Saturday, December 9, 2017

Conferences, Workshops, Presentations, Oh My

This week was very busy with two different events in Ottawa (ok, many, with several conflicting with the two I was involved in): the Year Ahead conference that the Centre on Security, Intelligence and Defence Studies (a NPSIA center) ran and a Canadian Defence Workshop run by several friends of mine.  The former covered a variety of issues facing Canada and its pals over the next year--North Korea, the Mideast, Russia/Ukraine, many missions (or not), the US, and Cyber stuff.  The latter covered pretty much the entire range of Canadian defence dynamics and challenges.  I learned a lot from both, but can't simply present the storify of each since, well, storify is acting up.  So, what did I learn and what did I say?

The Year Ahead:
  • Trump has delegated the decision making over whether to do freedom of navigation cruises through the South China Sea to Pacific Command, so more of these are happening (Ankit Panda)
  • China is having more sway in part because ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Naitons) is divided on the South China Sea, so the members can't agree on what to do (Panda).
  • Relations between the US and China are likely to sour in the year ahead (Panda).
  • ISIS will remain a threat AND continues to have ties to the Syrian regime, which uses it when it needs to raise the spectre of jihadism for regime maintenance (Barak Barfi)
  • Iran is more dedicated to its proxies than Saudi Arabia to its own proxies (Barfi)
  • That I get annoyed when folks call Trump an isolationist because, thus far, what he has demonstrated is not less involvement in the world but more unilateralist involvement. I also get annoyed when folks say that Obama was anti-Israel.  He might have been anti-Netanyahu, but that is something else entirely.
  • That I should invite Monica Toft of the Fletcher School (Tufts) more often.  She couldn't stay long but dropped a ton of knowledge about UN and other interventions--that they tend to prolong conflicts, that supporting rebels ends conflicts faster, and more.
  • Inviting Canadian generals is always a good idea.  Brigadier General David Anderson was very interesting both on and off stage, although I am reluctant to repeat what he said since officials and officers have less latitude to be cited.
  • I talked about alliance dynamics, with the punchline that coalitions/alliances involve countries having to manage their own domestic coalition politics, and Trump makes that harder since he is toxic in Europe (and Canada).  
  • Jim Fergusson of Manitoba discussed the complexities of US-Canadian defence arrangements.  
  • Christopher Sands was very interesting, presenting a series of angles on the US-Canadian trade relationship, leaving me thinking that we are all doomed despite his sunny disposition.  He did produce the best line of the day: "Trump would kick a bunny."  And yeah, Canada is a bunny.
  • Sands argued that Canada should try to give Trump as many minor victories as possible to assuage him and hope that he does not obsess about the points of difference.
  • The last panel was on cyber stuff, and I was too fried to either live tweet or remember (sorry).
The Canadian Defence Workshop (only a few highlights as my note-taking/life-tweeting was inconsistent):
  • Sheryl Lightfoot of UBC presented three stages of First Nations-mil interactions/dynamics, which was all new info to me.  I have a very shallow knowledge of Canadian military history and Canadian mythology underplays how badly the First Nations have been treated.
  • Adam Chapnick of the Canadian Forces College: our strategy development process is broken as the military can't admit failure, outcomes hinge less on Canada than the alliance/coalition we are with so outcomes are hard to measure, and, oh yeah, outcomes are really hard to measure. Canada tends to make the big decisions and then develop the strategy afterwards (F35/F18/F-whatever anyone?).
  • Adam Lajeunesse: CA arctic policy is misunderstood, media focuses on equipment (ships/planes, things with pretty pictures).
  • Alex Bolt (JAG): really informed us of the imperatives of taking the legal stuff seriously--not an afterthought but should be part of the strategy development.  When will CAF be lawful targets is a big deal.  What is this "direct party in hostilities" stuff?  Very informative.  I should have asked my combat/not combat question.  But I was addled by two days of conferences and getting ready for my presentation.
  • That Phil Lagasse set a fun trap for me by having a key public servant as my discussant, and thus one who had much to say about my take on Canadian civil-military relations.
  • That observers of the frequent Phil-Steve banter on twitter may see us being hostile to each other, which made the both of us laugh.  
  • Oh, and that I may have dark powers that I never exposed before:
David Welch had fun with the Rummy-esque hand gesture.

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