Monday, March 31, 2014

How I Met Your Spoiler

HIMYM ended tonight with a thud:

Stepping on The Message

The Parti Quebecois has had a disastorous campaign, snatching perhaps defeat from the jaws of victory.  The Charter of Values had done its job of dividing the CAQ and making the Liberals waffle and pander.  However, since the campaign has started, the PQ lost its message pretty much every week:
  • Announcing the Quebecor mogul, Pierre Karl Peladeau,as candidate focused attention not on the Charter of Xenophobia but on separatism (he said independence, woot!) and on the pre-existing divides within the party between left and right. Given how much the party depends on unions, its embracing of a union-buster was a bit risky, eh?
  • Le Voterfraudfraud (or is it la?).  That is, the focus turned to whether non-Francophones were going to steal the election with much focus on the menace posed by McGill students.  I remember those students--they are a menace to society ... if one has a crappy idea since they have sharp critical thinking skilz.  Anyhow, again, off message.
  • Pool-gate.  And this weekend, the question turned to swimming. Ok, not swimming but the desperate need to have the Charter passed so that Quebec women can swim without restriction by McGill Muslim men.  Yes, that dreaded Triple M (tm).  Oy.  Given that the Charter of Xenophobia only applies to government positions, it is not clear how it would affect swimming pool regulations.
Am I forgetting any other distractions from the core PQ message?  

The PQ is trying desperately to return to the Charter of Values as tyranny of the local majority is still their best strategy, I guess.

The best guess right now is that they lose.  And if they do, the infighting and blame-casting will be epic.  I hope this is what plays out, as karma can be so unkind.

Dear Friends of Patty Weitsman

Dear friends of Pattie,
The news is awful.  The second battle with leukemia is over.  The last effort to treat the disease failed, and she died last night.  I thought her friends in the IR business should know.

I found out about her struggle late during the first round of her fight, but was kept apprised via a community info-sharing/coordination group the second time.  It is clear that Pattie was just as brave, stubborn, tough, and all that the second time, but it was not enough. 

Cover of Waging War by Patricia A. WeitsmanOver the past year or two, I have been sending Patty silly pictures to try to lift her spirits.  It was all I could do from a distance.  That and promote her book.  And damn, it is a mighty fine book (I have changed my twitter and facebook avatars to her book), explaining the tradeoffs and dynamics involving American choices between alliances and coalitions of the willing.  I just wish she could have been promoting it at the ISA.

Of course, I wish I spent more time with Patty over the years, as she was an awesome conference buddy.  I almost got the chance to be her colleague, but that job search did not work out for me so many years ago.  It would have been terrific, as she has been a fierce ally of mine even though we rarely connected--just at conferences.  She had a great sense of humor (which means she laughs at my jokes), has been such a voice of reason, and provided great service to the profession.  She was such a great spark of humanity.

I am already missing Patty.

Given that her work was on alliances, I think this New Zealand bit of grieving works in this context.  I'd like to rage at the skies over this loss.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

ISA 2014 Wrap-Up

Twas the best of times, twas the coldest of times.

Actually, just really the best. The cold and bitter winds ended after the second day, although Vegas it was not.  And Vegas was a talking point given the revelation that the 2021 conference will be in Las Vegas, and thus fulfilling the dreams of many ISA goers.  My wife?  Probably not as thrilled. 

Other than that news and the Duckies, the conference was very similar to previous ones.  For instance, serving on a panel during the final time slot means .... lots of empty chairs:
This is a bit deceptive since the large room makes the decent turnout look somewhat less good.  I was on three panels: a chair of the twitter panel that went very well, the chair of the panel that honored the Foreign Policy Analysis's Distinguished Scholar, Rose McDermott, and a discussant for this panel on spatial dynamics and civil war.  Very smart folks doing very interesting work that does not cite me enough ;) 

I spent most of the conference meeting with folks, catching up with their research and other activities (and, yes, getting some gossip), constantly dazzled by the creativity, diligence and ambition of so many folks.  I had multiple meals where I was the relatively quiet person, just enjoying the fun folks at the table making me laugh.  I met with my editors, thrilled to see the new book prominently displayed and only slightly embarassed about missing another deadline (the next book goes out to the editor Tuesday, I swear!).  I met with several of my former grad students, as that relationship never ends.  Despite still suffering Australia-induced jet lag, I quite positive the whole time.  Everything is awesome, and I cannot really complain, especially with two more talks/ski trips in my near future plus a new opportunity to go to Paris in late April. 

See y'all at APSA in DC (with perhaps some ultimate!).

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Imposter, ISA 2014 edition

Long ago, Dan Drezner posted about the imposter syndrome.  The basic idea is that many folks feel as if they will be found out, that there are other folks out there that are smarter, more informed and that one is just getting away with being less than that until eventually getting found out. 

That piece resonated with me way back then, and it was funny to hear multiple people raise it this week in Toronto at the ISA.  I suddenly realized why this might be the case: there are so many impressive people doing impressive stuff that everyone seems better, more expert and so on, so more folks feel as if they are imposters.  I have long said that there is always a bigger fish (thanks to Phantom Menace, yuck). 

Well, I got to hang out with some really sharp folks, who are so ambitious, creative, responsible, aware and engaged that when I hear them utter the imposter syndrome stuff, I am really struck.  one could attend these conferences and be paralyzed by fear of being found out, paralyzed by how much more impressive these other folks are.  Or one can be inspired.  I know that I will never be as impressive as these folks, but they do inspire me to be more aware, to figure out what my impact can be, to do better, and be more helpful to others. 

