Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Relevant in International Security? Hell Yes

Last night, my chain got pulled by Tom Ricks, who has written some fine books on the U.S. military including the well-named Fiasco about the Iraq war.  He was frustrated with the content of International Security and then went on a tear about how irrelevant and "made up" political science is.  Given my respect for his work and the importance of his blog within the policy community, I found this view profoundly frustrating.  I promised to come up with a list of relevant poli sci stuff, and here I shall do so. 

But I would like to start with a few comments.  First, this entire effort may be wasted since Ricks believes that politics is an art and not a science.  He, like others, may think that we cannot generalize about political behavior, that there are not recurrent patterns of which we cannot make sense.  This post might be akin to a climate scientist explaining climate change to someone who does not believe in science.  He asked whether political science will be around in 200 years.  Well, since it has been around in one form or another since either Thucydides or Aristotle, and that politics is not going away anytime too soon, I doubt that people will stop trying to figure it out.

Second, Ricks in his books admires General David Petraeus.  While his record may not be spiffy in retrospect, there is no doubt that Petraeus was influenced by people who study political science.  Even if we forget about Petraeus having a PhD from Princeton in International Affairs (which is just chock full of poli sci), Petraeus included all kinds of social scientists in the making of counter-insurgency doctrine.  So, there is some inconsistency there.

Third, Ricks needs to look around his office. Nora Bensahel should kick is butt, given that she is a top analyst on alliances and other security stuff, and she happens to have a PhD from Stanford in Political Science.  My guess is that she ain't the only one at CNAS.

Fourth, one criticism of some political science work is that the findings of x or y are just "common sense."  Maybe.  But common sense is often not all that common.  Sometimes there is more than one thing that seems to be common sense but they are in conflict--how do those different views get adjudicated?  Perhaps with some analysis.  Sometimes the common sense is wrong.  Also, the best work takes something that people have thought about, points out a new perspective, and makes people think "huh, why didn't I think of that before, that makes so much sense," which then becomes common sense. 

Fourth, it is strange for me to arguing on behalf of International Security since I have never reviewed for them, nor have I have published anything in it.  I have tried, with the most recent effort turning into an ISQ piece because it was not sufficiently mature when we submitted it to IS.  The feedback we received from the IS reviewers helped us revise the piece so that it could make it into another journal. That article and the related book are very much policy relevant as they seek to explain why the various members of NATO behaved differently in Afghanistan.  This was not just a theoretical question but one so interesting to the policy community that the military head of NATO at the time, Admiral Stavridis, asked us if he could share the pdf version of the book with his staff. 

