Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Burden of Proof? Nope.

I am not a lawyer, but, then again, the topic I am discussing today is not about legal stuff but political stuff.  That is, folks may say that there is a judicial process  or that the burden of proof has not been proven yet so we can't do x.  But when it comes to political decisions, one does not need proof beyond a reasonable doubt.  One does not even, dare I say it, need due process in many cases.

Let me throw out a few less than hypothetical examples.

Example 1: Someone comes to the Minister of National Defence and says that the Chief of Defence Staff, the top person in the armed forces, is hitting on subordinates.  The MND does not need a full investigation to decide that maybe having a guy who is violating the various policies on sexual misconduct should continue to lead the military during a time where addressing sexual misconduct was one of the highest priorities. The job of oversight is not about only making decisions after investigations have been completed.

Example 2: India is suspected of assassinating a Canadian on Canadian soil.  It is then indicted for trying to do the same just a bit to the south--trying to kill someone in the US.  One does not need to wait for the legal process to play out to re-think an Indo-Pacific strategic that is partially predicated on India being a reliable partner in the effort to contain China* or what not.

The commonality in these two cases is the use of legal proceedings as a dodge from talking about or actually changing policies in light of new information.  Sure, there is no certainty about the new info--there are reports, accusations, but not confirmed stuff, but, of course, there rarely is certainty.**  So, new information should change the calculations even if the new information is not 100% certain.  

To be as blunt as possible, one does not make defence or foreign policy based on the decisions of courts most of the time.  While legal stuff matters--whether a particular option is legal or not, etc--it does not determine entirely what a country should be doing.  If, say, India's populist government appears to be acting in ways that are contrary to international law and violating Canadian/American sovereignty, then one needs to start adapting the old strategy (no matter how new/old it is) to account for that.   

The larger point, I guess, is this: we make decisions all the time based on available info and on a variety of calculations.  We do not apply a burden of proof equivalent to what is required for a prosecution for many reasons.  Promotions are not as life-changing as imprisonment, so we don't have the same burden of proof--we don't need to know for certain that certain nominees to the Supreme Court have engaged in sexual harassment or assault to decide to find someone in whom we can have greater trust.  We can take into account accusations that are yet to be proven when thinking about extending someone who is charge of the entire military because no one is entitled to that job.  We need to stop treating high office like folks are entitled to it and that we need absolute certainty before booting people.  Same goes for, say, security clearances--suspicion can be enough to deny a security clearance and thus jobs that require such clearances.  Which is why it should be easier to boot people from the armed forces if they are suspected of being white supremacist.

We need to take seriously the burden of proof when the state is taking away someone's freedom.  We can have a lower burden of proof for many other endeavors, including revising foreign policy strategies.

* Folks can claim that Indo-Pacific strategies are not aimed at containing China, and I have to loudly scoff.  If that is not what the strategy is for, then why the urgency?  And if it is not for that, then we need a China containment strategy as well.

** Not to mention that many trials do not really resolve things because the defendant had crappy lawyers or terrific ones, that the prosecution did terrific or made a hash of the case.  So, again, big policy decisions can't ride on juries and judges, etc.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023


 It was already a year for which I have much to be thankful for, and then I received word that one of my applications for my sabbatical plans came through: spending time in Berlin in 2024 and 2025!  So, as is my ritual here, I'd like to express my thanks (dankes?) for the past year.

So far, no one
fell during the horas
I have seen the past
few years but....
First, I am most thankful that my family has made it through intact in a supposedly post-pandemic year.  Some had bouts with covid, some sprained various body parts (that would be Mrs. Spew), my mother-in-law had a health crisis that ultimately led her to moving from her four floor townhouse to a senior retirement place, and many of the next generation moved.  The last few years have taught us not to take anything for granted, so as I prepare to see the west coast kid and the rest of the family as we eat too much food, I am very grateful. We had a great time at the Florida Saideman-fest with Samantha's Bat Mitzvah, just as loud as the NY version but with twice the alligators.