Of course, there is only one song to invoke here:


Here is a pic from the Duckies!  This is where the awards for online stuff are given out at the ISA.  The pic of me is announcing the Online Media Caucus.  I have some celebrity these days for my role in the ISA blogging controversy.  I would rather have not had any of us go through it, but I do appreciate the appreciation.

More importantly, and still self-centeredly, I am most pleased that Political Violence at a Glance received best collective blog of the year.  I am most proud of our efforts there.

To be clear, I recused myself from the voting in that category.

Anyhow, the ISA has been quite delightful this year and I am thrilled with how things have went. 
Erica Chenoweth, Co-editor of PV@G and I with the well-earned Duckie

Thursday, March 27, 2014

NATO Unimpressive?

Not. This article is more of the same--more panic, less insight.  Yes, the cuts are problematic as they are uncoordinated and very much un-Smart Defense (good news for my next paper).  But some perspective sauce is badly needed.

Yes, there is less American military hardware in Europe now.  But Russia is also still further away from the places that the U.S. and NATO guarantee via Article V of the NATO treaty than in the old cold war days.  And Russia's military is not the same as the old USSR's. 

Most importantly, the US, France, and the UK still have nuclear weapons, which are and always have been the key to deterrence in Europe.  Indeed, for most of the cold war, these nukes offset Soviet supremacy.  These days, is Russia militarily supreme in Europe?  I am not so sure.  The Russian military has been far from impressive since ... mid-Afghanistan.  Whereas the US has demonstrated superior skill on a conventional battlefield.  So, unless Russia tries to launch an insurgency, I think we are ok.

The reality is this is not about hardware but about interests:
“The American people are not going to war with Russia over Ukraine, full stop,” a senior administration official said, echoing public comments by Mr. Obama.
It really is that simple.  The asymmetry of interests in Ukraine make it abundantly clear that we cannot deter Russia now.  It is not about what we have but what we are willing to use.  This asymmetry attenuates the further one moves from East to West.  Given the World Wars and the Cold War, Poland now is guaranteed via NATO its security.  The Baltics are a smidge harder to assure, but NATO has repeatedly acted to protect the reputation of the alliance.  That really is what motivated the Bosnia moves in 1995, kept NATO together despite differences of its members during the Kosovo campaign, and kept everyone in Afghanistan far longer than one could otherwise reasonably expect.

The pattern is consistent--when NATO as an institution is under threat, the members do what they have to do.  A threat to the Baltics or to Poland would raise questions about NATO itself--and that is the tripwire.

So, before we worry that the US and its allies are only spending two or three or six times as much as Russia, we need to look at the alliances, the commitments, and who is in and out.  By the way, whose power is added to Russia's as it contemplates any potential aggression?  Oh, none.  That's right--Russia has only weak supporters and no allies in this.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

ISA Governing Board News

There is really only one big piece of news thus far at the ISA's Governing Council Meeting:

ISA in Vegas 2021. 

This came up as a result of my complaining about wifi in the hotels (Sheraton Toronto charges $75 per head for wifi in conference rooms, for instance).  ISA contracts years and years ahead, so when they contracted for the 2014 ISA, they bought the promise that wifi would be free around the world rather than demanding a rate.  Since then, they learned the lesson so now when they bargain, they insist on free wifi.  This will be noticed down the road but not this year.

So, this is really two pieces of news: ISA in Las Vegas in 2021 AND free wifi eventually.  I didn't ask when it would kick in because the Vegas news knocked my socks off. 

The other piece of news is that the blogging proposal got kicked to a committee for consideration.  It was pretty clear that there is not much support for original proposal or anything like it.  But join the Online Media Caucus to protect our freedom  as well as to support panels and such on social media down the road.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Fruitful Comparisons

Turns that I am not the only person who thinks one can compare apples and oranges:

In IR and poli sci in general, we are often compelled to compare events/dynamics/cases that are not identical.  We do not have too many genetically identical rats upon which to experiment.  The world gives us stuff that we can then compare.  And we can glean much from these comparisons--whether they are most similar or most different.  We just need to be careful about what we are doing, how we are doing and how much we can generalize. 

Anyhow, sometimes pop culture and I agree on poli sci methods.  Ok, rarely.  But here is one example.

Make Mine Marvel Monday

It looks like they may just have gotten it right:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Comment Dites-Vous Voterfraudfraud en Francais?

Yes, it is that time of the election cycle where the PQ's self-destruction leads to focusing not on how to appeal to more voters but get certain voters out of the pool.  Who would be such folks?  Students and non-Francophones.  Perhaps the PQ move to the right is leading to some GOP imitation?

The challenge for the PQ is that their xenophobic stances of late are not only good for mobilizing rural folks who fear immigrants and dividing other parties (the CAQ), but are also good for mobilizing those who are opposed to race-baiting.  Non-Francophones are very much more likely to turn out in an election where they are a target for discrimination.  The PQ has made it very clear that Anglophones who are not Sikhs nor Muslims nor Jews have much to fear since they want to tighten existing rules that limit English in the workplace and in society (no more bonjour/hi).  Allophones--those whose first language is neither French nor English--are mostly immigrants and do realize the symbolic politics of the Charter of Xenophobia is aimed directly against them.  So, yes, PQ, use xenophobia at your peril.

Students?  At first, I thought this was just about limiting McGill students from voting, but it may be more than that.  The PQ role the student opposition to tuition increases into power, but then became less friendly to student interests.  Plus the kids are not the fans of sovereignty/secession that the old folks are.  So, another constituency that is not so likely to vote PQ these days.

