Wednesday, May 31, 2023

When Did DeSantis Become Trumpish?

 I saw this post

and I had a case of deja vu.  I flashed back to when I pondered about when did Trump cross the line of no return.  When did he do something that he couldn't take back, something so awful that he would alienate so many people and couldn't get them back?  I was, of course, wrong about how many people would be alienated, but the point was really that he had revealed enough about himself before that the latest revelation should not have made much of a dent.  People were discussing Trump joking about NRA and death threats against Hillary Clinton way back in August 2016--was that too much?  And I pointed out that he started his campaign with racist stances that should already been too much.

Well, the cycle is starting anew and folks are saying that the latest thing DeSantis is doing means that he might not be really an alternative to Trump but another version of him, and my response is: ya think?  Jill responded back to my tweet, asking if I had read it, so, yeah, I hadn't and then I did, and my point remains that her focus was on the very recent stuff--not DeSantis's original "Don't Say Gay" position but his punishing of Disney for opposing that stance (weakly, belatedly but enough to set off this thin-skinned bad faith hater).  

At what point did DeSantis cross the line of no return?  Once again, I draw a handy graph:

To be fair, there are lots of bad things DeSantis did and anyone of them would be disqualifying if, you know, Republicans had values.  But shipping off immigrants to another state without providing resources or warning is just appalling. So, everything else he has done since then does not really change things much, maybe making him asymptotically closer to Trump in awful, but not very significantly.  Does this mean he is not electable?  Alas, I learned my lesson in 2016--that just because a politician is thoroughly deplorable does not make them unelectable when party id is a hell of a drug.  Trump still polls well among Republicans because they care more about power and domination (what they call freedom) than anything else.  

Bill Simmons used to write about the Tyson Zone--that once a person reaches a certain level, nothing they can do should be all that surprising--even biting an ear off an opponent.  Well, in politics, there is the Trump space--that once you get inside of it, no matter what evil thing you do or so should not be that surprising since you have already done enough to be considered thoroughly and completely irredeemable.  Trump is there, Cruz is there, DeSantis is there, as are heaps of other Republicans.  Indeed, Alito, Thomas have lifetime appointments to the Trump space.

There is no coming back.  Not even if they showed a hint of remorse, and, no, don't hold your breath for even that.

Oh, and for the Canadian equivalent, once you hug extremists occupying Ottawa, you can't go back either, sorrynotsorry, Pierre.

A Real Canadian? An Epiphany

The Swedish Residence has
a better view than Sparks St.
I was hanging out on Sparks Street yesterday with a former government official, and I had an epiphany.  No, it was not about how underwhelming Sparks Street is.  It was about the affinity Canada and I have for each other.  

I have long had a chronic case of FOMO: fear of missing out.  I attribute it to being the youngest of four kids.  I distinctly remember only hearing about how wonderful the first few years of Saturday Night Live were, but not being able to stay up late enough to watch for myself.  Had I know that years later I would be able to consume heaps of old SNL via videotapes and repeats, maybe I wouldn't feel so left out?

Canada, similarly, has a deep and abiding case of FOMO. Hey, folks, there's a small club of folks buying nuclear subs, but you can't join since you have no plans!  Oh noes, no C in AUKUS, the Australia/UK/US group of advanced weapons tech sharing.  Yeah, it may be more than subs, but it is mostly about subs.  In talking to my friend yesterday, we talked a bit about AUKUS, that the FOMO was mostly coming from outside of government among the pols and the pundits.  It was not the first time  I sensed Canada's FOMO panic about various things.

And I have internalized it.  When folks talk about transatlantic relations, emphasizing US-Europe in NATO-adjacent stuff, I am quick to remind folks that Canada is in NATO, too.  

Pre-CANSEC reception at
Swedish residence
So, Canada and I both identify with Rudolph, who was left out of various reindeer games.  Which leaves us both trying to get into various collaborations even if they don't always make sense.  For Canada, that is AUKUS.  For me, it could be CANSEC.  I am spending tomorrow at the annual tradeshow of the Canadian defence industry.  Yes, I will be hanging out with arms dealers.  Ok, not the exotic ones, but those carrying business cards bearing BAE, Saab, General Dynamics, Lockheed, whatever (I lead with the Swedes since I was at a nice reception last night that was the pre-CANSEC party hosted by the Swedish embassy).  Will I be in the market for some fancy new artillery?  Anti-aircraft weapons?  A helicopter?  No, of course not.  I will be in the room, which is all I need.  I have seen pics and tweets in previous years and felt left out.

