Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sweden Vs. USA

Sometimes I post a tweet here just that I have it for future reference:

Saturday, February 18, 2017

NATO 2% Myth Busting

Lots of stories this week about NATO and the 2% thing this week, thanks to Mattis threatening the rest of NATO.

This has led to a lot of folks on my twitter feed repeating all kinds of myths about this.  So, let's bust some myths.
  1. No, there is nothing in the NATO charter about 2%.  Nil, nada, zip.  Good luck finding it.  The NATO treaty has no language that sets a particular expectation.
  2. To be clear, since Trump gets this confused, the 2% expectation is about each country spending on its own defense, not giving back to the US for its defense spending.
  3. At the Wales Summit (I may be confusing summits), NATO countries agreed to aspire to reach 2%.  Yes, that is a dodge, but one the members agreed to.  Why? Because more than a few knew it would be politically impossible to get to 2% any time in the near future.  Canada would have to double what it spends on defense, for example.  So, again, there is no requirement to spend two percent.
  4. There is an expectation that countries stop cutting their defense budgets and start spending more.  And this is mostly happening (well, except for Canada).  
  5. Spending two percent of GDP on defence is only one metric and not a perfect one.  Greece is always among the countries that spends more than two percent.  Partly because it has a lousy economy, partly because it spends much to keep up with Turkey which it sees as its most significant threat (and Turkey is a NATO member, oops).  Greece rarely shows up when NATO does anything difficult.  In Afghanistan, for much of the mission, Greece had around 15-20 soldiers--the lowest % of troops they deployed/troops they have in the alliance.  Canada spends more $ than most allies, but because it has one of the largest economies in the alliance (really!), % of GDP does not look so good.  Oh, one could measure burden sharing in blood--where the Estonians, Danes and Canadians would lead, based on troops they lost in Afghanistan as percentage of population.  Hmmm.
  6. Burden-sharing is always a problem in alliances, as countries have different domestic political dynamics and different levels of interest.  That the US spends more has a lot more to do with its global role than what it is dedicating to NATO.  
  7. Oh, and as a reminder, the defense of Europe is not American charity, but in the US national interest.  Peace and prosperity in Europe is good for the US--something we recognized after joining two bloody wars in progress.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Hysterical? Moi?

I have now been accused of being hysterical* a couple of times in two days.  First time in my life that I can recall.  Why?  Because Trump is freaking me out.  Now, the question is am I unreasonably freaked out and thus suffering from hysteria or am I reasonably freaked out and suffering from too good of an understanding of the risks and dangers of today?  I, of course, vote for the latter.

Let me explain.  Yesterday, at the Ottawa Conference on Defence and Security, there was a panel on US-Canadian relations, which was all about Trump.  One of the panelists insisted that Trump might be the normal one and the establishment might be out of touch.  That didn't go over well with me.  In my question which was actually a comment, I contested this, starting by saying that I left sorry for the speaker since he was speaking exactly when Trump was press conferencing in a most, um, hysterical way.  After I had my say, a second panelist suggested I was being hysterical.  I had to get out of my seat to respond to that.

What is my case for reasonably being concerned about the dangers Trump poses?
  • His National Security Adviser turned out to have ties to Russia.  Oops.  And this is the third, THE THIRD, of his advisers being fired, with two of them, Flynn and Mantafort, being tied to Russia. 
  • Trump has been exceptionally critical of the judicial system, the one branch that is checking and balancing. 
  • The whole Taiwan thing... which now has China convinced that Trump is a paper tiger--which is not good.
  • Trump's contempt for NATO
  • Jeff Sessions: how come he is too racist to be a federal judge in 1986 and just racist enough to be Attorney General?
  • The immigration ban--both in substance and in process.
  • Trump empowering an avowed Leninist who seeks to bring down the existing order and thinks that war with China is both inevitable and desirable.  This would be Steve Bannon, white supremacist.
  • His attacks on the media, complemented by Kushner's meeting with Time Warner people about problematic CNN folks (Ann Navarro, Van Jones). The latest:
 Media preview

And it is not just me--GOP folks too.

 So, who's hysterical? Me or this guy?

*  Hysterical is, of course, gendered as it tends to be applied to women, as if women freak out and men don't.  The nice thing here is that the term is being applied to men--me, Donnie Trump, etc.

Woot! Leaks! Am I a hypocite?

I am thrilled about the leaks spilling out of the Trump administration about ties to Russia and all that.  But I consider Snowden to be a spy, and was not a fan of Chelsea Manning.  Am I a hypocrite?  Hells yeah, but not over this.

