Saturday, December 31, 2022

The Year in Spew, 2022!

Do Spew and 2 rhyme?  I sure hope so as I begin my review of the year that was.  The last time I blogged less than I did in 2022 was ... in 2008, when I didn't blog at all.  What explains the decline?  Partly exhaustion, partly a decline in imagination, partly other social media sucking up my time (the podcasts, now tooting as well as tweeting), and partly the reality that I have written enough stuff before that when the topic comes up, it is just easier to repost.  Maybe a look at this year's posts will tell me a bit about what inspires me to write here and what does not, although survivor and recency biases may mesh nicely with my confirmation bias to prevent me from learning that much.  Hmmm.


I started by pondering whether JK Rowling has utterly destroyed her legacy--whether I can still consume Harry Potter stuff.  While I concluded that I could still enjoy the world she created, even as she betrays damn near all of it, my behavior, my choices, says otherwise as I had multiple opportunities to watch HP movies while hanging out at my mother-in-law's over the holidays and dodged all of them.  Something I had not done in the past.  Later in the month, I returned to the theme of what kinds of stuff can I read and enjoy given the complex realities of our time.  I wrote about how it has become harder to watch and read cop shows given what we know about cops these days.  I am finishing the latest John Sandford book which features multiple cops, Virgil Flowers and Lucas Davenport, solving a serial murder spree by bitcoin assholes, and have found it fairly compelling (unlike the most recent Jack Reacher book).  So, maybe I am less affected by the topics than by the behavior of the artist?

The month ended with the start of the occupation of Ottawa by extremists--far right white supremacists.  The year ended with an examination of whether the government should have invoked the Emergency Act.   Um, yeah, but because the emergency was that the provincial leaders were cowards who wanted the feds to own it.


The extremists in Ottawa became a focus for me, as it did for most of my city, for most of the month with posts on:

  • outbidding, explaining why the Conservatives were pandering to the extremists
  • anger, discussing how pissed off this made me, triggered indeed.
  • policing, as I learned that Canadians think that the cops should not be directed by the politicians as if policing is not inherently political,
  • my take on the Emergency Act.

And then the past came back to bite Ukraine and me.  My previous work on irredentism became relevant again with Russia's invasion of yet more Ukrainian territory. In this post, I explained the basics of irredentism--that it is always bad for the country doing the invading even as it may or may not be bad for its leader, that domestic dynamics are key, and so on.


The focus of March was very much on the war in Ukraine.  I argued via a bit of screenwriting why a No Fly Zone was a bad idea. I elaborated about the disease of MOAR.  And, yes, I then invoked my work on irredentism to explain why Putin was willing to kill Russia's kin in order to "save" them.  I wrote about limited war, a topic that got new energy this week as some retired generals expressed much frustration at the unwillingness of the US to send deep strike weapons to Ukraine.

I also blogged about my appearance before the House of Commons Defence Committee.


This month had only a few posts, with nearly all focused on CDSN events.  The outlier was a post discussing the appearance of Minister of National Defence Anita Anand in my Civil-Military Relations class. That was super-cool--a great way to finish off that course.


I marked my 300,000th tweet before twitter's death spiral... maybe I caused it?

I discussed the two events organized by the CDSN Undergraduate Excellence Scholars--a conference and a hackathon.  I also went to Germany for another conference. Woot!

My last post took a first look at the Arbour report, where a retired Supreme Court Justice assessed the Canadian Armed Forces and why it has fallen short, yet again, on reforming itself when it comes to sexual misconduct.  I took a quick tour of the 48 recommendations.  


I didn't write much in June, but two of my posts continued my examination of the Arbour Report: here and here.  In the first one, I pushed on a point that will become a key question in my next project--what is the proper rule of a defence department or ministry or agency?  Arbour says DND is to support the CAF, and, no, nope, nuh uh.  This does help to explain a big problem with this and previous reports--having a very limited view of what DND's job is.  I also focus on the lack of a recommendation for an Inspector General, which is now a topic of research of this year's Visiting Defence Fellow.

I also marked my 10 years in Ottawa with this post. I am so glad that the tides of the academic job market washed me ashore here.  It was not my plan, but it has worked out wonderfully.


July was a month of ups and downs.  I started the month by pondering how long might the autocratic moment in the US last if Democracy were to give way.  The most pivotal building at my old summer camp burned down, but there was much resilience that day and beyond to give me hope for its future.

One of the ups was the new season of Battle Rhythm.  I am forever grateful to Stéfanie von Hlatky for helping us launch our podcast, and I was sad to see her move to admin stuff at her university.  But we got re-energized by a new crew of co-hosts.  Artur, Anessa, Erin, and Linna have provided a variety of perspectives since they joined us.  I am most grateful to Melissa Jennings for doing most of the heavy lifting in this effort and to Carelove Doreus and Racheal Wallace for their carrying the rest of the load. 

It has been a big year in Canadian civil-military relations, and one of the highlights was the decision to adjust the uniform standards to make the CAF more welcoming to more people.  I addressed these changes with some accidental foreshadowing of the awful Vimy speech by one of those responsible for the culture crisis that prevented the CAF from adapting sooner.

The month, which started with COVID finally hitting me and Mrs. Spew thanks to a conference trip to Berlin, ended in an upswing with both Beulahfest as my mom celebrated her 90th birthday and, yes, Stevefest, as I did a heap of stuff to celebrate another year of me.



Not many posts this month as I was very busy organizing and then

hosting the first in-person CDSN Summer Institute.  It was one of the original ideas animating the big grant application, and it was great to see it finally come to fruition with so many sharp people speaking and participating.  Plus it was an excuse to have a reception or three.  Just a great week worth all the effort by the CDSN team.