So, what to do?  Limit their ability to vote, of course.  Making actual appeals to people is just too damned hard.  This, like other measures, reeks of desperation.  The Charter of Values was very much aimed to win this election, but the PQ seems to be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory with all of its bad moves.  It has brought on board a right wing nationalist that was sure to alienate the unions that play a big part of Quebec politics and in the PQ.  It started talking about sovereignty when a super-majority of the province just does not want to think about such stuff.  And then it waffled on that issue, which raises the natural question for a separatist party: if you don't want separation, why do you exist?  So, what does it have left to enhance its appeal?  Not much, so the resorting to #voterfraudfraud makes all the sense in the world.  After all, the party proved with the Charter of Values that it has no shame.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

When Karzai Does Not Surprise

It turns out that President Karzai is not so appalled by the events of Crimea.  Does that make him a Russian stooge?  No, it makes him consistent.  Afghanistan does not recognize the Durand Line that divides Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Why not?  Because the Pashtuns that live on either side of the border do not believe the line should exist, more or less.  That there is even a glimmer of Greater Pashtunistan out there.  Yes, Afghan irredentism targeting Pakistan territory is one of the many reasons Pakistan mucks about with Afghanistan.

So, yeah, Karzai does not mind irredentism and revision of boundaries that much since a key part of his constituency is perhaps a smidge irredentst.

Oh, and, the other reason why Karzai does not surprise me on this: he has long lived in the Tyson Zone.

You Know You Have Aged When....

Your reaction to Kevin Bacon's re-enactment of Footloose on the Tonight Show is mostly focused on how skinny Kevin Bacon is.

Thirty years!  The movie that gave me the best chicken demonstration for Intro to IR is thirty years old.  I guess you never know what is going to endure and become a cultural touchstone. 

Previewing the Next Book Via Macleans Podcast

I got to do a short interview with John Geddes of Macleans, Canada's Time/Newsweek/USNews magazine (is there a better equivalent?).  Tis now a podcast (see bottom of the page).  He was asking me about Canada's mission in Afghanistan since it officially ended last week with the return of the training mission. 

My answers largely reflect my thoughts after writing my next book, When the Gloves Dropped (yes, a hockey reference), which I am finishing this weekend.  The snow is a good thing for finishing this.  ISA being next week?  Yes and no.  Anyhow, check it out if you want to see where my line of thought is heading, while the book makes it through the publication process.

Oh, and if you have any ideas for cover pics for the book, let me know.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Bad Ideas Spread .... Part LVII

Bad ideas spread further than good ones .... I have long not been a fan of Robert Kaplan's work.  So much so that I only read his stuff when I have to.  Why waste my time reading dreck when there is stuff I could read that might actually inform rather than anger me.

[Yes, ad hominen criticism is not the best approach, but I am not really attacking Kaplan the man, just that his writings consistently suck, and, worse, consistently get wide dissemination.  Hence no link from me]

So, he apparently wrote a piece that is pro-imperialism.  I first learned of it when a site where I write promoted it as a good read.  I responded on twitter, basically saying oh, no.  The site suggested that I write a response.  I responded, saying no, that would mean I have to read it.  So, instead I have read it through the tweets of others.  See the storify below:

Oy.  When will folks learn?  Crap on a stick.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Are We Russophoboes?

Lots of words have been spilled on this Crimea thing, and so it is reasonable to ask whether our opposition to Crimean self-determination might be more about our feelings about Russia than about secession/irredentism.

Chris Blattman asked:
 It raises a legitimate question: shouldn't people be allowed to choose their destinies?  Shouldn't folks be allowed to engage in self-determination?  I responded with heaps of tweets, but let me summarize my twittering here.

It is really hard to ignore the process.  That is, the way this thing was conducted taints it entirely--sham referendum, held as a pop quiz, at gun point, with much fraud.  Putting that aside, the general argument that I follow is that secession is something that is a last resort (there is a vast literature on the morality of secession--see Allen Buchanan and Margaret Moore).  Massive political change has lots of consequences so we should save it for when other solutions have been ruled out.  Part of this is because if Crimea gets to change its boundaries, what about groups within Crimea?  Quebec is facing that discussion right now--if it secedes, what about the Anglophones of various parts of Quebec?  What about the First Nations?  Part of this is that democracy only works if those who lose accept losing. 

The problem with Ukraine/Crimea/Russia is that the political changes in Kyiv were just a few weeks ago.  If the concern is that the new Ukraine government might repress Russians in Crimea, then the first step is to try to encourage the government to restrain itself, to develop new institutions that give Crimea more autonomy and all the other tools in the ethnic conflict management tool box.  When the Baltics became independent, they promised new policies that would be harmful to the Russians living there--mostly language laws that would restrict rights.  A bunch of international organizations, including the EU, NATO, and OSCE jumped on them to encourage more moderate policies.  Things are not perfect in these places, but they are better than what people initially feared.

So, the really big problem with the Crimean situation and Russia's handling of Ukraine in general is that not enough time has passed to figure out what is likely to happen, for outsiders to pressure, and so on.  What separates Kosovo and South Sudan from Crimea is that the former experienced decades of repression, where the host governments of Serbia and Sudan broke many promises despite facing significant international pressure.  It is not just that these government repressed, but that they repressed for a long time despite much pressure.  Kosovars and South Sudanese had few tools left to improve their condition besides secession.  Crimean Russians?  None of the usual tools had a chance to work yet. 

You don't have to hate or fear Russia to find the Crimean situation play out in bad ways.  Should there be a high bar for secession?  Yes.  Even higher for irredentism since irredentism usually implies war (the country losing the territory usually gives it up only after a fight).