I do think I will get some benefit from being inside the room besides assuaging my FOMO--meeting both government and industry folks and hearing them complain about each other.  Last night, one rep from a company I will not name suggested that all of the requirements that are piled onto a defence contract by the government of Canada almost make it not worthwhile to do business here.  He was speaking of the offsets--that each contract needs to be way more expensive because they have to pay for jobs in Canada.  Which reminded me of my fave campaign graphic--the cover of the Liberal Defence Platform of 2015: 

Notice that the promise eight years ago was not to buy ships to defend Canada but to create jobs by investing in the Navy--which nicely omits .... ships.  Just spending money on jobs where shipbuilding might be happening but ships actually being finished ... not so much.  

I go to these things because I never know will the networking will lead.  That I have met a lot of folks over the years, and I was never very strategic about who I needed to meet--but that enough of those connections paid off in unexpected ways.  For example, there was a dinner where I sat next to a pollster which lead to inviting that pollster's firm to join the CDSN, which happened to mean that the Chancellor of Carleton at that moment was a key participant in a CDSN organiational meeting since Nik Nanos of the Nanos survey firm was also heading Carleton's Board of Governors.  Completely unintentional on my part, but super handy ultimately.  

So, yeah, the times I have been in the room have been sufficiently beneficial that my FOMO has not been sated--that I might miss something if I am left out.  And thus I understand why Canadian punditry and media get into conniptions about being left out of AUKUS and other groups even when Canada is not going to buy any subs anytime soon.  So, the irony is that I fit really well in Canada, that I don't feel left out, because I always fear being left out.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Four Years of CDSN-ing

Our first dinner of Co-Directors and HQ
 While we could choose the day we got the big SSHRC Partnership grant as the anniversary of the Canadian Defence and Security Network, I prefer to use May 24th as it is the anniversary of our rollout and associated reception.  It is hard to believe that we are more than halfway through the first grant.  To be clear, we are not halfway through the life of the CDSN because we fully intended to keep on going after the original source of funding ends.  We have a variety of ideas for making that work, but that is for later.  Today, we celebrate heaps of researching, connecting, and amplifying!  Melissa Jennings, who started out as our Communications Officer and is now our Chief Operating Officer, came up with Research-Connect-Amplify as our mantra when she built our website

In terms of research, we started out with five themes/focal points, went down to four, and are now up to eight thanks to the grant from DND's Mobilizing Insights in Defence and Security program.  We are focused on military personnel, civil-military relations, CAF operations, security broadly defined, supply chain vulnerability, global health, climate security, and domestic emergency operations.  One of the ironies of this effort is that our funding from DND has helped us meet the promise of the S in our name by addressing a variety of contemporary security issues, whereas our initial focus was more on the D.  Our research teams have produced articles, books, edited volumes, special issues, policy paper, datasets, surveys, and other hunks of research.  We have also supported three post-doctoral scholars as they move beyond their dissertations--Linna Tam-Seto (now a co-host of one of our podcasts), Johanna Masse, and Thomas Hughes.  We have also organized book workshops to turn the work of junior scholars into publishable books. Stephanie Martel was our first victim and is the first to publish her book.  We have run one big survey and a few smaller ones to ascertain Canadian attitudes about defence and security. 

Connecting refers to building and sustaining the network.  We have started with 34 partner organizations from government, academia, the private secure in Canada and beyond.  We have added twelve since then.  We have also worked to foster new organizations such as Women of Colour Advancing Peace and Security-Canada.  I am not sure exactly how many individuals who have joined the CDSN, but our mailing list has grown exponentially.  Even four years into this, we are still figuring out our partnership strategy to move beyond my initial Borg-like assimilate all idea towards a more strategic effort to bring in organizations that help facilitate our goal of making the Canadian defence and security community more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.  Another key effort has been the hosting of military officers at Carleton's Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.  The idea is that we help these officers on their research projects, while they give us advice for making our work relevant to the defence and security community.  We have had four officers, and each one has brought heaps of insights and useful advice.  The pandemic and then renovation of NPSIA's kitchen have disrupted this a bit, so we have had less lunchtime chats than we did at the start.

