Friday, July 1, 2016

Sabbatical Starts Now!

It has been ten years since my previous (and only sabbatical).  I lost a heap of credit (most places that have sabbaticals require something like six years of service for one year of sabbatical) moving to Ottawa.  I don't regret the decision at all as I am very happy to be starting my fifth year in Ottawa this week.  The timing is good as well, as I am now ready to really get into this new project now that most of the older projects are out of my hands.

So, what I am doing with my sabbatical?
  1. The focus of the year is making progress on the Dave and Phil and Steve project: understanding the varying roles played by legislatures in their countries' civil-military relations.  Dave has already done much of his work talking to Europeans as he is also working on an Arctic Security project.  Phil was supposed to be on sabbatical, but his move to NPSIA (woot!) disrupts that a bit.  Still, he is going down under as well as over there for his part.  
    1. I will be spending October and part of January in Japan asking politicians, officials, and military officers about their roles and perceptions.  I will also be working on related projects on Japan's civil-military relations with Takako Hikotani, who teaches at Japan's National Defence Academy.  I am very grateful to the Social Sciences Research Council and the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership for both funding this part of the sabbatical and for fostering the circumstances that lead to partnering with Takako. 
    2. I will be going to South Korea and Brazil for shorter trips to do the same thing.  I hope to squeeze in a trip to Argentina and Chile. 
    3. If I manage all of these trips (I was supposed to go to Brazil this year, but their impeachment politics got in the way), then I will have completed nearly all of the research for the project.
  2. A secondary focus is on completing a bunch of smaller projects that have been mostly sitting on a shelf:
    1. What do Canadian IR academics think of gaps between the academic and policy worlds?
    2. I have long had an idea about bureaucratic politics from my year in the Pentagon that I just never got around to articulating.
    3. Finish an R&R or two.
  3. Apply for a Partnership grant that would link Canadian academics, defence scientists in government, Canadian military institutions, and private actors.  This is going to be a huge commitment of effort, not just by me but by the other folks involved.  I tried a smaller version of this before, which didn't work out.  I have put off the larger version as I was more focused on funding my own research, but now that I have done that, it is time to return to this effort.
  4. Read.  During my first sabbatical, I tended to grab anything I found interesting in two areas: civil war stuff (Kalyvas, Weinstein, etc.) and the mess in Iraq (Imperial Life, Assassin's Gate, Cobra II).  This year's reading will be both more and less focused:
    1.  Catching up on the major journals in my field.  I am woefully behind.  I hope to dedicate one day per week (probably going to be one day ever other week) to reading journal articles from the past five years.
    2. Reading some of the books I have bought over the past five years or so that have gone unread.
    3. This reading effort is not just due diligence, but also to inspire me to see what questions I want to ask after the current project.  I have some ideas, but I am open to doing something completely different for the next sabbatical.
I know that sabbaticals appear to be a luxury to non-academics, but they are so helpful and so very important for recharging one's intellectual batteries, for making major progress on big research projects, and for broadening horizons and amping imaginations.  I am very grateful that I have this opportunity.  I am very thankful for the resources that will allow me to meet and work with interesting people in parts of the world I have barely glimpsed.  I know that I am lucky.  And as I always say on the ultimate field when a teammate catches one of my lousier throws, saving the point, better to be lucky than good!

First Canada Day as a Canadian

Citizenship ceremony and two happy new Canadians
This time last year I was studying for the Canadian citizenship test.  I got a perfect score although the hockey question challenged me.  Really, but only because I was so cocky about hockey that I skipped over that part of the booklet.  I still don't remember all the words to the Canadian national anthem, but I am willing to stand guard for thee.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Trudeau's Quest for UN Seat: Mistaken Priority?

Just as the Liberal government gets ready to announce the deployment of Canadian troops to the NATO persistent presence mission in Eastern Europe (Canada will be the soldier in Latvia), I cannot help myself but worry about the next steps.  From all that I have heard, this government's singular focus in foreign policy is to compete for the UN Security Council seat in 2021.  This was a campaign promise aimed at Canadians who care about the UN and who were unhappy that Stephen Harper blew the last campaign.

