 made Bosnia a bit more relevant for the US since it was a possible vector through which terrorism may flow--some veterans of the Afghanistan campaign who then fought for Bosnia's Muslims settled there. 

The memo went up and then was sent back down by the two star Air Force officer above me because of Iceland was not on my list... because it was not on the original memo.  The USAF had a desire to get out of the Iceland mission.  What I learned yesterday is that he was not alone as Rummy had asked Feith shortly after the first request about how to get out of Iceland.  Indeed, getting out of Iceland was one of Rummy's first instincts in the first month after 9/11. It just wasn't on Feith's list that I received initially.

The problem is that the Iceland mission had linkages--to Iceland's support of US Navy operations there.  So, we kicked that can down the road.  Indeed, we, the Joint Staff, said no to all of the items on the list.  As a result, I got to respond to that memo two more times, as Rummy didn't like to hear no, and would push and push until he got the answer he wanted.  I kept giving Rummy through the chain the best "politico-military" advice I could, based on the feedback received from the other JS desk officers.  Our answers did not change during my time.  I have no idea how others responded to it after my year was up.

The only real changes that ultimately occurred were:
  • The US got out of Iceland as NATO made a commitment to rotate planes through to provide Iceland with some reassurance.  The Iceland Air Patrol became a model for the Baltic Air Patrol, which preceded Putin's moves but is now bigger and with much more visibility.
  • The US got out of Bosnia in 2004 when it was changed from a NATO mission to a EU mission.  This betrayed "in together, out together" but it happened anyway.
The rest? Not much, as far as I can tell.  The US is still in Kosovo and still provides troops to the MFO.

Sure, the memo was not as silly as "Fix Pakistan", but my experience in this process was most educational and not just about Rummy's refusal to take no for an answer.  I also learned a bit about these other missions and about the multilateral inclinations of the US military.  They would rather operate with others, helping them out, knowing that they could use some help some day.  One could argue that the Joint Staff was just status quo oriented, but my sense from the experience was that the JS staffers had a clear vision of the long term interests of the US, one that saw cooperation with allies and partners as a key, dare I say it, enabler/force multiplier.  Ah, you can take the academic out of the Pentagon, but not the Pentagon out of the academic. 












Monday, April 6, 2015

The Accidental Researcher

I was asked recently about my research--how did I get my ideas and whether I chose my research projects strategically.  That is, did I start research anticipating what is in demand--what is likely to be published?  And the answer is basically no.  I always want to do stuff that is publishable, but I have never tried to do what is hot (a couple of close calls--see below).  Instead, I have followed my curiosity. 

My dissertation and subsequent research from it was the product of a happy accident. Well, not so much of an accident but a series of projects that evolved to someplace very indirectly from the starting point.  I started out thinking about sovereignty--that the "units" in IR are defined as territorial hunks with their own governments.  I was curious if the international relations of the territories was distinct from the international relations of the distinct governments--do other countries mess around with one aspect of a country's sovereignty more than another?  This basically meant I was interested in comparing the international relations of revolution (changing governments) with the IR of secession (changing boundaries).  The conventional wisdom was that not many folks messed around with supporting secession, so I had an interesting contrast until ... I realized that the conventional wisdom was wrong.

That there seemed to be a whole lot of supporting secession in South Asia (India supporting groups in Pakistan and vice versa, plus stuff elsewhere) but not in Africa.  So, the dissertation then became a comparison of those two regions until I realized that the conventional wisdom in Africa was wrong--countries did support secessionists.  So, I was flummoxed--more support of secession than usually argued.  I don't know when or where I had the modest brainwave, but I wrote it down immediately on the inside page of my address book (it was handy, and I was not going to lose it): think about ethnicity.  So, I didn't start my dissertation thinking I was going to write about the international relations of ethnic conflict... it just happened. 