How so, Steve?  The big difference between what Snowden and Manning and these leaks?  Volume mostly.  What I minded about Snowden and Manning was the indiscriminate theft and release of information.  What I like about the latest leaks? It is selective--the leaks focus on particular policies/stances/conversations that are important for national security.  That Flynn had way too much contact with the Russian ambassador. That other members of the Trump team have had way too much contact with Russia.  That DHS was proposing to have the National Guard round up illegal immigrants.  These are specific things that the public had a need to know, not whole catalogs of stuff that had been sucked up and pushed out into the internet. 

Is this a distinction without a difference?  I don't think so.  To be clear, I do think that Obama's team spent too much time focused on leaks, that they should not have pursued reporters for their reporting of leaks.  Every democratic government leaks, and the iron law of leaks is that the more you seek to block leaks, the more leaks you are likely to have.  For a similar dynamic, see Princess/Senator/General Organa classic line, with English accent for emphasis. 

But overall, I find leaks not to be as problematic as floods.  Democracies actually need leaks form government to reveal things when the government is not behaving ethically, legally, wisely (the last one is the tricky one).  We do need secrecy for a variety of reasons, and, yes, we do need to spy on friend and adversaries.  International relations is not so civilized that we don't reach each other's mail.  So, am I a hypocrite?  Not on this.  But call me out on my other stuff.

Understanding the CAF's Slow March to Latvia

One of the puzzles I have had is why Canada has been so slow to get to Latvia.  As readers of the Semi-Spew have read here, I have been most concerned about getting NATO forces to the Baltics before Putin is tempted to launch a fait accompli now that Trump is president.

I was relieved when Obama sent early a Brigade Combat Team, which meant not only that the US commitment to Poland was covered, but here would be spare troops to wander around the rest of the Baltics.  The Germans have arrived.  I have not seen any reporting about the British, so Canada has been either the slowest "Framework Nation" or the second slowest.  Because this Liberal government tends to be slow in everything it does (the joy of cabinet government), I assumed it was mostly that.

But when I had the opportunity to ask CDS General Jon Vance at the big CDAI conference on Defence and Security, I grabbed (see here at 40:50).  I was less obnoxious or provocative than I was yesterday (I got many kudos for pushing back at panelists who suggested that Trump was not abnormal), but Vance called my question pejorative anyway--"why so slow?"

His answer was many reasons:
  1. We are not slow--we are moving at a rate that we told NATO and they didn't complain.
  2. We need to get the area prepared
  3. We need to get ready for Russian cyber/signals challenges
  4. We have the most multinational unit, which means things take longer
  5. Germans are closer so it was easier for them to get there.
I don't really buy number 5, as we should not be five months behind the Germans, especially when the CAF, during and after Afghanistan, likes to think of itself as more nimble/adaptable than the Germans.

The one I really buy, thanks to my biases, is number 4.  Canada has the smallest deployment of the framework nations (420 or so), which means it needs more partners.  Canada (either because it was slow--my previous belief--or because countries didn't want to operate in Latvia--see below) got the least reliable partners. The Danes and Norwegians, for instance, went elsewhere.  Canada has as partners Albania, Italy, Poland, and Slovenia.  Poland proved willing to serve in dangerous parts of Afghanistan (although their troops lacked the kind of benefits that would encourage going outside the wire--don't know if that has changed).  Italy did lead in RC West in Afghanistan and has much multilateral experience elsewhere, but always with pretty tight restrictions. Albania and Slovenia?  Hmmm.

Vance cannot say critical things of allies, but I can (tenure has been very, very good to me).  It turns out that it might not be the allies that are going, but the ally that is receiving.  I heard at the conference during coffee break that Latvia is a challenging ally to help out.  That they were thinking Canada would be in the Latvian chain of command.  No.  NO.  So, working that relationship out AND building the infrastructure (Latvia is apparently less ready to receive troops than others) takes time.  So, I will stop being a good South Parkian--blame Canada, and focus elsewhere.

