Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ethnic Security DIlemma in Retrospect

One of the regrets of my career is that I was developing the ethnic security dilemma concept the same time as Barry Posen, who published his in Survival in 1993.  As I prepared for my comprehensive exams in 1991 in IR and Comparative Politics, I focused on ethnic politics for the latter exam.  I wrote papers that developed the IR concept for ethnic politics, got nice comments from my profs, but moved on to the dissertation. I should have tried to publish the piece--I would have scooped Posen.

Why talk about it now?  Well, one lessons is that publishing good ideas in grad school might just help one's job market outcomes--I spent three years on the market and ended up in a less desirable spot.  If I had that pub, who knows?

More importantly, I have been forever frustrated since because Posen's view of the ESD is a pretty military one--that it is all about translating the security dilemma to the civil war battlefield.  So, he ends up arguing that intermixing provides temptations to pre-empt, which leads to group competition which leads to spirals and violence.  The policy implication of this is to separate groups--partition or something short of it, so that groups are not tempted.  The problem is that groups that are quite concentrated, that are not intermixed, are not deterred by their vulnerability.  Highly intermixed groups have to worry and may be deterred by their vulnerability.  Indeed, in many of the classic ESD cases, outside actors have to be brought in to trigger the violence (see John Mueller's stuff). 

My view of the ESD was a political one--that competition was not for terrain and neighborhoods but for control of the government.  Why? The greatest threat to any group is the coercive apparatus of the state.  Genocide is committed mostly by governments who have most, if not a monopoly, of the means of coercion. 

Why am I thinking about this today?  I am preparing for my Contemporary International Security class, which meets tomorrow.  One reading focuses on the surge in Iraq and seeks to explain what caused the decline (temporary as it clearly now is) of violence.  Four arguments are in play: that the US surge worked on its own, that the Anbar Awakening (Sunnis turning against extremists in their own group) worked on its own, synergy between the two (the authors' argument), that violence declined because the ethnic security dilemma was resolved via ethnic cleansing. 

That is, no more ethnic insecurity due to intermixing as violence was aimed at creating homogeneous neighborhoods.  The article does a great job of showing that violence was not related to intermixing, that the creation of homogeneity did not lead to less violence but to changes where violence occurred.  That the homogeneous neighborhoods served as bases for aggressive actions, not for defensive ones. 

Anyhow, I am always glad to see some evidence that I might have been right long ago.  And, yes, I did publish pieces of my view of the ESD in various spots along the way, but it was a bit late to influence how others view it.  So, the more popular version continues to shape how people think about ethnic conflict.  Which proves the old academic saying: if you snooze, you lose.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Credibility Gap Opens

I want to be clear--I don't think it is wrong for the Canadian SOF to help with targeting and other advising/assisting stuff that gets them closer to the front lines.  If you want to engage in a bombing campaign, it is better to have accurate bombing than not.

BUT this government has done its best/worst to be manage the messaging and create more confusion than there needs to be.  The latest is a statement by the CDS to make it appear that he was not lying on October 19th:

“I understand that there may be some questions about my comments on Oct. 19th about the nature of activities being undertaken by Canada’s Special Operations Forces in Iraq. To be clear, the situation on the ground has evolved since I offered those remarks, and we have increased our assistance with respect to targeting air strikes in direct correlation with an increased threat encountered by the ISF. 

“Our SOF Personnel are not seeking to directly engage the enemy, but we are providing assistance to forces that are in combat. The activities of Canada’s Special Operations Forces in Iraq, as described by Generals Vance and Rouleau on January 19th, are entirely consistent with the advise and assist mandate given to the Canadian Armed Forces by the government. You should be justifiably proud of your men and women in uniform.”

I call B.S. on this.  Why? Because I have some decent sources that say that the CAN SOF were tagging targets--acting as forward air controllers--before October 19th... as in when the mission started.  Indeed, the Minister of National Defence Rob Nicholson says that the SOF guys never had any limits on what they could do.  So, which is it?  No activities near the line, no tagging or no limits?  I would bet on the latter.

The problem is that this government created a false impression in September when it was talking about the mission. It should have said something about how this mission was not going involve the SOF engaged in offensive operations on their own, which would have allowed for facilitating the offensive/defensive ops of the Kurds/Iraqis.  But the urge to say no boots on the ground doing combat made the government say something that was unlikely to be true--that the SOF were not involved in combat. 