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Xenophobic Squirrel Says ...

Yep, I am going there.  But now that the PQ is extending the Charter of Values to cover students--that they would not be able to wear niqabs if they go to school in Quebec--it is time to meme these xenophobic folks.  The desperation is palpable as the PQ sees its lead slipping away.  Apparently, they need hate and fear to defeat a rookie leader and a lame Liberal Party.

Why squirrel? 

I have long considered distraction sauce to be squirrel flavored.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Irredentism Two-Step

Putin recognized Crimea today as independent.... is this anti-democratic, given yesterday's clear enunciation of Crimean thirst for union with Russia?  Nay.  It is the Irredentism Two-Step:

Step 1: Crimea becomes independent.
Step 2: Russia annexes Crimea.

So, then Russia can claim it did not violate the territorial integrity of Ukraine.  Tis a sham, right?  This denial that Russia would be engaged in such dastardly deeds is obviously as sham-tastic as the referendum.  This is for domestic audiences and committed confirmation biased folks abroad.  Otherwise, it is just as farcical as holding a pop quiz referendum, gaming the questions, and preventing dissent.

In a day or two or a few more, Russia will annex Crimea for the first act of irredentism by a great power since .... Germany in 1989 if you counted West Germany as a great power or China if you consider it to be a great power way back when it took over Tibet.  Non-great powers?  Armenia is probably still the most recent, but I could be forgetting someone.  Serbia's and Croatia's dueling irredentists both failed ultimately. 

What music goes best with the Irredentism Two-Step?

Sham-Wow! Confirmation Bias Alert!

I got a heap of grief last week for my Globe and Mail post on the Crimea referendum.  Most focused on the questionable wording.  I had to back off slightly from my original statement that the referendum wording was asking people to choose between irredentism and secession.  Instead, it was more like asking if people wanted irredentism (joining with Russia) or Quebec' 1995 unclear question.

Why is that?  Because the question focused on the 1992 Crimean Constitution and staying with Ukraine.  Well, that is more confusing than it sounds since the 1992 Crimean Constitution was actually quite controversial with much opposition from Ukraine for its secessionist elements.  Kind of like asking for sovereignty and yet not sovereignty, as confused Quebeckers may remember.

The funny thing is that folks focused on this, but that was not the only parts of the referendum that were sham-tastic that I discussed in the piece:
  • Only external observers turned out to be far right folks from European Parliament.  No observers from respected election monitoring places.  And, no, the CIS folks don't count.
  • The pop quiz nature of the referendum--a week?  Really, since when has any democracy held an election a week after the election's announcement?  I dare you to name one election that was held in such a short window.  Pop quizzes are to enforce attendance and reading requirements in classes, not for major political change.
  • There is that whole occupation thing by Russian military folks who deny that they are Russian military folks.  Add that to opposition folks being arrested/disappearing and other forms of repression.
And so what we do get?  95% support in the referendum for irredentism.  What percentage of the Crimean Tatar and ethnic Ukrainian vote would you need to get that result?  Yeah, I am questioning the validity of the referendum's outcome.  It was a sham from the start, whether the question itself is as confusing to the voters as it was to me and to much of the coverage or not.

If you think that the referendum was perfectly democratic, then either you don't understand democracy or your confirmation bias is so strong that reality has a hard time getting through.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Return of the Steve: The End of An Aussie Trilogy

This has been my third trip to Australia.  The first was to research the book.  The second was to participate in a conference (found out this week that we have a publisher).  And the third was not about me.  Well, originally but I could not help myself.  I was invited to be a discussant for a book workshop on secession.  Ryan Griffiths of U of Sydney organized a workshop to vet his book, and asked me to come all this way.  I said no if it was only for one day, as my rule is that I must stay in a place longer than it takes to get there and back.  Given that the flights are about 24 hours each way, I needed to be here for three days.  Ryan agreed, and he was able to organize a talk for me to give on what I learned about Australia for my book. 

The third day?  That was today: tourism.  I walked along the coast from lovely Clovelly Beach up to Bronte beach (where I went into the water and played with the waves) and then Bondi Beach (the La Jolla of Sydney, at least in my mind).  I then took a bus to Watson Bay, which is the tippy top of the "south head"--the part of the land that reaches upward to form the southern edge of the bay that is Sydney's waterfront. Illustrated to the right as an old sailing ship was leaving Sydney and going into the Pacific today.

So, what do I have to report from this trip? 
  • The U of Sydney folks are a very bright bunch of folks, as Ryan's book is already in very good shape and he received some great feedback from a variety of perspectives.  And they were terrific hosts--I ate well.
  • That perhaps I can drive on the other side of the road, but I keep forgetting to walk on the other side of the sidewalk. 
  • I had no real jet lag upon arrival.  I do wonder how I will handle class on Monday after twice experiencing Sunday via the miracle of crossing the international date line and flying 24 hours again.
  • When I visited Romania in 2004 or 2005,  I was struck by how many EU flags I saw.  So, after a few days in Sydney, I can only guess that there is a deep desire on the part of the Aussies to join the international organization of the Lion King.  So many banners for the Lion King, it seemed like the national flag.
  • Aussies start early and end early, at least while I was here.  Heaps of traffic at 7am the morning I arrived.  I walked to Darling Harbour my last night to try out a brew pub.  The whole area was chock full of folks who were finishing their drinks and moving on.  At 7pm?  Including bachelorette parties.  I would expect such stuff to get going later.   
  • When you order kangaroo tail, you get a heap of meat.   
  • I was reminded that Australian TV is ... lame.  Although Paula Abdul is judging dance competitions in Australia!  Hmmm....
  • On the other hand, Sydney is a beautiful city, where even the thunderstorms move quickly through so that we can get ack to enjoying the city. 
  • I still don't quite understand Australian Rules Football, but it makes more sense than cricket and is pretty entertaining.
Anyhow, twas a quick trip.  And I do hope that there is a second trilogy.   I do hope to return and see more of the country/continent. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

When Vandalism Rocks

I had to post this picture:

An artist added a hijab to this picture of Pauline Marois, who is trying to capitalize on the polarization in Quebec politics (thanks to her party's xenophobic laws on government workers wearing religious symbols).  This is just brilliant. 

