Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Get Over It! Message Management vs. the 21st Century

The Canadian Department of National Defence, a squarer, politer and quieter version of the Pentagon, is most frustrated by its inability to do "message management."  That is, it cannot control information.  The latest story has DND frustrated by retired soldiers talking to the media.  My first thought: join the club.  American generals and secretaries of defense have been most frustrated by retired officers becoming media mouthpieces. 

My second thought: suck it up.  As a government agency in a democracy, there are some inconvenient truths for a military to consider.  That freedom of the press means that reporters are going to ask pesky questions.  That freedom of speech means that lots of people can speak to those pesky reporters.  Sure, those in government service have legal restrictions, but any large agency is going to have some people speak out.  And militaries tend to be very large agencies.  So, there is only so much message managing one can do. 

What can DND do?  Besides not whining about it?  The radical suggestion would be to be ... transparent.  If you do not deny, deny, deny especially when it comes to stuff where there are good sources of information elsewhere, and anticipate the likely stories ahead so that you can spin but spin openly, reporters will chase the story but will probably not be as enthused.  Coverups are much tastier for the Woodward and Bernstein wannabees (whatever the Canadian equivalent might be) than open info.

I get it that the government prefers for bad news not to get out, but much of it does.  And bad news is like fish--the longer one keeps it, the smellier it gets.  And if you are telling the truth, then there is far less need to coordinate.  Lies require much cooperation so that everyone gets the story straight and keeps it straight.  Telling something closer to the truth means people don't have to remember the lies and stay on the same page. 

Obviously, military operations, vulnerabilities and plans should remain secret, but the whining described in this article and others is entirely about bad news/embarrassment and not about stuff that needs to be secret.

Of course, this government is obsessed with message management, which seems to work for it.  It has won a few elections, but this strategy is costing it a heap of credibility and causes far more smoke to come out of the inevitable fires.  I know that they will not change their ways, but these folks should stop whining about leaks and about retired soldiers speaking up.  It is the price for doing business at any time and especially when people have to look elsewhere to get anything close to the real story.


Ultimate Highlights

Frosh Spew got a new camera for school, so I asked her to film a recent game of ultimate.  She not only filmed the game but then edited it in a way I had never expected!  Voila!

video


 I had never seen a video of me diving (I tend to layout much to compensate for my lack of jumping ability), so I was pretty jazzed to see this.  And, yes, she understands that I am a narcissist and has done a mighty fine job of enabling me.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Important Economic Debate Continues

Yesterday, the debate on milk bags vs milk jugs came up yet again.  A newspaper story about a regulatory fight between different factions within the milk industry led to a twitter conversation which led to a newspaper story.  And this led to an appearance on a radio program this morning.

It kind of comes off that I am a zealot:
Although Saideman has lived in Canada for more than a decade, he’s drawn a line in the sand over his national dairy identity.
“I have never bought milk in plastic bags and I never will.”
That much is true. I will not buy the special pitcher that holds a milk bag (the smaller one that is one of three in the big sack they sell in the stores).  The need for heaps of milk in my house are waning as Frosh Spew is weeks away from going off to college.  If the pilot program is expanded to allow more choice of milk conveyance, I will not be buying gallon jugs of milk either--we just are not drinking enough.

The reality is this is both an identity thing and a principle thing.  The identity thing is that I see a bag of milk and it reminds me that I am an alien to this province, just as it did in Quebec (other provinces in Canada don't have bags of milk).  It is a principle thing in that we have restricted choice thanks to the milk industry forming a cartel that lobbies for policies that lead to higher prices (blocks of cheese are most visibly over-priced) and less choice. 

The logic as always is that small concentrated groups tend to have more political power than large diffuse ones because the smaller can organize and the larger are likely to focus on other issues.  In the US, this means a set of very counter-productive prices that limit competition in the sugar industry.   While it raises the price of our cheesy poofs and frosted flakes by a smidge with each bag/box, it deprives poor Caribbean countries of a key market, producing foreign policy problems as well as protecting an awful industry in Florida.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Fave Irredentist Stories