Much news about classified documents thanks to Trump hoarding documents he should have had anymore, so I shared what I had learned during the year I had a top secret clearance and worked every day in a SCIF--secure compartmented information facility.

Finally, I said goodbye to a key part of my life--ultimate frisbee.  I just kept getting injured and could not stay on the field.  I could still throw well, but that whole running thing proved to be too much.  I very much miss it, it gave me friends across North America, it gave me some level of fitness, it gave me heaps of silliness, and nothing can fill the hole it left behind, alas.  


Another light month for blogging.  I wrote a guide for those visiting Montreal for the American Political Science Association meeting.  

The focus of the month and of my career these days was/is civil-military relations.  I wrote about the retired generals and SecDefs providing advice on how to manage this relationship. And then I addressed a recurring challenge up here--should the Canadian military prioritize domestic emergency operations? Whether the CAF wants to or not (not), climate change is going to make this happen.  It already has.  I am getting more and more interested in studying domestic emergency ops in part because few defence scholars have done so.  Nothing like having a wide open field to pass the disk into.  Oh wait, that was last month's post about ultimate.

One reason I didn't post more in September is that I was headed west to Disneyland and to visit my daughter (not necessarily prioritized that way?).


I gave thanks for all kinds of stuff as Canada celebrates Thankgiving in October when Americans debate the role of Columbus.

I spent the rest of the month preparing both the CDSN Midterm Report for one of our funders and a conference to mark the midway point in our SSHRC grant.  It was great to hear from the co-directors of the various research efforts--Civ-Mil Relations, Personnel, Security, and Operations.  We were once told that the CDSN was just me and my friends dong stuff, but, to be clear, when it started, many of those who joined as co-directors were not friends and some were barely acquaintances.  Now, we are friends, but isn't that how networking works when it works well?  I am very proud of what we have put together even if it put a major dent in my blogging.


Was the theme of the month commenting on other people's mistakes?  Seems like it with a post on twitter's dramatic decline thanks to Musk and then the craptastic speech by a retired general.  That post generated more hits than any other this year and is in the top five of my 13 years of blogging.  The related tweet was also the most tweeted/impressioned tweet of the year and then some.  

It led to a post addressing "woke" and being "anti-woke," which helped me think about vice-signaling, the flipside of virtue-signaling. 

I got to put on my old NATO hat when some errant missiles from Ukraine's war with Russia landed in Poland.  I did much media as well to explain that NATO does not work the way may folks think--that there is nothing automatic about it, even if the attack had been deliberate.

One reason I blog less is that I simply have not been writing that much about pop culture here.  Why?  Mostly due to lack of time.  One exception to this was thinking about the International Politics of the second Black Panther movie.


The year ended with much CDSN and much cookies!

I went to Winnipeg for the first time for a CDSN workshop on Domestic Emergency Operations.  This is the focus of one of our four MINDS (DND) funded research projects.  I learned a great deal from sharp people both in and out of the government.  There is much work to do here, and I am glad we have made this one of our foci over the next three years.

Once again, we held an end of the year conference, the Year Ahead, which addresses some of the issues on the horizon.  This year, we also launched the new CDSN Podcast Network at the event!  The CDSN Podcast Network brings together four podcasts--Battle Rhythm, Conseils de Sécurité, SecurityScape and NATO Field Report.  We are open to adding others down the road.  Along the way, we fixed our Apple podcast feed.  I am most excited not just for having a new home for BattleRhythm but connecting and amplifying some student-run podcasts.

I finished the year with a heap of baking--cookies for friends around Ottawa.  The basic idea is this: I want to eat a lot of different kinds of cookies.  But then making so many different kinds means finding people who are willing to take most off my hands or else I will gain a heap of weight (winterfest did that anyway).  I enjoyed my first cookiefest in 2020, which was the first time I saw many people after months and months of quarantining.  So, I keep doing it, now armed with better equipment (kitchen aid stand mixer makes it much easier than the first cookie fest) and more recipes.  It is not just the baking and the eating.  I got to chat with a bunch of great people as I delivered the cookies.  If the cookies are joy (and, yes, they are), giving joy leads to receiving much joy.

One of the interesting dynamics of 2022 was the re-emergence of blogging.   That many folks started writing on substack, which, to me, seems like blogging but with the chance of income.  I have not moved over there as I am pretty happy with this perch. It does not make me money, but I doubt that people would pay that much for my half-baked (semi-spewed) writings.  One of my New Year's Resolutions is to blog more.  My guess is that I will be more successful at that than the ones focused on dietary restraint.

May you and yours have a terrific 2023!

Friday, December 23, 2022

I Have A Problem: Too Many Cookies!

One of the ways I have responded to the pandemic has been to bake.  In the first winter of the pandemic, I saw an article that discussed cookie boxes and had a number of recipes.  I couldn't decide on just a couple to try, so I made a lot of cookies.  And then I had to get a bunch of them out of the house so that my wife and I would not eat them all.  I drove around Ottawa after grades were submitted, delivering cookies to friends and acquaintances who volunteered to try them.  That was really the first time I broke quarantine--I had so much fun chatting with these folks even if I didn't go into anyone's house with one exception. And thus a new winterfest tradition was born.

This year, I discovered that one could not just freeze cookie dough but also baked cookies.  So, that stretched out how long I could make cookies, rather than rushing to complete a bunch of recipes in a few days.  So, yeah, I went a bit crazy, and Mrs. Spew thinks I have a problem.  I made 13 different recipes which produced over 350 cookies so she may have a point. I delivered the cookies to 13 households, held onto one batch for my sister-in-law, and kept a set for ourselves.  