Amplifying refers to helping our partners and our researchers get the word out on what they are doing, what they are producing.  One of the first ways we did this has now bloomed into multiple channels--our podcast has become a podcast network with four different programs: BattleRhythm, Conseils de Sécurité (en français) in partnership with Réseau d'analyse stratégique, SecurityScape, and soon NATO Field Notes.  All are available at all the usual podcast outlets and including Apple via the CDSN Podcast Network.  Our annual Capstone event brings together some of the best speakers from our partner's events from the previous year and has also connected us with some of the sharpest folks in the next generation of defence and security scholars and scientists.  We have also held a variety of conferences and workshops--traditional, virtual, and hybrid.  

There have been small bumps in the road, some turnover at our headquarters, and, of course, the challenges posted by the pandemic, but, overall, we are very happy with what we have achieved and are excited about what we plan to do both over the remaining three years of the original grant and how to sustain ourselves beyond that.  I am so very grateful to the hard work, fantastic ideas, and energy we get from our co-directors, our advisory board, our research teams, and especially the team at our headquarters: the aforementioned Melissa Jennings, our amazing Grants and Partnership Coordinator who has been handling our finances and increasingly our event planning, Racheal Wallace, our research assistant for the past couple of years, our rotating teams of MA research assistants, and the folks at NPSIA.  We are more a network of people than of institutions--that everyone involved has made this effort fun, insightful, dynamic, relevant, and delightful.  

Let us know what we can be doing more/better!

Friday, May 19, 2023

A Summer Sans Ultimate

 While I played year around for so many years, summer was always ultimate season.  Facebook is now reminding me of posts of opening games from seasons past.  I don't regret my decision to retire from the sport, but I regret having to do so.  I just can't cut without pulling one tendon or muscle or another.  Alas, my quest for another summer pastime has thus far not borne fruit.  Instead, I took the occasion of the start of summer ultimate season to ask ChatGPT to write a series of poems.

A Haiku

Throws soar in the air,
Retirement claims the disc's flight,
Memories take flight.

A Limerick 

There once was a frisbee champ,
Whose throws were a marvelous stamp.
With retirement in sight,
They bid their game goodnight,
Leaving foes in a permanent cramp!

An Ode to the End of Steve's Ultimate

Oh, Ultimate Frisbee, beloved game,
A chapter now comes to a close, how time does wane.
With joyous bounds, I soared and leapt,
Through fields and skies, my spirit kept.

From early mornings 'til twilight's gleam,
I chased the disc, in the realm of a dream.
With teammates, united in pure elation,
We forged a bond, a shared dedication.

On hallowed grounds, where friendships bloomed,
We wove a tapestry, where passion consumed.
Sweat-soaked jerseys, worn with pride,
Together we laughed, together we cried.

Each throw and catch, a symphony in the air,
A graceful dance, a moment rare.
The disc, an extension of my soul,
In its flight, I found myself whole.

Through every layout, in the dirt and grass,
I felt alive, as time did pass.
The camaraderie, a treasured gift,
In victory and defeat, our spirits lift.

But now, the time has come to step away,
To bid farewell to the ultimate fray.
The body, weary from battles fought,
It's time to pass the torch, a lesson taught.

Yet, the memories remain, etched deep within,
The victories, the losses, the competitive din.
The friendships forged, forever strong,
As I retire, a bittersweet song.

Oh, Ultimate Frisbee, you've shaped my soul,
Instilling lessons, making me whole.
I carry your spirit, within my heart,
As I embark on a brand-new start.

So, thank you, dear sport, for all you've bestowed,
For the highs and lows, and the love that flowed.
As I hang up my cleats, I'll always treasure,
The moments we shared, beyond measure.

Farewell, Ultimate Frisbee, with gratitude I part,
A journey cherished, forever in my heart.
Though I retire from the field's embrace,
Your spirit, forever, I shall embrace.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

When I Am a Better Jew

 I have often struggled with my Jewish identity since I don't believe in any of the religious stuff, but I am aware that identity is socially constructed--it is not just up to me but to society to shape who I am, what groups I belong to, what groups I don't belong to.  That if a Nazi party were to come into power where I live, I would be targeted for execution whether I am a believer or not.