I could go on to address all of the debates about policy relevance of political science, but let's get to a  list of ten works (fairly randomly selected) that is quite relevant for the people who analyze/write about international security.  At the end of this post, I will list a bunch of stuff people recommended but not provide any comments (this post is already long).
  1. Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan,  Why Civil Resistance Works, convincingly demonstrates that the best way for movements to get their way is NOT to use violence.  This work has gained attention around the world from governments and private actors.  The International Security version of the book is here.  Chenoweth also works on terrorism, and has gotten the attention of multiple governments for her insights in that area (IS piece here).
  2. Kelly Greenhill,  Weapons of Mass Migration.  A work that simply altered the way I viewed the flow of peoples.  Countries with lower standards of behavior can use the threat of forcing their people to leave, which would send a flow of unwanted migrants/refugees to democracies that would then have to deal with them.  It is very much an asymmetric approach for weaker authoritarian regimes to mess with advanced democracies.  Is this policy relevant?  You betcha, as democracies such as the US have to figure out how to react to these kinds of threats.  It certainly pressured France and Italy in different ways when Qaddafi was threatening to send refugees to Europe.  The article version is at Civil Wars, volume 10, issue 1, pages 6-21.
  3. Debbi Avant is one of many scholars taking seriously the challenge of private military contractors.  How do governments grapple with their new dependence on these firms that they use in wartime?  I am sure you, Tom, have had questions about PMC's in Iraq, right?  Her first book is a nice companion to Feaver's stuff as she uses a similar framework but compares the British and Americans and how they adapt when faced with insurgencies.
  4. Jennifer Lind has written pieces in Foreign Affairs and Security Studies on apologies in international affairs along with a book.  You might not think this is policy relevant, but the policy people do.  She has been sought out by the governments of US, Japan and South Korea to share her work. 
  5. Page Fortna, Does Peacekeeping Work?  Is that relevant for policy-makers?  Probably.  
  6. Scott Sagan has written so much it is hard to choose, but how about this IS piece on nuclear proliferation.  If we want to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, we need to know why countries develop them.  And it is not as simple as people think.
  7. David Edelstein on Military Occupation.  Not that we really need to understand that in the 21st century, right?  The IS piece is here.
  8. Jonathan Mercer, Reputation and International Relations, is one of those books that changed how I viewed pretty much everything.  The basic idea is that we attribute the behavior of our friends differently than the behavior of our adversaries, so that our friends can never rarely us and our adversaries can rarely be seen as anything but implacable.  
  9. Michael Horowitz, Diffusion of Military Power.  Pretty sure we care about which military technologies spread and why.  He also wrote on the duration of crusading.  Given the rise of ISIS, that might just be a bit relevant too.
  10. Risa Brooks, Shaping Strategy: The Civil-Military Relations of Strategic Assessment.  Her work focuses mostly on Mideast militaries, and this book considers how the relationship of the civilians and the military affect how countries assess threats.  Given yet another American involvement in the Mideast, it might just be handy to understand how our adversaries and our "allies" assess the various threats they face--ISIS, the U.S., each other.  Like other folks, she is now doing some terrorism stuff.  Link is to a piece in Security Studies, which may actually have better stuff than IS (and I am not just saying that because I have a couple of SS pieces.  Ok, sort of).

I could go on and on.  As someone tweeted to me last night, people who study international security start not with data and often not with theory but a policy problem that they seek to understand.  They then get the best ideas together to figure out how to explain that puzzle and then subject it to some tests (of logic, using simulations, experiments, case studies or even, dare I say it, statistics) to see if the idea holds up.  Articles and books contain a lot of stuff that may seem boring to outsiders--the "how do you know what you think you know" sections--but that is where we claim to be political scientists.  That we are not just speculating about stuff--that would be Sam Huntington's Clash of Civilizations--which is horrible social science--but also, alas, policy relevant.

The best work these days communicates clearly to non-academics what the claims are and their relevance while communicated to academics how that knowledge was gained.  Blogs, such as Monkey Cage, Duck of Minvera, Political Violence at a Glance, and others, do an excellent job of providing the wider community with the punchlines of the scholarly work.  But to be clear, without that scholarly effort to see how the question fits into past work (literature reviews), what are the causal dynamics at work (theory), and testing (that methods stuff), the punchlines have no set up, no legitimacy, and no veracity.  And, of course, even after all of that work is done, we will still disagree and argue with each other.  Out of that process comes stuff that policy-makers take seriously either directly (SACEUR reading our book) or indirectly (Nora Bensahel at CNAS providing keen analyses based on what she had learned in her training as a political scientist).

So, Tom, if you don't have the time to read a bunch of books, do visit the blogs to find the interesting stuff, and then maybe chase down a few articles and see what you find.  You might just learn something.



People also recommended:
Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception
Alexander Downs, Civilian Victimization in War
Erin Baines, Vulnerable Bodies on UN refugee policy
Darryl Press, Calculating Credibility: How Leaders Assess Military Threats
Max Abhrams, Why Terrorism Does not Work
Stephen Rosen, Winning the Next War; Societies and Military Power; War and Human Nature
Lieber and Press, Why Countries Will Not Give Nukes to Terrorists, IS
Peter Feaver, heaps and heaps of stuff on civil-military relations.
Robert Farley, Grounded on how the USAF should be disbanded
and on and on.

