Monday, June 30, 2014

Happy Canada Day Eve!

I have developed a tradition every summer: missing Canada Day.  It has not been deliberate, but I have often had commitments elsewhere.  Last year, I was in Budapest for a workshop.  This year, I am headed to Ithaca for my daughter's orientation/registration.  It is for three days, and then we are back for the rest of the summer before she leaves us for good.  I will be back in Canada and out of the US for American Independence Day, but I will be celebrating it at the Ambassador's Residence.  Which means I guess I will be in the US for the Fourth of July.

I actually am sorry that I am not around for Canada Day.  Whether we partake of the festivities or not, it is a good day to celebrate all that is is good about Canada.  Sure, I whine here from time to time about various flaws (Canada's parliament seems irrelevant to me, bags of milk, etc.), but we have had a great twelve years in this very friendly, very vibrant, often very cold place.  Indeed, this year, I saw more of Canada than in another other with my ski trips book talks in Waterloo, Sunshine Village Calgary and Whistler Vancouver along with the ISA in Toronto.  I got to testify in front of that very irrelevant Parliament, something that I never did in the US (a much bigger pond of IR experts).  To paraphrase the great Chico Escuela: Canada has been very, very good to me.

Have a very fun, maple-filled Canada Day!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

AC Broken Mashup

Our air conditioning is not working right now, so the only appropriate stuff to post involves cool/icy stuff:

Saturday, June 28, 2014

WWI And All That

Folks are marking the 100th anniversary of the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip.  Any anniversary is useful for creating some awareness of how the past continues to shape the present.  But any anniversary of a big historical event will provide room for multiple interpretations.  So, here are a few of thoughts based on what I remember from my history classes and what I know about nationalism and war.

  • Princip was, indeed, a terrorist, as he used violence to provoke political change.  
  • Princip was an irredentist, as he sought not to free Serbia since it was already independent but to have Austria-Hungary give up hunks of Bosnia to facilitate a Greater Serbia.  This tends to make him and his cause ... bad ones.  While self-determination can be viewed as a right (thanks to Wilson, people starting thinking so for Europeans around this time, not so much for Asians or Africans), it can produce much violence.
  • And irredentism leads to war most of the time.  Princip may or may not have intended to start a war, but using violence to change boundaries to include more ethnic kin in one's homeland is highly correlated with war.
  • Having said that, Princip did not cause World War I.  The countries of Europe did that quite nicely.  They butchered the diplomacy that could have averted war, so that they could butcher each other for several years in a war that did not resolve too much despite changing everything.
  • If it had not been Princip, it is likely (again, as far as I remember from the history stuff I read awhile ago) that something else would have triggered this war, given the attitudes about war, the military doctrines/strategies in play, the politics in the various countries, and the alliances that tied them all together.  
  • So, we give Princip a bit too much credit.  He was a foolish irredentist who used violence, who gave others an excuse to fight, but Ferdinand's assassination was essentially like a train--there would be another one coming down the track sooner or later.
A couple of other thoughts:
  • Some folks have been wondering why Americans focus more on WWII than WWI, and it is not just that we like our wars to be black and white.  It is more that the US made a far larger and all-encompassing effort in the second war.  Plus we like clear victories.  We thought WWI was a victory until the various treaties afterwards made sure that the peace was just going to be a pause before the next one.
  • The ethnic conflicts in the Balkans in the 1980s and 1990s (and today) were not inevitable and not so clearly tied to Princip.  Politicians made choices about how to deal with their potential loss of power.  There were symbolic things that were the residue of past conflicts that made their strategies more likely to be successful.  Still, much of the violence was triggered not by hate due to ancient grievances but the use of criminals and gangs to foster fear and reaction.
  • And if it is all about ancient hatreds, explain to me how the French and the Germans seem to get along so well these days.  
I am sure we will have more thoughts about this war as other 100th anniversaries take place over the next five years or so. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

So Far, So Good part 2

Yesterday was the two year anniversary of our move to Ottawa.  I was too busy with my daughter's graduation to note the event (I was late last year as well), but I am really, really quite happy with our move.