My work on the IR of secession led to tangents that focused on the domestic politics of separatism and on the contagiousness of conflict (an interest that has popped up for me every once in a while) and then onto the next project.  A case study in the dissertation didn't really fit into the first book but raised questions about inconsistent irredentism--when do countries engage in efforts to take "back" "lost" territories.  This project took place in between the hip periods of irredentism--the early 90s of Yugoslavia and Armenia and the mid-teens where Putin is bringing it back into fashion.  I was curious as to why there was both more and less irredentism in the 1990s than I had expected


I used the irredentism project as part of my application to the Council on Foreign Relations to be an International Affairs Fellow.  I wanted to get some government experience, and I wanted my family to be in DC for a year since my wife's family is there.  During the interview process, I said I would like to be placed at the National Security Council or the National Intelligence Council because I wanted to see sausage get made.  My interviewers said: you should go to the J5.  I was like, J what?  It turns out that the NSC was not an option since the National Security Adviser of the time was hostile to having CFR fellows on the NSC--despite the fact that she, Condoleeza Rice, had previously had this very fellowship.... and served in the Pentagon.  Anyhow, I ended up getting placed, with very little of my own agency involved, in the Balkans Branch of the East European Division of the Directorate of Strategic Planning and Policy of the Joint Staff.  On the Bosnia desk.  For my year, much of the time spent on Bosnia (and Kosovo when I was helping the folks near me) was actually time spent on ... NATO. 

[Interlude I: around this time, I did ponder changing course and studying corruption. My year on the Joint Staff taught me how important corruption is to civil wars and peace/stability operations.  But then I realized that I just didn't have the skill set (advanced economics) and the data would be difficult, so I didn't pursue it]

And as the irredentism project finished up with the help of Bill Ayres, I started a new project, seeking to understand double hatting: how officers serving two roles balanced each role.  In my year on the Joint Staff, I regularly interacted with both the American and NATO staffs of the individual commanding both American forces in Europe as CINC/combatant commander and NATO forces as SACEUR, and these staffs would say different things.  So, how do officers manage the pulls of very different bosses?  The more we (David Auerswald and I) looked into it, the more we realized that the national chain was far more important than the international chain (see the intro chapter here).  Instead of comparing Bosnia to Kosovo to Iraq to Afghanistan, Afghanistan ate the book.  There was enough variation among countries and the focus turned mostly to the cross national comparisons that looking across operations did not make sense... until Libya happened as we were wrapping up the book.  So, we put in a quick case study of the Libyan operation.

[Interlude II: I nearly chased the money.  As we were working on the NATO book, I kept hearing that we didn't really have any good measures (metrics) for figuring out if NATO was being successful in Afghanistan.  There was a grad student at McGill who really wanted to apply for a Minerva grant, and I realized that I could chase the big bucks (millions of dollars) to study something really important and really timely and really desired by multiple governments.  But it would distract me from everything else I was doing.  So, I didn't do it.]

My next book, completed, reviewed and under consideration by an editorial board, spun off of the NATO book.  I had learned much about Canada and its behavior in Afghanistan that did not fit into half of one chapter of the NATO book.  I never intended to study Canada when I moved here, but I ended up with great access and developed a number of strong if not always well supported opinions about what happened and why it had happened.

The new project, which just received funding, was inspired by a conversation with a Canadian member of parliament--that the defence committee here is essentially blind--no security clearances.  So, we (Dave, Phil Lagassé and I) are going to be traveling to figure out how do legislatures vary in overseeing militaries.  This project naturally emerged from the NATO project--continuing our interest in comparative civ-mil dynamics but looking more at legislatures than at executives, more at oversight and less at discretion. 

I have skipped over some other stuff along the way--the institutions and ethnic conflict project that produced my most cited piece and also years of frustration (working on a dataset that became widely criticized), the diaspora project that has been very challenging, the TRIP dataset that will emerge soon, other pieces)--as this post is long enough.

The key is this: I have followed my curiosity, the poking of co-authors, and pretty much nothing else.  It would have been more rational to stay within my initial lane: no new lit reviews!  I probably could have gotten more done.   But I got into this business because I am a deeply curious person, and this job allows me to pursue my curiosity wherever it goes.  I have an idea of what the book after the next book will be, but I could easily be wrong.  Just as my job path has been nothing like I would have expected (Vermont -> Texas Tech -> McGill-> Carleton), my research path has been just as indirect.  Maybe my research imagination has always been drunk....