A friend asked folks on twitter to share their favorite irredentist stories with me.... So far, no takers, so let me provide a few:
  1. At the top, walking into my new job/fellowship on the Joint Staff and being called The Irredentist!  My application for the fellowship discussed the project that became For Kin or Country, so they were wise to my ways.  And I was well placed in the Pentagon as this was, indeed, the office of irredentism with both Croatia and Serbia having recently engaged in "Greater" projects and with Kosovo kind of doing the same (with Macedonia's Albanians). 
  2. The time a Hungarian general I was interviewing said: "After a few drinks, everyone is a nationalist."
  3. The time that Croatia engaged in an irredentist war in Bosnia undermining its claims of being a victim of Serb irredentism AND proved my point that vulnerability does not deter.
  4. That Somalia which exemplified the window of opportunity argument by attacking Ethiopia as it was in the middle of its own revolution/transition had previously attacked when the time was most unopportune--1963 when Ethiopia was much stronger... and when it was already engaged in irredentist efforts aimed at both British and French colonies nearby.
  5. The Crimean referendum.  So sham-tastic, it really was so laughable.
  6. My favorite irredentist trick question: in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, who are the irredentists?
  7. Tried to name the Bill and Steve JOP article: Reuniting: When Does it Feel So Good? after the song but got spiked by the editors who accepted the article but not a fun title.  They probably would not have gone with "Four out of Five irredentists agree...".  Of course, it would probably have had to be nineteen out of twenty irredentists agree for the 95% confidence interval reference.
I am sure fans of Ireland, Kurdistan, Kashmir and others have fun tales to tell?

When History Repeats, Hungary Edition

On this day, the 100th anniversary of World War I, it almost seems quaint that history seems to be repeated itself.  Not in a big way, not in a World War kind of way.  But in a "Hungary is regressing and picking the wrong side kind of way."  In researching the Hungary chapter (secret name for it was "Optimally Obnoxious) of For Kin or Country, I discovered that Hungary's tradition of war seems to be one of always picking the losing side and joining that one with much enthusiasm but not much effectiveness.

And here we are again (H/T to my favorite resident of Budapest--Erin Jenne).  Viktor Orban has done much that we can criticize over the past several years, undermining democracy in one of the former success stories and playing up nationalism for political gain (inconsistently so).  The focus today, given the 100th anniversary and all that is to look on the bright side.
The era of liberal democracies is over, Orb├ín added, and listed China, India, Russia, Turkey and Singapore as countries that could offer Hungary inspiration. “Our time will come,” he concluded.
What is the bright side?  Hungary always picks the losing side.  So, if Orban's Hungary chooses to side with Russia and China, then I think the Western Democracies will win the next few rounds of international tensions.

Grail Knight IJ - Hungary Chose Poorly Again

Saturday, July 26, 2014

And a Wake-Up: Last Day in Buenos Aires

I have an evening flight out tonight with a red-eye to Houston and then connecting flights to Newark and then Ottawa.  So, I had the chance to walk around some more and see parts of the city that I had missed.

My effort to see the military history museum failed since it was not open yet.  When I get the grant and come back to do research, I will try again.  Otherwise, I saw what I wanted to see, and now I am very tired.

I enjoyed the Ecological Reserve near my hotel, but was frustrated that I could not get a better view of the Atlantic Ocean.  On the way back, I ate at an Italian place as I have had my fill of steak and then some.  Indeed, both my friend and I agreed that I had too much steak (see pic to the right).

While I had my pasta, I got to watch polo on ESPN.  I had never watched polo before (I had hoped to make it to a match but planned poorly).  It was Argentina vs .... England!  Argentina won today, perhaps taking some of the sting out of the whole Malavinas thing.  Their idea of penalties seems even easier than penalty kicks in hockey.  Not sure what caused one to get a penalty--on replays of the penalty swings and not the event that caused the penalty.

A couple of other observations that I may not have mentioned before:
  • The customs declaration form on the way into the country was strange--asking for what kind of cell phone I have.
  • That even with an impending default, Argentina seems pretty prosperous and stable (except for all of the illegal currency swapping stuff).  The shops and tv's and such do not seem strange to me.  Indeed, I am even more convinced that Sam Huntington is a racist (a dead one, of course) as the folks here do not seem to be of a different civilization than folks I have met elsewhere--that the only major difference between the Catholics of Argentina and those of Italy are that these are browner--hence the racism charge.
    • that the real differences among peoples are fundamentalists versus everyone else.  That all fundamentalists fundamentally suck.  
  • the Spanish spoken here is different enough that my restaurant pronunciation is even worse than one might expect. 
  • oh, and one more thing--I will have to remember to bring ankle braces next time.  Between the cobblestone and the beat up sidewalks, my ankles were not happy this week.
The trip was most successful.  Not only did I eat a heap of beef, but I had a few good conversations that will help as I revise the grant application and think about the project.  I got some good questions while presenting the extended grant app (the paper was the grant app and a few more pages).  So, overall, I can declare success, go home and then prep for the next trip (family vacation) and the one after that (dropping Frosh Spew off).

