Sunday, September 25, 2022

Prioritizing Domestic Emergency Operations

 After news of Canadian Armed Forces moving to the Atlantic provinces to help with the post-Hurricane Fiona, I tweeted that we need to think about CAF priorities thusly:

 It is not a new thing for me to say, but it seemed to get a lot more play than usual.  Some active/retired CAF people took it most personally, so I thought I would explain what I meant and then discuss the (over)reaction.  

In every defense review, domestic emergency operations, known as aid to civil power, is listed as one of the four major priorities (defence of Canada, defence of North America, NATO--if I recall correctly--are the other three), but is always fourth.  And it is fourth when it comes to spending, training, promotion, procurement, etc.  In public and private discussions, senior CAF officers tend to refer to domestic emergency operations as an inconvenience--something that disrupts training cycles and deployment schedules.  However, as the pandemic made abundantly clear, 

Canadians face far greater threats from viruses and weather than from distant authoritarian regimes.  Oh, and if those regimes wanted to get super serious and throw nukes around, there is nothing that the CAF could do to stop it (and nothing the US could do either--ABM tech is still not proven/reliable/nor ever able to knock down every missile sent our way).

The pace of these nature-induced domestic operations has been increasing due to climate change, something that the current Chief of Defence Staff Wayne Eyre noted when he was army chief way back in 2020 before the pandemic struck North America:"“If this becomes of a larger scale, more frequent basis, it will start to affect our readiness.” Note the sense here that the domestic ops are getting in the way of the day job.  

In my conversations with CAF folks, I have heard that promotion and leave calculations reward folks who go on operations abroad but not so much for operations at home.  This helps to foster a mindset and a focus.

The question I was raising essentially is not whether the CAF is trained to do ops at home, but whether they spend enough time, money, procurement, effort, etc to do the stuff at home really well.  Or is it a matter of short training for each potential emergency and showing up when asked?   I really don't know how much more training/spending/etc is required, but I do think we/they need to have a real conversation about how priority #4 is perhaps approaching priority #1.  

The pushback I got was from folks saying that if we spent more time training for domestic ops, that leaves us less well trained to fight at the highest, most intense levels AND that training for that stuff puts us in good shape for the domestic stuff.  I honestly don't know how transferable the skills are from combat to dealing with floods/fires/ice storms/pandemics/etc.  I think this is all worth exploring.

I also wonder how much effort has been done to learn from past operations.  It seems to me that most of this stuff happens at lower levels, so that there is not much lesson learning across the country.  A lot of this involves relationships with provinces and municipalities, and I can't help but wonder if there is variation in all of this stuff.  Alas, defence scholars haven't spent much time studying this stuff.  Our latest big grant at the CDSN has this as one focal point, so perhaps my tweet was about establishing ourselves on this corner and justifying it.

Tis worth noting that some folks seemed super-insulted by the tweet, that suggesting that the military work harder on non-kinetic (not combat stuff) is not only a huge mistake but an insult to the troops.  Not sure why that is, unless one's identity is entirely bound up with the combat stuff.  So, I can't help but think that the discussion of culture change, which has focused mostly on sexual misconduct, somewhat on better inclusion and equity of historically excluded groups, a bit on abuse of power, might also consider other elements of the CAF culture. Valorizing combat at the expense of helping Canadians at home?  That seems a bit problematic to me.  But then again, I am an ivory tower know-nothing prof.  

To be clear, I would much rather have a civilian agency equivalent to the American Federal Emergency Management Agency doing this stuff, but I doubt that will happen.  It would require the provinces and the federal government to get along well enough to solve the cost-sharing, moral hazard problems that are rife here.  Given that the provinces are still asking for more health $ from the feds as they cut taxes and spend previous allotments of health care money on anything but the pandemic, I am skeptical about the prospects of a real Canadian FEMA.  

And, yeah, not so long ago, I scoffed at the idea of military folks spending heaps of time on domestic emergencies. When I first moved here and started doing research on the CAF and Afghanistan, I was stunned to see officers have the ice storm of 1998 as one of the most significant operations.  But after watching Vancouver isolated by floods perhaps more effectively than a Russian or Chinese attack could, the pandemic leading to soldiers in elder care facilities (another provincial failure), and on and on, I am realizing that we have to at least ask if we have our priorities right.  If folks fear those questions, then those questions need to be asked more loudly.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Political? Partisan? When Listicles Confuse and Clarify Simultaneously

 A bunch of former SecDefs and several former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff put out a list of the principles of American Civil-Military Relations, and, well, I have many thoughts.