Jon out-dappered me.
He and I ran the place
as the rare eight-weekers.

Second, I am very thankful for the support, humor, and friendly abuse my friends are so generous giving to me.  I have accumulated a far spread silly bunch of sweet people who put me in my place when I need it, encourage me when I am frustrated, and ski with me.  A key highlight was a trip back to the past--the 100th anniversary of the summer camps that were so important to me from age 10 to age 20: Camp Airy and Camp Louise (I didn't go to the latter as a camper, as it is a girls camp, but it was a place I spent much time acting and ... other stuff).

Third, 2023 has been a great skiing year (2024 may be better, it will be different-er).  I had a nice trip with JC Boucher and his family, as we airbnb'ed in Canmore and skied the various places near Banff.  This was an excellent scouting opportunity for my anniversary trip to Banff with my daughter, sister, and wife (who couldn't make it to due to her mother's illness and big move).  I have one last trip this year to ski with my sister in Utah at a place I haven't been since 2001--Alta!

I haven't skied with my daughter since probably 2014 as we didn't ski when she came back from college each winter break or spring break, as far as I can recall.  So, it was a blast to hang out with her for a short time as she didn't have a lot of paid time off.

Fourth, I am very grateful that my travel schedule went into overdrive, much like the pre-pandemic: Carlisle PA for a civ-mil conference, Fort Lauderdale for Samantha's Bat Mitzvah, Latvia for a Department of National Defence tour, SPAIN with Mrs. Spew for our first Eurotrip together (really!), LA for the APSA and to see our daughter in our new digs (she and her roomie and their cats keep moving around LA), Reston for another conference and to see my wife's family, Seoul and Copenhagen, Toronto, and now Philly.  Still two! trips left this year: Alta and Virginia for a new kind of winterfest--air bnb rather than crashing at my mother-in-law's.  I got to see a lot of great people, eat fantastic food, and do a heap of tourism.  


Fifth, I am so very thankful for the CDSN Team.  This past year, I have been able to delegate more, worry less, and watch the team rock a series of activities and efforts.  Last year, we hired Sherry to handle our money and our event planning.  She has been incredible--today's emails were her answering various queries and me just loving that I didn't have to enter the fray at all.  Of course, Melissa is the key to all of this--as our chief operating officer, she runs the shop, generates a heap of ideas for future efforts, and engages our partners and participants.  Racheal has been our PhD research assistant for several years now and is handling more and more stuff so well that I don't have to do much revising.  Mourad is our new PhD RA and he is super enthusiastic.  The CDSN continues to grow and excel, going from 2 podcasts to 6 programs in our podcast network.  Our Summer Institute was the best yet with 1/3 of the participants from the military, 1/3 from the policy world, and 1/3 from academia.  Our various research teams are producing important results and great publications, and we are very much making progress on our various objectives.  I am so grateful to all those who contribute to our stuff--it would not be possible without so many generous, creative, fun, sweet, sharp folks lending their expertise and time.

I am so thankful for our new kitchen.  I spent a lot of time working on the design and plans and then figuring out ways to eat when the oven and sink were out of commission.  It came together so very well, and now this season's cookie baking extravaganza is easier and more fun.  It was a year full of baking, eating, and then treadmilling so that I could eat some more.  2024 will have less of that in the first half as whatever kitchen I have in Berlin will not compete with the great setup I have in Ottawa.

Oh, and I am most thankful for this sabbatical.  Getting a break from teaching after the worst of the pandemic has been a great relief.  We did manage to finally finish the Legislatures and Armed Forces book and send it off to presses--I am pre-emptively thanking kind reviewers (pretty please!).  I got started on the next big thing, and I have gotten a bunch of smaller projects started or finished.  I haven't read as many books as I had planned...yet.  Oh well. 