The "Charter of Values" is such a blatant effort to use hate and fear to address a non-problem, and it seems to be working to divide the opposition.  I just hope her embracing of someone who might be the Rupert Murdoch of Canada might cause enough of her likely supporters to flee to keep the PQ from winning a majority.

We can dream, can't we?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Going the Distance

Why am I going to Australia for a three day trip?  Because three days > day to get there + day to get back. 

I was invited to participate in a book workshop to help Ryan Griffiths improve his manuscript.  I have done a few of these before but this is the longest I will have gone.  This, like the previous ones, focus on the International Relations of Secession.  It is a very good book, but I hope to still have a few things to say to help out.

I did not want to go just for one day, so I conned persuaded Ryan to organize a talk where I can speak about what I learned on my first trip to Australia--whether NATO membership matters or not for how countries behaved in Afghanistan.  As a partner of NATO but not a member, does outsider status help or hinder Australia?  Mostly, helps.  So, my book tour goes inter-continental this week. 

On my third day?  Sydney tourism.  And then I come back.  I wish I could stay longer, see more of the country/continent, but I have a class to teach on Monday and preparation for ISA to do. 

All I can be sure of is that I will knackered by the time I am done. 

The over/under on number of manuscripts that I am reviewing for journals on the plane ride there and back is 2.5 (I have four in my bag).  So, over or under, readers of the Spew?

Blogging and tweeting will be quite light for the next week or so.  Tis bad timing since Canada is officially leaving Afghanistan this week (I had to turn down a CBC request), Crimea's sham referendum is Sunday, and, yes, there is a missing plane in the general area.

See you on the other side:

Monday, March 10, 2014

Raising 80s Awareness, One Post at a Time

Kevin Bacon schools the Millennials on the 1980s.  Good stuff

Badge of Honor: Op-Ed Edition

I think my career has surpassed a new threshold.  I wrote a piece on the sham referendum in Ukraine, and a reader of the Globe and Mail referred to me as: vile scum!

This, of course, reminded me of Obi-Wan Kenobi referring to Mos Eisley as a hive of vile and scum!

So, woot!

Sham Referendum

I wrote this over the weekend to discuss the vote Crimea will have on Sunday to determine its future.  Perhaps sham is too polite.

And no, there are no shots taken at Quebec's referenda.  And no, I forgot to include my line about how the CIS (the Commonwealth of Independent States) is the Ghostbusters of sham election monitoring since that is who you call when you want a sham election monitored in the former Soviet space.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Concerned Experts on Ukraine/Russia

Check out this post by a new group--those who study Ukraine/Russia are most concerned about what is going on and have some good ideas about how to de-escalate.

Pondering Sham Elections

I storified a conversation I just had with Susan Hyde of Yale on twitter about sham elections (I am still a storify amateur so read from the bottom up):

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Irredentism Is Not the Only Inconsistent Thing in IR

I am shocked, shocked that countries may develop inconsistent policies as they react to separatism in other countries.  Ok, I am not.  After all, my quantitative piece on this stuff is entitled: Discrimination in International Relations.  That and the related book, The Ties That Divide, argue that countries will support those secessionists that they "like" and oppose those that they "dislike."  What do I mean by like?  Domestic politics FTW!  That is, often but not always, domestic audiences in country x will have a preference about what happens in country y based on whether the folks in x have ties to anyone in y, particularly ethnic ties.  When ethnic ties do not exist, other stuff may matter more, such as precedents (I am a precedent-skeptic), norms (I am a norm-skeptic), or strategic interests (yeah, those make sense). 

So, to take a local and obvious example, Canada is taking a strong position on this.  Some would say this is because Canada is vulnerable to secession.  To that, I say booshwah.  Canada recognized Kosovo.  Indeed, one of the key targets of Ties That Divide was the conventional wisdom that vulnerability to secession deters support for secession elsewhere.  Anyhow, Canada might be doing this because it is a good friend of countries that are sort of friend with NATO.  But part of it is that Ukrainian-Canadians are a key constituency in Canada. 

Sure, it is not just about ethnic ties, but countries react to secessionist movements based on the context of each one, rather than to any over-arching principle.  Russia supports secessionists it likes (Abkhaz, South Osettian, Transnistrian, Crimean Russian) and not those it dislikes (Kosovo).  The US tends not to like secession because it disrupts the status quo, and as the dominant power in the system, the US likes things as it is.  But when repression of an ethnic group is a greater threat to regional stability (Kosovo) or when movie stars keep pushing (South Sudan?), the US will support secession. 

There is heaps of good normative work by Allen Buchanan, Margaret Moore, Jason Sorens and others on the oughts of secession and recognition.  I have my own views, partly guided by these folks and partly shaped by my prejudices (as a Yankee) and as a scholar of separatism.  I tend not to support secession in democracies since there are other ways to get one's interests represented.  Quebec and Scotland, for instance, can get much from their current governments and are not repressed.  But when facing a government that repeatedly targeted ethnic minorities and revoked whatever autonomy, then, yeah, secession makes sense (Kosovo, South Sudan, East Timor). 