Friday, July 25, 2014

An Optimistic Outlook: Limited Number of Evil-doers?

So, Igor Strelkov of the Malaysian plane downing in Ukraine may have been involved in a mass killing in Bosnia in 1992.   One possible interpretation is that the number of evil assholes in the world are finite, so that when you need something bad done, you reach out to one of the few guys who is willing to do this kind of stuff (kind of like asking Rumsfeld to be Secretary of Defense again?).

After a thoroughly depressing week or two, I have to grasp at such straws.

Short Take on First Take

I don't watch Stephen A. Smith or Skip Bayless.... because I have a learning curve.  I learned a long time ago that neither one had anything of value to say.  Indeed, they may be the sports yeller equivalent of Sam Huntington--black holes of knowledge.

Oh, and the NFL sucks on violence against women, but we have known that for some time as well.

Mary Poppins and the Minimum Wage

Mary taught me so much so long ago about bank failure and now ....


this is seven kinds of brilliance.  Just wonderfully cheeky!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Feminism of Princess Leia's Bikini

While I consider myself a feminist (that women are equal to men and deserve equal rights/treatment), my scholarship is not feminist.  That is, I don't study how gender affects foreign policy.  Yet, as a result of a brief dinner conversation with Ora Szekely, I want to wade into these waters with the following assertion:
While much of Star Wars has gender problems (erasing the female pilots from the Battle of Yavin, for example), the appearance of Princess Leia in the costume in Jabba's palace and on the barge in Return of the Jedi is actually not un-feminist.
How so?  Well, one could argue that this was just providing the fanboys of the movie with something to gaze/leer at, it is actually more complex.  Jabba had Leia wear this costume as part of his effort to dominate her.  Jabba is gross, disgusting and vile.  So, we should find his enslavement of Leia and his disrobing of her to be awful.  Indeed, one could argue that Jabba is a personification of patriarchy--that he is all lust, greed, and domination in a slimy package.

And what happens to this depiction of patriarchy in the movie?  It gets slayed, choked to death, by a woman who uses her own chains against her target.  The only help Leia receives in this effort from the men around her is the provision of a distraction.  Luke's deployment of the force does not liberate Leia, but only catches the attention of those around Jabba--he is the Jedi squirrel!  The hard work of killing Jabba, of freeing woman from patriarchy, is done by Leia with her own bare hands.


So, one could look at the iconic image of Leia in the bikini as sexist and harmful to feminism, or one can look deeper and suggest that she is a feminist icon for slaying the enslaver of women, green or otherwise.

As for the rest, well, yeah, George Lucas has some problemos.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Flag Speculation

Lots of people are wondering why there is a white flag on top of the Brooklyn bridge:
My guess?  Green Goblin is surrendering to Spider-man due to much guilt over that which transpired on this bridge long ago.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Jon Stewart Uber Alles

This is why I prefer to blog about Star Wars than Israel/Palestine:


oh, and the joy of Argentina is that I could actually watch a Daily Show clip unless information control central that is Canada.

The American People Need Re-Education

Because their opinions on Star Wars needs heaps of work. Sure, I provided a public service long ago by ranking the SW movies, but apparently the average person polled by 538 either does not read my blog or believe it or both.  Let me go through the 538 post and point out some of the insanity and provide some perspective.

First, those surveyed have seen Empire the most, Return the second most and Star Wars (a New Hope) fourth.  Spike TV needs to amp up its showing of Star Wars--we now have a better idea of what they owe America.  Phantom Menace is third most watched?  Oy.  I guess we were all excited about more Star Wars and showed up to watch it.  So disappointed were we.  JJ Abrams must avoid the Phantom mistake.

Second comes the ranking, which can be seen as right or very wrong:
Right because Empire > SW-NH > Return.  Woot!  But Phantom Menance as third?  That 10% of those surveyed would give it any chance at being anything but the worst of the series?  We can pick on boy Anakin, we can on all of the revisions such as Midichlorians, we can pick on the dialogue, and yes, it has the most Jar Jar of any of the movies.  What this really proves is that any survey will have about 10% (or 20%) pure deviant opinions.  Either these are drunk frat boys trying to be funny, hipsters who are trying to be uncool, or the profoundly disturbed.  Any survey will have some chunk of people spouting off opinions that are OBJECTIVELY WRONG.

"Those who rated "Phantom Menace" as the best film were more likely to rate the prequels higher."  My response: like saying that those people who like to eat glass also like to eat rocks. 