How do I love Ottawa? Let me count the ways:
  1. Despite being rated as having horrible traffic, it is actually really easy to get around town, which means I can get far more out of the city and what it has to offer than I could in Montreal.  Montreal is a great city, but I could rarely enjoy it because getting around was so very stressful.
  2. Just in the past two weeks, I had breakfast at the residence of the Norwegian Ambassador, went to a CDFAI event where I met many interesting folks in and around the policy world, lunched with a visiting expert on civil-military relations in South America, beer-ed with a twitter friend passing through Ottawa, participated in a Fast-Talk at DFATD, and had beers with young folks working in the defence sector.  I moved to Ottawa to be better engaged in the policy community, and it worked!  I still have much room to improve--remembering people's names, meeting other folks and so on--but being inside the Ottawa bubble is damned good for my business of doing International Relations.
  3. Public outreach is so much easier.  As I have discussed here repeatedly, I have taken more seriously over time the obligation to not just talk to those of my own kind (professors) but to share my research and perspectives beyond.  It is far easier to do this in Ottawa, where things are far closer and where media outlets are more engaged in Canada's role in the world, than previously.
  4. The students at the Paterson School of International Affairs continue to teach me quite a bit as I try to teach them.  They have varied experiences working all over Ottawa, and have some very insightful takes on such experiences.
  5. Despite a proclivity to having summer meetings, I am a big fan of NPSIA, its Director, staff and colleagues.  It has been a stimulating two year, and the environment at work has been the most supportive of my entire career.  
  6. There is much ultimate.  I could play far more frequently, but two nights a week during the summer is about as much as I can handle.  This summer, more games have been at distant fields, but that still makes them far closer and easier to reach than in my previous locale.
  7. Our neighborhood is still is incredibly neighborly.  A great group of people who are most welcoming and quite willing to give me a beer.  Not great poker players, but that is a good thing.
I could go on and on, but I have a graduation cake to make.  The key point is that Ottawa has been very, very good to me and my family, and I am looking forward to figuring out how to enjoy it empty-nest style.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

To Post or Not To Post

To post or not to post.  To suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous plagiarists?  A twitter conversation today turned to a frequently engaged topic: should academics post their papers online before they are published? 

The dangers:
  • Plagiarism.  Others may use your ideas, your data, to advance their careers without citing you.
  • Review de-blinding.  Article reviewing is supposed to be double blind--the reviewer does not know who is the author, and the author does not know who the reviewer is.  If you post, unscrupulous reviewers can figure out who they are reviewing.
The advantages:
  • You get cited earlier and more often if your ideas are more easily accessed.  The twin dangers of academic publication are slow and gated--that it takes a long time to get stuff out and published and that gated journals means that people cannot access your ideas.  But if you put up working papers, then they can get access earlier and they can continue to have access after you submit the final version to a gated outlet.
  • Our job is to disseminate our ideas.  That is pretty much one of the defining characteristics of a researching professor.  So, anything that makes it easier to share our "knowledge creation" is a good thing.
I lean heavily on the pro-side of posting.  I have several papers that have decent citation records.  I have not thus far been a victim of plagiarism.  Getting scooped by someone who steals your ideas can absolutely suck, but posting can protect as it can help you stake your claim and prove that your idea is your idea.

As google.scholar has supplanted the social science citation index in many ways, the citation of working papers can help in tenure/promotion/hiring as citation counts are, ahem, cited by those writing tenure letters and those in the committees making the decisions. 

One other risk of posting--you may end up revising your paper in ways that show that your previous paper is wrong.  Ooops.  But that is an acceptable risk.  I have been in two boxes of someone's lit review for having ideas that have evolved (federalism is bad, federalism is good).  Means I am cited twice!

To get back to plagiarism, people can plagiarize your published work as much as your posted work, so it just speeds up the process perhaps.  On the bright side, if people (mostly students) steal your work and there is a suspicion, your uploaded paper makes it easier to document the plagiarism.  I know that via my experiences in dealing with plagiarists.

Thanks to @julia_azari @laiabalcells @kesearles for the conversation today that inspired this post.

I am sure that I have forgotten some key aspects of this stuff, but lunch is calling.

The Academic Summer

Is wonderful but also chock full of guilt.  I saw this today:
And it got me thinking.  I have been lamenting how little work I have accomplished in June--starting a new project means reading the literature in the area, and I tend to be slow at that.  I have been particularly distracted and busy with outreach/meetings kind of stuff.

This is where there is a huge contrast between how non-academics view academics in the summer and how academics view summer.  For the observers, summer is when we are "off" since we are not teaching.  They seem to forget this is the time we do that stuff that is actually most of our job--preparing classes, doing service (the one downside of my new-ish job is that we have meetings in the summer including a retreat that took us all the way to our conference room), and research.

So, if I was sufficiently creative, I would create one of those memes that have professors as outsiders see them in the summer and then how they see themselves.  Instead, I just want to let the non-academics know that yes, we academics love summer. That it is the height of our independence--we get to work on what we want to work on, we can and do vacation a bit--but it is also the height of our guilt.  That we are not getting enough done, and time is slip, slip, slipping away.

To be sure, our job (if we can manage to have one especially a tenured one) is swell.  One thing I truly appreciate is how it is never the same for very long.  That we teach a course with one bunch of students, and just as both the course and the students get kind of tiresome, it ends.  We get a quick break over the winter (the length varies quite a bit) to catch up on other parts of our job and to perhaps even shop, ski and hang with family, and then we get a new crop of students and courses.  As we get tired of that, we get summer.  Which allows many of us to focus mostly on research and some service (a good time for tenure letter writing, oy).  But as we get tired of our own research, fall is quickly upon us with new classes and new students. 

So, it is never the same thing for very long.  I love that about the job.  What I don't love is the guilt when I am not getting enough done, but then again, it is a motivator.  Yes, this guilt is mostly self-imposed but it is also largely inherent in the occupation. 

