Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Putin and Ukraine: Irredentism 101

 Irredentism is refers to efforts by groups or countries to reunify lost territories with a homeland.  I wrote a book with Bill Ayres about the irredentism that did and did not occur in the 1990s: Greater Armenia, Greater Croatia, Greater Serbia vs Hungary, Romania, and Russia not pursuing such efforts.  We got to release a paperback edition with a new preface in 2015 thanks to .... Putin's irredentist move where Russia seized Crimea.  Here's what I know about irredentism from my previous work and from other people's work in this area and how these basic rules apply here.

  1. Irredentism is always costly for the country engaging in the effort--it generally requires war since countries do not part with their territory without a fight (well, almost always).
  2. What is bad for the country may or may not be good for the leader.  Irredentism is a nationalist effort that can tie folks together towards a common identity.  Politicians may use irredentist appeals (whether they follow through on it or not) to refocus the country's nationalism on this cause rather than other aspects (see Hungary and Viktor Orban where Hungary was optimally obnoxious to the neighbors--enough to get support domestically, not enough to risk war).
  3. #2 suggests a third rule--Realists have a hard time explaining irredentist efforts because they do not help the country become more secure or even gain more power.  They just gain perhaps some territory and some new citizens.  In the 21st century, this does not help Russia become more powerful or more secure.  Maybe it will make Putin more secure, but that ain't the same thing, is it?
  4. Irredentism is driven by domestic political dynamics more than international.  Some would argue that countries engage in irredentism when there is a good opportunity, but I can summon examples where countries not only jump through open windows but also attempt to jump through brick walls.  Somalia engaged in irredentism both when it was relatively stronger than its neighbors and when it was weaker.  Croatia engaged in irredentism even as it was being taken apart by an irredentist war thanks to Serbia.
  5. What about these domestic political dynamics?  It is not just pure nationalism since nationalisms are around all the time--it takes a political entrepreneur to push for "reunion" and one has to figure out their game.  And that is where I am mostly stumped since I don't know contemporary Russian politics these days.  All I can say for certain is that the domestic game matters quite a bit.  
  6. One thing that enables Putin is that Russia is already a multiethnic country dominated by one group.  This war doesn't change that, and irredentism is easier/more desirable for countries in this position.  In our book, we found that fear or hate of others, xenophobia, can actually inhibit irredentism since a successful irredentist foreign policy is the equivalent of a giant wave of immigration--adding many new others to one's country.  But Russia is not so xenophobic so it can do this without the nationalist backlash (unlike, say, Hungary).   

Update:  7.  Irredentism need not be consistent.  The actor may not claim all disputed/historical territory.  The key is what is digestible--who lives where, how easy are they to rule, what do they do to the domestic political balance of the irredentist state.  In this case, that means maybe Eastern Ukraine gets absorbed formally or informally but perhaps not all of Ukraine.  

Russian irredentism here is more than just imagined since the territory in question used to be part of Russia and there are Russian speakers who may identify with Russia and want to be part of Russia (#notallUkranians or even residents of Eastern Ukraine).  Saddam Hussein's moves against Kuwait were not really irredentism since there was not really a people or land to be be redeemed.

This does not make Russia's moves legitimate at all.  But it does give this a bit more heft within Russia than Poland or Bulgaria.  The Baltics?  Oh my.  The history gives Putin something to play with and he seems to have his own grievances at stake in all of this--resenting the breakup of the Soviet Union.  International law, such as it is, is not on his side.   Conquest is not hip as the Kenyan rep at the UN made clear.  And while the US has committed many awful acts including a pretty illegitimate war in 2003, it has not engaged in conquest lately.  Who has?  Um, China with Tibet and perhaps Taiwan in the near future.  So, rule 6: don't expect the UN to stop this.  

This is a bad move for Russia and the Russian people and much worse for Ukraine.  Whether it pays off politically for Putin is not clear.  Many irredentist efforts are gambles that do not pay off very well.   And, yeah, there was not much anyone could do to deter Putin and Russia in this.  As long as the US/NATO weren't willing to risk WWIII over a non-ally, we had few cards to play.  

In sum, irredentism means war, and it is not easy to deter or prevent.  Ukraine is screwed, and there is not much we can do about it but make it costly.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Rooting for the Cops? Well, Yeah

Some say yesterday was a sad day in Ottawa, but I was pretty elated.  After two years of watching cops repress Black Lives Matter protestors, I am now rooting for cops as they arrest far right extremists that have occupied downtown Ottawa.  Does that make me and mine hypocrites?  No, for a couple of reasons focusing on both the conduct of the protests and the content.