Men Mad Dead Pool: It Begins

So, those who laughed, and said there will not be that much death in the last seven episodes, where are you now?  Oh, laughing at our contestants who completely whiffed as Rachel Menken/Katz was not on any one's draft board.  Yes, that blast from the past was missed by all of the contestants. 

Lots of death imagery, including Don's obsession with a waitress named Di, so expect more to fall before we are done.  Will anyone die by moustache?  Seems likely given Roger's and Ted's. 

Some potential problems for our contestants as many drafted candidates were not seen at all:
  • Wendy: no Duck, Fred, Greg, or Gail.  However, Greg's death would take place off-screen. 
  • Noah: None of his characters were seen at all with Jim and Lou likely exiled forever and Bob Benson?  Noah went old, but he also put his money on the irrelevant.
  • Rob: Pete is, of course, around, but the others not so much.  Henry and Harry are certain to show up, but Ginsberg and Sterling's daughter?
  • Chip: Only Sal is unlikely to be seen at some point.  Hmmm. 
The only thing for certain is that Vegas was very clever at setting the over/under of Don's romantic partners at three.  Only the sharps bet the over.

Six episodes to go.



Sunday, April 5, 2015

Mad Men Dead Pool Draft




Will dropped out, so I decided to five deep in the draft for the Mad Men Game with the following results:

Players Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Round 4 Round 5
Wendy  Roger Sterling Duck Phillips Fred Rumsen Greg Harris Gail Holloway
Noah Jim Cutler Lou Avery Jim Hobart Mona Sterling Bob Benson
Rob Henry Francis Michael Ginsberg Pete Campbell Harry Crane Margaret Sterling*
Chip  Don Draper Ted Chaough Bobby Draper Megan Draper Sal Romano

* Rob picked Sterling's daughter, not his wife, but got the name wrong so I have corrected above and below.

Wendy's first choice is a good one--as all but Rob had Roger in their top three.  Her love of dogs might explain Duck as her choice in the second round.  The pick who slipped further than expected was her fourth round pick--anytime you can bet on a rapist who is currently in an unpopular war to die, you have to do it.  He would have been my second pick, but I have often been wrong on these things.  Matt Weiner is not aiming to service the fan demands or else Greggie would have bit it by now.

Everyone but Noah got their first pick, but Noah can take some solace in getting this next four choices and lucking out (in my view) with a terrific fifth pick.  Bob Benson is the sleeper in this game, and I already have money in Vegas on him biting it as the odds were 23-1.   Except for that last pick, Noah's strategy seemed to be betting on the old guys to bite it.  Jim Hobart was a sneaky pick, as a side character who runs McCann Erickson, he could die at any time....


Rob made an excellent choice with his first pick, as what can happen in Betty's storyline besides becoming a widow?  Hmmm.  Rob did seem to focus his choices then on the dysfunctional folks--Ginsberg is already certifiable, Pete is also a rapist, and Harry shows has poor judgment except in his rare Cassandra moments.  Margaret Sterling is a sneaky good choice since she is prone to joining cults.  Vegas has set the odds on her appearing at all in the next seven episodes at 7 to 1.  His next pick would have been Glen Bishop, and I think that would have been a better choice given Matthew Weiner's willingness to engage in nepotism.

Finally, Chip really does not like the Draper family: Don, Bobby and Megan?  Don is a sound bet.  The time frame is too late for Megan to fall victim a la Sharon Tate to the Manson folks, but LA is a dangerous  place.  Ted?  He might crash his plane.  Sal?  Unlikely to be seen again.

I still am in need of a tiebreaker.  Hmmm.  Ok, in what year will the show's last moments take place?

How does Vegas view the odds here?  Wendy is the favorite at 3-1 due to the combo of Roger, the dogkiller and Joan's ex.  Noah is almost a co-favorite at 7-2 as his line up of old plus Benson seems most promising.  Rob's odds are 12-1 since he may get lucky with one character, but more than that?  Unlikely.  And Chip actually is not that far behind--one good car crash and he can take the entire game.

I will try to post updates along the way, but I will be out of the country on April 19th.  Good luck to all!