So, when I see that June is ending, summer is half over for me (the joy of the Canadian academic calendar) with so much yet to do.  But two months is still a heap of time.... I hope.

Concussions for Kids update

The bad news on the sports scene is that soccer seems to tolerate unrepentant multidimensional a-holes like Suarez of Uruguay.  The good news is that people are taking concussions far more seriously than a few years ago.*  The major kids hospital in Ottawa, CHEO, just came out with standards for parents and coaches and doctors to treat kids with concussions. 

It contains some common sense and then some.  So, the obvious "err on the side of caution" if you think a kid might have a concussion should have been something that does not need saying, but it does.  More striking are the recommendations for dealing with kids who have been concussed--especially much less screen time.  The idea is that if the brain takes a hit, it needs not only to recover without any subsequent physical shocks, it also needs to really rest--so cut down on video games, computer time and all the rest.  Rest means rest apparently. 

The most unsurprising part of the study--in Canada, the plurality (but not majority) of concussion patients received their injuries via hockey.  I am sure that in the US it is football and then probably soccer (especially for girls).  I think we have turned the corner on taking this stuff seriously, but we definitely have much room to improve.  I fully expect kids football to change seriously or die out in the near future.  Hockey?  That ain't going nowhere, but better treatment, perhaps new rules and better equipment might be in order.  
*  I blogged a lot about concussions when I first started Spewing, but have not as much lately. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Getting into Cold Water

I have been an Arctic skeptic since moving to Canada not because I think the Arctic does not exist but because I think that the threats there are fairly low and Canada's ability to deal with any threats there are even lower.  However, as things melt, and as my own interests in Canadian defence require me to look inward-ish/upward (since Afghanistan is over for Canada and there will be no new big missions anytime soon), I am taking the Arctic more seriously.

So, when I got an invite to go to a breakfast at the Norwegian Ambassador's residence to chat about such stuff with a visiting three star general, Lt. Gen Morten Haga Lunde, head of their equivalent of CJOC--the operational command headquarters--I said yes.  I figured I would learn a lot in a short period of time without having to do a heap of literature review, and I was right.

I cannot speak to who said what specifically since it was held under Chatham House rules, but I can report some of the things I learned along the way.
  • In the intra-NATO debate about how seriously to take the Russian threat in the aftermath of Crimea, count on Norway to be on the very serious end of the spectrum.  Proximity breeds concern but not contempt as the Norwegians reported that the Russians take NATO capability seriously, such as the accuracy of the Libyan air campaign by non-US countries.  So, the Norwegians want NATO to look at ye olde plans and come up with some new ones since the old ones were overcome by events in 1989-1991.
  • That the Norwegians are sensitive to Canada's Harper's concerns about NATO-izing the Arctic.  The Norwegians would like to see more NATO activity up in the high north--more training, more doctrine, more exercises and the like--since it is a difficult "battlespace" and because the Russians take NATO seriously, but they seem to get that Harper prefers bilateralism way up there.  So, the Norwegians are developing both bilateral and multilateral networks.
  • Once again, I learned that the thing that really scares the navies operating in the high north ... is tourism.  That cruise ships are sailing the near Arctic at a very high frequency, and that if anything goes wrong, real help will be far, far away.  Rescue ships simply cannot move that fast, and there are limits both to the number of helicopters and to the capabilities of helicopters to deal with ships with hundreds, if not thousands, of tourists.
  • China is surprisingly chummy with ... Iceland.  The Norwegians had a series of examples of very tight ties between Iceland and China in the aftermath of Iceland's financial crisis.  This would, of course, alarm anyone who read Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising since Iceland was pivotal to command of the North Atlantic.  We should be less alarmed since China is a long way from having any kind of fleet that could do much in the Atlantic, but it does demonstrate that China has a long term game and takes advantage of any opportunity that presents itself.
  • That herring and cavier are actually pretty good.  I avoided most of this stuff in my one trip to Oslo nearly ten years ago, but when in the Ambassador's residence, one embraces the food no matter how early it is. 
  • A note on gender: I went to a meeting of Women in International Security-Canada  last night, so I could not help but notice how the Scandanavians do this stuff far better.  Not only is the Norwegian Ambassador, Her Excellency Mona Elisabeth Brøther, an incredible sharp woman, but the J-5 (head of strategic planning) for the Operational Commander was the first woman to command a submarine.  Not the first Norwegian woman to command a sub, but the first woman to command any sub.  At least, that is what we were told. 
I moved to Ottawa in part to be more engaged in the world via the Canadian foreign affairs and defence folk--the Canadians working in and near government.  It has also meant multiple opportunities to interact with those who are based in or visit Ottawa--the Norwegians, the Dutch, and so on.  As an International Relations scholar with a deep curiosity about the world, I find these interactions to be very, very interesting.  I have also found that the non-Great Powers in Ottawa have great teams of diplomats and military officers who do a terrific job not just representing their countries but engaging the broader Ottawa IR community.  To use the hackneyed phrase that everyone used in Afghanistan (except the Americans and the Germans for different reasons), these folks know how to punch above their weight.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Silent Chorus of Past Disgrace

This weekend, we had yet another member of a disgraced Republican foreign policy team chime in on Iraq.  This time it was Elliot Abrams who never left the stage despite his role in Iran-Contra (he pled down from felonies to misdemeanors).  It inspired me to organize a club: The Silent Chorus of Past Disgrace.