Anyhow, the point here is that in International Relations, one should expect inconsistency in irredentism and in secession.  Otherwise, one is a foolish hobgoblin or something like that.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Independence Versus Union

Much of the time secession is the goal, sometimes it is just a pathway to union with a homeland.  Yesterday, Crimea could be either.  Today?  Looking more and more like irredentism.  Lots of separatist movements end up dividing over their end goals with the various Kashmiri groups being the best examples, but since Crimea's separatist movement seems more of a creature of Moscow than a genuine secessionist movement, that kind of debate of where to go is not happening.

To be clear, irredentism can be and often is inconsistent, so what Bill and I wrote for the Monkey Cage yesterday still stands.  I do not think that Russia is aiming to unify all or even many of the lost Russians and their territories in a Greater Russia.  Putin's own statements are contradictory, so his nationalist appeals are actually quite muddled.  Also, Crimea is one thing, but Eastern Ukraine?  That would not be a fait accompli and would most likely require war. 

Of course, geography here raises some questions--how can Russia support Crimea if it does not have any land between Russia and Crimea? Sure, Alaska is not exactly adjacent to the rest of the US, but Alaska has its own fresh water and can produce its own power.  Crimea?  Apparently not so much.  They could build a bridge to tie Russia proper to Crimea, but that will just help facilitate the flow of subsidies that will cost Russia a decent amount over the long run (irredentism is rarely profitable in the sense of making money--it tends to be costly, which does not necessarily deter it).

This also represents a shift for Russia from supporting quasi-independent frozen places--Transnistria, South Ossetia, Abkhazia--to actually annexing hunks of former Soviet territory.  So, there is much room for concern. 

But all of this seems like quite ad hoc.  There is no master plan for grand reunification since Putin would have been pretty happy a few weeks ago with his man in power in Ukraine, and Ukraine remaining independent but highly influenced by Russia.  With that no longer in play, then it seemed like Crimea could be used as leverage, but now it is spinning a bit beyond that.

Do we really know what is going on?  Probably not, as I don't think Putin does.  Still, there are plenty of insights over at Monkey Case, Duck of Minerva, and other places.  This is not the first time we have seem various aspects of this crisis, so our understanding of these past events can be helpful here.  Still, ours is a probabilistic science at best, and we tend to gloss over the role of individuals.  In this case, the perceptions, reactions, and predilections of an individual, Putin, matter a great deal.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Make Mine Marvel: Captain Sequel Edition

Looks pretty cool to me:

I think it will resist being dark for the sake of being dark... or not.

Flinging Poo: Posting at the Monkey Cage

Bill and I took our 2008 book and considered what it means for Crimea/Russia today at the Monkey Cage.

They have quite a bit of traffic over there as perhaps the most prominent blogging group for translating poli sci for the masses, attached as they are to the Washington Post.  Woot!

Future Canadian Wrong-ness

Folks are starting to ponder a new effort to bring Ukraine into NATO.  Oh joy.  In Canada, this makes a heap of sense because Ukrainian-Canadians are not an insignificant voting bloc.  And, yes, enlargement of NATO can be driven by domestic politics.

But I am not sure Canada would do more than just alienate itself a wee bit in NATO.  The Europeans have thus far not been so thrilled as they understand a bit better than the Canadians (or care more, since Canadian decision-makers are not dumb, just domestically oriented) that a Ukraine in NATO might pop the credibility bubble.  That is, the essence of NATO is the commitment to each other in case of attack.  Well, would France risk Paris for Kyiv?  Would Germany risk Munich for Sevastopol?

The US spent the entire Cold War trying to convince its allies as well as its adversaries that, yes, the US would endanger Chicago for Bonn.  Alliances, as Glenn Snyder instructed a while back and Patricia Weitsman (get well!) wrote more recently, the fundamental problem of alliances are two fold and related: one needs to assure allies that you will show up when needed, but that allies can drag you into wars you don't want to fight.  The allies must not engage in more reckless behavior with the guarantee in their pocket.  The US put hundreds of thousands of troops and families into Europe to serve as a credible tripwire to assure the Europeans.

Is anybody thinking of what it would take to credibly commit to Ukraine's defense if it became a member of NATO?  Just flying some jets over on a regular basis like the Baltics?  Probably would need more than that.

In short, I would not be surprised if domestic politics pushed the Harper government to push for Ukraine membership in NATO.  I would also not be surprised if Canada lost that battle, one that I would hope Canada loses.  Enlargement has reached its natural boundaries of credibility.  No Georgia, no Ukraine, no thanks.

and, yes, I hate agreeing with Kissinger.

Secretly Irredentist Songs

Everything is awesome!  But I do wonder if the song from the Lego movie is not just a secret appeal to irredentism:
"Everything is cool when we are part of a team!" 
 So, everything is better when folks are united, and what is more united than a mother country with its lost territory?
"Everything is better when we stick together!"
Better when we ethnic kin are unified?
"Side by side you and I are gonna win forever!"
Seems like an irredentist appeal to me.
"We're the same. I'm like you. You're like me"
Homogeneity for the win?
"Everything is awesome when we are living our dream!"    

Dreaming of what?  Greater Russia?  Greater Armenia?  I guess it depends on the dream, but I do wonder if the building blocks, the Legos, are really a metaphor for annexing like units together to make a bigger country inhabited by those who are like each other.
"Awesome to lose?"
For Milosevic, it was for a while....  For nationalists, losing a battle is not so bad because you can remember it for 600 years or so. 

