Tuesday, April 21, 2015

When Realists are Bad Realists, Part XIV

I have addressed this theme before, but a discussion at a conference in Brussels made me look at this whole "Realists are lousy realists" line of thought in a different way.  Yes, I am going to pick on Mearsheimer again for his take on Ukraine

I realized as people lamented the cuts in NATO forces in Europe over the past twenty years that anyone arguing that Russia is motivated by the threat posed by NATO must not care about conventional military balances.  After all, the balance in Europe after the Soviet Union fell apart was strongly in Europe's favor with all of that spiffy American hardware recently proven in Iraq (1991) and all of that other stuff that NATO countries had accumulated.  Ever since then, the Europeans have fully taken advantage of the peace dividend to cut their forces.  The Germans have cut back so far that few of their planes and helos can fly. 

So, this is scary to Russia?  Well, the irony here is that Mearsheimer spent much of the 1980s researching and writing about force to space ratios and other ways to measure the balance of forces in Europe.  If Mearsheimer stuck to his original expertise, he might be arguing something different now--that Putin is not threatened by NATO enlargement but rather encouraged by NATO weakness. 

The second irony is that Mearsheimer is giving a heap of value to NATO.  This is a man who blasted international institutions as being irrelevant--or false promises.*  If institutions are epiphemenonal and otherwise not so important, why should enlargement matter?  It shouldn't.  Not to Mearsheimer.  Same goes for the European Union--why should Putin care about this toothless organization.  I mean: ESDP?  Really?  Europe has made little progress on developing as a security and defense organization, so how can it threaten Russia? 

The third irony is that if Mearsheimer was being true to himself as an offensive Realist, he would be arguing that countries seek power and that Putin is doing that when the opportunity presents itself.  So, the blame should not be on NATO enlargement but a combination of NATO weakness and Putin's thirst for power. 

But for some reason, he wants to blame the US and NATO.  Again, if he were consistent, he would focus on their weakness--the defense budget cuts, the pivot--and not enlargement.  There is plenty of blame to go around.  Of course, if one blames the west for being weak, then perhaps one has to blame Putin for being aggressive.  And that, for whatever reason, just does not fit into Mearsheimer's narrative.

The funny thing is that Mearsheimer and I see NATO enlargement to Ukraine similarly in one respect--that it is an incredible commitment that should not be made.  But we diverge over where to point the finger for the current crisis.  I point to the east and he points to the west.

*  That piece demonstrates how good Mearsheimer is good at trolling: 2700+ cites for a piece that treats its opponents as the thinnest of strawmen. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Always Bet on Xenophobia

I have been in Brussels for several days, and was amused to find our first meetings in the shadow of the European Union.  I tweeted thusly:

I am an ESDP skeptic because the EU tends not to move at all when there is a crisis.  Efforts to develop a common defence stance tend to fail.  Well, with one big exception.  It turns out the EU can move decisively when the threat would be migrants from North Africa.  This should not be that surprising as the Libyan mission in 2011 was shaped by the fear of Libyans fleeing Qaddafi and finding their way to European shores.  Italy and France even threatened the heart of the single market by suggesting they might suspend the Schengen border stuff.

As a scholar of xenophobia, I can only be pleased... buy our revised edition this August, please.  But as someone frustrated by the responses to the Ukraine/Russia crisis, I am, well, more frustrated.  There should be a straightforward division of labor on this: NATO does stuff to improve the credibility of the commitment to the Baltics (bases!) while the EU pours money into the Russian speaking areas of the Baltics so that the locals are unfriendly to any little green men who show up.  Alas, as far as I can tell, the EU ain't doing the latter while Germany and others are blocking the former.  FFS! 

I guess what we need to do is gin up a migration crisis--that thousands of Baltic residents are ready to flood into France.... that would do the trick, right?

Maybe not.   But it does remind me of what one person working at NATO suggested: that the US and Canada open up special immigration opportunities for the Baltics' Russian speaking populations--10-20k per year.  In ten years, the Russian speaking populations of the Baltics would not be a problem geostrategically-speaking.  Hmmm. 

So, maybe multiculturalism FTW in the long term?  Still, I would bet on xenophobia if I could.

Last Day of Canada-Germany Conference: Remaining Thoughts

Because of Chatham House rule, I cannot say what each person said, but it was very interesting to hear directly from Helga Schmid, who is the EU's negotiator at the Iran talks.  She also looked like my aunt, but that is neither here nor there.