I realized the first year but learned anew that giving out joy (sweet cookies) leads to receiving joy (mostly just chatting with people, but also got some sweets and some beer along the way).  Oh and more joy--I met three wonderful dogs and an amazingly friendly cat along the way, plus a few kids of friends who muttered thanks through cookie-filled mouths.

Sparkle cookies--soft inside
What did I make?  I present the top five below, but in addition to those, I made:

  • orange crumble shortbread
  • two different versions of the standard butter cookie (my decorations were limited by both a few cutters [mostly Star Wars-related] and poor art skilz)
  • shortbread
  • snickerdoodle (really worked nicely this year--always under-bake!)
  • chocolate crinkle (Sally's Baking Addiction)
  • sparkle cookies (more SBA)


The top 5 are: 

1.   Grammy's Spice cookies (NYT) which makes all other gingerbread cookies superfluous.  Tis reliable, sweet, and very tasty with or without frosting.

2.  Chocolate mint with candy cane shards (NYT, will revise to add link when I get back home).  Nice mix of chocolate and peppermint in the cookie and then a smattering of battered candy cane on top--and yes, it is fun to bash candy canes.  No pics available.



3. Candied ginger shortbread (NYT).  Super sweet and fun new ingredient for me--candied ginger.  Packs a punch. 





4. Brownie Rollout cookies (Smitten).  Super easy, very tasty, very stable for cutting into different designs.  Tastes great with or without frosting.




5. Black and white cookies (NYT).  Very cake like--the only downsides are that the recipe does not make many and the cookies do not last as long.


Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Reforming the CAF--More Oversight Needed?

 This might be a mighty strange take from me, but, no, Virginia, you don't always need to add a new oversight body. In the aftermath of the Royal Canadian Air Force dudes assigning a very problematic call sign, there is now an effort to build a committee or board to review call signs.  Oy.   Let me explain.

I do think that the CAF has long had insufficient oversight--that is, the civilians tended not to provide oversight, CAF did its best to avoid oversight.  The defence committee in Parliament is delightfully ignorant, preferring to know less (no security clearances, small staffs) so that they can say a lot, rather than be careful critics.  This article documents that (although I am still resentful that the editors changed the title from "Ignorant Critic versus Informed Oveseer).  The former defence minister didn't think it was his job to oversee the person directly under him--the Chief of the Defence Staff.  I think that former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour missed an excellent opportunity when she said she didn't recommend an Inspector General in her report.  So, yes, more oversight is necessary.

However, the response to every problem or bad news story is not to invent a new oversight body.  Not every problem requires a new institution--or else all the institutions compete or throw the hot potato to the next one.  While I have been emphasizing institutions (what is the promotion process) when folks talk about culture, some problems require culture to change more than institutional reform.  This is one of those cases.

Essentially, the RCAF officers need to understand what is stupid shit and then not to do stupid shit.  Creating callsigns that punch down should be a no-brainer--don't do it.  If the CAF makes adequate progress in improving its culture, this kind of stuff will happen less and less.  It won't go away entirely because, well, you always get people who don't learn yet still survive in the institution.

The government did create a new institution and commander--Chief Professional Conduct and Culture.  The CPCC's job is to foster not just more professionalism but a better understanding of what it means to be a profession.  Up until very recently, apparently one could consider oneself the epitome of professionalism but apply the rules only to subordinates, not to oneself (Vance, Maisonneuve, etc).  How can professionals tolerate/engage in abuse of power and sexual misconduct?   Either they are "unprofessional" or their sense of professionalism allows or rewards that kind of behavior.  

I chatted yesterday with a field grade officer about this stuff over coffee and cupcakes, and they pointed out that good leadership is not abusive, that it should be setting a higher standard.  Punching down via shitty callsigns should be viewed as unprofessional.  If we can start to change the CAF's sense of what is professional or not, just maybe we won't need additional review boards.

Of course, the more important question is this: are my cookies sufficiently professional?

Time to make the deliveries.

Monday, December 12, 2022

The Year Ahead 2023

 The Year Ahead conference, which started before the CDSN came into existence, has become a flagship event for both the Carleton research center, Centre for Security, Intelligence, and Defence Studies, and the CDSN.  It provides NPSIA-based scholars with a chance to interact with experts we bring to town and folks from in and around government who attend the event.  We consult our partners in government to see what is on their radar screen for the next year, and try to have panels that are relevant to them.  This year, we had panels on:

  • learning from Ukraine's successes and Russia's aggressive failures
  • the state of Canadian civil-military relations
  • xenophobia and national security, organized by our collaborator Women of Colour Advancing Peace and Security.

We also had a fourth session that was a little different.  We started with a Q&A between myself and Colonel Cathy Blue, our visiting Defence Fellow.  An Air Force officer, she is spending the year with us, auditing a few classes, working on a research project, advising us, providing us with a military point of view, engaging the students, and continuing her professional military education program that comes out of the Canadian Forces College.  She has been an incredible asset this year, a great sounding board.  

After that, we launched the CDSN Podcast Network!  We decided to build our own network so that we could provide opportunities to new podcasts across the country to be heard.  In addition to BattleRhythm, the CDSN's podcast for the past 3.5 years and Conseils de Sécurité, our partnered podcast with RAS/NAS en français, we will have SecurityScape and NATO Field Report.  SecurityScape is a podcast by graduate students at Calgary's Centre for Military, Security, and Strategic Studies, a partner of the CDSN.  They have had one season thus far, and they will drop six episodes of season two in 2023.  NATO Field Report will be a completely new podcast, run by the students and professions involved in the NATO Field School, which brings students to Vancouver for classwork and then onto Europe to various NATO facilities and headquarters.  They will be be dropping episodes episodically--as the field school approaches and then have interviews and reports during the field school's trips to Brussels, Latvia, and wherever else they go.  That we include a podcast that is a different model from the original ones helps to open our imagination for future additions to our network.