I passed the midway point in my time at Carleton as this is my 12th year at Carleton, and I am pretty sure that I will retire before I hit 24.  I am very, very grateful for this place and these people.  I have had more support than at any previous spot, I have enjoyed the students (two of whom who defended their dissertations this year!), it has given me a great perch to do all kinds of stuff including public engagement, government exchanges, defence ministers in my classes (via zoom), and more.  It has been a fantastic place to work, and getting better as we keep hiring sharp, sweet young folks who make me see things in different ways. 

I am pretty sure 2024 is going to be even better, as I have some pretty fantastic plans, so I am thankful for what is about to be as well. 

I hope you and yours have much to be thankful for.  Enjoy your huge meals and many pies.

More Germany, More Better

My quest for a sabbatical hangout has succeeded (have I mentioned rejection is inherent in this enterprise?).  The Humboldt Foundation is going to fund six months of my hanging out at the Hertie School in Berlin--three months in 2024 and three months in 2025.  The Hertie School is an international affairs graduate program and very strong in international security.  What will I be doing there?  

First, I will be pursuing the next big project: understanding the varying roles defense agencies play in democracies.  I have already been to South Korea, quite recently.  The next step will now be Germany. Obviously, being in Berlin will facilitate the German case as I will have much time to interview folks in their Minister of Defense, in their armed forces, journalists, and experts.

Second, the project involves case studies in other European countries.  So, I will be able to travel to some other parts of Europe to do some of the work for this project.  Which ones?  Not sure yet.

Third, I will get engaged in the life of Hertie, so that I can learn what the students and profs in Europe are thinking about a variety of international security issues.  Marina Henke, one of the very sharpest scholars on alliance politics and international security, is my host, so I hope to learn much from her about how folks are thinking about NATO, Ukraine-Russia, and other topics. 

Fourth, I hope to have some chances to visit various research centers and talk about my work and, again, get different perspectives.  I will be a cheap date for two winters--that it won't be hard to bring me to any place from the UK to Eastern Europe, compared to the costs of flying me across the Atlantic.  That's, um, a hint. 

Fifth, deep into my career, I need a breath of fresh air, a change of pace, a bit of a shake up.  Sabbaticals are good for that, but sabbaticals away from home are better at it. 

Oh, and maybe there will be some time for tourism and skiing.  

So, there will be the complications of getting a visa and finding an apartment, but overall, it is time for this senior scholar to do a happy dance:

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Thinking About Israel and Palestine: Headaches and Insomnia

 I am not sure that the past month's headaches and insomnia are due to the challenges of thinking about the Israel-Palestine conflict, but I am going to use that as my intro to this effort to think through this stuff.

Usual caveats apply: I am not a political theorist or moral philosopher, I am not an expert on the conflict itself.  Oh, and I was raised Jewish and the education I got at Hebrew school did not adequately present the realities of the past.  I did take one Mideast politics course in college, and I did spend one week on an amazing and amazingly depressing tour of Israel and Palestine with a bunch of other academics four years ago.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Dueling Irredentisms: Always Bad, Never Inevitable

 I am not an international law specialist nor have I extensively studied the Israel-Palestine conflict, but I have written extensively about irredentism--the effort to enlarge one's country to include territories that are considered to be one's own by history and by blood.  So, when I see pictures like this, I get engaged:

The river to the sea, used by either side, is an inherently irredentist phrase: that the lands between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River belong to just one side of this means seeking to get all of the territory of the other.  Palestianians and their supporters have been saying this, and so have Israelis and their allies.  Irredentism does not have to be this maximalist--Russia has claimed just a chunk of Ukraine.  But these claims and efforts are inherently violent--that any effort to change one's boundaries to include territories governed by others will produce war because no country (or quasi-state) surrenders inhabited territory without a fight.  Not Ukraine, not Taiwan, not Israel, and not Palestine.

The thing is: all territory has been occupied by multiple groups, so there will always be competing claims pretty much everywhere on the planet except perhaps Antarctica.  Stuart Kaufman illustrated this nicely at the start of his book on Modern Hatreds:

So, if irredentist claims are possible everywhere, then why isn't there violence everywhere?  Despite the news suggesting otherwise, ethnic violence, including irredentism, is rare.  Ethnic conflicts do end, people do find a way forward without fighting. Remember that the key grievance between Germany and France for ... at least three wars ... was Alsace-Lorraine.  Yet that is not an issue these days.  

