Today, I got to be one of three academics to be part of a panel testifying on threats facing Canada and the military's readiness to address them.
Here's what I said in my opening statement (and video):
Today, I got to be one of three academics to be part of a panel testifying on threats facing Canada and the military's readiness to address them.
Here's what I said in my opening statement (and video):
After President Zelensky spoke to parliament, we got another wave of people arguing for the No Fly Zone and other more aggressive responses. I, of course, pushed back since a No Fly Zone = War. As a reminder, a No Fly Zone would involve killing Russians in and above Ukraine and probably in Belarus and Russia and ... it wouldn't change much. This is not Syria where barrel bombs and the rest were a huge part of the destruction. This is atrocities by missile and artillery, and a No Fly Zone would not stop either missiles or arty.
Folks are rightfully frustrated, and so they end up making a bunch of arguments that I have to address.
If we don't do the NFZ, we will watch people be killed in front of us.
--Yeah, and that is awful, but we have done that before. Syria, Bosnia, Rwanda, Myanmar, etc.
If we don't stop Putin now, he will keep attacking, eventually attacking a NATO country directly.
--First, it is not inevitable that he would go beyond Ukraine (more on this below)
--Second, the war in Ukraine demonstrates that the Russian army is not ready for prime time
--Third, the war in Ukraine will simply drain the Russian military so it won't be able to attack again anytime too soon.
--Fourth, thus far, Putin has treated NATO and non-NATO differently, and it is not clear why that would change.
If you let Putin win in Ukraine, you are appeasing aggression, and you can't appease dictators.
--Actually, you can appease dictators, countries do it all the time. Not everyone is Hitler. The US made deals with Stalin and Khrushchev, not to mention Gorbachev. The US made deals with China in the 1970s. Plenty of dictators don't engage in global conquest efforts.
We have to do something!
--We are doing a lot, far more than we would have expected a month ago. Very significant sanctions, very energetic/public arms transfers, providing intelligence, giving humanitarian assistance, and more. We are doing pretty much everything we can short of going to war.
How about a humanitarian corridor?
--Unless Russia agrees, this too involved war. And I can't help but be reminded of the "safe havens" that the UN negotiated in Bosnia which became killing fields.
A bigger war is inevitable so let's fight it now rather than later.
--The idea that war is inevitable is the worst self-fulfilling prophecy, making war more likely. Let's not do that. Because, you know what, a larger war is not inevitable.
We have been fighting limited wars since Korea where we didn't nuke China or otherwise attack the Chinese mainland (and they didn't attack Japan). Limited war is actually more of recurrent thing in history than total wars. Most importantly, Rule #1 of the Cold War and since has been for the US and USSR/Russia not to engage in direct conflict, and it has worked pretty well in terms of avoiding global thermonuclear war even if it mean that we watched oppression, persecution, and mass murder. What Russia is doing in Ukraine is horrible, but intervening would probably be even more horrible as it presents a real risk of escalation. It again sucks. But proponents of intervention, including an NFZ, need better arguments. Because the ones they have now are not persuasive at all.
Yesterday was the cotton anniversary of the pandemic in Canada. I missed marking it as I was busy conferencing. That and I am exhausted. I look at last year's posts on the high's and low's of the first year, the lessons learned, and the feelings, and I marvel that I could write three separate posts on this. I just don't have the energy this year to discuss this stuff all the time. So, instead, let me just consider those three posts and what has changed, and then rank the years of the pandemic, because ranking is an old Spew theme.
I learned a lot in the first year of the pandemic. Did I learn more in year two? Not really.... it was mostly more of the same. Either that or I don't have the energy to figure this out (a recurring theme).
