Sunday, April 22, 2018

What Do I Think Before Going to Seoul

At the end of this week, I head off to South Korea to do the next case study in the Dave and Phil and Steve project.  The project is not about North Korea or nuclear weapons, but about how democracies oversee their militaries.  I am not an expert on nuclear proliferation or on North Korea, but as a scholar of international security, I am sure I will be talking about and thinking about the current crisis as I wander along. So, I thought I would write now about my views on the upcoming summit and the various declarations before I go since it might be fun to compare with my views after I come back--I might learn something or change my mind (or not).

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Can Colonels Complain? Canadian Civil-Military Relations at Night

Last night, a kerfuffle broke out in Canadian civil-military relations.  I would not call it a crisis, but I saw a military officer post something and then two members of the opposition parties hit back at him for daring to tweet about how the military is covered.  I may be biased because the essence of the message is something that I have argued much here.  Let's go to the videotape series of tweets:

Friday, April 20, 2018

Canada is Underrated

Maybe that old saw about immigrants being more nationalistic than the native born is true.  I read Scott Gilmore's complains that "Canada is not a country" and strongly recoiled.  As someone who has lived here for 16 years and came with a belief that Canada was simply a colder version of the US, I have learned that Canada is a people, it is a nation, and it is a country.  Partly this is due to lived experience and observation and partly because I happen to have spent much time studying nationalism.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Confused About Syria

NPSIA just started a program where we have an CAF officer as a Defence Fellow.  This means we mentor him (in the current case) on his research, he learns how we think, and we get to learn how such folks think.  There is more to it than that, but his weekly presence is fostering a weekly brown bat that pushed me on how to think about the Syria bombing last week (the annual bombing?).

I have been reluctant to blog about it because I have been confused.  Why?  Because I see some merits on punishing those who cross a very important line, but I also have problems with who is doing the acting and how it is being done and the reality that Assad can just go along and keep killing people.  Let me explain as I think through this.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Impeachment: Should Or Should Not

I have long been arguing that impeachment is not going to happen:

But the question of should or should not is something different.  I am not speaking here of whether Trump has committed high crimes and misdemeanors (whatever the jargon is), but whether it would be a good or bad thing to impeach Trump or just wait to vote him out.  The question is not Trump versus Pence (as Pence would be awful, too), but whether it would be better to have the American voters decide or be denied that opportunity by Congress.  To preview, impeachment > 2020.

I have been hearing the argument that the American people should decide.  That it would be best for the future of American politics that this choice is not taken out of the hands of voters.  By rendering a verdict against Trump, the US polity can move on.  This, of course, assumes that Trump loses, that the Russians don't break our electoral process, etc.  Putting those concerns aside, I see the merits of this argument.  Impeachment could create or foster a "stabbed in the back" narrative among those who voted for Trump in 2016--that the deep state got him.  That it might erode faith in American institutions because the "establishment" had it out for Trump.

I get that.  However, putting aside the benefits of not having Trump for President for the last two years of his term, the key is this: the singular message of the Trump Era might be, unless there are consequences, is that Trump and his crew are above the law.  They certainly have behaved that way--Pruitt's planes, Carson's table, nepotism, security clearances for those who can't fill out the forms, all of the emoulements stuff, and on and on.  Impeachment exists for a reason--to have consequences for a President when they do things that are illegal, immoral, and/or destructive to the interests of the U.S. (again, I am not a lawyer).  It is a political decision, of course, but, at the heart of it, it is the one way to make sure that the President is not above the law.  We expected norms to do that work, but they have failed.  Apparently, they mostly operate due to a sense of shame that the various players have, and, well, Trump and his team are utterly devoid of shame.

Which is worse for American institutions going forward?  That the people don't get a chance to throw the bums out OR that administrations are beyond the law?  I vote for the latter, once again dwelling in the tyranny of low expectations and standards.

UPDATE: this came out today:

Monday, April 16, 2018

Social Media is Bad for Your Academic Career?

Today, there was a twitter conversation about whether doing public engagement, especially blogging and twitter, are penalized or not.  The timing is good since my Ignite talk at the Duckies was very much on this stuff.  So, I thought I would share what I presented at the Online Media Caucus reception at the annual meeting of the ISA in San Francisco.

The basic theme was: there are things people tell you not to do, so let me know show how I did them.  I did start by acknowledging my privilege--that a white male straight tenured prof can get away with more stuff than other folks (thanks, Will).

I started with my theory about department politics--that every department has somewhere between 10-25% dysfunctional people, and the question is whether/how the community handles the insane, evil, criminally stupid and/or tragically lazy.  I did note that I managed to get another job after posting this one.  I forgot to mention that this did not produce even a ripple in my old place.  That I was already on the outs with the chair and most of the Fulls, well, that probably did not get in the way of posting this.