It is rare because irredentism is usually very self-destructive.  It didn't work out so well for Nazi Germany and not so well for 1990s Armenia, Croatia, or Serbia.  It has worked out well for China (Tibet), but Taiwan would be another story entirely.  Bill Ayres and I compared the irredentisms that occurred in the 1990s (the aforementioned Armenia, Croatia, and Serbia) and those that did not--Hungary, Romania, and Russia.  We confirmed that irredentism is very costly and self-destructive, but some countries do it anyway--when it benefits the politicians in power.  What is good for the politicians may not be good for the public, which produced our title: For Kin or Country.  Helping the kin abroad is often very bad for the country as war is bad.  Russia is paying a pretty high price for its irredentist campaign against Ukraine, but, thus far, Putin hasn't paid a price himself.  

So, when I see what is going on in Israel and Palestine, my bias is to watch the strategies politicians use to stay in power and see how that intersects with the nationalism of the country. Politics is in part about shaping the nationalism, defining the us, the them, and whether the them can be tolerated.  A central irony we found is that the nationalisms that were more willing to include the thems, the others, in the state, the more able they are to engage in irredentism since any successful expansion will generally lead to more thems as well as us's in the larger state.  Indeed, why do folks often oppose irredentism--a successful campaign would produce the equivalent of a massive wave of immigration, upsetting the balance of domestic politics.  For example, a Greater Albania including Kosovo would likely weaken those who currently hold power in Albania since there are a lot of Kosovars.  

And, yes, this gets to a key dynamic that the Hungarian case revealed--shades of identity, of us-ness.  That for Hungarians in Hungary, they identify with the Hungarians outside of Hungary (due to the Treaty of Trianon in 1920) but only up to a point.  Those Hungarians didn't experience post-1956 Hungary, so they don't have the same experiences and thus are not seen as quite the same.  So, Hungarians in Hungary want the Hungarians outside of Hungary to do well but to stay put--they don't want to share power or their welfare state with them.  

Anyhow, irredentism varies over time and over targets based on who matters to the politicians in power.  Somalia's irredentism from 1960 to 1990 varied depending on who was in power and whose clans they needed for support.  So, Somalia sometimes targeted all three neighbors, despite that being profoundly unwise, because the clans with ties to those in Djibouti, Kenya, and Ethiopia all mattered in the domestic political game. At other times, only those in Ethiopia matters (1976-1977).  

Back to Israel and Palestine: the irredentist efforts of Hamas (it aims to eliminate Israel and govern the entire space) and of Netanyahu (his coalition includes many parties that seek to incorporate the occupied territories, hence the support for the crazed settlers)* reinforce each other, giving each set of politicians more support from those who fear the other.  Not unlike Milosevic and Tudjman being each other's best allies as Tudjman could get Croats to support him because of the threat posed by Milosevic, and Milosevic could do the same to get Serbs to support him.  

Have Hamas and Netanyahu delivered on other public policy issues?  No, they are utter failures, but they are hard to replace when the enemy is at the gates.  The coverage of this war has been quite clear that Netanyahu empowered Hamas to weaken the Palestinian Authority and perhaps also to keep the Israeli public focused on this than his own corruption.

So, what is good for the politicians--war--is bad for the public, but the publics go along with it because they don't see any alternatives.  That people on both sides are talking about claiming territory from the river to the sea is understandable and horrifying, given what it requires--lots more bloodshed. It empowers the worst leaders. It requires incredible leadership by alternative politicians to push in another direction. But until that happens, there won't be peace. BUT if that were to happen, you could have peace. Alas, extremists have killed or marginalized the peacekmakers. So, things are going to be grim. 

We did cover this a bit in the book when we survey the world's irredentist hotspots including Ireland, Kashmir, Taiwan, etc.