I charted the high's and lows after year 1. Year two did have more highs and less lows, although it may not have felt like it:
Are the feelings the same at the end of year two as in year one? I think I am even more angry. That the availability of vaccines should have made things much better, but we had people and parties push back hard against something that could have saved even more lives. The wasted lives, the wasted time, the unnecessarily stressed health care workers, the fucking idiots who occupied Ottawa, all of this is so enraging. That everyone is reopening now even though rates of vaccines in the US and boosters in Canada are below where they should be, that there will be a new wave even without a new variant simply because governments are opening too soon does indeed trigger this lib. Frustration? Hell yeah for the same reasons. The learning curves seem to be so flat. The ups and downs can be most frustrating--that we thought last summer that we had this thing beat and the Delta kicked our ass and then things got better and then Omicron was all over the place. The second year was less lonely as we did start to go out and do things again. I had an awesome poker game at my house in between waves (just barely). I have traveled a bit to go to a Copenhagen conference that might have done damage to their civil-military relations, to three, yes, three ski trips to hang out with friends and family and celebrate 30 years of Mr. and Mrs. Spew! So, year two was less lonely, although not as good as pre-pandemic life certainly. Fear? Having three shots has mostly reduced the fears. Relatives and friends have gotten very mild bouts of covid, but travel still is a bit unnerving with the need for tests and the concern of being a vector. Grief? Jeez, the casualties from this thing have mounted--that year 2 was far more deadly than year 1 and mostly unnecessarily so. Still lucky that no immediate kin or friends paid the highest price for this, but I am mourning the loss of yet another year in the life of younger folks and older folks, for which one year is such a big thing. Relief? Damn, I don't know any more. Things are better, but I worry about more waves and less willingness by people and politicians to do the right thing. Which means, yes, the second year did diminish my hope. Vaccines had so much promise and yet here we are. The treatments are better, the promise of even better vaccines is around the corner, and all that, but, damn, so many people seem determined to value their political identity more than their health, their families, their friends, or their communities. So, perhaps less acceptance than last year? Definitely more exhaustion even though I am baking less. Maybe I need to bake more?
2020 seemed to be the worst year of this thing because of the uncertainty and the change in how we lived our lives. But more people died in 2021, and year 2 of the pandemic had more toxic politics even if Trump was no longer in power. That we have vaccines is great, that many folks aren't getting them because their political identity gets in the way or because they are in parts of the world that we have failed is awful. So, I'd have to rank the second year of the pandemic as being worse than the first even though I got to see more of my family in the second year. Year three starts with a tragic war in Europe, so.... yeah.
Best of luck to you and yours as we keep working our way through this thing.
|So great to be in quiet downtown at Hogwarts.|
To start, I missed the virtual first day and the in-person second day due to competing commitments. I missed the big speech by the Chief of the Defence Staff yesterday alas. This morning kicked off with Dr. Cynthia Watson of the US National War College having a conversation with Richard Fadden, the former National Security/Intell Adviser (the closest thing Canada has to a National Security Adviser), focusing on China. It was very interesting. The focus at the start was on what does the Ukraine situation mean for Taiwan, with the possibility that it might change the timeline but not alter the CCP's stance--that Taiwan can't become independent and that it might just be invaded someday. One thing I hadn't thought of--the war in Ukraine has important implications for China's food security since it gets much grain from Ukraine and Russia.
Because she had to go after about 25 minutes, Fadden shared his thoughts, and he was quite sharp and coherent despite his assertions to the contrary. The big question: now that there is pressure to increase the defence budget, who much and to what end? He argued that while the developing countries support the sanctions against Russia, they will blame the west for the higher food prices that will harm them. He then asked whether the government is thinking beyond the short term--what is our strategy down the road?
|This was not a manel as the French MoD |
speaker was zoomed in
The next panel was on the Indo-Pacific with a mix of Canadian naval officers, retired American admiral (who spent way too much time talking about his background), French defense civilian, and Aussie attaché. I found it interesting, but I took poor notes.
|I cleaned up |
for this event
The next panel was the one where I chatted with Darren Bricker, who has written much on Canadian politics and works for the polling firm IPSOS. He once wrote a book about the Laurentian elite, so he took my question about the Ottawa bubble and ran with it. He discussed how it is not really inflation that is upsetting Canadians but the high price of housing--that the young folks are upset that they may not be able to buy a house. We discussed public opinion and the Canadian Armed Forces--that the scandals have had an impact on how the public views the CAF.
|Dan does NPSIA proud.|
Watching recent events (and inspired by this tweet about Latvia's PM's take on this), I am reminded of the misquoted from the American war in Vietnam: we had to destroy the village in order to save it. Seems like Putin's Russia is killing the kin in order to save them. That the attacks on the Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine are hurting those that Russia is supposedly trying to help. This speaks to a variety of aspects here that I want to address.