I have class now so I will not list yet more work.  Please do not take omissions as insults--just finite time and too much policy relevant security stuff to discuss in a "short" blog post.







Saturday, September 13, 2014

Reunion Blues: Which to Choose?

Two parts of my teenage past are coming together to engage in heaps of nostalgia.  My high school class is having its 30th reunion (yes, I am old), and my old summer camp, Camp Airy is celebrating its 90th anniversary (it is older than me).  The former is in Philly, the latter is back at the camp in Maryland.  It would be a tough choice.

Captain Wacky appeared
for the Wacky Olympics
(yes, I won Wackiest
Counselor contest ...
all three years)
I have far more fond memories of camp--I lived 44 weeks a year looking forward to those eight every summer.  I felt that far better about myself and was probably the best version of myself every summer for eleven years--eight as a camper and three as a counselor. Most of my major milestones were at camp--I won wrestling tournaments despite being the underdog, I kissed a girl, I played ultimate, etc.  This year is particularly special because it will be celebrating the contribution by the Director of the Camp during my time, Ed Cohen, who passed away recently.  When I was in DC for the APSA, I met with a friend who was also a key piece of Camp during my time there and we swapped tales.  As the organizer of this reunion, he informed me that most of the folks attending would not be people from my time at camp but older and younger folks.  So, I have deep affection for the place and the people, but if I attended, I would mostly be meeting new people and not hanging out with the friends from my summers long ago.

From the Senior Class Trip--hypnotist show.
My memories of high school were more mixed as I never felt like I fit in, that coming to Lower Moreland when I was in third grade was somehow too late.  That I didn't work hard enough to fit in with the brains, that I was not athletic enough to be on any of the sports teams (long before high schools had ultimate teams), that I came to the drama group too late (most of the productions were musicals and I am not musical).  Still, I did enjoy the previous high school reunion.  Facebook made a big difference in helping make some connections before the event, so that it was less awkward chatting with people I had not seen in twenty five years (or fifteen, since I think the previous reunion I attended was the tenth).  People do become less clique-ish over time, so I had good conversations with people I knew but did not know well. 

So, which have I chosen to attend?  Neither.  The timing sucks.  The high school reunion always was on Thanksgiving weekend, which made it a shorter trip from wherever I was eating turkey with my family.  This apparently was inconvenient to those who stayed around Philadelphia.  For those who have to travel like myself, a random September weekend does not work so well.  The same goes for Camp Airy's reunions, which are always in mid-September.  Having just traveled to APSA, I am just not up for a very long drive (six to eight hours) for one night of hanging with old friends from either of my teen homes.

And I am bummed.  I am sure the folks at both reunions will have a great time, and there is nothing I hate more than on missing out on stuff (youngest child syndrome).  So, have a beer or three without me and enjoy the festivities!


Bunk Row, where I spent 1977-1986 (first year was in the younger side of camp)
The camp replaced these with new, fancier, smaller buildings a few years ago. 
Pretty sure camp was at its best when I was there (I have always been a narcissist).















Why I Would Vote Nay

If I had a vote, I would vote against independence for Scotland.  Why?  Because I tend to be a skeptic about independence movements in advanced democracies.

To be fair, at least these folks are doing it right when compared to the most recent "referendum"
from https://twitter.com/edwardlucas/status/510717257388130304
Also, to be fair, this is all about Scotland and the UK.  Whatever precedents get set are largely irrelevant.  Why?  As I have studied and written about for my entire career, separatists elsewhere have their own motivations and potential referendum voters will care far more about their local conditions than about the inspirational Scots.  Secession is not contagious (nor does fear of secession inhibit countries from supporting it elsewhere).