This is not mission creep as Roland Paris would argue, but deceptive government messaging.  If the govt slid into combat, then it would be mission creep.  But that is not what happened, aside from one firefight.  But this is also not akin to what the CF did in Bosnia or other peacekeeping missions, as the CF did not tag targets for someone else in those efforts (as far as we know). 

So, we have much muddled/confusing/conflicting tales being told now that just undermine the credibility of the government and the Canadian Forces.  More transparency at the start would have largely avoided this. 

I will post tomorrow on combat vs. whatever, boots on the ground vs sneakers and all that.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tag, You're It

The debate of the past 48 hours about what the Canadian Special Operations Forces [CANSOF] are doing in Iraq is partially repeating the confusions of September.  The CANSOF were sent to advise and assist the Iraqis (seems to be primarily the Kurds).  Canada then sent planes--to drop bombs, to refuel their planes and others and to do reconnaissance.  While the two opposition parties opposed the deployment, they cannot do much both because they do not have enough votes and because the Canadian Parliament does not have authority to do anything--tis all the prerogative of the Crown (thanks, Phil!).

Anyhow, the reality is that Canada is engaged in bombing targets in Iraq along with its allies.  To engage in accurate bombing of moving targets, having someone on the ground "tag" the targets via a laser designator is pretty much required in the 21st century.  Especially if you want to minimize mistakes--hitting civilians.  Indeed, the most controversial bombing in Afghanistan was where the Germans claimed to have eyes on the target but did not, which led to more than a hundred civilians being killed. 

Alas, we are stuck in a definitional mess about what is combat and what is not combat.  But the larger issue is that if we want the CF-18s to do their job, we need to rely on folks on the ground to help out in the targeting.  Outsiders can train the Iraqis to do this, but it is not an instant, easy lesson apparently.  So who gets to do the tagging? As it turns out, Canada does (and maybe the British and Aussies, so far the Americans are saying they are not doing it).

This does mean more risk than just hanging out far behind the lines, which means a firefight that happened last week.  But that is why SOF are sent, rather than conventional forces--they are better trained, better equipped and more experienced (hence the Special).  This means you can offset or mitigate the risks--there are more risks but you are sending the best folks who can operate in ways that reduce the risks (the Canadian snipers that seemed to end the firefight pretty quickly from what the reports suggest).

The key is this: sending CF-18s meant that Canada was doing combat.  It wants to avoid sending larger numbers of troops to do ground combat--that this is not Kandahar.  But there are boots on the ground doing stuff very related to combat--designating targets, advising at the front.  These books are worn by SOF, so the risks are less and we don't think of them as boots on the ground.  The government is trying to have it both ways--that there is no ground combat but Canada is engaged in a kinetic air campaign.  That creates the muddled confusion. 

To be clear, I am fine with Canadian SOF enabling the air campaign (aha, the army guys are enablers!), as the Iraqis are not yet ready to do that work apparently.  I would rather have the CF-18s  (and our allies) hit the targets than miss--both to be more effective and produce fewer civilian casualties.  I am not fine with the idea that Canadians should avoid the front entirely, as this would put real limits on the ability to advise and assist those who are facing ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. 

The line should have been drawn not between ground combat and no ground combat but between combat and conventional offensive military operations.  But too late for the government to undo their rhetoric of the fall.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Mission Confusion

Today, we got a clearer idea of what Canada is doing in Iraq and so we are now more confused.  How could clarity provide confusion?  Let me explain by focusing on what we learned today.
  1. We learned that Canadian Special Operations Forces engaged in a firefight with ISIS.
  2. We learned that CANSOF are near/on the front lines about 20% of the time, as they assist the Kurds/Iraqis.
  3. We learned that CANSOF are using laser-designators to help the planes drop their bombs accurately on targets (GPS bombs are, in my amateur understanding, good at fixed targets, but moving targets are best hit when spotlighted by laser-designators--some knowledgeable Air Force types can tell me if I am wrong on that).  
  4. That the CF and CANSOF were incredibly transparent today.  Which is really, really interesting (see below).
Canadians seem to be confused because they were told by their government that there would be no combat operations.  The government seemed to indicate that the CANSOF mission to advise and assist and train the Iraqis would not involve stuff on the front line.

I had a long day so I have not had the chance to check my old posts, but I think I raised the question of what "Assisting" meant.  Anyhow, Roland Paris, amongst others, is calling this mission creep.  I have many problems with that term, but given that this seems to be the mission all along the way, the mission did not creep--it was just not what people thought it was.