First, I don't remember BLM protesters using kids as shields.  I don't remember BLM groups trying to use arson as a tool of mass murder (yes, some BLM protests had fires, but no attempts to lock down and then burn an apartment building).  BLM groups did not harass and assault health care workers, the media, or passersby who were masks.  This has not been a peaceful protest despite the hot tubs and singing.  The far right extremists in town have been bullying storeowners and threatening the residents.  

Second, the content also matters.  BLM protesters were protesting police brutality, and the police kept on providing more evidence that the BLM cause was just.  The far right extremists in Ottawa were opposing ... heaps of stuff as their crazed conspiracy shit metastasized.  They oppose vaccine mandates and mask restrictions at a time where these are two of the best ways to mitigate a pandemic.  Their MOU (a memorandum of understanding because a manifesto would have sounded too commie?) called for the elected government of Canada to be tossed out by those who don't have the power to do so (the Governor General and the Senate).  They are really upset that Trudeau is in power--but that is because the parties they favor and that pander to them lost.  The election was partly over mandates with the Conservatives pandering to the far right and the far right party focusing very much on this.  And they lost.  60% of Canada voted against these two parties.  Yes, Trudeau only got a third of the vote, but the pro-vax mandate, pro-mask restrictions parties won bigly.  Oh, and most of the restrictions are actually set at the provincial level.  

For three weeks, Ottawans were not upset at the cops for being too brutal, but that they didn't do anything at all except seemingly empower the worst of the worst.  We sincerely worried about white supremacists within the police force.  So, when we finally saw the police carefully, slowly, methodically push back and use much less force than the police forces of the US at the various BLM protests, we were and are elated and relieved.  The behavior of these cops has been quite restrained--so far, no one has been beaten.  Yes, windows were broken when folks refused to get out of their vehicles.  But they had been repeatedly warned.  I do wonder if any kids were taken into protective custody, but that is on the parents, who were repeatedly warned.  

While the far right media are trying to make this thing a colder version of Tianamen square, we have to remember that (a) the protesters in China were pro-democracy while those in Ottawa are anti-democracy; and (b) we have no idea how many were killed that day in China, and we know how many were killed in Ottawa (zero).  

Ultimately, it comes down to this: we want the cops to protect and serve the public, not themselves and not far right extremists.  Yesterday and again today, the police in Ottawa are serving the public.  

And, yes, there might be a hint of bias in all of this because:


Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Why Does Canada Need the Feds to Intervene?

 Yesterday, Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act, which significantly escalates the role of the federal government in dealing with the far right extremist occupations of Ottawa and various border spots.  Will this make a difference?  Well, the various tools that were brandished yesterday suggest so.  The threat of anti-terrorism financial tools potentially destroying the organizers' ability to, well, function in the economy could make a big difference.  Indeed, this is quite a hammer... but is it necessary?

The challenge that many are leveling against Trudeau and the federal government (after two weeks of so many folks asking for leadership and MOAR!) is that there are plenty of tools at the provincial level.  The provinces could have yanked the certifications of the trucks, their licenses, and all that kind of stuff to greatly increase the costs of participating in this stuff.  But they chose not to do so.  

The big difference between the federal level and several of the provinces is not the legal stuff but the political stuff.  Trudeau does not have to worry about alienating his right flank with these decisions.  Doug Ford (Ontario), Jason Kenney (Alberta), and Scott Moe (Saskatchewan) all are Conservative party folks (in Canada, the provincial parties have more distance from the national ones) who have to worry about alienating the far right folks in their party, not unlike how those in the GOP have had to worry about their far right folks.  Ford has had plenty of opportunity to do more to clear out Ottawa of these extremists, but has chosen not to do so.  He only get some semi-serious about the Windsor blockade since it threatened to choke off much of the car industry in Ontario.  But Ottawa, he does not really care that much about--he resides in Toronto and his base is in Toronto.  

Not only have these Conservatives refused to penalize the extremists but they have sought to appease them by reducing restrictions as quickly as possible.  (Here's my poll re the biggest appeasers in Canada).  To be fair to Ford, his pattern has always been to tighten restrictions late and reduce them too soon.  Testing has completely fallen apart, so it is not clear what data is being used to justify the elimination of vax requirements.  Certainly not whether the hospitals are under stress or not (hint: they are still under great stress). 

Anyhow, I am not sure that the crisis meets the threshold for the Emegencies Act (I don't play a lawyer on TV), but I can easily understand why the feds could drop the hammer more so than the provincial leaders.  But then the hammer is likely to be much heavier with more consequences (good and bad).  We shall see if this leads to better police coordination given that the city and provincial police authorities have utterly failed Ottawa.  It will certainly lead to the organizers of this thing will pay a higher price than they might have expected a week ago.  Their ability to get car loans, mortgages, credit cards, bank accounts, and the like may have disappeared overnight.  And, no, I don't have much sympathy for the far right.  So, sucks to be them right now.  