Close But Not Quite

This cartoon by Brian McFadden is mostly on target:


But the problem with agriculture is not so much the demands of the east to eat but of the power of the ag industry in California.  California politicians are not going to be shy about annoying the rest of the country (might get them more votes), but they are shy about confronting big Ag in the state.  Otherwise, the reaction to the water problem would definitely involve restrictions on the farmers.

Anyhow, fun cartoon that is 95% of the way there instead of the usual 110%.



Writer's Bloc or Exhaustion of Ideas

I was going to write this morning about the selective use of the bible to justify intolerance of gays, but then I realized I had written that already.

So, then I decided to post this pic:

And perhaps post a good pic that reveals the ignorance and irony of selection bias:

 Yep, one pic shows the selective reading of the bible.  And this guy is not unique at all, unless the folks behind the spate of anti-same sex marriages are also seeking to bring back other bible stuff....

Anyhow, this has all made me realize why I may be blogging less these days--hard to say new stuff about dynamics that have been in abundance the past six years (and yes, this month marks Six Years of Spew).





Friday, April 3, 2015

Two Can Cut the Salami

Russia has been making a lot of threats lately, including nuclear ones.  That if NATO moves troops into the Baltics, then the Russians will, um, do something with their nuclear weapons.  What?  Is Russia willing to start a nuclear war if the US puts five or ten or twenty tanks into the Baltics?

If so, this basically means that Russia will use its nuclear threats anytime it wants to exert a veto on US/NATO policy.  That, of course, is unacceptable.  If placing US/NATO troops in the Baltics is something that Russia really does not want, then we should it unless Russia gives us something that we want, such as really respecting the deal with Ukraine....

However, that is unlikely and probably not enough.  Russia has been playing salami tactics with us--taking small pieces, none big enough by itself to warrant much retaliation.  The Baltics fear that they will be next.  To deter that, the US/NATO should try some salami tactics of their own: send some small units to hang out in the Baltics, then reinforce a smidge and then declare that these units will be there for a while, and then later announce that the basing is permanent.  At which point does Russia start nuclear over this? 

If the threat is of fomenting dissent and trouble within the Russian speaking populations of the Baltics, there are political ways to handle this--lean on the governments of those countries to treat these people better, and engage in an information campaign (proproganda) to educate the Russian-speakers in the Baltics about how much fun it is to live in Crimea, eastern Ukraine or even Russia today.

I tend to make cautious recommendations, but my frustration here is the idea that only one side can take advantage of the stability-instability paradox.  And I also don't want US foreign policy and NATO decisions to be subject to Russian nuclear blackmail. Nuclear weapons in this relationship should only be used for one's own security, and, indeed, they do, making the claims about Ukraine's importance for Russian security to be ... incredible. 

A Slightly Less Quick Reaction On Iran Nuclear Deal

Last night, I quickly dashed off a post on the deal, so I left much out.  Critics will focus on what this does not change: that Iran is expanding its influence in the region (um, thanks GWB), that Iran supports terrorist groups, that Iran is hostile to Israel.  Yep.  There are two responses to this:

a) US arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union did not fix the US relationship with the USSR.  They mostly just slowed down and managed the arms race, while giving the US and the Soviet Union a bit of progress on the bilateral relationship.  The deals did not stop the Soviet Union's support of insurgencies the US did not like, it did not stop the USSR from controlling Eastern Europe, and it did not lead to the Soviet Union rejecting its own ideology which called for worldwide revolution (a pretty hostile ideology if you are old enough to remember.

b) The deal does not fix Iran's problems either.  The US is still seen as being mostly bent on Iranian regime change.  The US is still arming its friends in the region.  Israel gets to keep its nuclear weapons without any negotiated restrictions on its nuclear weapons program.  Pakistan (not a friend of Iran) gets to keep its nuclear weapons. 


Anyone expecting this deal to do anything other than limit Iran's ability to develop nuclear weapons is just not that serious.  This deal does mean that the US stays under the war cap--that we are not adding yet another country to the US military's agenda today. 

One last thought: wasn't it Reagan who said Trust but Verify?  The deal has that hardwired in, yes?