The good news is that people almost get right the favorability stuff:

Many would say that Han should be ranked higher, but 1% is a thin margin and as much as folks like the charm of the smuggler, he ain't got no powers.  Luke is the point of view character as well.  So, no surprise he is the tops and so is Leia.  Indeed, little separates the major protagonists that we all love.  C3PO can be whiny so he is a bit off the top.  Anakin is over-rated--worst acted, got the worst dialogue (not the actors' fault), made it hard for Natalie Portman to fall in love convincingly (she easily demonstrated that skill in a weekend with Thor), and the dude kills a bunch of kids.  Not Darth Vader but Anakin.  And he attacks Mace Windu....   Surprising that Boba Fett, always seen as being cool by much of pop culture, is ranked so low here.  But he did pretty much just get knocked over into a Sarlaac pit, and his dad was also pathetic against the Jedi.

And, yes Jar Jar should be ranked lower than Palpatine.  Why?  Because Palpatine despite being the personification of evil was at least effective.  Jar Jar was ineffective.  Also, Palpatine read Diversionary Theories of War and used that arcane IR knowledge to amass power via the cynical use of ... separatists.  Jar Jar--just a goon, drawn in a pretty racist fashion.

The bigger problem with this ranking is that Chewbacca is left off of it (so is Mace).  Not only does Chewie not get a medal at the end of SW, he is denied his place in the survey.  Must the discrimination against the shaggy continue?  I say nay.

More folks think Han shot first, many think Greedo did, many don't understand the question.  Yeah, that's about right.


\


Monday, July 21, 2014

Bashing Law Profs

My brother-in-law is a law prof, and a damned fine one.  He has written good stuff beyond law reviews. I have always been impressed with his hard work during the family summer vacations as he works really hard to beat the law review submission deadlines that are late in August every year.

I say this as a caveat before I get brutal about distinguishing law profs from the rest of professor-dom.  Why?  Because a law prof has published a piece at the Wall Street Journal that basically calls for Israel to violate the Geneva Convention--that attacking civilians is hunky dory with him (swell, spiffy, too legit to quit, etc). [Pretty sure my law prof brother-in-law is horrified]



The Geneva convention says:


The first thing to ponder is who is this guy?  Thane Rosenbaum is a law prof--that was one response I saw on twitter.  Well, my first response is to say: law profs and prof profs are two different species.  Law profs do not generally have PhDs.  Which means that they did not have to pass comprehensive exams that demonstrate a mastery of the relevant literature.  They don't have to pass dissertation proposal defenses or dissertation defenses or write dissertations.  Which means that they don't have to be able to design research, defend the design or defend the research.

Their primary form of publication is in law reviews.  Law reviews are not peer reviewed despite the name--they are reviewed by law students. [Update: Ok, some are.  That this guy has not apparently published much in law reviews of late suggests that the system works, I guess]

To be fair, not all law profs are hacks [update: I was pointed to here by Phil L.].  And not all other forms of profs are devoid of hack-iness.  But if you are a law prof advocating for the use of violence against civilians, you suck as a law profYou suck as a human being as well.  If a political science prof wrote something like that, one could possibly imagine that there is a strategic logic for how civilian casualties might work.  Indeed, there have been such folks who have argued that civilian victimization is a workable counterinsurgency strategy.  That does not mean it is right, but that it might work.  A law prof should be arguing about whether something is legal or not.  But I guess if you don't read the Geneva Convention, then you don't have to worry about such arguments?

Oy.  Oy on stilts.  This guy is not doing anyone any favors.  Except the WSJ which will now get more hits.  Lovely. (No link from me).  So, what is my point?  That we should not hold law profs to the same standard as other profs since they don't have to do what other profs have to do to earn their credentials?  Maybe.  This guy makes me think: yeah, maybe.

[H/T to Max Fisher and Matt Ford for their tweets of the docs above]



Buenos Aires: Day 2, Electric Boogaloo

Had my first hunk of Argentine beef and it will certainly not be my last.  I had one meeting at the other end of Buenos Aires today, so I decided to walk and do some tourism along the way.  Very tired now, but it was worth it. 

What did I learn?
  • They love their dogs so much that they park their dogs (see the pic)
  • That neither banks nor hotels will exchange currency.  Given that there is a vibrant informal trade, one might expect the government to facilitate more legit outlets.  But no.  So, that helps to explain the major tourist destinations having heaps of men and women whispering loudly "Cambio!".  The difference in rates is apparently about 40%--$8/1 officially but $11-12/1 unofficially.  
  • I apparently look Argentine enough as I had multiple people ask me for directions today.  Must learn the phrase for "sorry, I am a silly tourist."
  • Argentine beef is good--I think a late lunch may be all I need... at least until the ISA crowd shows up and then things get social.  
  • They park cars in their academic buildings:



Sunday, July 20, 2014

Jewish or Democratic? The Choice Is Coming?