What happens next?  We shall see if the feds can deliver, something that has been a mixed bag over the past six years.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Policiing is Always Political

 One of the most misunderstood quotes in all of civil-military relations is that war is politics by other means.  I was reminded of it as folks were tweeting today about the current mess in Ottawa having political and policing dynamics as if policing is not inherently political.

Politics is a term to describe pretty much anything where the decisions are being made that affect the public.  Sure, politicians do politics all the time as they try to make decisions that will allocate, redistribute, regulate, etc.  But other actors also do politics, and, of the various actors in any place, the police are among the most political.

There is no private space for policing--everything they do involves the public.  And there is a heap of decision-making because they have finite resources, time, and energy, so they are constantly having to make decisions about which laws to enforce, what constitutes a sufficiently egregious violation to warrant attention, whom to watch, whom to stop, etc.  As someone who speeds much of the time, I am very well aware that the cops don't enforce the speed limit at exactly one mile or kilometer/hr over the speed limit.  We tend not to think that much about the politics of speed limits except when photo radar gets proposed that would reduce the discretion of the speed-trap monitor.  But when photo radar is brought up, the politics does not end since the question remains--where to install it?

Of course, I can speed because I am a white dude.  I don't fear a traffic stop like people of color do, as my death or beating is not a likely outcome of such an encounter.  This gets us to the deeply political nature of policing as police don't treat every person the same.  There is much politics involved in who gets policed.  Stop and frisk everyone?  Nope, mostly people of color.  The current crisis in Canada, which has angered heaps of white folks, shows that policing is political as the white supremacists, far right extremists have faced far less policing than the average Indigenous demonstration.  There have been plenty of pictures and videos showing cops being pretty damned friendly with those holding Ottawa hostage. So, who gets policed is up to the discretion of the cops, and they have used this discretion in ways that have deeply challenged public order.

For the past few years, it has been abundantly clear that the cops in North America have been out of control--that they have used their discretion as they see fit, treating far right folks with kid gloves and brutally beating those people who have the temerity to protest police brutality.  When mayors and city councils have tried to regulate them, when authorities have required mask and vax mandates, police unions have pushed back, just as they push back against any accountability for police brutality.  If that were not problematic enough, the way things seem to work in Canada is that the politicians don't think that they have the power to direct the police.  So, the cops are even more autonomous, even as they make decisions with bigger and bigger political consequences.  The Mayor of Ottawa talked about the failures of policing using the passive voice today, as if he didn't have any role in this.  

I see people of color online noting that the white folks seem to be surprised that the cops are out of control, that they police selectively, and their selectivity often seems to favor white supremacists.  They know it has always been thus, but that white folks didn't really understand it in Ottawa, anyway, until now.  So, no, this is not really news.  I have long assumed that the cops here were out of control--what I did not know is that the politicians thought that this was normal and acceptable.  

Maybe that will change now.  Or maybe the citizens will have to do what the cops refuse to do.  I am writing this as my colleagues and friends have joined counter-protests that are keeping the extremists from reinforcing downtown with yet more assholes.  When told by the cops to move aside, that the cops will handle it, the crowds scoffed and remained in place.  Because, of course, they have no reason to believe the cops.  

There are several unanswered questions but two come to mind:

  1. Will any politicians pay a price in the next election for screwing this up?
  2. Will the police pay a price for their refusal to do their job?  

If those who have failed us don't experience consequences, any chance to learn from this, to do better next time, evaporate.  And that, too, will be political.

Friday, February 4, 2022

Anger and the Academic

 We academics are accused of two things: that we are too dispassionate and that we tend to suck all the emotion out of our theories.  Well, not all of us, but folks like me, who are either soft rational choice types or more strict rational choice types.  The occupation of parts of Ottawa by far right extremists has caused me to think about this a bit.

First, I am about as angry as I have ever been about political stuff.  I hit some peaks during the Trump Administration especially when we saw pictures of little Muslims kids in handcuffs.  And during some of the violence aimed by police at those protesting police brutality.  Am I angry because these assholes have pissed on the war memorial?  Because they defaced the Terry Fox statue?  Because they burned a Canadian flag?  Because they have been carrying swastikas?  No, that stuff is annoying and offensive, but it does not cause me to have a semi-blinding rage.  Perhaps it is the combination of how incredibly stupid these folks seem to be (no, the Governor General and the Senate don't have these powers and most of the covid regs are provincial) and how craven the Ottawa cops have been.  That these folks are not only getting away with bullying the city and its residents but that they are being taught by the police that they can keep doing it and even do it in other parts of the city.  