Alas, she did not answer my question--she got a ton of them and didn't address my concern: what are the EU and Germany doing in the Baltics?  Given the threat of hybrid warfare--that Putin would stir up trouble in the Russian-speaking populations of Estonia and Latvia--shouldn't the folks with the biggest bags of cash be throwing some of it at the Russian speakers?  That is, give them a clearer/better stake in the status quo, reduce the resentment, and encourage the locals to report to their governments if there is any shenanigans going on. 

Thus far, the answer I can only infer is that the EU and Germany are not doing this.  It is bad enough that some folks are still abiding by the NATO-Russia Founding Act (that created a new council in which Russia could participate in exchange for NATO not basing troops in the east) even though that act is, how shall I say it, ....


Indeed, one of my greatest frustrations in my short time in Europe this week is that there seem to be plenty of people who think not much has changed.  Well, they are right for the wrong reasons--Russia has been futzing around in neighboring states at the expense of the sovereignty/human rights/etc of those places since .... 1991.  I was pleased and surprised that one of the speakers this week started with Nagorno Karabak, which was taken by Armenia in a fit of irredentism but abetted by Russia.  Transnistria came a bit later and then Abkhazia, South Ossetia and now Crimea and Ukraine. 

Perhaps Germans don't mind Russia's tossing out the Helsinki Accords (no violent border changes in Europe) since German irredentism reunification was somewhat counter to the intent of Helsinki.  Anyhow, in conversations at the conference and at NATO, it has become clear that concern with Russia is curvilinear--those closest and furthest (US/Canada) are far more serious than those in between (Germany, France). 

I have some ideas about what we should do, but I don't want to spoil a potential op-ed.  If it does not get published, I will post it here.  But the basic idea is that if multilateralism does not work, then let's try some minilateralism.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Good Insights, Good Beer and Great Company

I had another great day in Brussels.  We went over to NATO HQ (the new building is not yet ready but looks very 21st century/spaceship-ish) for a briefing from a NATO official.  Chatham House, so I cannot name the official but can summarize and assess before moving onto the afternoon Fish Bowl and then the beer with the NATO tweeps!

The NATO official (not SACEUR who apparently has a busy schedule) started with the NATO strategic concept which focuses on the threat situation and on NATO core tasks--collective defense, crisis management and cooperative security.  Apparently, NATO has decided recently that the pre-Crimea definition of threat is still accurate (I call b.s.), and the intra-NATO fight is over priorities--collective defense (focusing on deterring Russia) vs crisis management (focusing on the instability to NATO's South/Southeast.  Geography still matters in the globalized 21st century as Eastern Europe cares about Russia, southern Europe cares about Northern Africa and the Mideast, and France/Britain are, um, disarming quickly?  Hmmm.

The official recognized that NATO has always been a two tier alliance--the US and all the rest?  Hmmm, maybe three tiers: US, those doing more, those doing less? [see Danish discussion below].  I pushed back in the Q&A on the efforts to develop a Very High Readiness Force, learning that the idea of pre-delegating authority to SACEUR to move troops quickly in case of a crisis is a subject of much conflict within NATO.  That many countries do not trust a military officer to make a move in response to a political threat (hybrid war).  I hope this changes because a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force is not very quick if a decision has to be made at the North Atlantic Council.

I was surprised that NATO has not been able to get consensus to toss the NATO-Russia founding act into the garbage--which means that NATO cannot permanently base troops in the Baltics.  Which once again leads to my advocacy of the US engaging in a series of bilateral moves to deploy troops to the region.  The 173rd Airborne Brigade does not have to be based in Italy--move them North and East.

The second panel sought to understand Russia's ambitions.  A key point was that Russia is not really threatened--that any argument falls apart when one considers the general pattern of NATO countries disarming.  Indeed, one of the ironies of certain realists being apologists for Putin and the threat of NATO enlargement ignores this very basic reality despite the fact that these realists spent much of the 1980s calculating force to space ratios to figure out the Soviet threat.  Hmmm, short memories, I guess.

I then participated in a Fish Bowl, which was a dynamic sort of presentation where the only people who could talk were those four or five people in the center of the room, and that people could be tapped out and replaced by others who wanted to speak.  The topic was the West.... which led to a surprisingly interesting and fun conversation.  The strange process worked.

I then left NATO with the rest of the group (NATO security rules) and returned to have beers with the US and Canadian folks associated with their twitter accounts/public engagement efforts.  We were joined by British, Estonian, Lithuanian, and Danish folks working at NATO.  The conversation was most interesting and the beer selection at the NATO bowling alley was quite excellent.  Oh, and the US Mission at NATO turned out to be the legendary USEmbSAfrica who did quite well at TFC a few years ago.  She was delightful as were the rest of the folks.   It was fun to talk to a Danish NATO person over beer as he was a big fan of the recent piece that juxtaposed Denmark and Greece re burden-sharing.