Along the way, we fixed a problem with had with our Apple feed. While we have consistently been producing episodes of BattleRhythm, those that relied on our Apple field were not getting automatic downloads of episodes.  Our stuff has always been available at the other outlets (Soundcloud, Spotify, Stitcher, etc.), but now we fixed this problem.  Folks just have to go to the Apple podcast app and search for CDSN and subscribe to get all of our podcasts.  

At the conference, we did a Q&A with the producers and hosts of the various podcasts.  We are very excited about all of this.  If you have an idea for a podcast on defense/security broadly defined, let us know, as we are looking to connect and amplify--the basic CDSN mission.

Nina Tannenwald
Back to the panels, we had Brown University Professor Nina Tannenwald, who discussed the nuclear weapon issues related to the war, retired LGen Mike Day who delineated the lessons from the war itself, and, via zoom, U of Texas Professor Sheena Greitens, who analyzed China's responses to the conflict.  It was a fascinating discussion.  

I moderated the Civil-Military Relations panel where Calgary Prof. Jean-Christophe Boucher and Charlotte Duval-Lantoine of Women in Defence and Security presented a survey they (and me and Lynne Gouliquer) are working on whether the various scandals are affecting Canadians' trust in the military, Andrea Lane of Defence Research and Development Canada presented the challenges posed to the Canadian Armed Forces by political polarization, and Alexandra Richards of Simon Fraser U. analyzed differences among the various generations and their attitudes.  

The final panel on Redefining National Security, organized by WCAPS-C, included Dr. Nadia Abu-Zahra of both Carleton and U of Ottawa, Azeezah Kanji of the Noor Cultural Centre, Jillian Sunderland and Aaron Francis of U of Toronto.  They presented critiques of the defence and security apparatus and community, especially the treatment of historically excluded communities.

We streamed the event, and it will appear on our youtube channels (CDSN and CSIDS) once we get things cleaned up. We will also be circulating a report and related policy notes in January.

I am very grateful for Team CDSN, especially Melissa Jennings, Sherry Laplante, Cathy Blue, Carelove Doreus, Racheal Wallace, Robyn Lalecheur, David Le, Duncan Herd, and Daniel Kholodar, and to the presenters and moderators.  It was great meeting both presenters and audience members, as the event is also a great networking opportunity.  We will do a "hot wash" to figure out what worked best and what could use improvement.  We are open to feedback so if you have suggestions, let us know.

And, yes, we do this stuff so we can eat food and hang out.  

Indeed it was.

I love Charlotte's expression as she realizes
that I am taking a mid-meal pic

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Nature-Triggered Emergency Operations in Canada

 This week, I went to Winnipeg in the coldest temps of the year thus far to observe one of the new CDSN research efforts: understanding the dynamics of Canadian domestic emergency operations in response to natural events.  Paraphrasing Emdad Haque, one of our co-directors,  nature will create extreme conditions, but whether they are disastrous is up to people and government.  Emdad, Nira Agrawal, and Kawser Ahmed brought together a sharp group of folks, including the army's liaison to Manitoba, the ADM for Emergency Management in Manitoba (a survivor of my big IR class at McG), researches from the universities in the area, and more (see here for details).  

What did I learn?

  • Emergencies are rare for any individual but they are increasingly common collectively.  Climate change is already fostering more and more floods, fires, and other extreme events.  So, this is not just a thing that happens from time to time but is an every day thing now.
  • The notion of the CAF as a last responder needs to die.  Yes, the military wants to be called on only in the most extreme emergencies when no one else can do what they can do.  But there are plenty of incentives for folks to ask for help and for the CAF to be unable to say no.
  • That most of this stuff ends being led by the most local folks--that the feds don't take over but are there to supplement.  Which means the military is following orders, not ordering people around.
  • As always, prevention is the least expensive route but often there are not political incentives.  It seems to me that the real opportunity to make changes to manage/mitigate is as the cycle goes from response to the emergency to recovery--that building back better is a thing.  Rebuild out of harm's way, away from the flood plains, for example.
  • As always, the Indigenous people are put into awful positions by the past and by the present.  Limited infrastructure means they need assistance, but then they are seen as objects, those to be rescued, rather than agents with their own expertise and preferences.  Evacuations need to be rethought--they are very disruptive physically, economically, culturally, mentally.
  • Federalism in Canada continues to suck mightily.  Some provinces understand that they need to build back better, so the Winnipeg floods didn't recur with the same level of damage.  Others understand that they can save money by doing less preparation and then call the feds in when help is needed.
  • There is a lot more work, coordination, planning, preparation going on in this area in between emergencies, that many bad storms and other events do get mitigated.  But again, it is going to get much harder as storms and other conditions get more intense.

I was very pleased to see the CDSN idea work out here--that we had engaged people in different parts of government and society, there was a real exchange of information, the students were super engaged, and it is the start of a more comparative analytical conversation.  

I also learned that Winnipeg is cold, full of friendly folks, and one can lose one's mittens in a cab and then get them back when one happens to take the same cab back to the airport.