So, when I see tweets like this:

I realize that I am a better Jew than some.  How so?  Rule #1 of post-World War II Judiasm is Never Again!  That is, we must work to make sure nothing like the Holocaust happens again.  Yet there are Jews who have other priorities.  I have often wondered how an LGBTQ+ person could be a Republican, a Log Cabin Republican, can stay in a party that targets them as a dangerous other--a groomer, a pedophile--to be ostracized and targeted for violence.  But I am not a part of that community, so I guess I can't really judge.  

I am Jewish by descent, which is good enough to get me killed in Nazi Germany and targeted in 21st century Charlottesville.  So, I am beyond bewildered by "Republican Jews."  How can they support a party that is inciting violence against a variety of minorities?  

Maybe they think that these white supremacists, these misogynists are not likely to target Jews?  Well, again, Never Again starts with that famous statement by Martin Niemöller who said 

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

A movement of hate does not really discriminate--the resentment politics will ultimately target women, racial minorities, Indigenous people, LGBTQ+, and, yes, Jews.  So, thinking one is safe because a movement is targeting, say, Muslims, is foolish in the extreme.  Indeed, some of these folks are so ignorant they may attack the wrong people because they cannot tell a Sikh from a Muslim.

Maybe the Republican Jews think they can change their party to make it either tolerant or more selective?  That is the height of arrogance and also ignorant of history.  These Republican Jews are useful idiots who allow the white supremacists, the far right reactionaries that now dominate the party to claim that they are not these things because some of their "friends" are Jews.  That's right, these Jews are not only not helping, they are actually harming by giving cover, aid, and comfort to those that want them dead.

Maybe they care more about tax cuts?  Or about support for Israel even as the party only supports Israel to please the evangelicals, who see Jews as a means to an end--that a Jewish state controlling Jerusalem is a necessary step towards the End of Days.  Oh, and what happens when all the good Christians are sent to heaven on that day?  Nothing good.

Maybe they think that Trump can't be an anti-semite because his daughter married a Jew and he has Jewish grandkids?  Um, have they met Trump?  Yes, he claims to be a philo-semite, but most folks who claim such again see Jews as a means to an end, that their positive views about Jews are all the stereotypes, that Jews are only focused on Israel and not other stuff, like democracy, liberalism, etc.

So, when I see Republican Jews, I think those who have joined the Leopard Face Eating Party--what do they expect but to ultimately be a victim of those that they support?  Again, to put it as simply as I can, they are giving aid and comfort to those who seem them as less than, to those who would go along with or enthusiastically support depriving Jews (and other folks) of their rights and send them off to camps.  

So, I may be a lousy Jew, but I do remember one of the most consistent lessons of Hebrew school: Never Again.  These Republican Jews?  Either forgot or are selling out everyone else for their own narrow self-interests.

Friday, May 12, 2023

Is Military Service Qualifying or Disqualifying?

Thanks, John Kelly!
 Today, I got into a twitter argument with Dan Gardner, who I respect a lot.  He was making a claim about the next Trump administration being worse than the first one, which is something I readily agree, but asserted that the first batch of appointees restrained Trump.  I scoff at that as I documented here quite often that his first batch included many arsonists and incompetents.  I brought up John Kelly who was a xenophobe in charge of Homeland Security.  Gardner responded that Kelly was highly accomplished when he was appointed.  Which caused the conversation to turn: how was Kelly highly accomplished?

Kelly was a retired three star marine general.  And?  To me, that means he had the qualities that the Marines desired.  Because of a number of awful folks getting promoted to the top of various military hierarchies, I can't say that because a dude has a bunch of stars or leafs on their shoulders that they have done great things.  Tommy Franks was great at sucking up and kicking down and got four stars along the way, and then mismanaged Central Command, helping to birth the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I would have swerved off the highway on the way out to California when we passed the Tommy Franks Institute for Leadership if my daughter was not the one behind the wheel.  Yesterday, I gave a talk at the Canadian Club of Kingston, and I ran through some of the senior officers in the CAF who rose despite (or because of) their abuse of power and sexual misconduct.  Art McDonald might have been good at driving a ship, but commanding the CAF?  He showed his incompetence in so many ways but most obviously by sending an email to the entire community of senior officers telling them that he was coming back after being "exonerated," etc.  