I was asked about lessons learned from the book for the new (old) problems.  A key lesson, I think, is that countries should educate their politicians and their publics that the Baltics/Poland are not matters of expeditionary efforts but collective defense--which means different laws and expectations apply.  Another is that we need to get more flexible forces to be the ones leading the VJTF (France, Denmark, Canada, US) and not those that proved be fairly lame in Afghanistan (Spain, Italy).

 I am not surprised that my favorite day of this trip thus far was the one at NATO.  Tis as it should be.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Comparative IR Problems: Lessons from Day 1 of a Conference

On my second day in Belgium, the Atlantik-Brücke conference, a Canada-Germany conversation, got underway and was immediately quite interesting.  The opening session had two speakers that provided broad surveys of the world's crises, and I was struck that there seemed to be some comparisons that did not work for me.  Why? Because some crises are harder than others and that we can focus on three dimensions of each crisis so that we can compare apples and oranges: the degree of difficulty of the actual policy problem, the stakes, and the level of consensus among the key players.

I recently argued that Russia is fundamentally an easier problem than the IS/ISIS/ISIL/Daesh challenge because we don't have to do state/nation-building in the Baltics or in Poland/Romania.  Indeed, one of the attendees recently visited a Baltic Republic and found that the Russian-speaking populations get it--that they are better off where they are now than in a potential frozen conflict or a Greater Russia.  We can still do more to assuage/reassure/bribe the Russian-speakers to drain those three Baltic countries of any sea in which little green men-fish can swim (yes, mixing metaphors), but the problem then becomes mostly of improving the credibility of the NATO deterrent.  Not easy, especially with German resistance, but not impossible.  

But Russia involves higher stakes--nuclear war, existential threats and all that.  IS/whatever is not those things.

Which, of course leads to a two-by-two:
I need to find a low, low case, but you get the idea.  China is harder than anything else because there is greater complexity than Russia: economic  entanglements, military growing, territorial challenges with many neighbors, Taiwan, etc.  And the stakes are pretty high.

The consensus dimension is the only one that can change and the only one that can be changed via diplomacy and effort, but also shapes how hard this stuff can be.  China is very difficult since getting the Japanese and South Koreans to work together can be quite difficult.  Iraq and Syria is not as difficult right now--there is consensus among enough countries to get the cooperation that is needed.  If Assad gains an upper hand in Syria, consensus might be difficult to maintain.

Anyhow, that is my first set of thoughts about that.

The second session involved breakout panels, and I was sent off to hybrid wars.  Jean-Christophe Boucher did an excellent job of describing the challenge.  I did push back a bit--that hybrid wars are actually a signal of success.  That it is the choice for those who cannot win conventional wars--in the bad old days of the Cold War, the US and NATO had to figure out how to deal with the threat of Soviet conventional supremacy.  Not so much these days.  The other thing I pointed out is that the subversion via cyber/little green men/propaganda works best and perhaps only in places that are already messed up---such as Ukraine.  The Baltics are functional, so hybrid efforts are unlikely to work so well. 

The third panel of the day was on cybersecurity and it was very interesting.  Chatham House rules prohibit me from being specific, but I am now going to have assign more Ron Deibert in my cybersecurity week--provocative stuff.

The fourth panel was on Canadian and German politics.  I learned much about both--that the German resistance to easing up on the Greeks has a strong political foundation, so don't expect any movement on that.  Also, there are pretty strong domestic political constraints to doing anything more about Russia.

Dinner was at the residence of the German Ambassador to NATO.  Very good food and good conversations.  The only big surprise was when a Canadian former diplomat chose to throw more gas on the fire of "Canada teaching Germany about immigration" conversation.  How undiplomatic.

Tomorrow is at NATO, which means I will be offline and on my game--I will be taking part in the Fishbowl (to be explained tomorrow).  I hope to have a post conference beer with the Americans and Canadians who work at NATO. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Belgium 2015, Day One

The weather here is just amazing--blue skies, nice temps... living in Canada makes me forget that much of the rest of the northern hemisphere is deep into spring.  I am here in Brussels for two reasons: a) to participate in a Canada-Germany foundation's conference; and b) then to do some research for the next project.  I am also looking forward to meeting the people behind the wonderful Canadian NATO and US NATO twitter accounts. 

Today was the transition day, as I arrived this morning via Frankfurt airport, which always astonishes me with its size and less than helpful signage.  This time, I was also confused--am I supposed to pick up my baggage and move it through customs and then re-check?  No, that is just a non-Schengen thing to do....