The idea here is that those who partake of major screw-ups can be seen but should not be heard.  They can grimace, gnash teeth, jump up and down, gesticulate, but not speak up as they have very little credibility.  They get TV and newspaper and online media time for the sake of "balance" but they should not.  I am not saying that they should not be allowed to speak, but I don't see why anyone has to give them a microphone and a camera.  Let them rail in private clubs, on street corners, and elsewhere.  But why give them attention they no longer deserve?  That is why I don't provide links to their posts anymore.

Charter members of the organization would clearly be: Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Bremer (oy!), and Oliver North (he joins Abrams in the indicted wing).  Kissinger should be an honorary member.  Note: George W. Bush is not a member because he has some humility or something that keeps him out of the news, plus paining those portraits takes a lot of his time.

The question is: are there Democrats who are as guilty of making incredibly stupid decisions in US foreign policy that undermines their credibility?  If so, are there ones that still show up on TV and elsewhere?  I would not mind adding them to the club in the name of "balance."   I just don't think that Madeline Albright or Leon Panetta have the same kind of record of creating stupid policy.  Sure, I am biased, but again, give me some Dems to include.  I don't mind fostering the silence of Left/Center-wing foreign policy screwups. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

When War Meets the World Cup

Brian MacFadden at the NYT has another sharp cartoon:

Oh my.

Requiem for a Role Model

Every year at around this time, I get very nostalgic.  The beginning of summer marks the beginning of summer camp.  I spent eight years as a camper and three years as a counselor at Camp Airy, an overnight camp in the same range of hills/mountains as the Presidential retreat at Camp David.  For the first two years, I went for the normal period of four weeks.  After that, I was a rare breed--an eight weeker--staying for both sessions, as this place and the people were the best part of my growing up.  I felt far more alive and accepted there than in middle school and high school.  I spent about 44 weeks a year looking forward to those eight weeks.

Airy was where I wrestled with much success (upsetting a series of boys were expected to win the wrestling tournaments several summers in a row), where I first fell in love with the Beatles, where I first acted (see the pic to the right--Ten Little Indians), where I first kissed a girl (the girls camp was eight miles away and we saw the girls about once or twice a week), and where I learned all kinds of things about myself.

I'd be nostalgic today because thirty years ago was the summer I became a camp counselor.  I learned then that the place was even better for the counselors than for the campers.  I joked about how the campers were just an excuse for the counselors to be around, that Airy was for the counselors.

This year's nostalgia is bittersweet, as the man who was largely responsible for creating this environment, Ed Cohen, died yesterday.  He was the Director of Airy for my entire time there, and through that role had a tremendous impact on the lives of the boys who went there and the men and women who worked there.  He did most of the hiring, if I remember correctly, and then supervised the counselors and the counselors' supervisors (the unit leaders who organized the activities and such of five or six bunks of kid each).

Ed could appear scary if folks got out of hand, as he was the camp disciplinarian.  I remember one day when the noise in the dining hall was too loud, and he got the mic and told us all to be quiet as the noise was reaching the ceiling.  I was a smartass (surprise) so I looked at the ceiling, and from across the room, he said, "go ahead and look at the ceiling."  The man had superpowers!

I got to know Ed better as I got older, first as one of the senior campers, and then as a counselor.  He was simply the first and best role model I have ever had as a boss and even simply as a man.  He was so generous with his time, his humor, his silliness, his warmth.  I cannot help but think that the place was never the same, that my time at Airy was the golden age because of Ed's leadership.  Of course, the folks who ran the place afterwards grew up and worked in Ed's Airy, so his legacy continues.

Ed had this impact on everyone, as this piece, published upon his retirement, testifies.  I have not seen him for many years, unlike the campers and counselors who resided in the Baltimore area.  I did write him a letter a few years ago and did send him a copy of my first book, as Ed had a winter job as a professor.  I thanked him in that letter and in my message in that book.  I also recently was able to engage him via facebook again.  So, I had my chances to thank him as he had such a huge impact on me, directly and indirectly.  Sure, he scared me that day, but I quickly learned that he was the mensch of menschs, a sweetheart who loved people and was loved by so many people.  Which makes this picture (which I am borrowing from his facebook page) so very perfect.

I am pretty sure we did tell you that we love you, Ed.  And we always will.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Coup-proof? Trading One Kind of Insecurity For Another

In the classic civil-military relations literature, the focus is on coups and how to prevent them.  Later generations of literature focused more on how democracies control their militaries and then how to get the civilians to work with the military on the ground in places like Afghanistan--whole of government.