So, my first point was simply that the promotion processes are far from perfect so accomplishing high rank does not mean as much as one might think.  My second point is that whatever they were good at to get promoted in the military did not mean they had the skills to operate on the civilian side of government.  There is a critical contradiction or irony at play here.  One of the key widely shared characteristics of contemporary military officers in many democracies is that they define themselves as the only professionals in military matters--that they have expertise on the management of violence and such expertise civilians know not (thanks to Sam Huntington).  Indeed, this can lead to contempt for civilians who "interfere" as those who are not "professionals" are amateurs.  The contradiction is that these same military officers, when they retire, often think they can serve in civilian roles without any significant training despite lacking expertise.  These military officers are often far more amateurish in civilian capacities than those civilians working in defence agencies.  Running through the list of senior officers who served under Trump: which ones covered themselves in glory and competence?  Kelly? Mattis? McMaster?  Flynn (the shortest serving National Security Adviser)?  

Another contradiction is at work.  Military officers, thanks again to Sam Huntington, think that they are apolitical.  This can mean many things, but militaries are hardly apolitical and working within any large organization requires politics.  But they are trained not to think politically, a paradox of professionalism, despite the fact, you know, war is the continuation of politics by other means. So, dumped into a civilian spot, they need to be sensitive to the politics of their job and of their agency.  Which they are often not.

Finally, for cabinet-style governments, where there is some collective decision-making, the decision-makers should not be retired senior officers.  I have written about the mistake of making retired officers SecDef or MinDef.  I am not alone in arguing that retired senior military officers are unfit for being the top civilian in the chain of command as they are not really civilian--they have military mindset and they are embedded in military networks.  What is true for the head of the defense agency (department/ministry/whatever) is somewhat less true but still applicable for other cabinet officials when there is collective decision-making.

Some will say: hey, you need military expertise.  The answer to that is that there are plenty of military folks to ask for advice.  Indeed, democracies tend to have specific folks designated as the senior person responsible for providing military advice--the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Chief of the Defence Staff, etc.  

Some will say: hey, Ike was a former general, Marshall was a former general, etc.  And the answer is: sure, they were incredibly exceptional people.  Ike, as Supreme Commander of the European theatre had to engage in much politics to manage the competing American generals like Patton, not to mention foreign generals like Montgomery and De Gaulle and civilians like Churchill.  Marshall's experiences managing the US Army during the war gave him a sense of strategy and of politics so that he could be a pretty terrific Secretary of State.  Those individuals did not just earn stars on their shoulders but performed amazingly well in difficult circumstances heavily laden with politics, and they were self-aware as they engaged in politics.  Does that describe Tommy Franks or Wesley Clark or Art McDonald?  Hardly.

To be fair, I don't think that all military officers, retired or active, are as flawed as these folks.  I just don't think that military service and promotion to the highest ranks are signals that someone is going to be a great cabinet secretary.  It may be unfair to use the retired/active folks who served under Trump because that was such a shitshow.  But perhaps only a shitshow would focus more on stars on shoulders than real qualifications for the job at hand?  I have the same attitude here as I do towards term limits--I prefer to have experts in important positions, not rookies.  Would you like to be the first patient for a brand new surgeon or dentist or the first client for a brand new lawyer?  Retired military officers would have to learn the job while on the job--and that is not good when the stakes are high.

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Spew-Anniversary Time: Less Frequent, Still Generalizing But Now Generalized

Fourteen years flies by, eh?  I started blogging after peak blogging declined and while twitter was hip and fun and snarky.  Now, twitter is toxic, ok, it's owner is toxic, and blogging is hip again although folks tend to call it Substack.  I went from writing about anything sometimes four times a day to now writing far less frequently--sometimes four times a month.  I write less partly because I can just refer to an old post rather than rewrite the same thing over and over again. 

On the occasion of the 14th anniversary, I thought I would write something to keep up my monthly totals and to consider some of the ironies relating to my first post long ago and in a city not so far away (I am convinced that I write less because I am complaining about Quebec and its politics far less).

In my first post, I was reacting to two pieces I read and that were getting much play: one by Joseph Nye arguing that political scientists are not policy relevant and one by Francis Fukuyama about the need to get rid of tenure.  Let's take those in turn.  