So, why I am opposed to most independent movements on democracies?  Because there is another way.  Sure, there are some democracies where an ethnic group is small enough to be politically irrelevant and thus dominated with no chance to affect its fortunes.  But mostly, democracy means both having one's rights protected and having access to the political system.  The Scots are not powerless.  Much of the independence movement is mostly frustrated because of who governs the UK right now--the Conservatives.  But that is temporary (unless Scotland secedes).

An essential part of democracy is that when a side loses, they accept defeat and work to come back into power some time later.  Democracy will not work if losing an election or two leads to secession.  Again, losing is an essential part of democracy.

Besides my general problem with secession, there are two other parts of this process that bother me.
First, what the Quebec and Scottish referendums share in common is a low threshold--50% plus one.  I find this incredibly problematic.  Why?  Because massive political and social change should require not just a few folks more being in favor than opposed--it should have much enthusiasm that most people desire it.  If 50% plus one wins the day, then a narrow majority can impose its preference on the minority in a way the minority cannot ameliorate without leaving.

Second, while the question is clear, the outcome is not because of my long stated rule #1 of secessionist movements: they downplay the costs.  Because the benefits are pretty vague and not so compelling in advanced democracies (it is not about repression or freedom), pro-secession people have to downplay the costs.  If there was a really compelling need to be independent, then the activists would not have to say that there would be no economic uncertainty, that their membership in international organizations was not at risk and on and on.

Secessionist efforts in advanced democracies tend have both of these problems.  In places which are far less democratic, the outcome of the referendums are entirely predictable--a sweeping majority in favor due to the desire to have real self-rule instead of domination AND there is no need to underplay the costs because whatever the costs are, they are less than being dominated by another nation.  Kosovo, South Sudan, East Timor are prime examples where the benefits of independence are so clear and striking that no one has to worry about 50% plus one, and the advocates did not have to worry about the "fearmongering" of the no's about membership in international organizations.

If the Scots were a smaller group, whose rights were violated, who never could exercise much political power, then it would be different.  But the Scots have won most of the battles, including gaining more autonomy, which means that there is less to be gained by independence.  This, in turn, means that the yeses need a low threshold and for people to ignore the costs.



Thank You, Comrade Putin

It looks like I am going to owe Vladimir Putin a debt.  How so?  My co-author, Bill Ayres, and I just signed a contract with Columbia University Press to write a new introduction to a paperback version of the 2008 For Kin or Country: Xenophobia, Nationalism and War.  In that book, we sought to explain the irredentism (the efforts by countries to annex "lost" kin in neighboring territories) that did and did not occur in the 1990s.

Well, Russia was in the "did not" category in the 1990s and is now in the "did" category since then--clearly with Crimea, less clearly with hunks of Georgia.  Of the cases we focused on most clearly, Russia is the one that went from silent dog to barking dog.  Romania?  Had some nationalist dynamics but no real effort to reclaim Moldova.  Hungary?  Has become authoritarian with increased nationalism and moving beyond the optimally obnoxious stage.  Armenia has kept its hunks of Azerbaijan.  Croatian and Serbian irredentism remain quelled by external intervention.  Whether their democratization also reduces their bad neighborly ways is something we have to think about.

Anyhow, our goal is to finish our side of this soon with the aim for a new paperback edition of For Kin or Country by sometime in 2015.  Look for it online (either the paperback or e-book) soon-ish.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Playing the Middle in a Religious War

One way to look at things in the Mideast* is as a religious war between Sunnis and Shia with the Saudis and Qatar on one side and Iran on another.**  That most of the other actors can be seen as proxies/allies in this fight.  Assad is not Shia, but relies heavily on Iran and Hezbollah.  ISIS is based on a perverted form of Sunni Islam, and has apparently received much support in the recent past from Qatar just as Al Qaeda received much support from Saudis.
*  Take all of this with a grain of salt since I am not an expert on the Mideast.
** Yes, there is more to it with all kinds of ethnicities and tribes and such.  This is not a Clash of Civilizations--too much intra-Sunni and intra-Shia violence to say that big blocs are the only dynamic here.

