Monday, May 30, 2022

First Reactions to the Arbour Report

Today, the Arbour Report is being released--the review that was requested by the previous Minister of National Defence to address the sexual misconduct crisis in the CAF.  The recommendations is all we "stakeholders" received.  The rest of the report will drop soon.  So, I went through the 48 recommendations (update: the full report is here).  I am not an expert on either sexual misconduct or gender and the military, so I looked at it from the view of how it affects civil-military relations and civilian control of the military.  With that in mind, here are my initial reactions and summary.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

The Future of NATO and of Canada-German Relations

 A couple of weeks ago, I went to Berlin for an event organized by Atlantik-Brücke and Atlantik-Brücke-Canada.  These organizations aim at building transatlantic bridges with the latter reminding folks that there is more than one NATO country on this side of the pond.  It is very much an effort to build ties between Canada and Germany.  I was asked to write a paper on the future of NATO, which was to provide some fodder for discussion. It was a hard paper to write as I was to speak about the future from both Canadian and German perspectives.  I basically punted on that second part, suggesting that since the Germans were confused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine and how it upset the Ostpolitik 2.0 effort,  this turning point they are calling Zeitenwende, there was no clear German perspective to provide on the various topics I addressed.  Oh, and writing about THE Canadian perspective on the future of stuff was also really challenging since I have always written about the past and have limited my speculation about trends down the road.  That was not part of my training at the Jedi temple.

Before I get into what others said at the conference, what did I write in the paper?  First, I procrastinated, which was fortunate since I would have had to scrap anything I wrote before February 24th.  Russia's invasion of NATO reminded us of what NATO can do quite well, what it can't do, and what it means.  As I oriented the paper around several key questions to invite discussion, I did suggest that the usual NATO question--the existential question--was moot.  Russia's aggression resolves, at least for the near to medium term, the question of whether NATO can or should continue to exist.  In this crisis, NATO has played its traditional and strongest role--deterring aggression against its members.  

I raised the question of how can NATO provide security and stability for non-members since NATO's day job is quite well handled.  The paper then provides two answers to that: enlargement to some and training/arming to others.  The Finland/Sweden membership train sped way past my paper, as I had to turn it in at the beginning of April.  It is a done deal, with Turkish leveraging barely slowing down the process.  The question is whether the Ukraine model can be applied to Moldova, Georgia, and others--can NATO either via multilateral or bilateral channels provide training and arms assistance to make these other neighbors less tasty and less digestible.  I did point out that a key difference between Ukraine 2022 and Iraq 2014, both targets of much military training assistance, is that the former engaged in good civilian control of the military, promoting the most capable officers and not those who were the most handy for domestic political games.  

Another theme in the paper was humility--that NATO and its members should not get too cocky.  That NATO could not survive another Trump administration, that NATO is not really all that well suited to handle China or gray zone attacks, and that as an alliance of democracies, it's not in the best of shape (Hungary, Turkey, Poland, and, yes, the US).  

The day had a number of panels, but, as a good narcissist, I focused on the one I was on, with the opening statement by Sigmar Gabriel, the former Vice Chanellor and Chair of Atlantik-Brücke; and then I spoke along with Jana Puglierin, who heads the European Council on Foreign Relations Berlin; Thomas Silberhorn, a Christian Democrat Bundestag member; and Vice-Admiral (ret) Ron Lloyd.  Jana was quite clear that the actual policies produced by the Zeitenwende may be less than advertised--that the increases in German defense spending are limited, returning back to normal in five years as the government apparently does not want to constrain future governments (more below); that there are already cracks emerging in the consensus produced by Russia's aggression; that the new money will not really advance the German military that much but just catch it up some from the underspending that has caused a readiness crisis; and that Germany needs to re-think its opposition to linking economic and security issues.  Silberhorn argued that the military strategy to non-members needs to be accompanied by an EU strategy, that we need more options fo rnon-members.  He pointed out that this is not the cold war as we will be cooperating, coexisting, and conflicting with China simultaneously.  