Anyhow, this vox piece suggests that Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki replaced Sunni commanders of Iraqi army units with Shia commanders precisely because he was concerned about the potential of coups.   That makes complete sense--using ethnic ties to build loyalties is a normal strategy for preventing coups.  However, it also may make the military less effective.  Indeed, recent work has demonstrated that coup prevention efforts can be decent to good at preventing coups, but raise the risk of civil war.

The question, then, for leaders of regimes of somewhat dubious stability is which poison to pick--the risk of a coup or a risk of a civil war?  For the country, it is almost always better to risk a coup than a civil war since coups are often not so violent (it depends on who is willing to shoot, and faits accompli often mean no shooting at all) AND civil wars are often accompanied not just by collateral damage but mass killings.

However, since we almost always assume self-centered leaders who worry mostly/entirely about their own political positions, the question is: should the leader worry about coup or civil war?  In many cases, coups should be the biggest concern, but in a country that has already faced a civil war (that never really stopped), perhaps the civil war concern should have occupied more of Maliki's attention/decision calculus. 

Events are proving that

Necessary Unnecessary Infographic Du Jour

We really should need to be educating people about vaccines these days, but I guess we do.  So, here is today's infographic that should not be necessary but is (thanks, Jenny McCarthy).

 For 2014, these numbers may not work so well, as we have measles outbreaks, whooping cough outbreaks, and other otherwise avoidable diseases spreading.  This is sad on so many levels, but one is that the US health care system does prevention so very badly except when it comes to vaccines.  Now, thanks to the no-nothings, that one success is now being eroded. 

One other note--600 people falling out of bed each year?  That makes that old claim that more people die falling out of bed than via terrorism in the US still valid.  If we take not 2001 but the entire 2000's, then we can suggest that we need a Patriot Act for beds more than we do for terrorism.  Of course, 9/11 had big economic costs and we should not diminish the actual suffering of the families.  But some comparative context is not a bad thing.

Anyhow, this is really about the anti-vaxxers and the idiots who follow them.

US Invasion of Canada: Arrogance or Irrelevant

Fun news this week: the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey said that the US had no war plans for invading Canada. The context was that the military has plans for pretty much any possibility... except that one.

This raises a question:

Is the plan-lessness due to good relations with Canada with no foreseeable desire to invade it despite its plentiful oil (tar sands), fresh water, and moose? Or there is no need for a plan since the Americans are cocky about how easy it would be to invade?

I am not sure Canadians who fear the behemoth to the south are assured by the lack of a plan.  The US has invaded other countries without a decent plan (Iraq), so that is not so much of a deterrent.  On the other hand, I doubt that the US has enough cold weather gear to supply an entire occupation force (for some reason, the white camouflage uniforms also seem pretty neat).  

My neighbor cited the location of Fort Drum as an indicator of American readiness to launch an attack.  Fort Lewis is kind of north, too.  So, the US could move towards Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal pretty easily.  To be clear, Montreal's broken bridges may keep any invasion force on the other side of the river--I would not chance it sending over armored vehicles--which may explain why Quebec and Canada under-invest in maintenance of these bridges.

The lack of major army bases across the middle of the US suggests that the US would have a harder time with a surprise attack taking the middle of Canada.  There can be no lightning strike to seize the tar sands.  This would have to be done by airborne forces.   Given how thinly populated northern Alberta is, one airborne division (which is all the US has now, apparently) is probably sufficient.

So, the US military does not really need a plan.  We can just spitball it.  On the other hand, as we learned elsewhere, the plan for the occupation would have to be worked out since sticking around is far harder than invading.  Quelling a restive Canadian population might be difficult unless we can find some way to lose the next few USA-Canada hockey matches (men's and women's) as well as soccer (women's) and perhaps relocate a few NHL franchises back to where the belong. 

Does a blog post count as a plan?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Fast Chatting Away

On Monday, I participated in a Fast Chat at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.  The talk was on NATO and the implications of the crisis in Ukraine.  I wrote up my thought on it here at CIC.

The Fast Chat experience was quite educational for me—the experts from elsewhere were quite sharp and it was most interesting to get hear some European voices about these matters.  The questions by the Canadian folks at DFATD also were suggestive about the debates taking place in the Pearson building.  That they reach out for other perspectives speaks well of DFATD.  As always, when I meet with Canadians working for the government, I am most impressed.  If only the Prime Minister actually listened more to the public service, but that is a discussion for another day.

Peaceful Boundary Changing: Europe is Spiffy?

Dan Drezner's post du jour focuses on the absence of international processes for changing boundaries peaceful and asserts that Europe seems to do this pretty well.  As he poaches on my old territory--the IR of Secession, I cannot but wonder where my citations are poke at some of this.  Overall, the main point is a solid one--that we don't have a mechanism that really facilitates boundary changes peacefully in large part because there is a shared interest in not making secession too easy. 

