Tuesday, October 31, 2023

No Zombies on This Train to Busan

One of the joys of my style of fieldwork--two weeks or so at a time--is that I have to figure out what to do with the weekends in between.  I can't expect interview subjects to meet with me on the weekend, soooooo I have to find something to do.  During my first trip to South Korea five years ago, I spent one of the weekend days during a DMZ tour--a tour bus took us to various sites along the DMZ including going into one tunnel that the North Koreans had dug.  Very cool!  This time?  I decided to go to Busan.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

The New Project Begins: Seoul Fieldreport #1

 I am in South Korea for about two weeks to start my part of the next big project: understanding the relationships between defence agencies and the militaries they are supposed to, um, uh, something.  A few years ago, I would have said oversee, but this project essentially started with an interview with a ministry of defense official who said his agency's role was to protect the military from the civilians, which is very much the opposite of oversight.  So, Phil Lagassé, Ora Szekley, and myself are traveling to a bunch of countries to catalog the various roles that these agencies think they have and then to explain the variation.  Tis another cool project that engages in heaps of comparative civil-military relations.

I started on this road by accident.  The experience I had in the Pentagon raised questions about NATO, but once I realized officers wearing two hats, their NATO role and their national command responsibilities, would always care more about the national hat, the research would have to take place in a variety of national capitals, rather than in Brussels or Mons (the military hq of NATO).  And that was cool for me as it meant lots of interesting travel, many fascinating interviews, and eventually my favorite book: NATO in Afghanistan: Fighting Together, Fighting Alone.  It essentially asked why countries had different rules for their contingents in the field--who had to call whom for permission for what kinds of activities.

Which, of course, then lead to the next question: is anyone watching to see if those contingents are staying within the rules?  Since many countries had legislatures writing those rules, we wondered if they watched to see if those rules actually constrained behavior.  Early conversations with Canadian parliamentarians suggested not so much, and we found that Canada was not alone in that.  That book is now awaiting review at a couple of publishers, hopefully to see the light of day at your neighborhood book shop (or online one, anyhow) in ... 2025?  

The next question, as mentioned above, is whether defense agencies are overseeing their armed forces.  Our case selection this time is mostly repeating the previous cases--because we have some understanding, if not expertise, in these cases, we have contacts in these places, so the research should be fairly straightforward.

So, that is why I am in South Korea.  It was a fascinating case for the legislatures book, and is pretty interesting thus far after two interviews.  What have I learned thus far?

  • there are places where you can get a private room and a set menu to have a lunch meeting/interview, but wow, the food keeps on coming.  I lost track of how many dishes we had for lunch.  It was terrific, and the room was quiet so I could tape the interview.
  • I don't remember being turned away from BBQ places last time, but they apparently don't want solo eaters, at least in this neighborhood.
  • I need to be more careful as I deleted today's pics.  
  • I learned that Google and South Korea are having a spat, so I can't use google maps to give me good walking directions.  I have had to download alternative apps that work ok, but not quite as good.
  • I need to pay more attention to the signs on tables.  For dinner tonight, I went to a place that serves a variety of basic dishes, and it had a clear sign taped to the place where one can use a screen to order food: foreigners order at the counter. I got handed a multilingual menu, pointed what I wanted, paid, and sat down.  When my number came up, I got my food and sat down.  But no silverware, no chopsticks.  There was a self-serve hutch that had forces, glasses, and some side dish stuff. No chopsticks no napkins, no spoons.  Turns out the spoon/chopstick markings on the table indicated a sneaky side drawer containing those and napkins.  I only realized that 3/4s of the way through the meal when I noticed someone accessing their stuff.
  • I learned garlic fried chicken is really good for dinner and also good cold for breakfast.
  • I am off my game a bit, not just with deleted pics, but my taxi from the airport train took me to the wrong hotel--there are two hotels of the same name here, and I knew that, so I should have been clearer.  Not a huge deal, but at the end of a very long travel day, it was not welcome.
 I ran into a display of 70 years of US-ROK alliance at the Museum of Contemporary History.