One of the problems in today's discussion of deployments is boots on the ground vs. no boots on the ground--with a key exception--that SOF don't count as boots on the ground.  That the Special Operators wear flip flops or sneakers or float on hoverboards, but do not count as troops in popular discussion of deployments.  We have known since September that Canada had SOF in Iraq.  Assisting.  Well, what kind of assistance is most useful when the other side is on the offensive?  If you have 60 SOF or so, perhaps the most useful would be serving as forward air controllers to facilitate the air campaign.  And that seems to have been the case. 

What happened last week was not a combat operation in the sense that Canadian Forces did not plan an attack but got attacked and responded with force.  Which is fine and to be expected.  But this is effort is not so similar to the combat Canada experienced during the blue helmet days of peacekeeping as the CANSOF were participating in combat--targeting the ISIS troops/assets on the ground so that the air campaign.  Is that combat?  Certainly.  Is it participating in ground combat ops?  Kind of.  I think that will be the government's fudge--that the Canadian Forces in Iraq on the ground are not engaged in offensive operations--that they did combat but not combat ops.  Which is slicing things finely and making them look silly. 

The really big news, in my opinion, is that the CANSOF folks were pretty transparent today, which the CF does usually but only rarely when it comes to Special Ops.  And now the government is in a bind.  Pretty much everything the officers said today at their press conference can be used to raise questions about the government's policies:  will the mission be extended? how much combat will the CANSOF folks experience? Did this exceed the mandate (even though the parliamentary vote was one of expressing support and not about approval [thanks, Phil])?  My guess is that the firefight forced the openness as it would get out that the Canadians did engage in combat.

For my televised take on this stuff, see this video as I was on CBC's Power and Politics today.

And, yes, my winter beard is awesome.




Hate and Heritage

Today is Martin Luther King Day.  It takes on a  bit more meaning in my house this year since we just saw Selma, which reminded us that MLK kept pushing and pushing when he knew his life was at stake. 

It led to a conversation with Frosh Spew--she said she had learned that the appearance of the Confederate battle flag on state flags in the South was not something that had been around since the Civil War but was a response to the Civil Rights Movement.  Yep.  So, the flag came to symbolize not the war and whatever heritage might be involved but opposition to Civil Rights. Which means it stands FOR segregation.  It stands for Voter Suppression.  It stands for ... White Supremacy.  

It is just that simple--that the timing of its re-emergence as a symbol means that the heritage that is bound up with the confederate battle flag is not brotherhood in battle in the Civil War or States' Rights but racism. 

Which is why I am appalled to find out today something that I did not know or had forgotten: that in some places in the South, MLK Day is also Robert E. Lee Day and Stonewall Jackson Day.  FFS!!!  It is perhaps the perfect way to diminish the day--combining MLK with those who fought to perpetuate slavery and White Supremacy. 

Whenever I discuss inequality and discrimination with my daughter (racial, gender, whatever), I tend to emphasize the progress, and she always sees and finds unacceptable anything short of equality.  She has tremendous impatience with the way the world is.  A tremendous passion for seeking change.  And, as a result, I have a hard time arguing with her.  Because she is right. 

As long as we have states continuing to lionize those that fought for inequality and politicians undermining the gains of MLK via Voterfraudfraud, we will need to be passionately impatient.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Updating Misperceived Ethnic Composition

I blogged last week about how universal the tendency is to overestimate the share of each non-majority ethnic group in a population.  Well, we have a more recent set of polls from the US case:

Same old, same old. 

Foreign Policy Prophet?

I am confused this morning.  Apparently, Mitt Romney is considering himself a foreign policy prophet since he argued in 2012 that Russia was the greatest threat to the US.  Um, no, Mitt.  Yes, Russia is damned inconvenient with its sham referendums and its irredentist efforts.  But I am pretty sure that Russia is not the greatest threat to the US nor did most of his other predictions come true.

However, I cannot help but think of another prophet and the parallels:
Yes, Professor Sybil Trelawney!  Who was wildly scorned for making dramatic predictions that had little to do with  reality.  Only twice did she make an accurate prophecy, and the first one was very much of the self-fulfilling kind (if Voldy had not acted as he did in reaction to the prophecy, the subsequent prediction would not have come true).  Oh, and her accurate predictions only came when she was essentially unconscious.