Which puts the US in the middle.  In Syria, the US wants to defeat ISIS (the Sunnis) without helping Assad (ally of Shia) in Syria.  In Iraq, the US wants a government that has been pro-Shia to become  inclusive government (good luck with that) to defeat ISIS without giving too much help to Iran.  Our allies in this war, who are tepid, are mostly Sunnis who are hardly moderates--Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc..  When I saw this tweet from the US Dept of State, I had to consider that the effort might be doomed:

As much as I would like for treatment of women to be central to the fight, it is as Dan Murphy put it--for domestic consumption and perhaps for the Europeans--but not really central to the strategy.  It does help to illustrate how screwed up all of this is.

To be in the middle of a religious war is a bad thing.  Some (I forget who) have offered up the idea of a new Westphalia--that Iran and Saudi Arabia should/can agree that the religion of a state should be what that state's leadership decides and not be subject to this rivalry.  Good luck with that.  The bright side is that it only took thirty years of war to produce the Treaty of Westphalia, which means we might be halfway there?

The American solution, of course, is to take the state out of it, and let religion be up to individuals.  That, too, is a non-starter.  So, the US is left in the awkward spot of trying to get religious extremists of various sides to be a smidge less extreme, I suppose.  Because the forces of secularism are not going to be coming to the rescue in any of these places.

Our best hope is that the ISIS folks alienate everyone through their beyond the pale barbarism, so that the locals, no matter how objectionable they are to us or us to them, switch sides and support this tepid coalition.  Kind of sounds like Afghanistan, right?  In that case, this should just take thirteen years or so.

Perhaps the theme song for this conflict is:

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Trope Rope-a-Dope Du Jour: US Pull Back

In an otherwise insightful column about the impact of the war on terror, Scott Gilmore asserts something that absolutely drives me crazy:
Understandably, the United States is pulling back from the world.
If Scott were alone, I could write this off as one bad bon mot, but this is a trope or a meme or something.  That is, it is a recurring theme in much writing about the US.  But it is based on ... air.

What evidence is there that the US is pulling back?  Yes, the US withdrew its troops from Iraq in 2011... because the Iraq government would not agree to a continued presence.  Last night I yet again heard the canard that Obama should have kept a residual force in Iraq, but that would have meant defying the sovereign government of Iraq.  Sure, we could have done that, but at what cost?  Yeah.  Yes, the US is leaving Afghanistan, but will have a residual force if the Afghans get resolve their election dispute.  Yes, the US has reduced its presence in Europe, closing some bases and bringing tanks back home. 

So, is that heaps of disengagement?  Or is this mostly a return to the status quo of 2000.  Except for the US forces in Europe, it is mostly returning to situation normal.  It might feel as if the norm is that the US is perpetually at war all over the world, but that is actually not the case.  The US has been engaged and involved around the world since World War II, and most of the changes are about changes in focus and not a reduction of engagement. 

The pivot, now dead thanks to Putin, was an attempt not to withdraw from Europe but to give more responsibility to Europe so that the U.S. could be engaged elsewhere--in Asia to deal with rising China, crazy North Korea, and all of the other problems in that part of the world.  And guess what?  Even with the new efforts to confront Putin and maintain the NATO alliance, the US is still committed to improving its presence in Asia with Marines rotating through Australia, the probability of new bases (or is it old bases) in the Philippines and on and on. 

If pullback is really about American public opinion, this reflects a short memory, as the American public have long wanted to avoid getting involved in the world's wars.  It is why the US was slow to show up in WWI and WWII.  Yes, during the Cold War, the bipartisan consensus supported American involvement, but not really that much enthusiasm for war, especially after Vietnam. 