So glad I could hang with Andrea Charron,
who has done so much for the CDSN

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Bad IR Theory Comes to Marvel

I saw the new Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever last night, and it was ok.  There is so much bad IR in this--usually, the politics of MCU movies has some kind of logic to it, even if faulty.  By the way, check out the new Politics of the MCU for some analysis--it is being delivered to bookstores and maybe comic bookstores near you right now!! 

 Spoilers will dwell beneath the break along.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

This is Not How NATO Works

 I spent part of this afternoon being interviewed by television outlets about the missiles that hit

Poland today and NATO might do.  This is one time where TV is going to get it much more right than the newspaper.  Why?  Because the major paper of record in Canada got it spectacularly wrong:



FFS!  NATO is a collective organization--one country cannot wave a magic wand and shout "Accio alliance!  Tada, Article V is invoked!!!"  Nope.  What any country in NATO can do is call a meeting so that the alliance could consider invoking these famed article.  A5 is the "an attack upon one is equal to an attack upon all."  The Dave and Steve book on NATO explored how obligatory that is (it's not) and what explains how countries behave when asked by the alliance to do something.  

But getting back to that attacked thing: it only counts as an attack that deserves a collective response if a consensus among the members.  Everything at NATO operates by consensus--no one is ordered to do anything by any specific country or any sub-group of countries.  This means there is a lot of lowest common denominator kind of decisions with opt out clauses (did you read the Dave and Steve book yet?).  

So, one of the first things Poland (or anyone else seeking to invoke A5) has to consider is: can they get consensus?  If not, don't ask because it is more than a bit embarrassing to ask and then be denied.  Ask Turkey about that.  It is kind of like going up for Full Professor when you don't know what the result will be--it only ends in pain and sadness (and moving which then leads to joy).  Can Poland get damn near all of the alliance (Greece or Hungary or Turkey can agree not to be too disagreeable but not support the decision and then not deploy troops)?  Um, no.  France, Germany, and Italy, to name a few obvious, more powerful members, have been just a wee bit ambivalent all the way along, and they certainly don't want to be involved in a shooting war with Russia.

One of the other things Poland has to consider is: would A5 be good for Poland?  Um, no.  Because if NATO would go to war with Russia, which is what invoking A5 means, that would mean that Russia is no longer restrained from attacking the supply lines leading from the West to Ukraine through ... Poland.  

The existence of A5 in the treaty is working--for both the alliance and for Russia.  Until today, after nine months or so of war, Russia had refrained from hitting any NATO country and specifically Poland.  And today was probably an accident.  An accident that may have been made more likely by a loosening of Russia's rules as they hadn't attacked border cities all that often.  But Kherson and other developments may have changed the risk calculus for Russia.  Anyhow, A5 has been good for NATO's eastern members as it has restrained Russia.  It has also been good for Russia since it has restrained NATO from engaging in direct violence.  

So, no, Article 5 is not going to be invoked.  Article 4, which is a way to indicate the need for serious discussions against a threat, will be.  Poland will get reinforcements as will other NATO allies, Ukraine will get more anti-aircraft equipment, but Ukraine will not get what it wants for an early Christmas present--a NATO intervention.  This would be great in the very short term, but might also lead to nuclear war, which would be bad for a very long time.  As I said at the start of this, rule #1 of avoiding nuclear war is for nuclear powers not to fight each other directly.  India and Pakistan have made us all very nervous.  US and Russia have stuck by rule number one, and that is not going to change now.

So, as I told CBC Kids last month, no, Virginia, there will not be a nuclear war.  

But then again, some elements of the media want to scare folks for sales and market share and ratings, I suppose.  For shame, Globe and Mail, for shame.  

Monday, November 14, 2022

Anti-Woke as Vice-Signaling

Last week's awful speech set me on edge immediately.  The first words about handouts were a signal, but the thing that confirmed that the talk would be awful was Maisonneuve invocation of "woke."  Whenever I hear anyone tossing around that word contemptuously, I immediately code that person as not worth listening to.  Why?

To be clear, woke refers to folks who have become aware of the historical legacies of discrimination and the present-day implications.  That's pretty much it, that woke people understand that there is and has been significant discrimination.   That's it.  

To be anti-woke, which many folks on the right are now so proud of, means denying that discrimination happened and/or it has made an impact on today.  Of course, it is more complicated than that--it can mean being opposed to the measures used to address the remedial efforts aimed at reducing discrimination and compensating for its impact.  The classic case of this maybe opposing affirmative action as it may be seen as unfair to white men, and the opponents usually say that such measures are unfair as it means that those who are more meritorious are being denied opportunities due to the sins of their fathers.  There is a lot built into that including the notion that today's procedures would be otherwise focused entirely on merit if not for considerations of race, ethnicity, gender, etc.

The reality of today's politics is that when one loudly proclaims that one is anti-woke, one is doing one of two things (or both):

a) one is signaling to one's white, male, "Christian" supporters that one is with them, an enthusiastic supporter of some past status quo (real or imagined) where the woke folks were kept in their place;  folks, including myself, refer to this as vice-signaling. 

b) one is actually one of these folks who are actually an enthusiastic supporter of some past reality (fake or real) where the uppity folks knew better and that one could discriminate, harass and do more without being called out for it.

I tend to think Ted Cruz, for instance, is in the first category--that he does not really believe anything but wants power and signals being anti-woke to appeal to his racist, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynist supporters.  That does not make these folks better even if they don't believe in the hate they are inciting--it makes them just as bad as the genuine article as they are inciting and providing comfort for them.  Vice signaling is dangerous and awful and should be called out.

Is this cancellation?  No, free speech means one has the right to engage in vice-signaling, but it also means that others have the right to call it out for what it is. 