It has long been argued that Israel would eventually have to choose whether to be a Jewish state or a democratic one but not both.  Why?  Because as the non-Jewish population of the country grew, the Jews would eventually be significant enough to alter the political scene.

Why soon-ish?  Recent events suggest that the two state solution is not going to happen.  The West Bank is not going to become a Palestinian state with the extensive settlements creating facts on the ground that will be very hard to overcome. 

So what happens?  The right wing may have hoped that the Palestinians would leave Gaza and the West Bank, but they are not so welcome in the rest of the Mideast and they do not seem likely to leave.  Admitting a lot of Jews from elsewhere (Russia) have perhaps delayed the inevitable (at some cost since the Russians and others have to be put somewhere and perhaps alter the balance of political power).

Talking to a former student today, one who is much smarter than I on this area, raised the likelihood that the third intifida would be focused on democracy--that the Palestinians will push for the right to vote in Israel's elections.  Yow!  This would/will put Israel in a very difficult spot.

As I posted last week, I don't like to write about this particular conflict since people are so divided on it and because I don't spend that much time reading about it (too damned depressing).   That the two state solution seems to be off the table just makes me even more frustrated.  Again, actors on both sides have heaps of blame to share.  So, yet another pox I guess....


Buenos Aires, Day 1

I am in Buenos Aires for the meeting of the International Studies Association and the regional related association--FLACOS.   I am also meeting some experts on Latin American civil-military relations as the next project will include a few cases from this region.  So, a bit of research and prep for future work and a bit of testing the project's ideas.

So, what did I learn today?
  • My strategy of watching only movies I would not pay for in the theatre on flights paid off.  The Jack Ryan movie had an incredibly stupid plot.  The Robocop re-boot was so forgettable I spent much of today trying to figure out what I watched last night on the plane.  Oh, and flights are good for re-watching very good movies too.  The Lego Movie remains chock full of magic. 
  • The US is not the only place with unhappy veterans.  This pic is in the park next to the presidential palace.
  • How to divide by eight.  The current exchange rate is pretty favorable, so my shopping for my wife and daughter is complete thanks to the street fairs.
  • Buenos Aires is like Vancouver--the cabs do not seem to be able to make it through more than one light.
  • In the tour of the Casa Rosada, the Presidential palace, we got to have a quick walk through the President's actual office.  They covered up the phones so we could not see who is on the speed-dial.  Very interesting.
  • Very doggy town between the strays (a couple) and the poop (way more than a couple). 
  • Thus far, I have not tried the late late dinner.  I did learn that the beef empanada is much better than the chicken.  Probably the last time I have chicken in this beef-tastic place.
  • It is very strange to watch a British soccer team play an American one (Tottenham vs Seattle Sounders) broadcast on EPSN in Spanish.
  • I really enjoy my grad students.  Through good timing, I had a chance to spend most of the day with one of my former PhD students who is now on the tenure track.  Not only was it fun, but I learned stuff (see next post).

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Happy Twitter-versary To Me!

Today is the five year anniversary of when I joined twitter (+/- a day or two).  Woot!  It has been a very quick five years.  I was a skeptic, of course, as I didn't think there was much to say or to learn in 140 characters.  I quickly learned that with links, pics, RT's and all the rest that 140c's could contain a heap of information.  More importantly, I learned that tweets could contain a heap of personality, as I have met many, many sharp, interesting, insightful, fun individuals over the five years.  Some have become friends, and some have become real-life friends.

So, twitter has been a time-sucking boon to me.  I have to be better about managing my time, as I can get distracted, especially with days like the ones we had this week.  But it is not as frivolous as I thought long ago either.  I am now better informed about events as I get multiple perspectives pretty quickly.  While my feed is not as diverse as it could be, I do get exposed to many views that I do not necessarily share.  Sure, I prune away the conspiracy theorists, the extremists and the like, but I keep following at least a handful of folks to my right and a similar handful to my left.

I have kept my feed a mix of the professional (scholars, analysts, institutions) and the personal (tv critics, a few comedians, a few interesting actors).  I originally tried to keep my twitter voice distinct from my other voices (blogging, facebook, etc), but I tend to lack the discipline.  Plus I like to be silly and tease my friends and joke about stuff.  The joy of twitter fight club was not just winning the 2nd prize of a cool flask, but of testing my snark against sharp people and meeting people I would otherwise have never met, all around the world.