More reports from the field and perhaps fewer deleted pics in the days ahead.


Sunday, October 22, 2023

Meeting of the MINDS!

I was almost as thrilled about being allowed out on the patio
on a beautiful fall day* as I was that the CDSN team
rocked the event.  Sherry, Melissa, Racheal, Ryan, and
Mourad (Jae should have been in the picture) not only
did all of the hard work to make the event happen, but
shared the lessons they learned in our years of
partnership/networking.  This event competes with
our Summer Institute for one of my favorite events.

This week, we, the Canadian Defence and Security Network, held a conference at NPSIA: the Meeting of the MINDS.  We brought together representatives (project directors, project coordinators, graduate students) from the nine networks that DND funds and folks from DND's Policy directorate.  The idea was to foster more connections in both directions.  The networks need to learn from each other not just what each one is doing but what lessons they have accrued so that all of us can do better.  Given what we do--assess policy and make policy recommendations, we felt all of us meeting the policy shop at DND might foster an improved exchange of research ideas and priorities and findings. .

The entire event was covered by Chatham House Rule, so I can only attribute what I said.  What I can say about the other folks is that we got a great crowd from DND and not just from the policy shop as the folks from the Chief of Professional Conduct and Culture and from the Public Affairs branch also turned out in significant numbers.  The morning sessions involved parallel roundtables, each one having the directors (or their representatives) discussing briefly their biggest finding to date, their greatest challenge thus far, and their next major step.  The idea was to start the conversation, and it worked quite well.

These sessions were moderated by individuals in DND with related expertise/interest.  So, we combined the three tech networks--Canadian Network on Information and Security [CANIS], Triple Helix and Space Security Network--and DND found someone from the relevant Defence Policy office; the Transforming Military Cultures network was joined by the one focused on Military Sexual Trauma; Women, Peace, and Security was paired with the Network for Strategic Analysis; and the CDSN was on the same roundtable with the North American and Arctic Defence and Security Network as we both focus on domestic stuff (among the CDSN's themes is one on Domestic operations).  

For lunch, each of the networks got a table or two, and the DND people were assigned to the networks that were of greatest interest to them.  This prevented the middle school dance thing of boys on one side, girls on the other dynamic that might have happened with DND folks just hanging together and the academics on the other side of the room.  Forced network is, well, more networking.

DM Bill Matthews
After lunch, Deputy Minister of Defence Bill Matthews spoke for a few minutes, and then we had a Q&A for the rest of the hour.   I can't say what he said or what folks asked, but I can say that JC Boucher and I had a fun argument in front of everyone about strategic communications.  Once again, I voyaged beyond my area of expertise, which surprised no one at all.  The next session had a similar talk and Q&A kind of engagement with a senior defence official about what the Policy Directorate does, what its priorities are, and how it is thinking about engaging us shaggy academics.   We then split into smaller groups to have more folks involved in the discussions.  I will say that all of these conversations were in the shadow of anticipated budget cuts, with the academics most concerned about the future of the low hanging fruit that is the MINDS program.  

After a networking reception Friday night, the academics reconvened on Saturday with a few MINDS folks stopping by.  The second day alternated roundtables of project coordinators and panels of graduate students. The former discussed the lessons they have learned network budgeting, accounting, reporting, and event planning, and the latter presented sharp research projects that ranged from Planetary Security (I learned 2029 will be a fun year for re-watching Armageddon and Deep Impact) to the legacy of moral injury experienced by the children of military folks to climate change impacting the Women, Peace, and Security effort to artisanal mining to the benefits of nuclear weapons (?!) to NATO cyber security.  While the students were most impressive, it was most fun to see the behind the scenes folks have the mic for a change.