Why want such a seat?  Obviously, it is one way to show up the Conservatives.  But what does a UNSC seat buy Canada?  Some visibility at the UN.  But at a time where the UNSC is likely to be stymied by the US-Russia conflict, which is cold war-esque as one or the other will be likely to exercise their vetoes.  Still, it is a bully pulpit where Canadian representatives can lead various efforts to develop norms and mediate disputes.  So, it would be cool

Too bad it ain't gonna happen.  Huh?  Canada is not the only country who wants one of these ten seats (five are allocated to the five permanent members), and each of these seats is reserved for a part of the world.  A few months ago, I attended a roundtable at the embassy of a country that successfully gained a UNSC seat, and they discussed what it took to get it.  The short answer: an eight year effort.  Starting in 2016 for a 2021 seat is too late.  I know that the folks in government--at Global Affairs--understand this reality.  Indeed, it is not only late to start campaigning, but it means that Canada would be jumping in line ahead of countries that are aiming for the 2021 seat.  This countries will not be pleased, so they will not vote for Canada in 2021 and maybe not the round or two later, and their friends may do the same.  Which means that Canada's 2021 effort may hurt it in subsequent rounds.

So, the campaign is not just doomed to fail, but it will hurt Canada at the UN in the medium term.  What could make this worse?  If Canada orients its foreign policies towards gaining votes for the 2021 vote in ways that cut against other priorities.  The good news is that the desire to do more peacekeeping, which is sincere and more than just a campaign tactic, did not get in the way of the NATO commitment. And, yes, Canada can do two things at once.  If it can do Kandahar and Haiti at the same time, it can certainly do a small mission like Latvia at the same time as a Colombia peacekeeping operation.

Still, I worry about this UNSC seat campaign.  It is worse than a distraction--it is counter-productive.

Centres of Adequacy

I saw a story last week about a NATO Centre of Excellence, and it just bothered me.*  Carleton is also creating Centres of Excellence.  So, I did a modest twitter poll:

Centres of Adequacy it is.  I get it that various organizations want to focus resources and bring visibility to a specific effort, but I cannot help but think the following when I see the term:
  • Overcompensation.  If a centre is truly excellent, won't it make a name for itself?  And relatedly, isn't centre of excellence just inherently forgettable? 
  • The Incredibles' Lesson: If everyone is equally special, is anyone special?  If nearly any new centre is a centre of excellence, then are any of them really excellent?
  • The bureaucratic politics of empire-building.  Some new centres are important additions, but many are created so that some administrator can declare progress/victory/something to point to as their mark on the larger organization.  

I probably should not whine about this since I am in the process of writing a major grant that would fund a research centre at Carleton and also give funds to research centres elsewhere.  However, my aim is not to create new centres, but give existing ones the funding they need to be adequate and then some.  Sure, we will aim for excellence, but just naming something excellent is like another classic phrase: confusing hope with a plan. The name does not make it so.

This blog post was funded by the new Semi-Spew Institute of Amazeballs.

* No, this post was not inspired by my learning that my old place now has a Vice Principal of Innovation.  Yuck, but no.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Montreal Defence Review Roundtable Report

I got the chance to participate in the Defence Review via a roundtable in Montreal.  Since I pooped all over the project when it was first announced, I have to say that I am both impressed and thankful that the Minister of Defence and his staff invited me to join the process.  That was mighty big of them. 

The meeting was governed by Chatham House Rule, which means I cannot attribute stuff to anyone.  So, I will apply Saideman House Rule--I will describe the event and then say what I said.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Brexit and NATO

I am not an expert on the European Union, and my mid-career move to thinking about multilateral military operations did not spawn a new interest in the EU.  I am too much of a skeptic about the EU's ability to do common defence policy.  But I have been studying NATO for nearly a decade now, so what are the implications of Brexit for NATO?  Um, damned if I know.  Ok, perhaps I have a few clues.