Maisonneuve got more than just a right to speak last week--he got to have a platform to do it.  And he abused it.  And I have the right to call him out as does everyone else who considers his speech to be awful, intolerant, and retrograde. 



Thursday, November 10, 2022

A Very Memorable Vimy Gala

Last night, I was very fortunate to have been invited by one of the diplomatic missions to join their table at the Vimy Gala.  The Gala is run by the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, which is a research and advocacy organization tied to the various veterans associations of Canada.  CDAI is a partner of the CDSN, and they present an excellent conference every February or March that brings together much of the defence community of Canada and has speakers from around the world presenting important and interesting takes on various defence issues.  It was not my first time at this event.

The gala itself is a very big bash--600 guests this year--so large that they outgrew their traditional location of the War Museum and had to be in the Canadian Museum of History and Heritage.  This meant that the dinner was in the main hall with the world's largest collection of totem poles--just a stunning location for such an event.  The guests were mostly retired and active military folks, defence contractors, civil servants, random academics, journalists, and diplomats.  I also got to hang with some of my colleagues.

The reception was super loud, which was a problem for aging Steve, but I greatly enjoyed it anyway.  I got to meet with a number of former students who are now professors, civil servants, students elsewhere, and more.  I bumped into some diplomats who had been at an event we had held the previous day at Carleton--a talk by the Norwegian State Secretary for External Affairs.  They discussed how important it is for academics to be able to speak freely when so many others, such as themselves, can't. 

Which leads to the rest of this post--I feel like a crappy guest to criticize the speaker at this event, but speaking plainly about stuff that happens in the Canadian defence community is part of my job and my identity.   Lt. General (retired) Michel Maisonneuve was honored for a lifetime in service as he was given the Vimy Award.  Vimy, of course, is the site of a key battle in World War I that has become a key part of not just the Canadian military's identity but a key aspect in Canadian nationalism. When I think of World War I, I think of a key lesson learned along the way that the French President of the time, Georges Clemenceau said--that war was too important to be left the generals--eventually leading to higher expectations for the role of civilians in controlling the armed forces.  Alas, this speech did not meet my expectations for good civil-military relations.

His speech reminded me of debates that American civil-military analysts often have about the role of retired senior military officers--that their words matter since they are freer to speak than those still serving, and they are often seen as speaking for the active military folks.  Canada tends not to have the same debate as there are far fewer analysts of civil-military relations up here, and they are focused on other things, and so I am not sure what the norms here are of retired senior officers and their speeches.

What I do understand quite well is that the speech was really problematic in its content.  It was an array of complaints about the state of Canada these days--that the kids are too entitled and not interested in service, that the journalists are too woke, that the civilian leadership is weak, that the effort to make the military more inclusive by reducing the restrictions on what members can wear is wrong, that we ought not to apologize for the past (not a good look in front of all those totem poles, after a performance by Indigenous dance group, and after a year of reconciliation efforts in the aftermath of the discovery of mass graves at the residential schools where the Indigenous kids
were taken away from their families), and on and on.  

Maisonneuve is allowed to speak, despite his frustration at cancel culture, but I am also allowed to criticize his opinions.  After nearly two years of scandals involving members of the Canadian armed forces at the very highest levels--two chiefs of defence staff, two chiefs of personnel, several other 2-3 star officers, and so on, one might think that the retired senior officers who helped foster a culture of entitlement and abuse of power might develop a bit of humility.  I guess this is why the CAF has a culture crisis--that there was not much of a learning curve after repeated scandals and reports about sexual misconduct and abuse of power.  

Hanging with the intrepid
Leah and Steph
Again, it feels awkward to complain about this speech, as I was a guest of diplomats and the organization that ran the event has been most helpful to me in efforts to understand the Canadian defence scene.  I had a great time at the event.  On my way out, I bumped into a journalist who did so much to break the sexual misconduct story, Mercedes Stephenson, as well as some other sharp senior women in the defence and security community.  It was an excellent tonic after the speaker crapped on pretty much all of Canadian society and the political system.  

As I left the building, an older person shared with me her concerns about the next generation of Canadians based on what Maissoneuve had to say.  I tried to assure that the next generation is pretty terrific and that we will be in good hands. 

Monday, November 7, 2022

Opening The Canadian Armed Forces to Permanent Residents

 Yesterday, news broke that the Canadian Armed Forces will be open to permanent residents.  I had heard rumors of this at the recent Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society-Canada conference which had a bunch of people from CAF Personnel, the Culture and Professional Conduct Command, the Director General for Military Personnel Research and Analysis and more.  

This is such a no-brainer I have been advocating for it and more (see below) for the past few years.  It would make sense even if the military was not down at least 10,000 and facing a real personnel/recruiting/retention crisis.  How so?  Let me listicle:

  1. One of the basics of any kind of recruiting is you want as deep and as wide a pool as possible so that you can then get picky and be selective.
  2. New immigrants will have language skills that the CAF will need as it engages in expeditions around the world.
  3. Diversity, yes, is a good unto its own.  Having diverse perspectives facilitates greater creativity, more constructive criticism, less adherence to outdated ideas. There is actually a good bit of social science behind this.  
  4. The CAF needs change to its culture as the sexual misconduct and abuse of power crisis has amply demonstrated.  One way to change a culture is to stop depending on the same groups for one's recruits.  A key scandal illustrates this nice.  Several years ago, some of the cadets at the Royal Military College verbally harassed visiting youngesters who were in cadet programs that could have led them to the RMC.  When an officer called out the harassment and punished the offending cadets, they called their parents who apparently included senior officers who then got the officer punished instead of the cadets.  So, the CAF (and other militaries) have long depended on military families, which has its benefits, but also create a sense of entitlement which then breeds the abuse of power.  Is it an accident that Jon Vance who abused his power long before he became Chief of Defence Staff is the son of a Lieutenant General and former Vice Chief?  Hmmm.