The last panel was a conversation among the Project Directors about lessons learned, challenges we faced, strategies for getting things through various bureaucracies, and whether/how to do this kind of thing again.  Running these networks is a lot of work, but it is much easier when one can invoke this song:

Sunday, October 15, 2023

100 Summers of Fun and Community

 Last night, thanks to a nearby conference, I was able to go to the 100th Anniversary Gala of Camp Airy and Camp Louise in Baltimore.  Camp was a huge part of my child/teen-hood, as I lived 44 weeks each year for the eight weeks in the hills of rural Maryland.  With a crowd of 700 or so people, I had guessed I might bump into something like 20 people (3%) given that I was there for 11% of its history.  Well, I fell a bit short than that, but it didn't matter as some of the most important people in my time at camp were at the Gala.
The place has a heap of history


They had a video that addressed the fire
and how they are coming back from that
Two events cast a shadow.  First, during the summer of 2022, the camp's main building, its dining hall and offices, burnt down at the start of the summer session.  No one was hurt, and the community rallied to provide food and tents and other stuff so that the summer could and would go on.  So, this gala was partly a fundraiser for replacing the dining hall.  The insurance may have been good enough to cover the replacement of a 100 year old building but not to create a 21st century dining hall--ADA compliance, fire suppression systems (made me think of The Bear), and all the rest.  



I made the montage!  Didn't hurt that I am pals
with the ace archivist--Eric T
The second event was Gaza.  These are Jewish camps--lightly so as it only meant kosher meals, basic Friday night/Saturday morning services, Israeli counselors to join the other foreign counselors (British mostly), and such.  So, it came up during the speeches with an appropriate tone of sorrow rather than revenge or hate as well as concern for of the Israelis who had cycled through Airy and Louise, including campers last summer.  I do have fond memories of the Israeli counselors who crossed my path in my 11 years with those on the outdoor staff (hiking, climbing, etc) driving us to various sites to climb/hike/raft/camp/etc as Israelis didn't seem to understand what brakes were. 


Jon cleaned up better than I did. 
We were in the same bunks from when we were
13 to when we were 17 as CIT's. 
And as he noted last night, as the rare kids
staying all summer, we knew the place better
than damn near anyone else,
and with knowledge comes power.

There were some folks who mentioned concerns with safety as this time as 700 Jews might make a good target for revenge.  There were some cops at the front of the event.  I hadn't thought of violence aimed at this gala, and I thought this was a bit much, but I can't blame some folks for worrying.

In the past, I have discussed my ambivalence about my Jewish identity.  One reason why I never really got religion or understood its power for others is that the various temples/synagogues my family joined in the various we lived when I was growing up didn't provide a real sense of community.  On the other hand, these camps did that for me in a big way, and I may not have realized that before last night.  I felt a connection to everyone there, I loved camp because I felt like I belonged, it was a place where I excelled in most things and in those things where I didn't excel, I still had lots of fun and firsts (that would be romance).

Fun to see Tracy (c) and Jim (r) during the
Wacky Olympics, and, yes, I still have
that shirt.

Speaking of such stuff, I wanted to share this story and this book.  Nope, none of the ladies I pursued long ago attended the Gala, but I am not surprised.  More by happenstance than anything else, those girls that interested me way back were not those who were lifers at Louise.  

Anyhow, I only realized this weekend that this summer was the, gasp, 40th anniversary of my last summer as a camper--as a counselor in training.  I stuck around for three more years as a counselor.  And I think the last time I visited the place was in 2001 while moving myself and my dogs to Virginia for the year in the Pentagon.  It has been too long.  Time to start scheming to visit the place again...