Second, the plight of the kin (real or imagined) can operate in at least two ways: putting pressure via domestic politics on the leadership of the kin state to do something about it or providing an opportunity for the leadership to focus the domestic audience on this threat to the nation (which includes those outside the country). That is, it can be a bottom-up or top-down dynamic. In this case, it is pretty clear it is top-down--that Putin was under little or no pressure to do something about the plight of Russians in the Ukraine. Instead, among his motives may have been a desire to strengthen Russian nationalism at home by emphasizing the us-ness of Russian speakers within and outside of Russia at the expense potentially of other conceptions of the Russian nation. But I can't imagine that killing Russian speakers in Ukraine helps the building of domestic support within Russia or to define the Russian nation in ways that abet Putin's desires to stay in power.
This reinforces my conclusion (and my bias) that irredentism does not have to be sincere, and that Russia's irredentism towards Ukraine, besides maybe Crimea*, is entirely insincere. I never thought that the separatist groups in the Donbass were genuine efforts at greater self-determination but rather created by Russia. Putin's speech to kick off the war was very much an irredentist appeal--that Ukraine never really existed and has always been Russian, etc. Despite this speech, I am not so sure he is all that sincere--that he would have been happy in 2013 with a pro-Russia Ukraine, he would have been happy in 2021 with a pro-Russia Crimea-less Ukraine. I don't think Putin is really motivated to create a Greater Russia despite his apparently longing for the good old Soviet days. I do think he wants domination--that dominating Ukraine and Belarus and other parts of the former Soviet space would have been sufficient.
The threat to that domination was never NATO but the European Union. That is, an alternative, west-leaning model has been a threat to Putin's domination of Russia and much of the former Soviet space. Again, the timing here is suggestive--2014 when Ukraine starts looking to the EU; 2022 when Ukraine keeps looking westward.
And here is an irony and a stupidity: that Putin, by absorbing Crimea and by taking the eastern regions of Ukraine out of Ukraine's political system, altered the balance of political power in Ukraine. He removed the most Russia-leaning components, which meant that even if the rest of Ukraine wasn't pissed off, the balance of voters shifted by subtraction, making it more likely to have pro-western leaders. Putin improved Zelenskyy's chances of getting elected. When folks talk about California seceding, I push back, saying that would alter the balance of power in the US, making it impossible for the Dems to win at the national level. Well, Putin did this--he made it far harder for a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician to win just on the numbers, not to mention antagonizing many Ukrainians via his bullying.
This conflict is an intersection of many things: irredentism and other elements of ethnic politics (see the Ukrainian diaspora mobilize), civil-military relations, alliance politics, sanctions, coercive diplomacy, nuclear strategy (stability-instability paradox), and more. From most perspectives, Putin has screwed up bigtime, including the third classic error of thinking regime change will be easy (don't wager with a Silician when death is on the line is the second). Which, of course, is not reassuring because there is plenty of room for Putin to get into deeper and deeper trouble, hurting more and more people and risking a wider and wider war.
* The referendum was a sham, but there did seem to be a fair amount of Crimean Russians who wanted to be in a Greater Russia.
Pat Reilly, the NBA coach and then general manager, apparently would talk about the disease of me or of more--that after winning a championship, repeating becomes hard because players focus more on themselves and less on the team. This is not what I am discussing today, but this is where the phrase came from.
Today, the disease of MOAR is the nearly constant demand for leaders to do more than are currently doing. The status quo can never be quite good enough--leaders must do more. The media often ask: there is this thing you are doing, why aren't you doing more? The opposition, if they like a policy, can argue that it is insufficient and demand MOAR. The two, the opposition and the media, feed off each other as they demand more.
Why am I thinking about this now? Because folks are demanding that the US, Canada, and NATO do MOAR to help Ukraine. Let's see...they have cooperating more than we thought possible two weeks ago to levy and enforce very painful sanctions. They have almost competed with each other to arm the Ukrainians. They have reinforced the defenses of neighboring countries. They have engaged in much diplomacy both to build the cooperation on this side and to try to get Russia/Putin to relent. They have given Ukrainian President Zelenskyy heaps of platforms.