And then there is the current personnel shortage.  Which makes the obvious more obvious.  Why resist the obvious?  Some will argue that there is a risk that the permanent residents are not real citizens and are not as loyal to their country than actual citizens.  Um, have you taken a look at the greatest threat to Canadian security these days?  That would be far right extremists/white supremacists.  They are citizens, but their loyalty is not to democracy, good governance, and all that stuff.  Including more permanent residents, who are more likely to have non-European backgrounds than the traditional recruiting pools, will have the added benefits of bringing in people who are less likely to be white supremacists and are more likely to antagonize those far right extremists who are in the CAF--making them easier to identify and also perhaps driving them out.  

Why else resist the obvious?  I always heard that security clearances were a hurdle--that it is hard to get the info needed about those who lived elsewhere.  Hard is not a good enough reason to deny access to a huge pool of potential recruits.  How risky is it to have less than completely vetted people in the first few jobs in the military?  How much of a threat do they pose to secrets as new recruits?  It is also the case that the vetting can continue (and should continue) as they serve.  And as a general told me recently, there is always risk--you just have to figure out ways to mitigate it.

Oh, and some folks in the CAF and in the political system may not want to include these "others" because they are "others"--that they want to keep the CAF an old boys network and they want to keep it the very white institution it has been.  The less satisfied these folks are, the better.

I have been arguing that the CAF should go further, and this would require legislation: make service in the CAF a pathway to citizenship. Encourage folks from other countries to come to Canada and then get permanent residency and then citizenship faster/easier if they serve in the military.  There are some criticisms one can lodge here

  • that the CAF isn't special and we should do the same kind of thing for other needed professions (such as medical ones)
  • that this is exploitative of other places and somewhat colonial/imperial
  • that the security clearance thing would be harder still
The first objection is the kind of "hey, you can't do one good thing unless you do other good things" which drives me crazy.  If we can't improve on all dimensions, how about we improve on one?  Plus the medical thing is mostly a provincial problem--that other professions require certification from whichever province the person wants to work.  This is not a problem for the CAF, of course. The second is fair, and I don't have a good response other than to shrug. The third is again a risk but we have to take risks to offset other risks.  


Yes, the CAF may have to get smaller before it gets larger, as the CDS has acknowledged.  But it is both good for the numbers and good for the health of the CAF and of civil-military relations to have a military that looks like the society.  Given that something like 25% of Canadians were born abroad, it is time we make the military a more welcoming place for the newer Canadians.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

The Twitterapocalypse: Whuck?

 I am so very frustrated and angry that Elon Musk is musking twitter.  I don't care about losing a hundred followers (even though I was just on a nice round number until this happened), but I do care about the loss of community, the loss of key vectors for getting information, the loss of important ways to, yes, market, the stuff that I do, and especially, the loss of a key way that the CDSN communicates.

It ain't gone yet, but twitter's future ain't bright.  I will stick around and hope that this is a phase or that the community of people can resist the bad stuff.  The thing about twitter and all social media is that the stuff that is most important are the users--they set the tone, they create the value, they make it worthwhile or not.  I stopped being a twitterevangelist years ago when I started to get that my experience was not the experience that women, LGBTQ+, African-Americans, and others from historically excluded communities were having.  I never got much grief on twitter--some, but not much.  One rape threat, I don't recall any death threats, and more than a few insults, but nothing that really affected my day to day experience.  So, I stopped pushing it quite so energetically.

But I still recommended that people join even if they don't post.  Twitter was and maybe still is a good way to find interesting research before it gets published and find out when such stuff is published and to get good takes on events as they occur.  The folks who are really sharp on Ukraine, for instance, have provided tons of insights on the war since it started.  As a curious person and as a scholar of International Relations, I have found twitter to be super useful for good (and bad) info.

As hinted above, it is terrific for networking.  I know far more people in the DC national security community, in the Canadian journalism scene, and more.  After I realized how mighty white my feed was, I made an effort to follow people of color in and beyond North America, in and outside of poli sci and IR.  It is just so cheap (free except for the selling of my information by twitter) to meet and learn from all kinds of folks.  It can be a time suck, but I found it incredibly rewarding.  

What now?  Well, my first step was to find out that I already had a long comatose Mastodon account: or  I haven't figured out Mastodon yet... and you can tell as I currently have more followers than posts.  That probably won't last.  It seems decent, but the federated nature--that there are different "instances" of Mastodon on different servers, which makes connecting a bit tricky--is a challenge.  The servers can be slow, but posting pics is getting faster all the time, and I needs to meme.  Oh, and I realized that I mispelled my preferred name for social media (smsaideman) and am now stuck with smaideman, which is growing on me.

I may try other alternatives, but, of course, this will mean yet more time sucks as I monitor and participate in twitter, mastodon, and whatever else.  Hmmm.  Can there be too many social media outlets?  Well, yeah.  Because if the communities that I have enjoyed get fragmented, I really don't want to do the work to make sure I get what I used to get on twitter.  But my biggest neurosis is FOMO, so I expect to be trying more than a few alternatives.

Anyhow, just posting here as this will always be where I post my half-baked thoughts that are more than 140 or 280 or 500 characters.  

Good luck in the confusing days ahead! 

and yes, I will continue to rely on the same
set of memes while generating new ones from
time to time.