Overall, Vance did give an interesting talk, answered the Q's quite well.  I didn't mean to jerk his chain, but was glad to get  an answer to something I have been puzzling about for a while.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mishandling NATO 101

When SecDef Jim Mattis warns NATO allies that "they do not boost their defense spending to goals set by the alliance, the United States may alter its relationship with them," I can't help but thinking:
Sure, SecDefs hector Europeans on a regular basis... this is old news.  EXCEPT this is a piss poor time for such stuff and a piss poor person to convey the message.  How so?
"“If you take him literally, then the message is indeed that there’s no unconditional guarantee of security any more” 
  1. The current US administration can't keep a promise to save its life. To make threats like this, and it is, indeed, a threat, one has to make credible commitments. This Trump administration can't do that.
  2. The current US administration is the most pro-Russian administration ever, even with Flynn being dumped, so threatening NATO at this time is most un-cool.
  3. Oh, this current US administration is the most anti-NATO administration, given Trump's comments about it being obsolete. 
  4. The US has just spent an incredible amount of effort to make its commitment and NATO's commitments to the Baltics/Poland more credible, so perhaps this is not the time to crap on the alliance?
  5. Russia is kind of on the march, so not a good time.
So, this is a lousy context for being so brusque.  Oh, and once again, 2% GDP is a lousy measure given that Greece exceeds it yet does bumpkus for the alliance where as Canada and Germany fall short, yet both paid a significant price for the alliance in Afghanistan.

Indeed, to be clear, NATO is not a charity! Someone said that to me on twitter--that the US gives and does not get.  BULLSHIT!  I cannot say it more directly, but NATO exists to serve the US interest.  The US not only gets peace and prosperity in Europe (and thus avoiding to fight in any major wars), but also gets influence in Europe and beyond as NATO has gone to Africa, Afghanistan and elsewhere.  It is not charity precisely because the NATO is in the US's interest and is not just benevolence.  Also, the allies have paid steeply--in political capital, in money and, yes, in blood.  Most of the allies spent billions of dollars in Afghanistan and lost more than a few soldiers.  In per capita terms, the losses were quite significant (see the table from NATO in Afghanistan).  

The good news is that NATO countries are increasing their spending.  Well, most of them.  So, Trump can declare that he influenced them to spend more, even if the increases started before he came into office.  Just like his claims about businesses deciding to invest in the US because of his pressure even as those decisions preceded the election in November.  It won't take much more spending by NATO countries for Trump to declare victory. 

Of course, all this misses the larger point--NATO currently hangs by a thread.  And that thread is not about burden-sharing but about the credibility of a pro-Russian US President when push comes to shove in the Baltics.   So, I am very pessimistic about the future of NATO, but my pessimism is not due to the burden-sharing problem, which is inherent in any multilateral alliance and is more or less problematic, depending on what measure one uses

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Traveling to the ISA: The New Tips

This post is both the most useful and most depressing I have ever posted....

From the International Studies Association:

Dear ISA Convention Attendees,
In response to the recent travel ban and the concerns of the ISA membership, we have been in contact with the ACLU of Maryland.  They have passed along some great resources and suggestions for travelers to the U.S., and what to do/who to contact should you not be allowed to board your plane to the U.S., or if you are detained at BWI or other airports.

1. International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP): Know Your Rights.
  • This includes the most recent temporary restraining order from the U.S. District Court of Washington that prevents Customs and Border Protection from denying entry to the United States if you have a valid visa to enter. The Ninth Circuit has continued to block enforcement of the Muslim ban, so anyone entering the U.S. with valid immigration documents should be able to enter. Customs and Border Protection is currently treating people entering the U.S. in accordance with the pre-executive order status quo.
  • Please be aware however, that the Trump Administration may appeal the 9th Circuit decision to the Supreme Court, or they may revise the current executive order seeking to withstand legal challenge. Your ability to travel to the U.S. might change significantly if the current executive order is revised. As explained in the IRAP Know Your Rights materials, it is recommended that you travel to the U.S. as soon as possible, while the temporary restraining order protects the pre-executive order status quo. If the executive order is revised, we will provide updated information on any travel restrictions.
2. ISA HQ will act as a liaison with the ACLU of Maryland prior to Friday, February 17 to help address any questions members may have.   They can compile more information specific to the kinds of questions being asked. Please contact Jennifer Fontanella at
3. Travel with the any/all of the following documents in hand. Show to any official if you feel your right to travel is being questioned.
  • A copy of the letter of invitation from the International Studies Association stating that you will be attending the Convention in Baltimore, Maryland. Please feel free to contact Jennifer Fontanella ( for a Letter of Invitation if you haven’t already.
4.  We recommend that you coordinate with either someone back at your home or a friend arriving in Baltimore to check in and confirm your safe arrival.
5.  The ACLU is recommending that if anyone is nervous about being detained, complete a Dept of Homeland Security Form G-28 (Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative) which you can give to any official to show that you have representation. Links to help find immigration attorneys are listed below.