Second, regarding how we political scientists often treat this stuff, we tend to assume that folks are acting rationally and go on from there, assuming away often the emotional stuff.  A friend, Stuart Kaufman, sought to correct this with his book Modern Hatreds.  While ancient hatreds is a bad way to explain stuff, frequently becoming a rather racist account, modern hatreds blends the psychology of emotions with more structural stuff.  That security and insecurity are emotional dynamics. In this case, the deplorables are people who are angry and resentful (mostly because white folks are seeing that non-white folks are doing well and that makes them feel like they are losing their status) and that mobilizes enough of them to hang out here.  They can do so because of a few structures: the ease with which outside trolls can fund this stuff so that the assholes here can get gas and such; the right-wing party politics I have discussed before; the principal-agent problems within local and provincial law enforcement (who's in charge and who knows what the officers on the ground are doing--providing aid and comfort to the occupiers?); etc.  So, it is not just raw emotion at work, but the blinding stupidity of the claims and demands have much to do with emotion.  

Indeed, one of the strange dynamics of the past ten years is how much the right is motivated by the desire to trigger the Libs.  In the US, this has ultimately been suicidal as refusing to wear masks, refusing to get vaxxed is more about pissing off the center/left as it is about any principled position about "freedom."  It may be emotionally satisfying to piss off your opponents, but if doing so risks the lives of oneself, one's friends, and one's family, well, that is pretty dumb.  But hey, if some grifters can make money off of it, then why not?

Perhaps my takes here are biased by my anger.  But so far, the behavior of these folks seem to justify my anger quite a bit.  And, yes, they win because I have been triggered.  Woot for them, I suppose.  Pretty sure that will be a Pyrrhic victory for them.  And since they are idiots, they won't understand that, so the last laugh will be mine, I suppose. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Outbidding Comes to Canada

 I don't know the deep history of Canadian politics as I only started paying attention once I moved here and not even then for a while as I was too busy adjusting to Quebec and to the cold and to the big move.  So, I can't speak to how right-wing politics worked way back when.  What I was going to say before news broke out that Erin O'Toole is facing a leadership fight is that outbidding is really hard for even strong, united parties.  And now?  Oy.  

I have been blasting the CPC lately because a number of its members, including its deputy leader, have been giving full-throated support for the far right extremists who are blockading a hunk of downtown Ottawa.  This reddit page lists not only the events but also the politicians who have stood with the supposed truckers' convoy.  O'Toole tried to have it both ways--meeting with some of those in the convoy before it hit Ottawa and then condemning those within the group that danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, defaced the Terry Fox statue, and used swastikas and the like.  This did not go over well with the fanatics and opportunists in his party, so he could be done.

In the recent election, O'Toole had a difficult problem--there is a new far right-wing party--the People's Party--led by a former Conservative, and so he faced pressures to play to the far right folks who remained in his party now that they have an exit option.  The problem is that the votes needed to get the party into power are not on the right but in the center.  So, O'Toole could pander to the far right and probably lose or play to the middle but risk breaking his party in half.  He chose to do both.  His stance that vaccines are good but mandates are bad did not play well, and helped him lose the election.  

In the winter, O'Toole faced another challenge--a bill to ban gay conversion therapy.  The public overwhelmingly supported this bill as did the other parties, but not the social conservatives in his party.  So, he tried to just get unanimous consent so that way he wouldn't have a significant chunk of negative votes that the opposition could run on.  Well, apparently that pissed off these folks.  

There is probably other stuff going on as well. But the key to O'Toole's dilemma is that he faces outbidding both outside his party and within it.  He didn't go full far right nutso, but he also tried to keep those folks on board.  His successors are likely to be further to the right, which will consign the party into the wilderness at the national level.  They can't win national elections by moving further to the right.  They don't have the power to suppress votes or redraw lines like their American friends have.

Isn't this a good thing?  That the right is breaking apart?  Um, not so much.  Democracies require competition and accountability to work.  The Liberal Party, which tends to be smug and arrogant, leading to stupid, unnecessary shit (WE scandal, SNC-Lavalin, etc), needs to be penalized when they do that stuff.  The New Democratic Party can't do that on its own for a variety of reasons.  Partly because they can only criticize the Liberals for not being sufficiently left wing, partly because they have their own divides.  Canadian politics would be better off if there was a solid, reasonable center-right party that centrists could vote for, that could challenge the Liberals to perform better.

That is now what Canada has, and, soon, it will have something worse than that: a right-wing party that not only caters to extremists but is led by them.  We have seen this play out in the UK and in the US, and neither political system is better off for it.