I certainly tweet too much, which probably deters some folks from following me.  I tend to get more followers when I am off at a conference, which means that fewer tweets is more attractive.  I know I regulate my feed so that there are not too many over-tweeters on it.  But again, I lack discipline and have many interests so I tweet a lot.

I certainly have used twitter more consciously this year to promote the new book.  Now that the book tour is taking a siesta, I am no longer tweeting the song list.

Anyhow, I am very thankful to those who engage me via twitter.  Twitter has allowed the world to become a smaller, more interesting place.  Thanks for putting up with me.  See you on twitter (although not as much in the next week as I will be in Buenos Aires, conferencing and having the first conversations for the next big civ-mil relations project).

Friday, July 18, 2014

Blog Posts as First Drafts

I wrote about proxies yesterday as principal-agent problems.  Today, I gutted the theory and had it published at The Globe and Mail.  So far, the fans of Russia are commenting more than other folks, not a surprise.  That they are forgetting that Putin has taken credit for organizing the separatists is only a mild surprise.  Oy.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Principal-Agenct Theory Exemplified

The metaphor of principal and agent is one that I dodged during and after grad school, but caught up to me when I was working with a friend on the NATO and Afghanistan book.  Why?  Because we realized the question really was about delegation--and that is what P-A all about.

The basics are this: whenever someone (the principal) hires someone else (the agent) to do something, the agent ends up knowing more about the details of the matter than the principal, including how the agent is behaving as it is doing the work (or not doing the work).  So, principals need to figure out how to get the results they want--by hiring people with similar outlooks, by managing discretion, by oversight and by providing incentives.  See the Dave and Steve book for how it is applied to NATO and applied to the civil-military dynamics within the countries operating in Afghanistan.

P-A is relevant today because of the events in Ukraine.  We don't know much about what happened although some are foolish enough to speculate. But what we do know is this: Russia has organized, facilitated, equipped, and staffed the separatist movements in Ukraine.  They may not be entirely of Russia's creation and they are not entirely staffed by Russia, but it is clear that Russia's politicians have seen these separatists as their agents--their employees--to do their bidding. 

Russia wanted to destablize Ukraine, and viola, these folks turn out, armed and equipped.  So, the questions then, from a P-A perspective are:
  • What were the orders, the guidance, given to the separatists?  What was their job?  Were they given authority to shoot down planes?  Was that something permitted or at least not forbidden by Russia?
  • What were the separatists' rules of engagement?  
  • Were the folks back in Russia aware of the separatists' capabilities?  
  • What kinds of leverage does Russia have over the separtists?  Can they reward good behavior and punish bad behavior?  
  • Does Russia have agents on the ground operating within the separatists' organizations?  
The P-A problem is particularly problematic whenever a country relies on proxies rather than their own military.  If one is relying on one's own military, you can promote/demote/fire poorly behaving agents.  You can more easily control the assets they have, expanding or shrinking their authority and their capability.  But with proxies such as rebel groups?  Even ones which have members of your own military within them?  Not so easy.

Yet the lessons of the 2000s is that counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency is best done by locals.  Which means outsiders are stuck with the P-A problems of relying on proxies.  Hamid Karzai, for example. 

Why am I blathering about this today? Someone asked me about the implications of today's events in Ukraine for Syria. Given that Russia has a fair amount of leverage over the separatists and yet still get an awful outcome, one can only imagine how little control the US would have over the Syrian rebels that the US might arm.  So, yeah, don't expect any MANPADs (anti-aircraft weapons carried by individuals) to be sent to Syrian rebels anytime soon.





Reacting Too Soon to Ongoing News Story

Guilty.  With the Malaysian plane crashing in the Ukrainian war zone, it is easy to start blaming folks.  It may not be the Russian separatists.  It might not have been shot down by missiles.  Lots of stuff could have happened.  So, I am going to speculate anyway because that is what we do either implicitly or explictly.  I prefer to be explicit.

What we do know is that commercial aircraft were flying over/thru a war zone.  This should be the first WTF question.  The Ukrainians said that they would not fire at any planes over 7800m apparently.  How reassuring is that?  The FAA decided months ago, before there were a series of planes (and helicopters) shot down in the region, to ban American planes/pilots from flying through this area [or not, see comments].  Why didn't other authorities (Dutch, Malaysian, European, ICAO) re-direct flights from here?  We know, thanks to the Vincennes disaster, that commercial planes flying over a war zone might be confused for something else. 