So, yeah, we have to keep in mind that sometimes a movie and a song might have some subtext that legitimate the darker sides of nationalism.  Perhaps all the bricks in the Lego movie should be black and gray?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Experiments in Gif, Progress in Reality

I love this gif, but don't know if it will work right:

Double woot!  Heap of progress but still much to go. H/T to Mother Jones via Gawker.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

When A Show Betrays

This is about How I Met Your Mother, spoilers ensue:

Clarifying Shooting First

I have discussed how this Ukraine situation is very much coup-ish as the big question is: who shoots first?

As this video illustrates, what I mean is who shoots at the other side first--shooting in the air does not count, although it is mighty scary:

Damn, those Ukrainians have some guts.

And my Russian is rusty, but I guess that one of the Russians accused the Ukranians of being American special forces....

Anyhow, wow!

The Electoral Politics of Boundary Changing

Keith Darden points out that if Crimea secedes from Ukraine, electoral outcomes in Ukraine would shift with fewer pro-Russia voters in the political system, and that would be bad for Russia.  This is not unique to this case.

In any successful secession or irredentist effort (the latter refers to annexing a "lost" territory inhabited by ethnic kin), the boundary moves, changing who votes in the rump state (Ukraine in this case) and who votes in the new state (Crimea if independent, Russia if this is irredentist and Crimea gets annexed).  In this case, new voters in Russia would be largely irrelevant, given the populations of Crimea compared to Russia.  But in Ukraine, the change is significant, given that the elections in Ukraine seem to have a blue/red, polarized, narrow outcomes kind of thing that might seem familiar to the US.  Indeed, if Texas left the union (please?), and the electoral votes of Texas went away, the Republicans would have a much, much harder time winning national elections.

This change in the balance of political power is what can make one secession so very relevant for the rest of the country (see Slovenia and Yugoslavia).  It also can be a deterrent to irredentism since the new voters may not vote the way the folks in power would want them--hence no Greater Albania project (a Greater Kosovo project is something else). 

My point here is that Darden's point is not just relevant for Russian interests today but is relevant for understanding secession and irredentism in general--you are not just changing a line, and not just changing who governs person x or group y, but also who wins and loses elections (or other ways to allot power) in the new and old states.  And folks anticipate that, shaping their preferences towards secession and irredentism. 

Of course, that is not the only set of interests in play or else Harper's Conservative government would want Quebec to secede since that would mean a heap of Liberal and NDP voters no longer counting....  Hmmm.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Ukraine Analogies

Lots of folks are speculating about what Ukraine/Crimea/Russia is like, including not Abkhazia.  Right now, the analogies that come to mind for me are: coups d'etat and poker.

Coup?  Yes, because in a coup, the anti-incumbents (for want of a better term), move first, trying to create facts on the ground that are hard to reverse.  If this fait accompli is successful, the incumbents are then put in a position where they are the ones with the pressure to use force.  The onus is on them.  Which is why Putin would be smart to stick to Crimea.  Other deployments in Ukraine might mean trying to push Ukrainians aside, which would then put the onus on using force back on Russians.

Using force is a big step, and you (Putin, Ukrainian leaders, whoever) do not really know if the order will be followed.  And if you order the use of force, and it is not carried out, then the thing collapses pretty quickly (yes, there are principal-agent problems here, damn it).  So, the preference again is to force the other palyer to face that tough decision.

Which leads us to poker.  In poker, aggression tends to win.  That is, betting big forces the other guy to have to face a difficult decision--am I bluffing? Are my cards good but not great?  In the past ten years or so of online poker, the lesson has been learned that hyper-aggression tends to work because it forces folks to have to make difficult decisions of risking their chip stack or waiting for a better spot ... and they wait for a better spot.

So, if we have to play the analogy game, and it is one that I both revile and embrace (I tend to teach via analogies), then let's think about the situation as it is now: two sides facing each other, waiting for the other to blink.  This is not the Cold War but rather Coup 101.

Homophobia Humor

The ever delightfully brutal Brian McFadden brings it once again, this time on a "homophobia handbook."

I love the last two frames in particular.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Let's Play the NATO Game

Lots of folks are hoping for NATO to do something to stop Putin in Crimea.  As always, I am reminded of Mike Lombardi (formerly of and more recently formerly of Cleveland Browns) who reminds us not to confuse hope with a plan. 

Still, let's think about this for a second anyway.  Let's say that folks within NATO want something to be done, either fast-tracking Ukraine into NATO (I almost could not type that amidst my laughs--NATO, fast track!) or deploying NATO troops to the countries neighboring Ukraine or something else.

Step 1: 