Anyhow, the focus should be on the politicians and their incentives. Irredentism is not inevitable, it can be sidelined.  But it can be really hard to stop once it gets started because of the media it generates, the fear it generates, and how the two sides can reinforce each other's worst instincts.


*Yes, killing the two state solution is a key part of an irredentist strategy.  Never really thought about that before, but two state solution inherently recognizes limits on expansion, so one must do away with that if one wants to add the desired territories.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

On the Road in Multiple Places

 It has been a very long time since I have been away from home this long--October 2016--when I spent a month of my last sabbatical in Tokyo [I just received word that I will be spending 3 months abroad x 2 over the next 1.5 years, but more on that later].  This time, two weeks in South Korea and nearly a week in Denmark.  The packing was not that challenging since it is fall in both places although Seoul and Busan were decided
y warmer than Copenhagen and mostly much drier.

I was in South Korea to do the next project's first case study (well, mine, as Phil has already been traveling for some of his).  And then I went to Copenhagen to present the findings to a group I have never met before--the International Society of Military Scientists.  There are some civ-mil folks, but also strategy people, military culture analysts, and all kinds of stuff.  The trick is that the South Korean case was/is not easy to code or figure out.  I did have good access and had much help from a great team of fixer/interpreters, but I need to spend more time thinking about the case, talking to experts, and reading more.  So, the presentation was a bit tricky.  But it went ok. Folks keep finding the project to be interesting.

So, let me instead compare the two trips:

  • Costs (food, taxi): Cost:  South Korea.  Copenhagen is simply a very expensive place, and Seoul/Busan are not.  I kept doing the exchange rate math here in Copenhagen and kept freaking out just a bit.
  • Bike Danger: Denmark.  So quiet, so many.
  • Availability of Bomb Shelters, Emergency Gear: South Korea
  • Easy for the linguistically lame: Denmark.  I have no inhibitio
    ns there about speaking English, as everyone responds in kind thus far.  Also, the alphabet is the same with some strange looking o's, so I can figure much out.  Not so much in Korea.
  • Weather: South Korea.  Much drier and warmer.
  • Walking tourism: Busan > Copenhagen > Seoul.  All three places are great, but I have been to Copenhagen a few times before and to Seoul once before so novelty here wins out.
  • Food: I kept finding Indonesian food in Korea, so that's a win right there.
  • Sleep: oy.  Not great in either place.  Jet lag plus hard to control room temps and those duvets that mean either hot or cold and nothing in between.  
  • Oy, and flying my preferred airline is indeed better than not.  The Lufthansa flight from Seoul to Munich was about as long as the flight from Newark to Japan, but it was econ, no plus, which mean no room before the inconsiderate person in front of me decided to repeatedly slam her seat as far as it could go, hitting my knees and bouncing my ipad off my little table.  Shitty seats are shitty seats, no matter the airline, but when I have a bit of status, I can get at least those precious two or three inches that make all the difference.  When I fly, I always am thankful that I am not tall.
 I am bummed I missed the Vimy Gala as Jacqui O'Neill rocks mightily, and while her talk was not aimed at undoing the damage done by last year's craptastic speaker, it was still an excellent tonic.  Funny what happens when you take the decision-making out of the old boys network's hands.



Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Election Predictions? Hells No! Ok, Maybe

 Last night, at the big conference dinner, a Finnish attendee asked me about the big question of 2024 in the US (yes, US are super worried and they should be).  I first said that I don't do predictions anymore, given my blogging/tweeting/facebooking debacle of 2016.  Then she pushed, so I discussed how I am slightly optimistic but that was diminishing with the potential impact of Gaza on Democratic turnout.  And then I woke up this morning after another Democratic run of success--that the GOP has pretty much lost every election since 2016.  So, I am feeling a bit more positive than I was last night.  

So, what am I thinking now these days?  