Some might say that something else caused this plane to fall out of the sky: bomb, pilot error, malfunction.  But given that the plane crashed in an area where anti-aircraft activities had been quite energetic and relatively successful, I think Occam's razor would cut all but the missile explanations.  Three different sets of actors could have launched a missile to this height--about 33k feet or 10km: Russia, Ukraine, and the Russian separatists.  All had access to weapon systems designed to knock down high flying planes.  Ukraine inherited Russia's anti-aircraft technology when it split from the Soviet Union.  The separatists apparently captured Ukraine's systems (the web is chock full of pics and claims on social media by the separatists that they had these missiles).  And Russia has what Russia has.

It is very unlikely that Russia would have shot down this plane.  No rational reason to do so (would only escalate a conflict that they have been kind of hoping to go onto the back burner), and unlikely to accidentally shoot down a plane over Ukrainian territory.  The separatists and their fellow travelers might blame the Ukraine government for staging such an event.  Again, this is unlikely as things were more or less moving in Ukraine's direction lately with some victories on the ground.  Why cause a major international crisis and hope that the other sides gets the blame?  That is a very dangerous game, and unlikely when, again, things were not getting worse but potentially better for Ukraine.

The separatists?  Well, knocking down planes and helicopters has been its primary means of imposing costs on Ukraine.  With significant losses of territory, offensive land operations seem not to be a good option to make Ukraine hurt.  But knock down expensive and very visible symbols of Ukrainian military might (relatively speaking)?  Yes, that makes sense.  So, if I had to bet, I would bet that the separatists did this by mistake.  They wanted to shoot down Ukrainian military aircraft and had gotten pretty good at it.  Governments try harder, usually, to avoid such mistakes, but then again the US shot down an Iranian passenger jet in 1988, the Soviet Union shot down a South Korean plane om 1983 and so on...

Will we find out the truth?  Probably.  There are far more intel assets dedicated to watching this part of the world than the waters to the west of Australia.  Will everyone buy into the explanation with the best evidence?  Probably not.  I mean, if tweets touting the success of shooting down a transport plane are being erased, then denying reality is likely to be the order of the day.

Again, I could be wrong about all of this.  So take all of this with a large grain of salt. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Illuminati Music?

Weird Al is releasing a video a day this week and next, and it has been wonderous.  Using Happy to do Tacky was a nice start.  Then a lesson about grammar.  And now, some uses of Foil:

I love how this moves from a cooking show into a conspiracy theory extravaganza complete with Patton Oswalt and Tom Lennon.

Plus I love a good Illuminati reference.

Responsibility to Protect Indeed: Srebrenica Continued

A Dutch court ruled that Dutch peacekeepers were partially responsible for the deaths of more than 300 Bosnians when the Srebrenica "safe haven" was attacked by Bosnian Serbs in 1995.  This is not anything particularly new as the Netherlands has taken its responsibility in this matter far more seriously than pretty much everyone else.

In 2002, the Dutch government fell after its entire cabinet resigned due to a report on events in Srebrenica seven years earlier.  Can you imagine an American or Canadian or British government reacting to events seven years earlier after a critical report is released?  No.  I didn't think so.  Has anyone in Belgium resigned in the aftermath of Rwanda? 

The Netherlands developed a series of reforms to try to prevent a similar disaster in the future.  Among these reforms are the Article 100 process where the parties in parliament must approve of a letter that explains the purposes and the means of a military deployment before the troops are sent.  This is an incredibly transparent process--pretty handy for the researcher that happens to be in town the week this is going on.  It might mean too much legislative influence on what actually goes into a military deployment (don't send tanks, they are too aggressive looking), but the letter requires a clear statement of purpose, clarity about the rules of engagement and so on.

This latest ruling is consistent with a previous one--that the Netherlands is responsible for those Bosnian Muslims who had been in the UN compound (that the Dutch had been staffing) and who then were expelled.  The courts have ruled that the Dutch are not responsible for those that never made it into the compound. 

As I wrote earlier about a similar case, there is plenty of blame to go around.  Obviously, the actual killers are mostly responsible, with the International Criminal Tribunal on Yugoslavia taking those cases, including Ratko Mladic, the commander of the genocidaires.  Canada neatly dodged responsibility, as the Canadians had peacekeepers in Srebrenica before the Dutch but re-deployed because they saw what was going to happen and didn't want to be around.

The United Nations perhaps cannot get sued, but, in my mind, it has more responsibility than anyone besides the Bosnian Serbs in this case.  The Dutch peacekeepers were willing to fight, but needed air support since they were outmanned.  At the time, the NATO planes that could be sent were subject to a dual-key system.  Any decision to drop bombs required approval from both the local NATO representative and the UN Secretary General's special representative, and the UN rep said no. 