First, there are no direct implications since NATO and the EU are entirely separate entities despite efforts by some (France) to have the latter supplant the former.  The UK was a major member of NATO before it joined the EU and remained such after joining.  I don't think there are much in the way of discernable behaviors that changed due to that move to inside the EU, although the EU may have lost one major obstacle to defence cooperation (the UK was always worried about expanding the EU's defence stuff at the expense of NATO).  However, as one expert noted:
Second, the indirect implications could be many, but until we see how Brexit actually is implemented, we really cannot speculate too much.  So, of course, here are some speculations:
  • The most immediate impact of Brexit is on the UK economy--the pound lost a heap of value, companies may flee, and growth outlooks are now poor.  This means that the UK, which already cut defence deeply and almost randomly in response to the 2008 crisis, will have less money to spend on alliance efforts.  This will not stop the UK from being a framework nation (leader of one of the four 1k units of troops) in the persistent basing in the Baltics to be announced at the Warsaw Summit (who will be UK rep in less than two weeks?).  This is no wartime deployment of brigades to countries with little infrastructure, so it will cost but not so much that the UK will back out.  Indeed, this will be an opportunity to show the world that the UK is still a significant player with a stiff upper lip and all that.
  • The most significant impact down the road is also more uncertain: that if Scotland were to secede from the UK due to Brexit, then the UK and NATO would lose the bases in Scotland.  The Scottish National Party dropped much of its hostility to NATO as it sought to make independence more attractive two years ago, but what happens before and after a referendum are, as we are learning anew this week, two different things.  That the Scots have indicated that they don't want nuclear weapons in "their" bases is problematic, as this means the English (or UK minus Scotland) subs would have to find a new home, not to mention the US ships that often call Scotland home.  
There is probably more, but that is all I have for now.  What am I missing?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

More Reactions to Brexit

I wrote some quick thoughts about Brexit on Friday, and then spent yesterday mostly offline as I drove to and from the US to pick up both my repaired car and my exhausted daughter (film making is hard work!).  So, of course, I have more reactions:
  • I have always thought that 50% plus one is a lousy decision-making rule for big decisions.  For many reasons:
    • The drunk frat boy vote.  Ok, not this time, but instead we have some folks, don't know how many, who may have not been voting sincerely.
    • Turnout, turnout, turnout. More on this below, but having major historical events potentially being affected rain is not great.
    • More importantly: tyranny of the temporary majority.*  The UK has already borne tremendous costs and is likely to incur much more despite the fact that the country is essentially ambivalent about leaving.  For major decisions, I have always believed that qualified majorities are necessary.  Sure, that gums up the works, and paralysis can be problematic.  But paralysis looks mighty good today compared to Brexit.
  • Referenda suck.
    • The founders of the US opposed direct democracy for a reason: "unchecked, democratic communities were subject to "the turbulency and weakness of unruly passions".
    • We are only now learning about the details of the process, the complications and all that.  Only after the event?
    • Reminds me of my time in California where much policy was decided by propositions.  And those were mostly shitshows.  Yes, that is the technical political science term.  How do we decide the best car insurance scheme?   Vote against the propositions endorsed by the car insurance industry and the trial lawyers.  California tied itself up in knots due to popular votes on tax policy.  At least in California, the government gave out booklets explaining each proposition, its estimated costs, and who was on which side and their arguments.  Brexit? Not so much.
  • The age splits on the vote and on turnout are appalling but not surprising.  Those under 50 voted against Brexit, those over voted for it.  Any student of democracy knows that the young don't turn out, but the older folks do. Which is why government spending, such as health care dollars, often is focused on the last few years of life.  Politicians respond to those who show up.  In a referendum, the outcome is determined by turnout (again, that stupid 50%+1), and this is the turnout for Brexit by age: 
    •  Yeah.  Not great, Bob.  We can and should blame the young for poorly asserting their interests. We can and should blame the old for screwing over the young.  Heaps of blame to be shared although, sorry but you cannot really blame Obama for this one.
  • The leadership on all sides in the UK is, um, wow, um, a train wreck.  Who comes out of this looking like they knew what they were doing, were representing their constituents and their country well?  Lots of craven behavior with folks running away from their stances (did we say that 350 million pounds were going to the EU?  Oops, our bad!).  
  • Yes, the EU has a democratic deficit--hard to do any research related to the EU without running into heaps of articles on this.  But one of the most likely outcomes for the UK (or UK minus Scotland) is to have to live with/by the EU's dictates but with no power to influence them--the Norway model as it is called.  Having some kind of association with the EU that reduces the costs of the transition and provides access to markets means accepting regulations written in Brussels but with no members in the EU parliament, no Brits serving as commissioners, and no UK folks on the Council of Ministers.  So, whatever "taxation/regulation without representation" folks might have thought been problematic before is going to be far worse now. Well done.