Before getting to the list itself, let's think about the signers and this moment.  The signers include men who screwed this stuff up.  I am not just talking about the obviou
s case of James Mattis but also Robert Gates, for instance, who blamed Obama for the state of civ-mil in his time when, yeah, it is the SecDef's job.  Myers and Pace?  Well, part of civ-mil is giving their best advice to the President even when it disagrees with the SecDef, and they mostly caved to Rummy.  Dunford played along with Mattis's privileging of the Joint Staff over the civilians during the Trump Era.  Of course, this stuff is really hard, and the balancing act never satisfies anyone.  But, oh my, to see some of these folks stand up for basic principles that they themselves messed up reminds me that neither SecDefs nor Chairman tend to have much humility or self-awareness.  At least Rummy had the self-awareness (UPDATE: sorry, he died last year) not to sign since he broke American civ-mil in his time.

Now this moment--this statement in some ways is quite ordinary as pretty much all of it is the conventional understanding of what normal civil-military relations looks like in the US (and I wish some of it was understood in Canada the same way--but Canadians don't have the same hierarchy--something to complain about on another day).  But it is extraordinary to have these folks get together and enunciate this as it is very much a declaration that things are amiss thanks to ... Trump and the MAGA Republicans.  While Democrats screw up civilian control of the military as well, ignoring the military's advice at times or appointing crappy SecDefs (how good was Panetta, one of the signers here?), today's Democrats would mostly buy into the list.  Today's GOP?  Hardly.

Which gets to the big thing we talk about in civ-mil--that while the old conventional wisdom says that the military should not be political, the reality is that all things military (and all things policy) are political.  Clausewitz was right--war is politics by other means.  So, trying to stay apolitical tends to breed generals and admirals who can't think strategically.  So, we civ-mil folks mostly say that militaries should be aware of their place in politics but not be partisan.  That whatever they advocate as policy options will have political ramifications and should take into account the likely political effects on the place they are operating BUT they should not be partisan.  That uniformed officers should not be seen, for instance, advocating for one party.  

The challenge of our moment is this: the Constitutional basics are partisan ever since Trump started talking about his military and about rigged elections and all the rest.  Much of this list is in direct contradiction to things Trump said and did while in office and since then.  So, taking a stand in favor of the traditional norms of civilian control of the military and American civil-military relations is now not just political but partisan.  This list is clearly a condemnation of Trump and his acolytes, which includes many GOP Senators--Cotton, Hawley most obviously.  

So, this is all very troubling--that this might be necessary, that espousing the norms of civilian control of the military might just be a violation of the norms?

Ok, that's the context, what about the list?  It is really basic stuff--that civilians are key to civilian control of the military, that all three branches play a role, that the executive is the key with the SecDef playing a fundamental role (hey, Bob, did you read what you signed?), that everything gets "chopped" by the legal folks in every relevant office, that Congress matters a whole lot, that civs have a heap of responsibility and aren't just there to listen to the generals, the military advises and obeys legal orders, military does not lead in law enforcement, military stays out of partisan politics, and out of elections.

What is missing?  Something about how retired military officers should be careful about becoming involved in partisan politics?  Maybe advising that uniformed officers should not serve in inherently partisan jobs like National Security Adviser?  Maybe that SecDefs should never be retired senior officers?  What else would I add?  Perhaps an overt declaration that Sam Huntington is wrong?  That the military needs to listen to the sharp folks who study this stuff (Lindsay Cohn, Risa Brooks, etc) who raise critical questions about what it means to be a "professional" these days?

Monday, September 5, 2022

Tips for Those Headed to APSA in Montreal 2022

Great views from the top of Mont Royal. 
Yes, the hill is what the city is named after, and
it is a great way to spend some time--walking up
and down.

It has been a grand tradition here at the Spew to offer unsolicited advice when conferences are in Canada.  A big caveat: I haven't lived in Montreal in ten years, so stuff has changed.  But the most relevant changes are national, not provincial or municipal, so I can still provide some useful guidance.  

First, to get into the country (yes, Canada is a different country, with its own border stuff and everything including roaming rates for your phone), you need passports (this ain't the 1980s) and to have filled out the ArriveCan app.  You can download it via your phone, either android or iphone, and then you input a heap of information within three days of your entry into Canada.  You have to do it shortly before you come to Canada.  Airlines may check that you have done so, you definitely will be checked at the border posts either via land or air.  Downloading the app feverishly filling it out as you wait in the border line in NY or Vermont is not a great strategy as it will require info and maybe even pics of your covid vax records.  The good news is that you won't need a test (that changed last spring). 
Update: I forgot to mention that masking in Canada is ... not consistent.  The mandates went away but a fair amount of people still mask indoors. 