BUT WE NEED TO DO MOAR!!! We need to do a no fly zone, we need to intervene directly. I have written about the NFZ and memed as well [here's my very blunt tv hit on this]. I won't get into it now except to say that it is quite normal for Ukrainians to demand that the west does more including getting involved quite directly via a NFZ that would lead to Americans and Canadians and Germans and Brits and French and others killing Russians in Ukraine and in Russia. This certainly would be MOAR, but given that Ukraine is facing horrific assaults, these folks can demand MOAR.
The media? Probably not. They should be aware that certain steps on the escalation ladder are more risky than others. We have spent nearly 80 years trying not to engage in wars with nuclear power states because we don't know that they will stop at the conventional level. In this crisis, we are very close the threshold where MOAR means a real risk of nuclear war. Which means that asking for MOAR is pretty damned irresponsible (unless you are Ukrainian).
But it is so easy and tempting to ask for MOAR because it puts the government on the defensive, having to explain that having the technical ability to do MOAR does not mean that MOAR is a good idea. The good news is that in this case, MOAR is so very bad that it isn't going to happen. Biden won't do it, and he won't be pushed by Trudeau and others to do it.
I just wish folks would take seriously that MOAR is not always better and be critical of those who demand MOAR.
I made this a few days ago and it appears to be still required
Because a retired general in Canada (as well as some elsewhere) have been calling for NATO to enforce a No Fly Zone over Ukraine. People seem not to be too concerned about the risk of, well, global thermonuclear war. So, let's play it out, shall we, with a general X and a Minister of National Defence A:
MND A: So, what do you recommend for us to do?
General X: We should declare a No Fly Zone over Ukraine so that the Russians can't bomb civilian targets.
MND A: What about missiles and artillery?
General X: Oh, the Russians have plenty of those and use them to devastate Ukraine.
MND A: So, why enforce a No Fly Zone?
General X: It is the least we can do, we need to do MOAR!
MND A: Ok, so if we do the NFZ, that means we fly over Ukrainian air space and shoot down Russian planes and helicopters and drones, right?
General X: Well, sure, but we would also want to shoot them down while we are flying in allied airspace to take advantage of how far our weapons can fly and reduce the risks to our pilots from their fighter aircraft.
MND A: Oh, so we would be attacking from allied airspace, but keeping our attacks focused only on planes in Ukrainian airspace.
General X: oh, and anti-aircraft batteries.
MND A: In Ukraine?
General X: well, the Russians have built up anti-aircraft systems nearby--on Russian territory including Kaliningrad.
MND A: So, we'd leave those alone, right? We wouldn't want to attack anything in Russian territory, right?
General X: We'd have to take them out. To enforce a No Fly Zone, the first step is to take out the anti-aircraft systems of the adversary so that our planes could fly safely.
MND A: So, if we attack Russian weapon systems in Russian territory, what would stop them from doing the same--attacking our weapon systems in allied territory?
General X: Well, if they did that, they would be escalating and risking a war with NATO as it would potentially lead to the invoking of Article V.
MND A: Let me get this straight, we would attack Russian units in Ukraine and probably Russia, but we would expect them to be restrained?
General X: Sure, because they wouldn't want to start World War III.
MND A: Wouldn't we be starting with our attacks on Russian military units, something that everyone has tried to avoid for about 70 years?
General X: I don't think it would raise the risk of nuclear war by that much.
MND A: So, it would raise the risk of nuclear war.
General X: Sure, but only by ... say ... 10%.
MND A: So we have gone from nuclear war being improbable to being possible but not likely?
General X: Well, yeah, but, see, we would be doing something more than what we are doing now.
MND A: And we would only be risking a smidge of nuclear war... General, you are fired.
To be fair, Hillier is retired, and retired generals can spout reckless stuff all they want. The nuclear era is a dangerous place, and one of the rules to avoid nuclear war has long been not to shoot at countries that have nuclear weapons. Sure, we had some pilots from various opponents engage each other over the skies of Korea and Vietnam, but there was heaps of plausible deniability and no risk of allied/enemy territory being hit. In this case, the NFZ would be most public--no deniability--and NATO/Russian territory would be implicated.