It was great to see both the old friends and the rest of the lifers who fell in love with those special places up in the hills.  The gala had a theme -- camp is ....--and while they let folks fill it out themselves, they also did suggest something... making camp have something common with soylent green:

Reminds me of one of the songs burned into my heads.  During my era, they regularly sang a song that had the music from Charlie Brown.... Happiness is a summer at Airy ....   and indeed, it was and is.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Words Fail, Theories We Have Many

Gaza in the distance
 I have spent most of my career engaged in the five d's of dodgeball when it comes to the Mideast and especially the Israel-Palestine conflict.  Despite starting my career with the international relations of ethnic conflict, I managed a total of one piece of research on the Mideast, and that was more by accident than by design.  I got asked to join an edited volume project by a terrific Mideast scholar, Shibley Telhami, after one of my very best job talks (which did not produce a job).   

Bomb shelter next to a kindergarten if
I remember correctly

When I turned to doing civil-military relations, I was asked if I was including Israel in my multi-democracy study, and I said nope.  I have a better explanation for that--that as a very militarized society, its' civil-military relations are far less comparable.  

Bus stop, shelter in a town that
was probably overrun last weekend

But on the ethnic conflict side?  Maybe I refrained because the one time I raised it as an illustration in a job talk, it did not go well.  That lesson was certainly reinforced by the experience of teaching US Foreign Policy the semester the US invaded Iraq. That class quickly divided into pro and anti factions based on how the students identified with one side or the other of the Israel-Palestine conflict.  

Perhaps it is because of a conflict between my background/identity and my scholarly work.  I often joked that the three things I learned in Hebrew school were: enough Hebrew (barely) to get through my Bar Mitzvah, much about the Holocaust and the history of oppression of the Jews, and that Israel was empty before the Jews got there and everything Israel does is right.  The last is the most relevant although the second obviously hits hard when more Jews died in one day due to violence this weekend than any other time since the Holocaust apparently.  I definitely was miseducated about the history of Israel.  I was also conflicted about my upbringing since I hated Hebrew school (I never fit in or came close), never believed in the religion, and came to realize my identity as Jew is defined by the reality that Nazis would have included me in their roundups no matter what I believe.  That is, identity is not defined by oneself but by the interaction of oneself with others, and as long as folks saw me as Jewish, it was less relevant what I believed.

Open air prison ....

So, that ambivalence then hits the stuff I have picked up from the work on ethnic conflict.  I can see via those lenses that ancient hatred is not really what is going here, but political dynamics in Israel and in the Palestinian community.  There is outbidding and pandering to extremists in both, which then feed the outbidding and pandering in the other.  Netanyahu feeds Hamas, and Hamas feeds Netanyahu.  When I visited in 2019, my first visit, as part of a group tour of IR scholars, I got to see how much has been locked in, that bad decisions beget bad decisions.  That Israeli generals told me that the only response to violence is to hit harder than they hit you, as if this were Chicago with the Untouchables fighting Capone.  I could see their point of view, but again, it was a path to more violence.  I left Israel, like many of those on the trip, sad and frustrated--that the future of Israel and of the Palestinians was bleak--that there was no way out and no one in or near power was interested in finding one.  And this happens.

So, I see people saying that an unprovoked Israel deserves all of our support.  And I have to recoil a bit, as Israel has done a shit ton of provoking via its empowering of rabid settlers who have encroached on the Mosque and engaged in lots of violence against Palestinians in the West Bank.  But I also recoil when I hear folks talk about Hamas being part of anti-colonial struggle, as, yes, the Palestinians do have legitimate grievances, but Hamas is an awful, theocratic, maybe nihilist entity that did truly barbaric things.  Yet, I also know that Israel is going to kill a lot of Palestinian kids in Gaza since, yes, the population of Gaza is about 50% under 18.  War crimes do not justify war crimes.  And more violence is not going cause this conflict to go away. 

Pretty sure those towers are now destroyed

Both sides need far better governance, actors who don't benefit from the other side being radicalized.  But the institutions and dynamics of each are perverse and reinforcing.  I hope that Netanyahu pays a high price for letting this happen on his watch, but I seriously doubt that Israeli politics is going to move to the center as a result.  The flavors of the more successful parties in Israel are all variants of far right.  The left/center was broken by the second Intifada, and I doubt that these events will resurrect them.  I know less and understand less the Palestinian side, but I am pretty sure that air strikes are not going to lead to moderates taking power.