Here is one figure illustrating the cyclical dynamics of US public opinion:
http://kettering.org/kfnews/is-this-really-working-for-us-public-views-on-foreign-policy/


Note that Americans tend to lose their enthusiasm for international stuff after a major international engagement: Vietnam, Cold War, Gulf War and now.  But to be clear, these swings in public opinion have not led to any real retrenchment.  The US remained engaged in Europe and the Mideast and elsewhere after Vietnam, it engaged in multiple operations in Europe after the end of the Cold War (Bosnia, Kosovo), and it did not flee Iraq or Afghanistan after 2005. And 80% is not significantly different from 78%.

The study of American public opinion and war has tended to use titles like "Pretty Prudent Public" which suggests a people who are wary of the use of force but support it when it seems like a good idea.  If the concern is about the US military not being eager to fight another war, there were articles in the 1990s about the "Reluctant Warriors."

Again, it comes back to evidence: what is the evidence that the US is pulling back?  The defense budget is still far higher than anyone else's and higher than many others combined.  The US still has 10 or 19 aircraft carriers (depending on how you count), which is about 9/18 more than any other country.  The US is buying a new fleet of attack subs, it is buying more planes, and on and on. 

Its diplomats are under-funded as always, but the US has not cut back on the number of embassies in the world (whereas Canada/UK are thinking of sharing space).  The US is engaged in negotiations over the Mideast (which take place and fail on a regular basis), over Iran's nuclear program, over trade, and on and on. 

If this is pull back, retrenchment or the victory of the isolationists, then we have stretched those concepts beyond the breaking point to be utterly meaningless.  People seem to confuse restraint with retrenchment.  Yes, Americans want restraint--we have had enough war especially wars with lousy outcomes.  But restraint does not mean isolationism.  There are lots of ways to engage in international relations without putting troops on the ground.  It would be nice if we do more of that and less of the kinetic stuff.

Frustration and Humility

Today is the 13th anniversary of the attacks of 9/11, and the U.S. is ramping up another war in the Mideast.  I cannot be anything but frustrated about this.  ISIS is not a threat to the US homeland, but is a threat to the region. American involvement in the region is double-edged sword as it can be a recruiting tool for extremists but can also disrupt the extremely violent actors that are doing much harm.  I wrote a piece for today's Globe and Mail that basically laid out how complicated this new war is, as it might mean working with Assad and Iran. 

So far, the post 9-11 wars have started well and ended without satisfying outcomes.  Afghanistan is still facing a political crisis as the politicians refuse to share power.  The surge + Awakening worked in Iraq to reduce the violence, giving the politicians space to come to an agreement, but instead the Shia-dominated government betrayed the Sunnis.  Which means that Obama's strategy might just be a bit doomed since it counts on a more "inclusive" Iraqi government.  Power-sharing does work in many parts of the world, but Afghanistan and Iraq seem to be infertile for such grow-ops. 

Obama cited Yemen and Somalia as positive examples, which they may be.  But they do not fill us full of hope.  The strategy he laid means relying heavily on local actors.  This makes sense because the fight is really at the local level.  But if we remember, 9/11 was a largely Saudi affair, and Osama Bin Laden got to hang out in Pakistan for years, so excuse me if I do not have high hopes for what our local friends bring to the table. 

So, on this 9/11, I am sadder than perhaps I was on any previous anniversary.  Because we have sacrificed so many lives--American, Canadian, European, Iraqi, Afghan, etc.--and it is not clear what we have to show for it besides a dead Bin Laden. 


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Metaphor Application Disorder

I think I have M.A.D.  Why?  Because Obama's speech tonight is likely to announce that the US will be engaging in yet another war (by whatever name) in the Mideast... and in Iraq (although not against Iraq).  I cannot help but think of old post I wrote that applied the concept of salary cap from sports to war.

The basic idea that there was some kind of limit on how many wars the U.S. could fight in a region in a certain time frame.  I semi-randomly set the cap at three and suggested the US was over it: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya plus war-ish activities in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.  I thought that the US would be free to launch a new war in 2015 when Iraq rolled off of the cap.  But if the US goes back to Iraq, does that count against the cap or is it just the continuation of a war that is already "under contract"?  In the NBA, there are exceptions for signing your own super-star players (the Larry Bird rule).  So, I guess that going back to Iraq is covered under the Larry Bird equivalent... which would be ...the Douglas MacArthur rule?