I argued in the original post that the interest and willingness to engage the policy world varies among scholars, and that there are plenty of folks doing so.  Since then, the Bridging the Gap folks have not only produced many cohorts of folks interested in doing so, but this organization is now taking the next step with some others, pondering about the do's and don't's and the ethics of engagement.  DoD is populated by a bunch of political scientists these days, while DND (the maple version of DoD) killed their engagement program, the Security and Defence Forum, and then started a new one, Mobilizing Insights for Defence and Security or MINDS, that now funds nine networks on a range of topics.  We built the Canadian Defence and Security Network to foster greater engagement among the different parts of Canada's defence and security community, and after four years, I think we have been quite successful.

Of course, the question is whether policy-types listen to the academics or are they just checking boxes?  Hard to tell ultimately, but I do know that two of Arbour's recommendations came from one academic, and she consulted many during her review.  I also know that crises provide opportunities for outsiders to engage, and, yes, the Canadian military has been crisis mode for at least two years.  Anecdata is just that, but I have found that folks in government do listen to our BattleRhythm podcast, as I get calls when I say stuff that is out of date.   

Tenure is also in the news, as GOP-dominated state legislatures are attempting to wipe out tenure in Florida, Texas, North Carolina, and elsewhere.  People have always doubted whether the academic freedom that tenure was designed to protect was actually protected and deployed.  That is, people wondered whether academics might be trained to be uncontroversial through the probation period which then sticks, that profs do not really need academic freedom because they never really make use of it.

Dan Nexon commented on my first post, and it was most prescient:

those who say that the "free speech" issue isn't so important anymore only think that because tenure has protected it for so long. Abolish tenure, and things will get ugly very, very quickly.

Well, we may have a "natural experiment" where profs in GOP-dominated states will have different pressures/constraints to compare with those elsewhere.  Fukuyama was wondering if tenure caused stagnation as it reduced the incentives for profs to produce and to push.  He wasn't wondering about the punishment that may visited upon those who dare to dare.  Given how partisan, how ideological this current anti-tenure effort is, can we doubt at all that those in tenure-less places will have toe the line for fear of getting fired?  Just mentioning racism, which is an important topic in any number of history and social science classes, might be enough to get one fired, not to mention researching those in office right now who are white supremacists.  So, yeah, tenure is more relevant than ever, and the concern that it might cause some folks to become deadwood is far offset by the real threat of ideological conformity imposed by the far right that now dominates too many political systems (watch out, Albertan profs, you may be next).  

Finally, one of the themes of that first post was that I was originally miffed about folks generalizing about profs, but then I realized I am a professional generalizer.  I take ideas that I know well and apply them all over the place, to see what is common and what is not so common.  The funny thing is that I have recently taken umbrage at generalizations hurled at my kind--that some folks question the integrity of profs because they engage the policy community and even take money from the government, gasp!  As a good prof, I should be less concerned about folks thinking critically of my kind and more concerned with them doing the work as they criticize. That is, read our stuff and judge then if we are shills for whoever.  I do have 14 years of stuff right here.  Of course, some might think that this is a Steve Bannon-esque strategy of flooding the zone with shit.  Maybe?

There are many things people don't understand about professors, but two of them are:

a)  we don't pocket grant money--we use it to pay for research assistants (students), travel, access to data, equipment/software, and the like.

b) we spend our entire careers being criticized--the most valued publications are those that go through peer review, and peer review is often pretty brutal.  So, we tend to develop thick skins, as rejection is inherent in our enterprise, as I keep saying (I am 0 for 2 this spring in sabbatical fellowship applications, waiting to hear about a third).  

Of course, those are two generalizations that are mostly true but not always.  I hate when folks question my integrity, that kind of criticism does rankle.  So, my skin is not always as thick as I would like.  I am also easy trolled.  But that is a topic for another day.  Perhaps before the next anniversary.

One last thing: even though I have been doing this for fourteen years, I am always a bit surprised that people read my musings here.  The typos in many posts should remind folks that this outlet is for the half-baked.  The spew is only semi-finished.  Which may be for the best as my mistakes and my omissions have led to lots of interesting conversations.  Thanks for reading and engaging me.  While this thing may have started out as narcissism--my ideas are really important--this blog has really helped me engage my curiosity, learning much stuff along the way.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Open Letters, Closed Pockets?