I am staying in a super-spiffy hotel for the first few days (when it is on the conference organizer's dime), and it has confused me.  Best shower I ever had in Europe, probably, but it took me a minute to figure out how to turn it on.  My post-walk nap was in full sunshine since I only realized afterwards that among the many light buttons next to the bed is one for raising and lowering the curtain.  Really. 

I did walk about to see the city.  While my 2011 trip to Belgium was chock full of tourism (Mons, Vimy, Bastogne), the research was conducted at NATO HQ, so I stayed on the outskirts of town and only drove in to drop off my co-author at his hotel.  Driving in Brussels scared me and scared the GPS.  So, no tourism last time.  I should have, alas, plenty of time to check out Brussels as my interview calendar for next week is a bit thin.

Oh, and I met the key mission objectives: beer, omlette and then latter waffle
Time to suit up for dinner as the conference kicks off.

Rank Rankings, NATO Edition

There is a renewed debate about how to measure one's contribution to NATO.  This reminds me of the academic enterprise of ranking--that any effort to rank universities or programs always produces a new ranking that improves the ranking of those doing the re-ranking.   So, it is not surprise that focusing less on the 2% of GDP on defense expectation and more on what countries do, as argued here, is an approach Canadians like a great deal.

John Deni, the author, is sharp in using key cases to make the 2% standard look foolish.  By that measure, Greece looks great and the Danes not so much.  But Afghanistan and Libya, the Greeks did little and then none while the Danes did much.  So any metric that focuses on what countries do as part of the NATO alliance will favor the Danes and denigrate the Greeks.  The Canadians would find their ranking rise as well.

While caveats are not everything, our research does show a fairly consistent division between do-ers/risk-bearers and the rest:
Of course, one could use other metrics of burden sharing, such as size of contingent deployed or killed in action:

So, one can develop all kinds of rankings.  I do think taking into account the actual "doing" makes sense, but I do see the point of the 2% expectation being key in pressuring countries to spend enough money so that the actual operations are done by troops that have been trained with equipment that is in good shape and all that.

The key point here is: rankings, like love, are a many splendored thing.... or something.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mad Men Dead Pool Game: Limited Progress

This week's episode did not have any direct implications for the game, but let me speculate below the break:

Politics Over Humility: Canada Trains Ukrainians

There are at least two ways to look at the decision by the Canadian government to train Ukrainian soldiers:
  1. Canada always joins Anglo-American efforts to foster stability and confront aggression (the Iraq 2003 was, um, something else).  
  2. Never say that this government has not leaved any stones unturned in its efforts to pander to a Canadian diasporic segment.
Both are correct.  One can pitch this new training mission as something that is quite typical of Canada--doing it what it can as part of a coalition effort.  The CF has learned, at great cost, how to deal with landmines/improvised explosive devices, and has other expertise that they can impart to the Ukrainians.  Of course, two hundred trainers can only do so much (as Canada is learning in Iraq with a lesser number), but the Ukrainians could certainly perform better.  This will not give the Ukrainians the chance to win their war with Russia,* but it might raise the costs that Russia incurs.  It might also help to limit how far Russia advances.  To be clear, the effect here can only be a limited one, but still might have some impact.

* I am not a big fan of the fiction that this conflict is between Ukraine and a band of separatists--Russian soldiers are dying in Ukraine, and Russian equipment is killing Ukrainians as well as the passengers of a Malaysian airliner.
The impact at home might be a bit clearer.   Stephen Harper and his dual hat-ed Minister of National Defence and Minister of Multiculturalism Jason Kenney have been making sure to be in front of most of NATO in speaking fervently for helping Ukraine.  The passion here has a domestic component, aimed at one of the larger diasporas in Canada.  While Harper may have some animus towards Putin (something that we share), the Ministry of Multiculturalism has been mostly focused the past few years on playing towards different ethnic communities in advance of the next election.  Sending a small number of troops to Ukraine about six months ahead of the election is a happy coincidence?

Up to now, most of Canada's efforts in this area have been in support of NATO's reassurance missions--flying planes over Romania and the Baltics, small units of troops taking part in training exercises in the region.  This is a significant step forward, as most of NATO is not doing this, and it does mean that Canada will have troops in a country that is at war.  To be clear, the training effort is on the other side of the country, so there is little risk to the troops or of escalation.  Still, it is not something to be done lightly.

There may be other dynamics involved in this, but the combination of Anglo-American-Canadian cooperation AND ethnic politics at home makes this move almost inevitable.