Dan argues that Europe does this pretty well, pointing at the Czech/Slovak divorce, Montenegro's peaceful referendum/secession, and now Scotland's referendum process.  To be clear, Europe had nothing to do with the first one, as the Czechs and Slovaks agreed to disagree and go their separate ways precisely at the same time that Europe was not being all that helpful/sucessful managing the secessionist/irredentist/boundary changing crises of Yugoslavia.

People forget but the EU in its first few days of EU-ness (having recently transitioned from EEC) tried to manage the Yugoslav crisis.  They sent "ice cream men"--observers in white uniforms--to serve as monitors, and they were utterly irrelevant.  They thought that recognizing the more fit units as states might reduce the violence.  Not only did this hope lack much logic, but the EU violated their own rules.  The Badinter Commission was given the job of recommending which parts of Yugoslavia should be recognized, based on a variety of criteria, and the commission chose Slovenia and Macedonia.  The EU chose then to recognize Slovenia and Croatia--because Croatia had Germany as a friend and Macedonia had Greece as an un-friend.

To be fair, the secession of Montenegro reflected much lessons learned, with the EU serving as a key player pushing for a reasonable process including a 55% majority required qualify for independence.  Note that the Scottish referendum is not being managed by the EU, and as far as I can tell, is still going by 50% plus one (which I cannot stand--a very narrow and potentially temporary basis of support).

Dan ignores the other violent cases that have petered out--Northern Ireland and the Basques.  Which is fine, since they are less violent now.  But again, Europe has little to do with it. What does?  That magic sauce of democracy and economic development.  Canada's own secessionist movement--Quebec--has been similarly non-violent except for a quite token murder in 1970.

How does this work?  Jason Sorens has written much on this, but the basic idea is that if you give people a chance to leave peacefully, via democratic means, they do not need to choose violence, and they then often do not choose to leave.  The benefits of leaving an advanced democracy with a good economy are not so great.  The costs are always downplayed but are quite real.

Both violence and secession are far more popular where people do not have the means to address their grievances through the political system--so they opt out.  What makes Europe different is not the EU but the prevalence of strong democracies and decent economies (even now, when compared to elsewhere).

So, I would focus less on Europe and more on the stuff that has spread--democracy--and on the economics that create incentives/disincentives.

Still, Dan is right that we can think about Europe as a model for peaceful boundary change--but it is less about EUROPE and more about the characteristics of European countries. And, yes, blaming Europe for messing up the boundaries of the rest of the world is fair game.*
* Although to be fair, the Europeans drew many, many boundaries and irredentism is rather rare. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Quick Partition Anti-Pitch

With the success of the Kurds in taking control of their hunk of Iraq, partition has started to become hip to discuss again.  The idea is that if ethnic groups are in conflict, why not just divide them and give each a hunk of territory whether it is called a country or not.  When folks remind the partition advocates that things have not worked out that well for Kashmir or for Israel/Palestine, the response is usually: partition works great if done right.

And my take on that is that there are reasons why partition is not done right, and those reasons are inherent in any partition process.  That ethnic cleaning and forced migration tend to brew more problems rather than leave everyone tranquil, that the lines that are drawn are especially messy, and that the process of partition is just a wee bit political.

That is, the process of partition tends not to be drawn by technocrats but by politicians with stakes in the game.  So, things tend to be violent and leave hard issues unresolved.

If you advocate partition, just be a bit mindful of the realities of past partitions and that those are not so much accidents of history but the products of dynamics built into the process.

[There is much scholarly literature on it, but I am kind of lazy this late afternoon, so scholar google partition and if that does not work throw in Sambanis or Kaufmann to get started]


Lots of criticism flying around the net today about people suddenly being experts on the events in Iraq:


I am feeling a wee bit guilty on this because I did to a CTV News Channel hit this morning about this stuff.  I was asked in the semi-pre-interview if I could speak about particular individuals and I said nay.

What I did say was:
In response to a question about whether Maliki would be able to reach out to the non-ISIS Sunnis, I said unlikely because of previous broken promises, the Sunnis were unlikely to support him.  Also, Maliki seemed uninterested in reaching out.
In response to a question about US/Iran cooperation, I said don't expect too much, given that the Iranians shed a heap of US blood when the US were in Iraq.
In response to a question on threats elsewhere, I indicated that ISIS was doing well in places that had weak/non-existent governments.  Other neighbors are not so civil war-ish, so don't expect dominoes to fall. 
I accepted in the invite since I thought the questions would be about US foreign policy (which I have taught and experienced).  I don't feel bad about the answers to these questions because I have written on contagion, and I have worked in the area of ethnic conflict and accommodation (most of my CV).  Still, I was on shaky territory but perhaps not quite the danger zone.

Of course, my key qualification for talking about Iraq is that I did work in Rumsfeld's Pentagon, just like Wolfowitz, Feith and others.  Just joking!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Reverse Jinx

Today, the Wall Street Journal has published a piece by Paul "Jerry" Bremer on the situation in Iraq.  Apparently, Bremer is advocating a deeper US involvement including boots on the ground.  I did not read it nor will I link to it because Bremer is utterly discredited by his service as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (its CPS acronym was commonly known as Can't Produce Anything).  This is the guy that knew so little about Iraq that he just used post WWII models and recklessly disbanded the Iraq military, and fired most of the knowledgeable folks in government. 