The give and take and Q&A were most interesting--lots of frustration with the current German government which set high expectations and seems to have been dashing them on a daily basis since then.  Similarly, Canada created high expectations by talking about a big boost in defence spending which turned out to be $8b over five years and not in any specified way.  So, much similarity between the two countries--promising big but not actually dramatically boosing defense spending.  The big difference has been Canada's willingness to arm Ukraine, whereas German promises have not always met the realities.  Both are hoping for some kind of normalcy soon, but the mood in the room was that the war was going to drag on and that normal is not going to be a thing anytime soon.  

On the bright side, I think the AB-C mission of reinforcing the transatlantic link is in good shape--the relations between Canada and Germany are pretty good.  I was surprised to learn that the EU had not ratified the CETA agreement, and Germany was one of the laggards on this.  This crisis could provide some momentum on that, but it might also distract Euro folks away from Canada as well.  But on most things, Canada and Germany are not too far apart, and Russia's aggression reminds us of what we have in common.  The eastern front is now NATO's priority, so we will see less debate about whether other areas should get more NATO focus (the southern front of refugee prevention, for instance).  I can't imagine the NATO Summit in a few weeks spending much time on anything besides Sweden/Finland membership and the confrontation with Russia. 

Finally, for Canada, Europe remains the land of easy policy decisions.  Tis in Asia, where the hard choices remain.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Young MINDS Hackathon: The Future Is Bright

Last week, we had Safia Hafid's New Bipolarity conference.  This week, we helped Alex Rizkallah with his Hackathon.   The idea was to have groups of students brainstorm responses to three potential grey zone attacks--a ship in the Arctic, cyberspace attack, disinformation campaign.  Alex recruited students from Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa (his budget was finite so we couldn't fly people in), and it was great to meet these folks.  We also recruited military officers, policy officers, and academics to
serve as judges.

The first day, the students were shuttled to DND's Carling Campus, where DND's Public Affairs folks hosted us.  After Alex briefed the entire group, they were sent to breakout rooms where each team of three to four students worked on one of the three scenarios.  The CAF's intelligence command offered a few officers to serve as advisers.  The Arctic person had to drop out, so I got to play that role, which was probably not so fair for these students since my Arctic understanding is meh.  Since the students only competed within each scenario, my lousy advising did not provide a competitive disadvantage. The second scenario focused on a ransomware attack from abroad aimed at a Canadian hospital system.   The third scenario involved a disinformation campaign.

This is the memorial
as it was at Camp Mirage
Our hosts at DND were terrific as we got to see a hunk of the new HQ, they provided us with snacks, and they gave us a tour of the Afghanistan memorial.  During the war, the folks at Camp Mirage (in Dubai) and in Kandahar memorialized those lost in Afghanistan.  Those memorials were moved to NDHQ after much discussion (I would prefer that this was elsewhere so you can only see this stuff if you can get access to NDHQ).  It is always striking to see how young the soldiers and others who lost their lives in war.  Reminds me of a classic MASH episode where the commander said that Rule #1 of war is that young people die, and rule #2 is that doctors can't change rule #1.  The memorial included plaques not just for the soldiers but the civilians (government and otherwise) who died there including Glynn Berry, the first leader of the provincial reconstruction team; Michelle Lang, the one Canadian journalist who was killed in the course of covering the war; a few aid workers; and a social scientist whose name I can't remember or find.  The memorial also includes some Americans. 

The second day, we hosted the students at Carleton, where each team pitched for 15 minutes (or a bit more) their ideas via slide presentations to the audience there and to the judges online.  We had three panels of judges--mostly experts on their respective topics--from DND, the CAF, academia, and other CDSN partners.  The students were given a guideline for how they would be assessed.  After the teams presented, we presented the plaques to the winning teams for each scenario.  We live streamed and posted online the event in English and French.

It was great to meet the eager folks from Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal.  Many of the Montrealers were from McGill, so I was reminded of how sharp those folks are.  All the students made up a  terrific crew, bonding quickly with their teammates, with much better imaginations about the possible responses, great research skills, and varied perspectives.  

Much thanks to DND's MINDS program for funding Alex's event, to DND's Public Affairs folks for arranging our day at Carling, to the CAF's intel group which provided advisers to our students, to all of these and other folks who helped us find judges.  And thanks to the CDSN HQ crew--Kaha, Melissa, and Racheal--for helping Alex realize his ambitious project.