*  This is probably the attitude that makes me most American despite 14 years in Canada--concern about tyranny of the majority.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Instant Hottakes on Brexit

We will have much, much time to ponder and study what happened yesterday... whether it was the weather that made the difference in London, why Cameron was such an idiot, and on and on.  I have a few quick reactions guided by and due to my faith in confirmation bias!
  1. While I am kind of surprised by the results, I should not be as I co-authored a book that argued that individuals and leaders will often embrace xenophobia for its short term allure despite the  great costs to the country. That is why we named the book: For Kin or Country: Xenophobia, Nationalism, and War (now available in an updated 2015 paperback version!).  That Brexit did well in England but not in Scotland or Northern Ireland (Wales confuses me as it always does--not enough vowels) is not surprising, AND neither does the fact that most of the polls indicated that the relationship between fear of immigrants and support of Brexit.  The strange thing, of course, is that the UK was not part of the Schengen system so it still had much more control of its borders and of immigration than the rest of the EU.  So, leaving the EU does not really "fix" the "problem" of too much immigration.
  2. Events like these have huge ramifications for those inside that country, including potentially more separatism, but not so much elsewhere.  In short, direct effects matter a lot [update: see statement by Scottish National Party leader], but indirect lesson learning does not.  Why?  For the former, the exit will directly affect the interests (incomes!) and power of those inside the UK, leading to stronger interests on the part of the Scots to leave (although it may not be as instant as some might have thought).  For the latter, the problem is that there are multiple lessons to learn.  For those who want to leave the EU or separate from their current country, they can look at Brexit and say: they did it, we can do it too, taking away the positive lessons.  For those who don't want to leave the EU or secede from wherever, they can observe the economic shocks and other painful consequences and learn that this would be awful for them.  Let confirmation bias be your guide, I always say.  Again, multiple lessons to learn, so which lessons will people take away?  The only common lesson will be that David Cameron will go down in history as one of the worst Prime Ministers of all time.
  3. Already folks are worrying what this says about Trump--that if the wave of populist nationalism can break the UK, then shouldn't we worry about Trump getting more votes than we expect?  Um, no.  Why not?  First, the electoral college means that the US election is not a pure referendum where mobilizing the cranky can lead to a win.  Trump would have to do very well across a number of states, including some very diverse ones.  Second, while whites are a majority in the US, white men are not. I don't know what the gender breakdown of Brexit was, but in the US, Trump has been quite successful at alienating not just non-whites but women.  Third, there is a huge imbalance in the American election in terms of organization, skill, discipline, resources and resources and resources--Hillary Clinton and the Democrats have a huge lead here that Trump will not be able to surmount, especially as potential donors ponder whether Trump is using the campaign contributions to win the election or to save his failing businesses.  I have no idea what the balance was in the UK.  Fourth, the GOP is divided, with vulnerable Senators running away from Trump as fast as they can.  Yes, the Dems are currently divided with Sanders still not dropping out (oy!), but eventually he will.  That HRC is ahead despite Sanders sticking around is a testament either to her strength, revulsion for Trump or both.
  4. Most importantly, Lindsay Lohan is relevant again!

Alas, she seems to have deleted all of her anti-Brexit tweets.

Anyhow, for those outside of the UK, we don't need to panic much.  For those inside, I am so sorry for your loss.