Should one avoid attacking the big names?  Well, the surest way to get lots of hits (figuring out what is viral [viral for me, not viral compared to the average meme] is pretty hard) is to go after the big names.  However, that is not why I wrote this post--I wrote it because I was triggered by a deeply flawed piece by two scholars that, well, tend to jerk my chain.  Lots of irony abound in this as I wrote an article that went through many spin cycles (two desk rejects and then R&R&R&R&R) that argued that the fears of the big names were misplaced--that grand theory is not dying out as it has always been a niche enterprise and that professionalization actually rewards grand theory via citation counts corrected with such stuff. That article is finally out via early view at ISR.  So, yelling at the gods can be good for one's publication record if such stuff inspires academic work.

Out a serial sexual harasser?  Indeed.  This post is almost certainly my most important one, as it has given a number of people some relief that they are not alone, and it serves as a signpost that will hopefully warn future generations of students away from this guy.

Should folks hide their political opinions?  My students used to ask me about my political views as they could not tell from my lectures--I would be critical of  Democratic presidents and Republican ones.  Not so much anymore.

Should one make bold predictions outside one's lane?  Um, given how it went, probably not....

Should one curse?  FFS, yes, in this age of Trump.

Should one criticize one's professional organization?  Well, when they screw up royally, hells yeah!  This made sense as a segue to the end of the presentation since the ISA blog mess led rather directly to the creation of the Online Media Caucus.

My big point at the end is that we notice those who get punished for their social media efforts, but the reality is that there are many, many folks out there doing stuff that is probably more controversial than what I do, and they don't get penalized.  Our confirmation bias focuses our attention on the few that are punished rather than the many who are not.  I posted a bunch of headlines and then a picture of my getting an award from Carleton for public engagement--that the place that hired me wants me to do stuff like this.  Maybe not exactly this stuff, but they seem to understand that having some personality and a particular perspective facilitates outreach.

With the recommendation that we develop herd immunity--the more, the merrier:

So, perhaps the best advice I could give is probably not do as I do, or do as I say, but do what you feel comfortable doing.  The world of social media has been very, very good to me, with some handy networking that has spilled over to help Aspiring Filmmaker Spew (aka College Senior Spew).  I know I am not alone in benefiting from social media, and, as I argued, there are more of us than there are those who have paid a price.  Join us.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Ally Rules Because Alliances Rule

In response to the US/UK/France attack on Syria and questions about Canada, I tweeted thusly:

Which inevitably produced this tweet from an old colleague and now Naval Reservist on his way to Afghanistan (Naval Comms).

I may not have ten, but here are my rules for ally management (if I had elaborated the rules before the tweet, rule number 3 would probably be a bit further down):
  1. Allies have similar but not identical interests--never forget this as nearly all follows from this rule.
  2. Allies have much fear--whether they might be abandoned or entrapped or both (h/t to Glenn Snyder and Patrica Weitsman as well as Jack Snyder and Thomas Christensen).  They will never be completely reassured.  And remember what Yoda said about fear.
  3. Don't ask allies to do things they can't do.  It just raises the cost of participating for the ally.  So, don't put the German navy on the inner ring of a blockade where the job is to fire on the violating ship--put them on the outer ring where they can alert and coordinate. 
  4. Allies do not always tell you what they can or can't do, what they will or won't do.  So, work more with those you know best when the stakes are high.  Tis why it is ok for Canada to be operating in Latvia with countries with whom they have never been deployed--their job is mostly to exercise and, if the balloon goes up, to die. Unstated caveats matter more when combat will be an on-going thing (Kandahar).
  5. Some allies will almost always be more reliable than other allies. If one is being positive, then this would be the British rule, if one is being negative, then this is the Greek rule.  Whether it is because of domestic institutions (see the Dave and Steve book) or very compatible positions in the world or shared histories or whatever, some countries simply get along better again and again. 
  6. Personalities/relationships matter in alliances. Despite the structure of agreements and the institutions that tie the countries together, how the intent and rules of engagement are interpreted and obeyed depends on the commanders on/near the ground and how they get along.  We can call this the Monty rule if we are being negative or the Ike rule if we are being positive.
  7. Burden-sharing is always uneven.  It may not always be very politicized, but countries will always vary both in what they can bring to the fight and what they actually bring to the fight.  Realize that haranguing one's allies has limited effectiveness.
  8. The intersection of international relations and domestic politics can make alliance management easier or harder.  Unpopular American presidents make it politically difficult for other members of NATO to commit more to joint efforts, and popular ones make it easier.  Was the Bush rule but now the Trump rule.
  9. Napoleon is still wrong--he said it is better to fight a coalition than be in one.  Churchill is still right--the only thing worse than fighting with allies is fighting without them.
  10. Insisting on ten rules is a sign of silly devotion to even numbers.