American Immigration Lawyers Association: Lawyer search
Immigration Legal Directory (available in multiple languages):
Immigration Advocates Network:
National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild’s online find-a-lawyer tool:
National Immigrant Justice Center: Schedule a legal consultation by phone (312-660-1370) or email
The immigration courts’ list of lawyers and organizations that provide free legal services:
Immigrant Legal Resource Center has a comprehensive online client intake form:

As always, please feel free to contact ISA headquarters with any questions or concerns you may have.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Some Basics in Burden-Sharing

I shouldn't have to do this, but because of Trump's profound ignorance, I thought I should spend a few minutes explaining the NATO burden-sharing challenge.*

Trump said this:
It is as if Trump thinks that NATO members pay the United States to protect them, and that they have fallen short of their dues.  THIS IS NOT HOW IT WORKS!!

How does it work?  While NATO HQ does get contributions for all members to run, the burden sharing debate is not about that.  No, it is about whether countries are spending enough of their own money on THEIR OWN armed forces.  Canada is among the worst countries (ssshh!!! Don't blow Canada's Duck and Cover or 5D strategy),** as it spends less than one percent of its gross domestic product on its armed forces.  The NATO standard is 2% which very few countries meet.***  The US spends far more, but much of what the US spends is not for the defense of Europe/Atlantic.

Anyhow, the key point is this: if NATO countries were to share the burden better, the US would not be getting any more money from the allies.  Indeed, Trump plans to spend more money on the military (despite being a confused isolationist), so even if NATO countries kick in more, the US will not save anything.

The problem? My guess is that Trump sees NATO as a protection racket that is not fully exploited.  That NATO countries should be paying tribute to the US for defending Europe.  Of course, what this blithely ignores is that peace and prosperity in Europe is in America's interest.  But Trump just sees Europeans as competitors.  If only we can explain to him that Europeans buy our stuff, invest in the US since our workers are cheaper and our standards are lower, etc.

In short, FFS!

*  By the way, heaps of academic literature on the problem of alliance burden-sharing, starting with Mancur Olson.
**  Dodge, dip, duck, dive, and dodge.
*** the 2% metric is not perfect as Greece ranks highly despite not actually doing much for the alliance.  Canada does a whole lot whenever the alliance deploys, but its defence spending shortfalls are proving problematic

Monday, February 6, 2017

The New NSC, Take 2

I already have written about the decision to elevate Arsonist-in-Chief Steve Bannon to the National Security Council and the placing of the Chairman and Director of National Intel on the to be invited list.  But there is still much confusing, including by Trump, who, of course, didn't read the executive order.  He is lazy, uninquisitive, and reckless.  But we knew that.

What is new?  That the former Chairman, Mike Mullen, is so pissed off that he entered the fray.  TO be clear, he may not be as apolitical as Martin Dempsey, his replacement, but is still legit enough that his entry into this debate is remarkable.  His concern:
Having Mr. Bannon as a voting member of the Principals Committee [PC] will have a negative influence on what is supposed to be candid, nonpartisan deliberation.  I fear that it will have a chilling effect on deliberations and, potentially, diminish the authority and prerogatives to which the Senate-confirmed cabinet officials are entitled.  They, unlike Mr. Bannon, are accountable for the advice they give and the policies they execute.
 I love a military officer embracing not just civilian control of the military but democratic control--note the whole bit about being accountable to the Senate.  Bannon is different from the other NSC folks in many ways (most are not committed to the destruction of the United States), but the key for Mullen is this: usually, the only person in the room who might be thinking mostly about the domestic politics of big decisions might be the President.  Everybody else's day job is on their institution and on the national interest of the United States.  Bannon's job, besides burning down the US, might be to focus on Trump's domestic political standing. 

What can we do about it?  Not a whole lot.  A friend keeps pushing for lawsuits, but that is misguided.  The PC, as far as I know, is not a statutory body but something a President can form or not.  Even if Bannon was not formally listed as regular member, Trump could invite him to appear all the time.  The real threat of Bannon is that he has got Trump's ear, not that he is part of a decision-making group.  No legislation or court can separate the Trump Whisperer from Trump.  Like impeachment, some external force getting rid of Trump is not going to happen.

The best bet to get rid of Bannon?  The theme of President Bannon.  SNL played it up, twitter is playing it up.  If Trump's thin skin gets scraped by the accusation that he is not really in charge and that Bannon is, he might dump Bannon.  A thin reed?  Maybe, but betting on Trump's narcissism and insecure ego is, alas, a better bet than the limited reach of institutions on a President's decision-making process.