On the other hand, Syria would be a new war for the U.S. and would definitely put over the war cap.  The question then is: what are the penalties for exceeding the cap?  Ask the soldiers who do the fighting and the budget analysts about the long term costs.

Of course, my larger point that all this silliness may either express or cover up is that the US has fought quite a lot in the same area over the past fourteen years, and that has many consequences.  Exhaustion, reduced legitimacy, financial costs (estimated at more than three or four trillion dollars to be spent over the next eighty years or so--not unlike the uncapped NY Yankees), and so on.  So much war has also taught us something (or it should have): humility.  The use of force is quite good at breaking stuff, but building political stability?  That the U.S. with and without allies has used varying levels of force from all (Iraq, Afghanistan) to some (Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen) to none (Syria) and the only thing that is consistent are the results.... lousy.

Maybe the U.S. is the Yankees of IR--recklessly spending, learning few lessons, and nostalgic for championships long ago .*


*  The Yankees won in 2009?  Who remembers that?  Other than wikipedia?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Coup In Translation

Lately, folks have been getting my title wrong, which led to this shot on CTV:

Well, after a phone interview with Murray Brewster of Canadian Press about Harper's seemingly conflicting stances on NATO and Iraq, the story got played in a variety outlets including some in French.  The mistake about me being Chair of NPSIA became this:
Steve Saideman, président de l’école Norman Paterson des affaires internationales à l’Université Carleton
So, I would like to announce that the coup has been successful, that I will call elections once the situation settles so that we can have a return to the rule of law and democratic governance.  In the meantime, I will simply go by El Presidente for Life Steve.  First Lady Spew (formerly Mrs. Spew) is already shopping for shoes.

Teaching Civ-Mil, Day 1

Today is the first day of the fall term of my Civ-Mil class to mostly M.A. students at NPSIA.  One of the basic questions for this class and for modern democracies is: what counts as a crisis in civil-military relations?  Luckily for me, I have a new example to play with: that apparently the Prime Minister did not let General Stu Beare, commander of all Canadian Forces operations (he is CJOC--Commander of Canadian Joint Operations Command), speak to the media a few weeks ago.

This story is nicely on the edge--that the media should have access to commanders to discuss operations and such, but that commanders should not be commenting on government policy.  Nice gray area.  Of course, if Harper trusted the military, he could have expected Beare to converse with the media without making any comments that might embarrass the government.  But either because Harper is distrustful in general (he is), because he distrusts the military (he does), or because the general in question is just about to retire and thus has nothing to lose (and might be as outspoken as the outgoing head of the army was--General Devlin), Harper and/or his Defence Minister apparently chose to pre-empt. 

Does a lack of trust = a crisis in civil-military relations?  That depends on your basis of comparison.  There is no threat of coup, so Pakistanis might say that Canada has no problem in civ-mil.  The Canadian officers will salute and carry on.  But in a democracy, proper civil-military relations requires mutual respect and that seem to be lacking here.  Harper has been burned by leaks--that the cuts to the military are affecting readiness.  On the other hand, the bait and switch budgetary politics--saying that x will be spent on the military but holding back a few billion--makes it very hard for the military to plan and operate effectively.  So, both sides have grievances. 

I have long argued here that the government is treating the military badly--that forcing them to keep the personnel numbers up while cutting the budget is good symbolic politics but bad policy, for instance.  Yet the military is supposed to suffer in silence.  The officers should give their feedback up through the chain of command and then let the civilians be wrong--that is how democratic control of the military is supposed to work.  Of course, democratic control in practice also means that leaks happen and the media ask officers inconvenient questions which they will either dodge or answer.

So, where does that leave us?  Well, since this is the first day of the semester, it leaves us confused.