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.