Second, there are multiple ways to get from the airport to downtown--train, bus, taxi.  Downtown is not that far away, but traffic in Montreal sucks with construction season always a challenge (rush hour is not great in the morning and starts early in the afternoon).  If you are driving to Montreal, well, vaya con dios, as the drivers and the structure of the system both are awful.  People will make right turns from the left lane, for instance.  Merging on highways can be a challenge since there may be very little space/time/visibility.  So, my best tip is this: if you are driving and you see a merging sign, head to the far lanes (far right if your lane is on the right side of the merge, far left if you are on the road on the left that is merging towards the right) as this will allow you to avoid being in that magical lane that merges instantaneously.  

Third, it is is a fun place for language politics.  One of the controversies of late has been the tradition of bonjour/hi. That generally service folks in downtown (more so as you go west, less so as you go east, and this might be my most outdated bit of info) speak both English and French and will respond with French if you respond to their bonjour and in English if you respond to hi.  I lived ten years in Montreal (suburbs and McGill, so not the most French of places) and never had to speak much French to get by.  When I got stopped for speeding, I asked the cop if we could it in English since I didn't want to mess up the high stakes conversation, he said "I don't have to" and then we continued on in English.  If you can speak French, go ahead, of course, although the accent may mess you up some. Far more nasal than French French.

Fourth, it looks like a bit of rain next week.  Bring a jacket as we are already in fall with temps in the low 70s as the high and low 60s and even high 50s as the lows.  

Fifth, I mentioned above as an aside but it is serious--Canada's cell system is expensive and your phone will work but at a price, so check your phone provider if they have any deals for roaming in Canada.  No, no worries about moose roaming.

The important thing is Montreal is a great city and easy to get around. The metro system works well, although the whole "underground city" tourist thing is wildly overrated.  The conference is south of downtown so it is close to the Old Port area which has a heap of restaurants and bars.  Quebec beer is better than Ontario beer, and heaps of great crafty stuff is available.  Here's what  I wrote for the 2011 ISA re tourism:

Tourist destinations:
  • Old Port area has, well, the older, more European buildings, restaurants, tourist traps. It has the science museum and some other stuff. Plus perhaps even some skating.  Might even be one of the few places that would rent stakes as Canadians seem to be required to own skates (which means that most rinks do not rent).
  • Bell Centre.  Hockey is religion here.  The game is always sold out and there are always scalpers selling tickets right out in front before the game.  Bring a heap of cash, and you should be able to find some tickets. 
  • Art museum on Sherbrooke is pretty good.  
  • If you want to see failed government planning, grab a metro or taxi and head to the Olympic Stadium.  They did productive stuff with some of the other buildings, including turning the cycling arena into Bio-Dome.


Basic navigation: If you are on Rene Levesque Boul and are looking at the Sheraton--you are looking North, and uphill.  The main east-west streets are Sherbrooke, Maisonneueve, St. Catherine and Rene Levesque.  St. Catherine is the most interesting--it has the most shopping, restaurants, naked lady places, and so on.  If you walk either east or west on St. Catherines, you will find a restaurant or an area that is interesting.  And have much to talk about.  St. Laurent and St. Denis to the east are the main streets with heaps of stuff.  Indeed, they sometimes call St. Laurent "the Main" especially when they are tearing it up.  At the bottom of St. Laurent is a small China town.  There are Vietnamese places there and nearby.

Money: C$ is about US$.80 these days. Lots of places to change money, especially on St. Catherine street (handy for the lap dance places, I guess), but any bank will trade US and CA dollars.  Best bet is just using an ATM.

This gets us to cuisine where there are just a few key rules as almost all food in Montreal is terrific:

1.  The only reliably meh food is Mexican.  Pretty much everything else is terrific.  There are a few key streets that have lots of restaurants--Crescent to the West and St. Denis to the right had heaps of places 10 years ago.  I don't know what the pandemic did.

2.  French, Middle Eastern, Vietnamese are all reliably terrific.  Indian and Portuguese and Thai are all good, too.  My old guide lists specific places but I can't tell you how many of them are still open and good.  My old students commented on the thread and have some great suggestions.

3.  The beer is quite good.  Again, from my old guide:  I like Blanche de Chambly.  Boreale,  Le Cheval Blanc, McAuslan, Dieu du Ciel are all good.  I like some of the more national brands as well: Alexander Keith's and Sleeman's. You can find these two in most places. 

4.  Chez Cora has a heap of choices for breakfast.  It is a wonderful Quebec breakfast chain.

5.  Tim Horton's is always super slow so only go if you have time to stand in line and learn how to be polite and patient (you would then be on your way to becoming Canadian).

6. Poutine sounds scary but is really tasty. Not at all healthy but super tasty--fries, cheese curds (WTF?), gravy.  Yum.

7.  Quebec food at nice restaurants features duck, rabbit, and other stuff--very good cuisine in its own right.

8. I didn't mention Montreal bagels because I wanted this to be a nice, positive post.  Smoked meat is also a thing in Montreal, but is not that special. 

So, do get out beyond the hotel--there are plenty of great bars and restaurants. All over the place.