Friday, November 4, 2022

The Rising Threats in the Indo-Pacific: Insights from Japan

Colonel Cathy Blue, our visiting defence
fellow, introduces the Vice-Admiral
 This week, the Centre for Security, Intelligence, and Defence Studies (NPSIA's research centre on such stuff) hosted Vice-Admiral (ret.) Toshiyuki Ito who was visiting Ottawa. 

Admiral Ito gave a comprehensive talk about the threats facing Japan and everyone else in the region from Russia to North Korea to China.  As a retired officer, he could be more direct about the threats perhaps than an active one, and he humorously invoked "academic freedom" anytime he said something that was a bit controversial.

Japan has to scramble aircraft twice a day to confront Chinese and Russian aircraft.  Ito spoke on a record-setting day as North Korea sent more missiles near and over Japan while it was also engaging in greater tensions with South Korea.  He did not address the difficulties with South Korea that would make a more coordinated response more complicated.  

Ito discussed Canada's exercises in the region including the monitoring of sanctions against North Korea and the freedom of navigation operations in the South China seas.

Perhaps most striking, Ito made it clear to the Canadian audience that a Taiwan scenario--the imminent attack by China (sometime between now and 2027)--is also a Japan scenario for a couple of reasons.  First, there are some Japanese islands mighty close to Taiwan, and it is hard to imagine these islands would not become part of China's invasion plans.  Second, the US has pivotal bases in Japan, which might be specifically targeted to prevent US intervention in a Sino-Taiwan war. 

Here, Vice-Admiral Ito illustrates the
evolution of Self-Defence and
how it fits into the constitution

Ito talked about the need for what he called counter-attack systems--which are essentially first strike systems designed to hit missiles aimed at Japan before they are launched.  This is part of a larger effort to squeeze today's realities into the constraints posed by Article 9 of the Japanese constitution.  That clause prohibits Japan from having a military, although Japan has one by another name: Self-Defense Force.  Its navy, Ito said, was the second largest or more powerful in the world after the US.  The dodge has always been that all sovereign countries are entitled to defend themselves, so the SDF is legitimate (not all Japanese parties agree).  But what counts as defense?  Knocking down incoming missiles is obvious.  Having the ability to pre-emptively strike those that have not yet launched?  Hmmm.  

Japan is doubling its defense spending, getting to 2% when the controversy used to be whether it would exceed 1% of GDP on defense.  What will it spend money on?  Perhaps F35s and missiles?  Unfortunately, we ran out of time so we could not get more specific answers to this and other questions.

It was very useful and interesting to see the Indo-Pacific from a different perspective.  I always this this map I saw all over Tokyo in government offices to illustrate:

This point of view best illustrates how China
is hemmed in by Korea/Japan/Taiwan/etc.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

The CDSN Midterm Moment!

 Yesterday, we held the Canadian Defence and Security Network Midterm Conference.  We are 3.5 years into a 7 year SSHRC Partnership Grant.  This means we had to send off to SSHRC a report that gauges how well we met our original goals and how we plan to move forward.  We used this moment and also the Inter-University Seminar in Armed Forces and Society-Canada [IUS-Cnaada] biannual conference to organize a workshop for the leaders of the research teams to present the work they have completed and what they plan to do in the second wave of research.  We also had all three CDSN post-docs present the work they did during their fellowships with us.

I can't express how impressed I am by the work these folks have done and how grateful I am to them for taking the CDSN objectives and running with them.  Below, I am posting the slides from my presentation that reported my take on where things stand.  

I discussed the original goals set out in the SSHRC grant and suggested that we made clear progress in four and, well, hard to measure progress in the other two.  How do we know we are helping to improve the defence and security literacy of Canadians?    This is something we will be considering in the next few years.

 I went through the stuff we have been doing and talked about how the four themes (down from five) have done great work, as the subsequent presentations proved--lots of co-production of knowledge with government and private sector partners, such as the surveys we have done and the personnel theme's work led by Irina Goldenberg of DGMPRA (DND's personnel analysis branch) and Stefanie von Hlatky of Queens).  The pandemic did impact what we did and how we did it, but we managed to implement most of our ideas that we specified in our grant four years ago.  Some stuff has been more challenging--that we have more than 40 partners, for instance, has made it a bit more work to keep most of our partners engaged. 

 I then addressed what we do well and what we have had problems with.  We have not only produced much research, but we have been consulted by and we have consulted government through a variety of ways.  We are doing policy-relevant work, and a number of actors have realized that.  So, we are not just in an ivory tower yammering to ourselves.  We have been energetic uses of social media, which has helped us get through the pandemic.  We have added a variety of partners that have helped us reach out to more people, get more ideas, and embrace diverse perspectives. 

The big challenges have been trying to get folks to apply for our opportunities.  We get only handfuls of applications for our post-doc, for our book workshop, for our undergraduate excellence scholars.  It has also been difficult to get larger audiences for our activities.  Neither of these problems are unique to the CDSN as our friends in other networks have had similar problems.  We need to get more creative and put more resources to get more folks to show up.  I also suggested that we could do better communicating with each other.  The Midterm Conference was partly aimed at addressing this.

 I concluded by discussing the big question of sustaining beyond the SSHRC grant.  We have a variety of paths ahead of us, and we plan to take all of them.

Overall, I am most proud and pleased about what the CDSN has done and what it has become.  As I told everyone, my role is mostly taking credit for everyone else's hard work.  I am very grateful for the teams we have built--the staff at Carleton, the co-directors leading the research efforts, the advisory board, the emerging scholars, scientists, and policy makers that have contributed so much to our events, and the partners in academia, government, the military, and the private sector.    And yes, I enjoy the associated dinners when we meet!