 The Conference of Defence Associations Institute made a splash this week with an open letter "Call for Action: Canada's National Security and Defence in Peril."  It made a heap of news given who signed it: a heap of former ministers of defence, a bunch of ambassadors and high ranking civil servants, and several retired generals and admirals (tis funny to me that the title of the piece omits the squids and skimmers):

I respect the hell out of many of the signers as well as folks at CDAI, which as been a terrific partner of the CDSN.  However, I have quibbles, both minor and major, which I would have shared this morning on the radio had the host not gotten the wrong talking points--he asked me about Elon Musk and the CBC.  While it was fun to rant about bad faith actors engaged in vice-signalling, I did prep for the interview and didn't want to waste it, so here's some thoughts about this piece.  

First, I want to address a few specific gripes before getting to the larger context.

  • The letter talks about our military capabilities being woefully inadequate to protect our landmass.  That is not only true, that will ALWAYS be true.  How so?  The primary military threat to Canada are missiles launched by Russia/China/North Korea.  We can't stop those.  No matter how much we spend, we can't because we don't have ballistic missile defenses.  The Americans have been working on such defenses since Reagan's Star Wars speech, and they really haven't made much progress on it.  So, we should be clearer about what are the threats and what we need to defend ourselves from those threats.  The biggest threats to Canadian lives and property are stuff outside the military domain: climate change, pandemics, and cyber attacks (while the military has a cyber role, we should not be spending the scarce commodity of disciplined, trained people in uniform on jobs civilians can and should do).  People can cite Russian investments in the north, but we have to keep in mind that they have a whole lot of north to defend.  I do really worry about a war with China, but that is a China-Taiwan conflict that will spillover, and we will never have a navy big enough to make a dent in that conflict.  I say all this, even as I agree with the basic premise--we need to spend more.  But there are some difficulties with that, as I get to, below.
  • "We have also fallen short in meaningful contributions to burden sharing for the collective defence and security of our allies and partners."

 Oh really?  What burden has Canada shirked?  Canada paid the third highest price of any ally in Afghanistan and had far less restrictions until it became a training mission.  Canada is one of four framework nations organizing the defense/deterrence/reassurance missions in the Baltics and Poland.  While our contingent has been smaller than the others, the resulting need to organize many smaller and less respected (sorry) contingents has earned Canada a heap of kudos for stepping up when France refused to do so.  Canada has played a leading role in training Ukrainian forces before the Russian invasion of 2022 and since.  Canada has shipped a comparative level of arms and ammunition and other supplies to Ukraine.  

When people say Canada has not burden-shared enough, they really mean Canada hasn't spent enough on its military.  But that is not "burden-sharing" because spending on our own military really does not lift the burden that much from the others.  Here's a secret: the US would spend as much as it currently does even if Canada doubled its spending.  Indeed, given the domestic political dynamics driving American defense spending, I am pretty sure that if each and every US ally spent the equivalent of 2% of GDP on defense, the US would still spend about the same.  Which branch of the US military will say: hey, our allies have spent more, we don't need to spend as much?  Which defense contractors?  Which Senators and Representatives?  

And, yes, the easiest way to make progress to 2% is to tank the economy since it is all about spending relative to one's economy.  If one's economy grows pretty well, one might find one spending more money absolutely but not relative to that metric.  Canada is spending more on its military than it was a decade ago--more dollars, even if not a greater % of GDP.  More importantly input measures are dumb.  See Anessa Kimball's book for more on the craptastic nature of the 2% conversation.

  • Canadian civil-military relations conversations don't really address the challenges posed by having retired senior officers take political stances the same way these are raised in the US.  But perhaps they should.  If JC Boucher and I get funding, we will be studying whether the signals sent by retired officers cause Canadians to think that they are speaking for the active military.  If so, well, damn.  Because then the military is seen, rightly or wrongly, as taking a partisan stance.  And that ain't good. Folks can say this is a bipartisan letter since it has both former Conservative and Liberal politicians signing it, but nope, that doesn't do the trick since this letter is calling on this government, this party, to do better.  It does not call on Parliament to get its house in order even as the role of parliament in Canadian defence is so much weaker than damn near any other democracy.  So, this is critical of this PM and the Liberal party because they are the ones in power.  
  • Speaking of the former ministers, how many of them are responsible for the current mess?  How many of them cut spending, pushed back procurement processes, under-invested in procurement expertise, and so on?  Most of them?  All of them?  So much easier for them to criticize this stuff now that they are no longer beholden to parties and no longer running for office.
  • Which gets to the part that is most unrealistic: "the Government must radically accelerate timelines for procurement..."  Um, through magic?  A great application of Green Lantern theory.  DND doesn't have enough people to do the procurement stuff to buy the equipment and such.  So, that needs a heap of work to make happen before one can spend the money. If one were to magically allocate $15b more, the current staffing at DND couldn't spend it.