The lesson to be learned?  Well, the Dutch learned to always bring their own airpower when they deploy, so that they can get the support they need even if the international organizations say no. That's right--the Netherlands would de-flag their planes and fight under the command of the Dutch if their multilateral bosses were to get in the way.  Which is why we saw something very strange from 2011-2014--the Dutch police training mission included F-16's....

The articles on this suggest that the prospect of lawsuits might cause countries to decline participation in peacekeeping efforts.  Maybe, but there are already enough deterrents to participation in such efforts, including the lesson learned from Somalia and Rwanda--that the "bad guys" may first try to kill the peacekeepers so that they go home. 

What this case really reminds us is that the notion of responsibility to protect carries a very heavy burden, which is perhaps why the reality is that most countries tend not to actually bear the responsibility at all. 



Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Keeping Religion in Ethnicity

When I posted a few days ago about the Israel-Palestinian conflict, a friend asked about my including of religion in the definition of ethnic conflict.  So, here is my explanation. 

The definition of ethnicity that people in political science tend to use focuses on perceived common ancestry centering around a few markers of identity.  The definition in my dissertation and first book:


"Ethnic groups are 'collective groups whose membership is largely determined by real or putative ancestral inherited ties, and who perceive these ties as systematically affecting their place and fate in the political and socioeconomic structures of their state and society (Rothschild 1981).'  These ties usually are related to race, kinship (tribe or clan), religion and language."
In the intervening years, not much has changed.  In a forthcoming piece of which I am one of many co-authors, the focus is very much on defining what counts and what does not count for the dataset:

Consequently, the AMAR criteria that aim to outline socially relevant groups at a given point in time are that:
(1) Membership in the group is determined primarily by descent by both members and non-members.
(2) Membership in the group is recognized and viewed as important by members and/or nonmembers. The importance may be psychological, normative, and/or strategic.
(3) Members share some distinguishing cultural features, such as common language, religion, occupational niche, and customs.
(4) One or more of these cultural features are either practiced by a majority of the group or preserved and studied by a set of members who are broadly respected by the wider membership for so doing.
(5) The group has at least 100,000 members or constitutes 1% of a country’s population.
Why is religion part of ethnic identity when we see so often people refer to "ethnic and religious" or "ethnoreligious"?   Because it is about identity and one that is seen as inherited.  Sure, people can convert to a different religion, but other "markers" of identity are also more malleable than advertised.  Languages can be learned and adopted.  One can move to a different region and then identify with that region (I am reminded of the "Californian since 1970 or 1980 bumper stickers").  One could argue that race is fixed, but yet not so much as people of mixed race can try to identify in a variety of ways.  Kinship often means multiple identities as well. 

Folks who study ethnicity are very aware that it is a socially constructed thing, so the boundaries are fuzzy and one's identity is not entirely up to oneself but how other see it.  Note number 2 of the AMAR criteria--that the membership is defined by members and nonmembers--not by oneself.

For me, in my research, religion does much of the same causal work as language or race or kinship--creating a sense of affinity or enmity which then affects policy preferences--do we want to help group x or group y?  Let's help the group with whom we share some ties--racial, religious, regional, kinship, or linguistic.  When identities cross-cut, then politics is about defining which ties are the most salient.  When identities converge--group x shares the same religion, language and race as group y--the politics became easier.  It becomes less about defining which identity matters and more about defining oneself as the best defender of the group.

Which leads us to ethnic outbidding.  When politicians compete to be the best defender of group x, each one may try to top the other, as in an auction for support from the group. The claims become more and more radical.  Religious outbidding and linguistic outbidding are not that different--just the promises will vary. 

For my work, the key difference between religion and other ethnic identities is really about the reach.  That religious identities cross not just land borders but across oceans so that Libya supported the Moros of the Philippines, for instance.  Race can have the same distance, but clan/tribe and language much less.

Each kind of ethnic tie will have different implications for politics, as I discussed early in my blogging career.  Religious differences have implications for much of what governments do, whereas linguistic divides matter for employment and education more so than elsewhere.  Race?  The irony here is that race does not really have much in the way of logical implications for politics until/unless racial divisions have historical content.  And yes, then it matters quite a bit. 

Anyhow, a long answer to a simple question.  When we speak of ethnic groups, ethnic ties, ethnicity in poli sci, the concept includes religion as a potentially relevant component.  Why? Because it is how people identify us and them in social groups that sometimes become politically relevant.