Bremer apparently has no self-awareness to understand that any position he takes loses 50% legitimacy from his association.

So, I can only guess that the WSJ dos not want US troops on the ground, and is strategically publishing Bremer's piece to discredit that policy alternative.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day Doonesbury

Courtesy of

I am pretty sure that we over-parented, but it has worked out pretty well anyway:

Not Quite the Last Father's Day But ...

My daughter goes off to college (or university as they say in Canada) this fall, so this day marks the last father's day with her at home.  She may be in the house for future father's days, but this is the last one where she is around all the time.  So, I am a bit more nostalgic than usual.  Baby Spew (geez, did she spew!)* became Kid Spew and then Teen Spew so very quickly.  I tried to tease her recently by singing Sunrise, Sunset but I forgot the words from the Oberlin community theater production long ago (I played many small roles, including an unsuccessful bottle dancer).
*  Actually, the most spewage was a tremendous nose bleed produced by bouncing from a bed to a table while we were traveling in New Mexico for a frisbee tournament.

To be honest, I did not enjoy the first few years of Fatherhood--not enough sleep, lots of stress, five ER visits over the first five years, keeping the peace between her and the dogs, lots of effort to keep the kid entertained in a town that was pretty bereft of fun places to go and was too hot for four months or so to hang out in day time.  And it started really, really hard with the "pin the IV on the dehydrated baby" game. That white thing on her head is the IV.  Good times.  Mary Poppins got us through Toddler Spew's surgery at age 2, which aided me later on when I taught Intro to IR and wrote about pie crust promises.  After the each year was better than the one before it.

Kid Spew was heaps of fun, as she explored a variety of interests and not quite settling for awhile: danced a bit, a season of softball in Virginia, one season of soccer, a couple of years of ultimate (which may come back in college).  She eventually, thanks to her mother mostly, found a strong interest in stories especially those on TV and in film as well as comic books. Teen Spew made a few short movies with the greatest challenges arising not from her skills but from her casts.  Friends and acquaintances turned out to be quite flaky when it came to keeping commitments.

Teen Spew also developed strong opinions about the world and educated herself well via the internet and elsewhere.  As a result, she has low tolerance of mansplaining (which makes some dinners more, um, interesting than others), discrimination, inequality and the like.  She has educated me on more than one occasion.

The good news is that we have a pretty good relationship if I do say so myself.  When people heard of our trips to check out colleges, they said "Great, you guys can bond."  Our confused response was: pretty sure we are bonded.  But the trips were still fun, we got to hang out with celebrities (sort of), do heaps of tourism, and eat lots of really good food.

Somehow, we managed to have a kid who works really hard (far harder than I did in middle school and high school) and is ambitious (film career? wow), creative, sweet, empathetic, passionate, compassionate, impatient (that's my contribution), bright, feisty, engaged, curious, and fun. 

Father's day is supposed to be about selling cards and cheesy gifts celebrating the dad.  However, I cannot help on this particular one but to celebrate my daughter.  I will always be her father, but we will probably never be as close as we are right now.  Sure, I will be able post on (and embarrass) her facebook page and nag her through the internet, but it will not be the same.  So, despite no breakfast in bed (really, no thanks), I am embracing this Father's Day like none other. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The World Cup of Social Identity Theory

Nothing like a major sporting event to remind one of a powerful hunk of social science.  Social identity theory--from social psychology*--helps to explain much these days.  The basic idea of SIT is that one's self-esteem rides on how well one's group is doing especially in comparison to other groups.  Horowitz called this the logic of invidious comparison.  I used to use the example of someone walking into a Montreal bar wearing a Mapleleafs sweater.  And, of course, my favorite example is green vs. purple.  Sports and nationalism are inextricably linked because of the logic of social identity.  I wrote about Olympic nationalism last summer, but here it is not just about different countries but different sports preferences.
* I received most of this indirectly through Donald Horowitz's deployment of it to explain ethnic conflict. 
So, we get a series of identity rivalries/dynamics this month:
  • Most obvious/expected: that people's happiness ride on whether the teams with which they identify do well and teams that they see as the natural "other" do poorly. 
  • Immigration countries have more complexity: many people may not have a team they like in either a particular match or in the entire tourney (Canada), so they then have a rooting interest in the team associated with their ethnic identities (Italian-Canadians root for Italy, for instance) or against those with which they have ethnic enmities.  (Yes, I am biased to see ethnic ties/enmities everywhere).  And, when soccer is played in the US, the US National Team is often facing a hostile crowd since more folks with ties to Mexico or country x show up than those who root for the USA team.
  • Pedants in competition: That some people really care about whether the game is called soccer or football.  Their passion on this is perhaps beyond comprehension unless we factor in that people's identification and their self-esteem ride on whether their preferred group is popular/accepted or not.
  • Sports rivalry: Last night's rivalry on twitter between the hockey fans scoffing at the World Cup and the soccer/football fans scoffing at hockey.  Why can't these people just enjoy their sport without taking shots at the other?  Because they feel better about themselves if their group (soccer/football lovers or hockey lovers) are seen as better.  
So, thanks to the World Cup, plenty of illustrations about potential ways to identify with and against.  Good times!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Confirmation Bias: The Musical