 So, I have rambled without reaching a clear idea of who should do what. Which is probably fitting.  And also explains why I have been reluctant to discuss this stuff--not just a bad job talk in 1993, but because the reality is so difficult, twisted, and painful.


I got into a conversation with my sister during the weekly family zoom, and she pressed me on when have ethnic conflicts ended peacefully rather than through conquest.  I gave the easy answer: South Africa.  But that conversation reminded me of the basic rules of ethnic conflict:

  1. Most ethnic groups, no matter their history, are at peace: violence is rare.
  2. When there is violence, it ends. No place is constantly at war forever.
  3. The past constrains choices but does not determine the present.  It is up to today's politicians to decide what to do, and the incentives the structures/systems provide influence but do not determine.  Agency remains.

Which means it didn't have to be this way, it didn't have to happen this weekend, while there are dynamics locking the parties in, those dynamics can be resisted, and, yes, outsiders could play some role in either exacerbating or ameliorating the nasty dynamics.

Monday, October 2, 2023

Maybe There Was No Crisis? Another Prosecution Without a Conviction

 The latest news, that the second chief of personnel to lose their job due to accusations of sexual misconduct, LTG Stephen Whelan, has his case withdrawn, may cause some folks to argue that there was never really a crisis, that this was all hysteria (yes, that word), and the culture change efforts are unnecessary.

I don't know Whelan, and I am not a legal expert.  I do know that there have been multiple reports that indicate that military justice is somewhat broken, and handing stuff over to civilian courts is no panacea.

What I do know is that there was and is a crisis, not just of sexual misconduct, but abuse of power and, yes, civilian control of the military.  How do I know that?

  1. The former Chief of the Defence Staff, Jon Vance, pled guilty to obstruction of justice. What justice was he obstructing?  An investigation into his multi-decade affair with a subordinate than ran completely counter to the campaign he was "leading" to deal with such stuff in the military.
  2. The same person appointed as Chief of Personnel (the one before Whelan) someone who had a nickname as Mulligan man for evading prosecution for rape ... until now.  I have had folks claim that Vance didn't know about this.  Um, sure.  So, either Vance did know and didn't care, or he didn't know because he didn't do a sufficient job of vetting those he chose for the key slot of .... implementing policies concerning such stuff as sexual misconduct.
  3. Vance's successor, Art McDonald, was accused of sexual assault and was not prosecuted because the suspect military investigators argued that everyone was too drunk to testify against him AND then McDonald violated the norms of civil-military relations by insisting he was coming back via a letter he sent to all of the generals and admirals.  Talk about entitlement.
  4. There was a settled class action suit involving over 20,000 former or current military folks, including a significant percentage of men.  
  5. There has been the exodus of women officers with bright careers who were disgusted by their senior officers.
  6. There are multiple reports on this: DesChamps, Arbour, Fish, ....

I have had plenty of conversations with folks in the military who think that there was a problem, that there is a lot of work being done to address the problem, that the problem is hard, that there is progress, but it is far from solved.

So, yes, Fortin got off, Whelan got off. Others may also not be prosecuted or the prosecutions may not work out.  If this were a murder case, we wouldn't say that the victim is not dead.  Again, sexual misconduct and abuse of power are existing problems, they do deter recruitment and they hurt retention.  The culture of the Canadian military must continue to change to reflect a more diverse military unless we want only straight, white, Christian men.  

To deny that is to be bad at math, history, and social science.  And finally, no one is entitled to a three star/leaf position.  Whelan may want his job back, but to have such an elite office, one has to be beyond reproach.  That the government failed to make its case does not mean that Whelan should serve as Chief of Personnel.