When we wrote the first big grant for the CDSN, undergrads were largely an afterthought as we focused mostly on graduate students as research assistants and as participants in our events.  This hackathon gave us a chance to include younger folks in defence and security thinking, and we benefited greatly.  We shall see what our next Undergraduate Excellence Scholars seek to do, but we may be borrowing Alex's idea again and again, as this kind of creative thinking exercise was terrific on multiple dimensions.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Early Admissions, NATO Edition

 So, I found this after a long day of travel:


Which raises the question of what does the NATO application look like.  In the course of my previous NATO research, I found an application form:

  1. Name of Country
  2. Proximity to the North Atlantic (being adjacent to a sea that neighbors the Atlantic is good enough)
  3. Democracy (note, this only matters when you join)?
  4. How do you feel about acronyms?
  5. Do you use powerpoint or prezi?
  6. Do you have spare Soviet equipment?
  7. What is your favorite caveat?
  8. Who do you want as the next SACEUR?  [Just kidding, the US makes the decision and sometimes pretends to consult with the alliance]
  9. What food will you bring to the force generation conferences?  Each one is a potluck. 
  10. Beer or wine?
  11. Eastern front or Southern front?  [Russia settled that question for now]
  12. If you could have a new Centre of Excellence based in your country, what would it be and why?  
  13. Related to 12, how do you feel about calling CoE's something else? 
  14. Final question: if you could create alternative aspiration to replace the 2% of GDP guideline, what would it be and why?


Friday, May 13, 2022

The New Bipolarity: Where Does Canada Fit Into US-China Rivalry

 Yesterday, one of our two Undergraduate Excellence Scholars, Safia Hafid, led a one-day conference on the changing realities in Asia-Pacific.  She applied for and received a Young MINDS grant which enabled her to bring together seven speakers from a variety of perspectives and backgrounds.  Our CDSN team helped her along the way, but this was her show and she performed wonderfully.  She not only found seven great speakers, but she did a great job of introducing the day, placing the larger question into context, managing the speakers, and moderating the question and answer sessions.  The day flowed smoothly, and I learned a great deal.  I live tweeted the afternoon so you can check out the thread here.  I will summarize some of the major points below (I will post Safia's report once she completes it).  You can watch it in English or French.

Panel 1.
Elizabeth Larus of U of Mary Washington led off by asserting that the US has not declined so much and China has probably peaked.  There was a far amount of consensus on the latter point.  I had heard the "China is going to get old before it gets rich" argument, but hadn't realized how bad their clean water problem is.
Rob Murray of McDonald-Laurier Institute discussed how Canada had spent much effort to develop a somewhat independent path from the US during the Cold War but largely stopped doing so in the US's unipolar moment.  He joined the chorus of folks seeking a strategic foreign policy review... which is not going to happen.
Thomas Christensen of Columbia University argued that the US is still far more powerful than China, but that the key flashpoints are far closer to China, mitigating some American advantages.  With the possibility of a blockade by China's navy and air force, Taiwan has to get what it needs before the fighting starts as resupply is going to be really hard.
In the Q&A, Larus explained why covid is such a threat to Xi: Xi has put much of his rep on zero covid. They vaccinated their young, not their elderly, their shots may not be as good, not as much health infrastructure, so risks of massive waves of deaths if covid breaks out. Christensen had one of the best lines of the day when talking about some far right American voices demanding MOAR: "you can't deter a war by starting one, \"referring to Pompeo's and Bolton's stances who would "love Taiwan to death."

Panel 2.
David Welch of U of Waterloo presented on China's tactics in its various territorial and maritime disputes (NPSIA has a PhD student working on this topic).  One of his most interesting findings is that China seems to be obeying the ruling about South China Seas non-islands.  We just can't say it aloud much.  He reinforced the consensus that Taiwan's term-limited president, Tsai Ing-wen, is handling this all very, very well.
Next was Lynette Ong of U of Toronto.  She argued that Xi Jinping's use of nationalism is now biting him as he is now constrained by ultranationalist forces.  She discussed the pattern of centralization and repression that is going to be challenging to ride.