I was chatting with my friend and occasional co-author Bill Ayres (no, not Bill Ayers) about what to do about our 2008 book and the surge of irredentism of late (mostly Russia but now also ISIS's desire to remake the maps of the Mideast), and, of course, I got distracted by popular culture via this question:

Is "Let It Go" a theme song for irredentists or those fighting irredentism?  Let's look at the tape:

The answer is: it could be used by either side.
I don't care
What they're going to say
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway!
That sounds like an irredentist saying: to heck with the costs, let's unite our lost territory with our homeland!
It's time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me I'm free!
Sounds like Putin, yes?  To heck with the Helsinki Accords and the Budapest Agreement.

On the other hand,
It's funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small

And the fears that once controlled me
Can't get to me at all!
Which makes the concerns about the kin abroad to be almost inconsequential.  Most importantly,
I'm never going back,
The past is in the past!
If the past is in the past, then claims to lost territory are to be left behind as well, eh?

What this obviously shows is that people see what they want to see--confirmation bias essentially.  I wanted to see this song speak to both sides of an irredentist conflict, and viola!

It also indicates that I miss teaching large undergrad classes, as I could have had some fun with Frozen.

Finally, this is a recognition that we (Bill and I) need to figure out why some of the irredentist conflicts remain frozen (Armenia, Serbia, Croatia) while others (Russia, Hungary) have gotten warmer and even quite hot.  Good thing we now have a new assignment--writing an intro to the paperback version of For Kin or Country.

Path Dependence, Iraq Edition

With the fall of Mosul to the jihadists of Syria and Iraq, there is much blame-casting to be had.  Some are blaming Obama for not keeping a residual force in Iraq although it is not clear that a small US force would have kept the Iraqi military from breaking. 

Anyhow, this always, always frustrates me because it ignores what the US faced in 2009--the accumulation of dynamics produced by the bad decisions of the past.  In this case, if people remember, there were many stories where Iraqi elites said two things: yes, we want the U.S. to stay, but no, we cannot say that in public.  Why?

Pretty simple: occupation -> nationalism -> domestic politics -> no Status of Forces Agreement.
What does this mean?  It might be easy to forget, but the US invaded Iraq and then occupied it for several years.  That, by itself, would be enough to earn a heap of resentment and an anti-American nationalism.  But then the occupation was so very badly implemented.  The Coalition Provisional Authority was known as Can't Produce Anything.  The US failed to prevent the looting that emerged after Hussein fell, it fired the entire Iraqi military, denied widows and orphans of their funding, fired most of the people associated with the Ba'athist party and thus deprived the government of pretty much everyone who needs to govern.  Don't forget how Abu Ghraib presented endless pictures of the US humiliating Iraqis.  I have not read many Iraq books since Fiasco, Cobra II, Assassin's Gate, and Imperial Life in an Emerald City, but the news stories since were not chockfull of happy stories about an improved US effort.  Indeed, most refer to half-finished projects and heaps of collateral damage.  I didn't even mention the private military contractors that used excessive force.

Anyway, the point is: the occupation did nothing but stir up resentment towards the U.S.  While Iraqi nationalism is probably more complex than that, this one thread of Iraqi nationalism developed some saliency.  So, then Iraq has a serious of elections and formal democracy, even if the system is flawed.  Given the occupation, how can elected Iraqi leaders say in public: hey, those Americans that utterly humiliated us, but let's invite them to stick around?  No, they obviously could not. 

How can you expect Iraqi leaders be so brave and resist the public's desire to see the last of the Americans when American and other politicians are generally reluctant to buck the opinions of their base?  Anyhow, so one could blame Obama for messing up the diplomacy of the negotiations of the SOFA if you want, but it is hard for me to imagine Iraqi politicians of that time frame signing off in public for more years of American soldiers in Iraq. 

This is one of the ways that distinguishes Afghanistan from Iraq.  Karzai has his own agenda and resists the demands of the rest of Afghan society.  I guess he understands his base better than I do.  But in Iraq, given how the occupation played it, the blame-casting today cannot start with Obama but with Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Rice, and the rest.  This is not my partisan animus showing here, but a basic understanding of path dependence (how early choices ultimately constrain decisions down the road) and of nationalism.  As Bill Ayres and I argued in our book, nationalism frequently causes politicians to do stuff that is in the best interests of themselves but not in the best interests of the country--for kin, not country.

There are other questions now, like whether the US should launch air strikes to help the Iraq government and what it should/could get in exchange.  But that is a post for another time.