First, I am concerned about Gaza/Israel as it may turn off Arab Americans particularly in Michigan.  I don't think that these folks will vote for Islamophobic, xenophobic Trump and his party that is now tyring to get Palestinians living in the US kicked out.  But they may not turn out as much--that Dem turn out has been the key since 2016. So, not great. The Jewish vote?  Oh, where it is strong, it is not going to swing anything---not in California, New York, or, ha, Florida.

Second, the vote yesterday matters far more than various polls.  In each election since 2016, the GOP has underperformed.  Why? It turns out switching from being vaguely racist, more obliquely misogynist, only somewhat theocratic to being rabidly racist, wildly Christian nationalist, and actually depriving women control over their bodies (arresting moms for transporting their daughters for abortions? jailing them?) has made a dent.  In 2016, people could argue that Trump wasn't a real conservative and wouldn't appoint theocrats and their pals to the courts. Now?  Yeah, people are mighty upset that radical courts matter, that state legislatures and various governors are very enthusiastic about making many Americans miserable in so many ways.  So, abortion is a vote winner for the Dems, and that's not going to change anytime soon.  

The part that stunned me the most was the wipeout of the Christian nationalists on school boards.  Local politics is hard, people don't turn out, but the batshit crazy folks with their book banning and trans and homophobia hate, indeed, triggered the Libs.  Trump and the GOP will be wearing this shit next year as the primary campaign is going to define the party as, well, freaking crazy and way outside the mainstream.  

Third, on the big "issues" that the GOP want to use against Biden--his age, his son's crimes--Trump is far, far worse.  Biden may be old, but there is not the record of him losing his train of thought and saying truly bizarre stuff compared to Trump.  Of course, the media will false equivalence this stuff away, but that still means that Trump can't get much of an edge on this.

Fourth, I was asked what happens if Trump is in jail in November.  I said unless it is for the documents case, I believe he will still be the GOP candidate.  There is simply way too much fear in the party regarding Trump's supporters--both because they are violent and because candidates want their support if Trump were to somehow be eliminated.  Trump's criminal behavior is already priced in, however, so it won't hurt him as much as it should.  His voters both want power and are super resentful, so they don't care. Do enough non Trumpist Republicans exist that might stay at home?  Um, I made a gamble about that last time, and it didn't work out--power matters more.  HOWEVER, the big promise for non-Trumpist GOP folks last time was getting the courts, and that is not going to change with another four years of Biden.  So, maybe they won't be so motivated to vote?

Fifth, the GOP is not going to learn any lessons right now about what is causing their electoral defeats.  Why?  Because their primary processes are still going to reward extremism, so they will still send proto-Nazis and theocrats to compete for otherwise winnable Senate seats and then lose those races.  In red states, they can win those races, but in purple ones, they can't--playing to the extremist base may aid in some turnout but hurts more than it helps... at least that is how I read 2018, 2020, 2022, and now 2023.

Sixth, the Dems?  Damned if I know whether they will learn the key lessons and apply them well.  Biden's presidency has been a mixed bag with the media emphasizing the mistakes and the losses.  If the recession still doesn't happen, if jobs remain plentiful and wages going up, the inflation narrative may fade a bit. Will they make progress on making housing more affordable?  Probably not.  Oh, and that foreign policy stuff?  It won't matter except to various diasporas, but some of those are in key locations.  So... 🤷

Oh, and a Canadian note: the Conservative Party has been plagiarizing a bunch of GOP bullshit--trans phobia, using woke as a slur, etc.  I am thinking now that if the Canadian electorate is at all like the American one, these stances are going to hurt the Tories, not help.  So, will Polievre snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?  Probably.

But that would be a prediction, and I suck at those.

Friday, November 3, 2023

Second Time is the Charm


 As I wait for my flight across Asia to Germany and then Denmark (civ-mil conference in Copenhagen), I thought I would look back at what I observed and learned from my second trip to

South Korea.  The big lesson is that I enjoyed it more the second time.  Sure, the first time I got to check out the DMZ, and I think I had more, clearer interviews, but I wandered a bit further this time, got to see more neighborhoods, and then, went to the other end of the peninsula to very pretty Busan.