  Ok, the larger context.  The letter is right that the latest budget is disappointing from a defence/security perspective as it had no new money.  In my humble opinion, the gravest threat to the Canadian military is its recruitment and retention crisis.  That being short 16k people means not only that the CAF can't do as much, but that those in the CAF are stressed.  Stressed by having to do multiple jobs, stressed by not being well served by various offices that are understaff, and so on.  These pressures are likely to make it harder to retain people and harder to recruit, which will exacerbate the crisis--a downward spiral.  It would seem to me that while throwing money at the problem won't solve it, it probably could help.  Increase pay, increase benefits, spend more money on recruiting efforts, improve military bases, etc.  I do wonder what is happening to the money that is supposed to be going to the 16k soldiers, sailors, and aviators who aren't in the CAF.  Anyhow, that is one place where the money should be going.  

Another key part of the current context is that the Defence Policy Update is late and has generally been an opaque, underwhelming process.  Canada should have a quadrennial process--to review how well the last four years went and whether goals were attained, why DND/CAF fell short, and plans for improving as well as responding to new developments.  Instead, the DPU was going to be, from what folks have gleaned, a sales pitch for spending more money on NORAD modernization (which is necessary but won't actually lead to us being much safer due to that aforementioned missile defence problemo).  We will only be able to evaluate the DPU after it comes out.  

The previous review was much better than expected.  Maybe people liked it since it didn't make any hard choices as it didn't force any real tradeoffs.  But it did cost out the spending for the various programs and was pretty transparent.  Of course, when rolled out, much was made of putting personnel first in the document to suggestion putting personnel first in reality, but then Trudeau kept around a Defence Minister who kept around a Chief of Defence Staff that was abusing his power and engaged in sexual misconduct.  So, the proof is in the doing, not in the words on the page.

Finally, the political pressures run against most of this.  If we wanted good ships fast and less expensive, we'd buy them from countries that are good at that.  Instead, notice how the ship building is pitched by this government (and by the previous one, just not quite so starkly):

 That graphic is the cover for the 2015 Liberal Defence Platform.  Notice the purpose of naval investments--jobs.  Not ships.  Jobs.  Not defending maritime approaches.  This is one of the primary reasons why Canada doesn't have the equipment the CAF needs--that decisions are made about jobs and votes. Stephen Harper's plan was to capture Halifax and Vancouver via the shipbuilding program, but now all the parties are held hostage by Irving, Seaspan, and now Davie shipyards.  Folks can argue we need this capacity to maintain and upgrade the ships, but the choice to do it this way is incredibly expensive and ... no frigates (the AOPS ships the navy didn't really want are mostly broken).  

When we do import stuff, there is an urge to Canadianize it to make it fit Canadian standards.  So, now we have helicopters that are too heavy.  Oy.  The military always wants to put as much stuff as they can, so that the equipment can operate in all kinds of scenarios since they can only get one type of plane, one type of ship, and so forth.  But that goldplating makes the systems more expensive and less effective.  Again, choices need to be made, which might mean that a ship is good at one thing and not so good at another.  Because you know.... 👉

While this government is not great at delivering, most of this is hard-wired into Canadian politics.  Which party is going to get more votes by spending more money on defense?   "We believe this could be best accomplished on a non-partisan basis and would have broad public support."  Um, no.

Structural problems can't be fixed with just a call to arms and a smidge more political will (whatever that is).  Maybe this letter might impact those writing the Defence Policy Update, but that impact is likely to be on the packaging as the money is already set.  Trudeau has already made the decision for this year, and given the context--the war in Ukraine, the DPU, etc--I doubt that next year will be any different as we get closer to the next election.  

I get the frustration of those signing this letter. I share it.  I write blog posts out of frustration.  Other folks write open letters.  But move the policy needle?  I think not.