Get consensus at NATO.  Oops.  To be clear, what we mean by consensus is not that every country has to agree or contribute (see ye olde NATO book on the latter), but that no country or group of countries feels strongly enough to "break silence" and object to a course of action.  Gaining consensus can be very hard to do, especially when countries have very conflicting interests.  Who might object to NATO acting? 
  • France, because France often is not thrilled at NATO actions that might require folks to pay up.  France blocked sending NATO's AWACS planes to Afghanistan for a while in 2008-09 because of the cost that they might have to incur.
  • Greece.  Just because. 
  • Turkey.  If Greece doesn't object, Turkey might partly to do the opposite of Greece but mostly because NATO did not respond too energetically when Turkey was attacked.  Yes, remember back to when Syria engaged in some violence across the border in Turkey?  Remember that NATO did not do that much that quickly, and then finally agreed to deploy a few Patriot batteries?  Turkey might not be above being just a bit spiteful.
  • Hungary.  Why?  Because Hungary is not immediately menaced by Russia's military actions in Ukraine but is quite vulnerable to Russia's threats to stop the flow of gas (remember, back when the Reagan administration was not thrilled about Europe becoming dependent on Soviet gas/oil?  Those folks were right about that).  Hungary is not alone in this at all, by the way, but has a bit more distance than some others so that it probably focuses more on the gas threat than the conventional military threat (unlike Poland and the Baltics).
  • How about Italy, Portugal, and Spain with their budget problems?  They were hardly enthused about Libya.
  • Germany?  Hmmmm.  
  • US?  Obama does not want any new wars, but I could imagine supporting deployment of something nearby to demonstrate concern.  Still, US recognizes that Ukraine/Crimea soundly within Russian sphere of interests.  
 Anyhow, consensus would be mighty, mighty hard to get.  Consensus to do what?

Step 2:
  • Deployment of forces into Ukraine.  Please.  Not even as a joke. Not going to happen.
  • Fast tracking Ukraine into NATO?  This is almost as silly.  While I have scoffed (in print) about the conditions imposed upon those seeking to become members of NATO, one basic idea was not to import existing border disputes.  Sure, that was a pie crust promise, but this is an entirely different thing here.  How many countries have been admitted to NATO with Russian troops engaged in a serious effort to undermine the political system?  Last I checked, Moldova was still on the outside. 
    • Also, keep in mind that NATO likes to have democracies with civilian control of the military--does Ukraine meet those and other relevant conditions?
  • Deploying forces to Poland, Baltics.  Well, NATO regularly has air patrols based in Baltics to demonstrate commitment (very much like Iceland).   This would have to be careful--to not threaten Russia might but still reassure the nervous members.  It would not stop Putin at all, but would make the members a bit less worried, maybe.
  • Sanctions.  NATO could coordinate sanctions against Russia, but how long would they last given that Russia is so important for Syria, Iran, and heaps of other issues.  It is one thing to cut off trade with a minor country, but cutting ties with Russia?  Not likely to last very long.  If only we could just not go to the Olympics? 

Step 3:

  • Did any of this make a difference?  Not much.

Less Instant Ukraine Reactions

Yesterday, I suggested that there is little the US/NATO could do about the Russian intervention in Ukraine.  That still is very much true.  Obama's statement referred to costs--that this would cost Russia and it will.  But that is not a redline or a serious effort at deterrence--just a statement of reality.  Russia's relations with the US, EU, NATO and others will be "taxed" by this event--Russia will get less in the near future because of what it does here.

The questions this morning (other than "is that a tank or not") revolve around what can we call this event, what is the best analogy, and otherwise can we make sense of it.

At first blush, this looks like irredentism to me.  That is, Russia is acting to take back a hunk of territory it "lost", a hunk inhabited by ethnic kin.  Why?  Because I want to inflate sales of my book with Bill Ayres?  No.  Indeed, we tend to dismiss the prospects of Russian irredentism because Russia did not have a clear identity way back five years ago that suggested that politicians could score major points at home for annexing lost territories.  If Russia were to annex Crimea, it would very much fit the textbook definition of irredentism.  And irredentism, as of late, is frowned up by the international community, so Russia has engaged in disguised irredentism to minimize opposition from abroad--Abkhazia is an independent country, flying Russian planes?  Hmmm. 

So, many folks are predicting a new frozen conflict, where Crimea is de facto a part of Russia but de jure an unrecognized but independent state.  Good times.  Especially for organized crime, since criminals thrive in such ungoverned spaces. 

Those bending over backwards to see if Russia and the Crimean Russians have a legitimate stance on this will ponder: what of the Crimeans right to self-determination?  Others have seceded so why should the international community get in the way?  To be clear, this is not Kosovo.  The Crimea has not been repressed for years by the government in Kyiv.  And the new government did not make any serious threats to repress the people of Crimea.  There has been much written on the oughts of self-determination (not my specialty), but the Allen Buchanans and Margaret Moores of the world tend to focus on remediation--does secession address some serious grievance?  Why?  Because if people were able to secede readily whenever they were upset about losing an election, democracy would cease to function, as democracy requires an acceptance of losing much of the time.  Yes, the change in government in Kyiv was not conventional, so perhaps the Crimeans have some kind of gripe that could be resolved via a referendum, but since their security was never seriously at risk, there is no need for someone else to intervene to "protect" them.

It is quite clear that Russia is creating a fait accompli that will allow Crimea to have a referendum under gamed circumstances. Why? I am not a Putin-ologist or a Kremlinologist, so I can only guess wildly.  Some would speculate that this effort is seen as a necessary effort to keep control over naval bases on the Black Sea, but one could have imagined Russia making nice with the new government (using threats and coercion but not forced secession) to continue to have access.  Some might see this as spite--to cause the Ukrainians pain for defying Putin's will.  It could be that Putin is playing the nationalist card--appealing to the Russians of Russia by being the best defender of Russians in Ukraine, but there is no real political competition in Moscow that would force this move now. 

So, I really do not know what is in Putin's mind.  I have not had the chance to look into his eyes a la GW Bush.  It is probably more than one thing that is driving this crisis.  I will let the folks who are experts on Russia make those decisions.  All I can say is that irredentism is definitely on the table.  We may or may not label it such if Russia calls Crimea independent, but if Ukraine loses control over Crimea and Russia gains it, it will be far harder to disguise what has happened than in Abkhazia.

Which means we might have to put a second edition out of For Kin or For Country as we would need to revise the Russia chapter.