So, Mitt, foreign policy prophet?  Sure.  But in the manner of Trelawney and not Cassandra or Elijah.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Online Media Caucus, 2015 ISA Meeting

The effort to develop a caucus at the ISA dedicating to Online Media continues.  The proposed caucus will be considered at the Governing Council meeting on Tuesday of the ISA this year.  I have not received any signs that this will not go through.  Consequently, we are having our first business meeting on Saturday, February 21st, 12:30pm in the Hilton's Elmwood room.  The meeting will sketch out the plans for the next year and seek advice/feedback on future activities.

For your reference, the key documents for applying to be a new caucus are here: the justification and proposed charter. Also, the officers of the OMC for the first year are:
  • Chair: Steve Saideman, Carleton University
  • Vice Chair: Amanda Murdie, U of Missouri-Columbia
  • Officer: Christian Davenport, U of Michigan
  • Officer: Bruce Jentleson, Duke University
  • Office: Laura Seay, Colby University

Two other OMC-relevant events at the ISA (let me know if there are others) are:

Presidential Theme Panel - How Much Freedom In Too Much Choice? Reflections On Academic Freedom And Social Media
TC30 on Thursday, February 19th at 1:45, Hilton Grand Salon 7:
 This Round Table is an attempt to have a conversation around issues of academic freedom and the popular use of social media. University education is expected to uphold norms of democratic citizenship and freedom of expression is a critical aspect of it. Academics use the social media to communicate their ideas to a wider audience, to research and teach and most importantly to raise concerns about institutional practices and other matters of public concern. However, there are also concerns about how much freedom is enough or rather what kind of responsibilities underpin that freedom especially as social media provides opportunities of wider engagement and influencing public opinion. While taking cognizance of the legal guidelines about what can or cannot be revealed in the social media, institutions that fail to defend academic freedom, undermine democratic participation in times when it is most needed. The participants in this Round Table, drawing from their own experiences of being active social media users, reflect on the larger question about academic freedom and the possibilities and challenges in the world of social media.

The Duckies!  IR Blogging Awards and Reception, Sponsored by Sage and Duck of Minerva
Thursday, February 19th, at 7:30pm, Hilton Quarterdesk A&B Ballroom

Meet other folks interested in blogging, check out a few presentations and the awarding of Duckies to the best blogs of the year.




Tanking Epidemic

I was listening to the Grantland NFL Podcast today and was surprised as to how the two speakers, Robert Mays and Bill Barnwell, lost sight of something.  They were answering a question about the Carolina Panthers, who finished with a sub .500 record but made it into the playoffs and into the second round.  The question centered on the reality that by getting to the playoffs and winning the first game (against the much depleted Cardinals), the Panthers moved from 11th in the draft to 25th or so.  That is, this spring, they will be choosing their next batch of rookies further down and are, thus, less likely to get the best talent.

Mays basically said that losing that many places in the draft was costly, that the franchise would be better off missing the playoffs.  Why?  So, they might be better next year.  Well, what might that mean?  Getting into the playoffs and making it into the second round? Like they did this year?  Or maybe a better shot at the Super Bowl?  Maybe.  But isn't the point of any season of competition is to win as much as possible in that season? Don't the fans get their utility--their happiness, their self-esteem--by their team's success now? 

Yes, franchises always have to balance the present against the future, but only one team wins the Super Bowl and it is always unlikely to be your team.  Getting into the playoffs means that the team has done well and that the team has entered a lottery with fewer participants.  Isn't this the goal?

In basketball, we have epidemic tanking.  The 76ers are engaged in a multiyear effort to stockpile talent so that they might be competitive some day.  Fans have to tolerate years of not just losing but losing a lot.  Sports pundits criticize teams that are on the bubble, trying to get into the playoffs, as they would be better off losing more games so that they can get a better pick.  But isn't winning the goal?  Isn't getting into the playoffs something a team should aspire to?  Not every team can win the championship, and, in most years, only a handful of teams have an excellent chance.

Since sports are ... entertainment, shouldn't franchises aspire to do as well as possible?  If they are close to the playoffs, shouldn't they try to get into the playoffs so that their fans have more games to watch, more opportunities to root for their team, and the team might get lucky and make it further than it is supposed to?  In the NFL, wildcard teams have won the Super Bowl on a regular basis.  In basketball?  The lesser playoff teams don't make it as far (one game rounds vs best of seven...).

I get the larger, long-term strategies that these folks are espousing.  And if a team truly sucks, then tanking a bit more makes sense.  But if you are close to the playoffs, like the Panthers were, then go for it, try to win, and don't worry about losing one's place in the draft.  Instead, just try to draft smarter.  FFS.