Panel 3.
Stephanie Carvin, my colleague at NPSIA, discussed the absence of Canada in DC--a short flight but apparently not taken all that often, whereas the Aussies are everywhere.  We need a strategic foreign policy review (yep, she said it, too), more specifics and less vague statements, and a tech policy that is more than Huawei/notHuawei.
Last but not least was journalist Don Newman, who pointed out that the de facto ban on Huawei is less than clear to our allies.  He argued that AUKUS should not be Canada's focus but NORAD modernization. 
For the q&a, I asked whether Canada has ever been a rule maker and not a rule taker.  I was thinking in hard security, but Steph pushed peacekeeping (a long time ago), R2P (um, did that ever lead to anything), and land mine ban (which did).  In response to a question, Don argued that Canadian foreign policy got paralyzed by the two Michaels.  But I wonder if this government would have done anything on foreign policy anyhow--another consensus--this govt does not care about foreign policy.

I learned a lot, and I didn't have to do anything as Safia did all of the heavy lifting with some help from the CDSN staff.  We have another Young MINDS-sponsored event next week, organized by our other 2021-2022 Undergraduate Excellence Scholar--Alexander Rizkallah.  It will be a wildly ambitious hackathon with day one at NDHQ (Carling campus) and day two at Carleton.  

I hope y'all can join us on hackathon pitch day! 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Much Ado About ... Something But Not Quite That Much: ABM Edition

Minister of National Defence Anita Anand was asked at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute's annual conference about whether the government would reconsider joining the US's Anti-Ballistic Missile program.  I was at the conference, and I heard her basically say: we are doing a comprehensive defence review and that will be part of it (because comprehensive means all inclusive).

This generated a heap of media coverage including a radio spot for me.  So, let me explain some of the context, why it is fun for the media, why this is mostly a nothingburger, and my prediction on what will happen.

Canada deviated from American preferences in the 2005 as Paul Martin said Canada would not join the American program--this was part of distancing him from a toxic George W. Bush (Canadians were not fans of the Iraq war) and also Canadian support for multilateralism as US ABM efforts trashed an arms control treaty.  Since then, the ABM stuff has been third-rail-ish--that the Liberals don't want to talk about it.  I forget why the Conservatives didn't jump on this when they were in power.  So, this is a bit of a thorn in US-Canadian relations as close cooperation regarding North American airspace is complicated by the fact that the US NORAD folks are double-hatted as NORTHCOM folks who do ABM stuff.  From what I have heard, when there are ABM-related issues at the joint HQ in Colorado, the Americans go into a different room, leaving the Canadians behind.

There is partly, as a result, some Canadian uncertainty about whether the Americans would shoot down missiles aimed at Canada.  An American general said a few years ago that the US was not obligated to do so.  This created a minor storm up here, but it was silly because:

  1. The Americans will shoot down headed our way because they can't be certain a missile aimed at Vancouver is not really aimed at Seattle or a missile heading to Ottawa isn't aimed at Fort Drum.  Indeed, they would be shooting down missiles as early in their arc as possible.
  2. The Americans would shoot down a missile heading towards Vancouver, even if they were certain, because a nuke there would make for a bad day in Seattle.
  3. The Americans can't really shoot down the missiles anyway because the ABM efforts have been expensive but not so effective.
  4. Who is shooting missiles at Canada and not the US anyway?

The media like this story because they love revisiting the past and seeing the Liberals tied up in knots over a policy position that has really been overcome by events.  Bush is gone, the ABM Treaty is dead, so it is actually an easy thing to change, but they may be stuck by intra-Liberal disputes.  

This is all important now not so much because of Russia vs. Ukraine but because the joint effort to protect North America requires substantial reinvestment.  The systems in the north to warn of attacks are obsolete apparently and can't address some of the more modern threats like cruise missiles and hypersonic missiles.  So, Canada is going to invest billions in new technologies, so that they can warn the US and Canada if someone attacks.  But this seems strange if Canada is not joining the effort to try (not succeed, but at least try) to shoot them down. What good is warning if you can't respond?  You get a few more minutes to hug your family?

The obvious answer here is to say: the situation has changed (maybe even blame Putin/Russia) and say that the new investments will be part of a commitment to the defence/defense of North America including ballistic (and other) missile defenses.  But I am guessing that might not happen.  Because intra-Liberal politics can be confusing and strange

So, I would bet on inertia. The review does provide an opportunity to change policy, but the last review did not make any hard decisions.  I expect Anand's review to make some (unlike her predecessor's), but I am not sure she would want to burn intra-party political capital on this.  

That the Canadian media is freaking out slightly over this shows yet again how immature our policy conversations in Canada tend to be.  I was annoyed yesterday at the conference when a former Defence Minister, Peter MacKay said two amazingly dumb thing that he should know better--that we should work on an Asia-Pacific NATO (nope, not happening) and that we should give our tanks to Ukraine (nope, we don't have any that are compatible with those the Ukrainians have, but I am sure that training and maintenance would be easy... not).  Moving beyond ABM politics should be straightforward, but it is not.  The media already smells the blood in the water on this, so I don't expect the Liberals to move on it.  They certainly would not get rewarded domestically for moving on, so why bother?

In other words, oy.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Tweet Too Much? Nay

On this occasion of my, yes, 300,000th tweet, I ponder whether I tweet too much.  

Uum, yeah.  How do I know it is too much?  Well, back in the olden days of twitter, I wouldn't add someone to my feed if they tweeted as much as I did, as I tried to read everything that went through my feed.

So, why do I tweet so much?  Part of it is that I respond to folks and engage in conversations.  This can lead to a lot of tweets in a short period of time.  And I like to chat with a lot of people on twitter. 

Part of is that I prefer to retweet rather than like a tweet, as I save my likes for bookmarking tweets.  I also like to amplify emerging scholars, but I am not sure how much that adds to my tweet total.  

I almost certainly tweet less about pop culture stuff than I used to, but my work stuff has been far more relevant these days--the civ-mil crisis in Canada, the end of the allied war in Afghanistan, the failed Russian irredentist campaign--which might be replacing some of my older twitter stuff.

Oh, and twitter has replaced some of my blogging--that I will do a ten tweet thread rather than blog about something. 

Plus, these days, I do a fair amount of tweeting to advertise and amplify the CDSN and the activities/outputs of its partners/members.  

Much of it is that I lack focus, so I engage in conversations and respond to tweets all over the map--not just in my area of expertise but in pretty much anything that catches my eye. There are many squirrels out there.

This kind of covers it:

To celebrate this milestone (or is it a benchmark?), I am bringing back one of my oldest blogging bits: how twitter has surprised, troubled, enchanted, and humbled me.

  • I am surprised where twitter has taken me.  Through this app and network, I have been able to connect with journalists, policy-makers, academics, politicians, and others around the world.  This has facilitated my research as I have found important articles that I would otherwise have missed, it has connected me to people I then interviewed for my projects, it has given me new perspectives so I can see things from beyond my narrow lenses, and, yes, I have been corrected on many occasions when I professed without a good understanding of the facts of the situation.  
  • I am most troubled by how my twitter experience is so different from other people.  I haven't faced anything like the abuse some people get on twitter--that being a white straight guy is just a very different experience.  I stopped being a super twitter-evangelist when I realized that my experience is not so typical, and I started being more conscious about following and retweeting and responding to those who tend to be targeted-- women, the LGBTQ+, religious minorities, and people of color.  I could and should do more, and this milestone will remind me to do so.  
  • I am enchanted by the communities of support that have arisen in this space even though/despite of/in reaction to the stuff I just noted.  For instance, the #civmil community of scholars is a great group on twitter, where folks provide citations, feedback, info, and coordinate for panels/conferences/etc.   I am also enchanted by the interactions I have had on twitter with some of the stars that made an impact on me way back when, whether it is the Fonz, Luke Skywalker, or the muse of NatSecTwitter, Morgan Fairchild.  That Nigella Lawson responds to my tweets about her great recipes is very enchanting indeed.  Twitter may not be a leveler, but it is a connector.
  • I am humbled that people follow me and engage me even though I spew too much on twitter and am all over the place. That I have had more tweets get far more interaction than any one of my publications or even perhaps all of my publications should make me more cautious about what I say.  When people meet me in person and say they follow me on twitter, my first instinct is to blush and apologize for tweeting too much.

This reminds me of a story from my year in the Pentagon (you can hear my students groaning at another reference to that experience) where a colonel complimenting me on speaking up at a small meeting involving our three star boss.  I told him my problem is not the need to speak more but the inability to speak less.  And, yeah, at 300,000 tweets, I really haven't learned to talk less.  Yeah, I have some self-awareness but not a lot of self control.  So, there's that.

Which means I can conclude with only one song: