Friday, April 17, 2015

Good Insights, Good Beer and Great Company

I had another great day in Brussels.  We went over to NATO HQ (the new building is not yet ready but looks very 21st century/spaceship-ish) for a briefing from a NATO official.  Chatham House, so I cannot name the official but can summarize and assess before moving onto the afternoon Fish Bowl and then the beer with the NATO tweeps!

The NATO official (not SACEUR who apparently has a busy schedule) started with the NATO strategic concept which focuses on the threat situation and on NATO core tasks--collective defense, crisis management and cooperative security.  Apparently, NATO has decided recently that the pre-Crimea definition of threat is still accurate (I call b.s.), and the intra-NATO fight is over priorities--collective defense (focusing on deterring Russia) vs crisis management (focusing on the instability to NATO's South/Southeast.  Geography still matters in the globalized 21st century as Eastern Europe cares about Russia, southern Europe cares about Northern Africa and the Mideast, and France/Britain are, um, disarming quickly?  Hmmm.

The official recognized that NATO has always been a two tier alliance--the US and all the rest?  Hmmm, maybe three tiers: US, those doing more, those doing less? [see Danish discussion below].  I pushed back in the Q&A on the efforts to develop a Very High Readiness Force, learning that the idea of pre-delegating authority to SACEUR to move troops quickly in case of a crisis is a subject of much conflict within NATO.  That many countries do not trust a military officer to make a move in response to a political threat (hybrid war).  I hope this changes because a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force is not very quick if a decision has to be made at the North Atlantic Council.

I was surprised that NATO has not been able to get consensus to toss the NATO-Russia founding act into the garbage--which means that NATO cannot permanently base troops in the Baltics.  Which once again leads to my advocacy of the US engaging in a series of bilateral moves to deploy troops to the region.  The 173rd Airborne Brigade does not have to be based in Italy--move them North and East.

The second panel sought to understand Russia's ambitions.  A key point was that Russia is not really threatened--that any argument falls apart when one considers the general pattern of NATO countries disarming.  Indeed, one of the ironies of certain realists being apologists for Putin and the threat of NATO enlargement ignores this very basic reality despite the fact that these realists spent much of the 1980s calculating force to space ratios to figure out the Soviet threat.  Hmmm, short memories, I guess.

I then participated in a Fish Bowl, which was a dynamic sort of presentation where the only people who could talk were those four or five people in the center of the room, and that people could be tapped out and replaced by others who wanted to speak.  The topic was the West.... which led to a surprisingly interesting and fun conversation.  The strange process worked.

I then left NATO with the rest of the group (NATO security rules) and returned to have beers with the US and Canadian folks associated with their twitter accounts/public engagement efforts.  We were joined by British, Estonian, Lithuanian, and Danish folks working at NATO.  The conversation was most interesting and the beer selection at the NATO bowling alley was quite excellent.  Oh, and the US Mission at NATO turned out to be the legendary USEmbSAfrica who did quite well at TFC a few years ago.  She was delightful as were the rest of the folks.   It was fun to talk to a Danish NATO person over beer as he was a big fan of the recent piece that juxtaposed Denmark and Greece re burden-sharing.

I was asked about lessons learned from the book for the new (old) problems.  A key lesson, I think, is that countries should educate their politicians and their publics that the Baltics/Poland are not matters of expeditionary efforts but collective defense--which means different laws and expectations apply.  Another is that we need to get more flexible forces to be the ones leading the VJTF (France, Denmark, Canada, US) and not those that proved be fairly lame in Afghanistan (Spain, Italy).

 I am not surprised that my favorite day of this trip thus far was the one at NATO.  Tis as it should be.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Comparative IR Problems: Lessons from Day 1 of a Conference

On my second day in Belgium, the Atlantik-Brücke conference, a Canada-Germany conversation, got underway and was immediately quite interesting.  The opening session had two speakers that provided broad surveys of the world's crises, and I was struck that there seemed to be some comparisons that did not work for me.  Why? Because some crises are harder than others and that we can focus on three dimensions of each crisis so that we can compare apples and oranges: the degree of difficulty of the actual policy problem, the stakes, and the level of consensus among the key players.

I recently argued that Russia is fundamentally an easier problem than the IS/ISIS/ISIL/Daesh challenge because we don't have to do state/nation-building in the Baltics or in Poland/Romania.  Indeed, one of the attendees recently visited a Baltic Republic and found that the Russian-speaking populations get it--that they are better off where they are now than in a potential frozen conflict or a Greater Russia.  We can still do more to assuage/reassure/bribe the Russian-speakers to drain those three Baltic countries of any sea in which little green men-fish can swim (yes, mixing metaphors), but the problem then becomes mostly of improving the credibility of the NATO deterrent.  Not easy, especially with German resistance, but not impossible.  

But Russia involves higher stakes--nuclear war, existential threats and all that.  IS/whatever is not those things.

Which, of course leads to a two-by-two:
I need to find a low, low case, but you get the idea.  China is harder than anything else because there is greater complexity than Russia: economic  entanglements, military growing, territorial challenges with many neighbors, Taiwan, etc.  And the stakes are pretty high.

The consensus dimension is the only one that can change and the only one that can be changed via diplomacy and effort, but also shapes how hard this stuff can be.  China is very difficult since getting the Japanese and South Koreans to work together can be quite difficult.  Iraq and Syria is not as difficult right now--there is consensus among enough countries to get the cooperation that is needed.  If Assad gains an upper hand in Syria, consensus might be difficult to maintain.

Anyhow, that is my first set of thoughts about that.

The second session involved breakout panels, and I was sent off to hybrid wars.  Jean-Christophe Boucher did an excellent job of describing the challenge.  I did push back a bit--that hybrid wars are actually a signal of success.  That it is the choice for those who cannot win conventional wars--in the bad old days of the Cold War, the US and NATO had to figure out how to deal with the threat of Soviet conventional supremacy.  Not so much these days.  The other thing I pointed out is that the subversion via cyber/little green men/propaganda works best and perhaps only in places that are already messed up---such as Ukraine.  The Baltics are functional, so hybrid efforts are unlikely to work so well. 

The third panel of the day was on cybersecurity and it was very interesting.  Chatham House rules prohibit me from being specific, but I am now going to have assign more Ron Deibert in my cybersecurity week--provocative stuff.

The fourth panel was on Canadian and German politics.  I learned much about both--that the German resistance to easing up on the Greeks has a strong political foundation, so don't expect any movement on that.  Also, there are pretty strong domestic political constraints to doing anything more about Russia.

Dinner was at the residence of the German Ambassador to NATO.  Very good food and good conversations.  The only big surprise was when a Canadian former diplomat chose to throw more gas on the fire of "Canada teaching Germany about immigration" conversation.  How undiplomatic.

Tomorrow is at NATO, which means I will be offline and on my game--I will be taking part in the Fishbowl (to be explained tomorrow).  I hope to have a post conference beer with the Americans and Canadians who work at NATO. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Belgium 2015, Day One

The weather here is just amazing--blue skies, nice temps... living in Canada makes me forget that much of the rest of the northern hemisphere is deep into spring.  I am here in Brussels for two reasons: a) to participate in a Canada-Germany foundation's conference; and b) then to do some research for the next project.  I am also looking forward to meeting the people behind the wonderful Canadian NATO and US NATO twitter accounts. 

Today was the transition day, as I arrived this morning via Frankfurt airport, which always astonishes me with its size and less than helpful signage.  This time, I was also confused--am I supposed to pick up my baggage and move it through customs and then re-check?  No, that is just a non-Schengen thing to do....

I am staying in a super-spiffy hotel for the first few days (when it is on the conference organizer's dime), and it has confused me.  Best shower I ever had in Europe, probably, but it took me a minute to figure out how to turn it on.  My post-walk nap was in full sunshine since I only realized afterwards that among the many light buttons next to the bed is one for raising and lowering the curtain.  Really. 

I did walk about to see the city.  While my 2011 trip to Belgium was chock full of tourism (Mons, Vimy, Bastogne), the research was conducted at NATO HQ, so I stayed on the outskirts of town and only drove in to drop off my co-author at his hotel.  Driving in Brussels scared me and scared the GPS.  So, no tourism last time.  I should have, alas, plenty of time to check out Brussels as my interview calendar for next week is a bit thin.

Oh, and I met the key mission objectives: beer, omlette and then latter waffle
Time to suit up for dinner as the conference kicks off.




Rank Rankings, NATO Edition

There is a renewed debate about how to measure one's contribution to NATO.  This reminds me of the academic enterprise of ranking--that any effort to rank universities or programs always produces a new ranking that improves the ranking of those doing the re-ranking.   So, it is not surprise that focusing less on the 2% of GDP on defense expectation and more on what countries do, as argued here, is an approach Canadians like a great deal.

John Deni, the author, is sharp in using key cases to make the 2% standard look foolish.  By that measure, Greece looks great and the Danes not so much.  But Afghanistan and Libya, the Greeks did little and then none while the Danes did much.  So any metric that focuses on what countries do as part of the NATO alliance will favor the Danes and denigrate the Greeks.  The Canadians would find their ranking rise as well.

While caveats are not everything, our research does show a fairly consistent division between do-ers/risk-bearers and the rest:
Of course, one could use other metrics of burden sharing, such as size of contingent deployed or killed in action:

So, one can develop all kinds of rankings.  I do think taking into account the actual "doing" makes sense, but I do see the point of the 2% expectation being key in pressuring countries to spend enough money so that the actual operations are done by troops that have been trained with equipment that is in good shape and all that.

The key point here is: rankings, like love, are a many splendored thing.... or something.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mad Men Dead Pool Game: Limited Progress

This week's episode did not have any direct implications for the game, but let me speculate below the break:

Politics Over Humility: Canada Trains Ukrainians

There are at least two ways to look at the decision by the Canadian government to train Ukrainian soldiers:
  1. Canada always joins Anglo-American efforts to foster stability and confront aggression (the Iraq 2003 was, um, something else).  
  2. Never say that this government has not leaved any stones unturned in its efforts to pander to a Canadian diasporic segment.
Both are correct.  One can pitch this new training mission as something that is quite typical of Canada--doing it what it can as part of a coalition effort.  The CF has learned, at great cost, how to deal with landmines/improvised explosive devices, and has other expertise that they can impart to the Ukrainians.  Of course, two hundred trainers can only do so much (as Canada is learning in Iraq with a lesser number), but the Ukrainians could certainly perform better.  This will not give the Ukrainians the chance to win their war with Russia,* but it might raise the costs that Russia incurs.  It might also help to limit how far Russia advances.  To be clear, the effect here can only be a limited one, but still might have some impact.

* I am not a big fan of the fiction that this conflict is between Ukraine and a band of separatists--Russian soldiers are dying in Ukraine, and Russian equipment is killing Ukrainians as well as the passengers of a Malaysian airliner.
The impact at home might be a bit clearer.   Stephen Harper and his dual hat-ed Minister of National Defence and Minister of Multiculturalism Jason Kenney have been making sure to be in front of most of NATO in speaking fervently for helping Ukraine.  The passion here has a domestic component, aimed at one of the larger diasporas in Canada.  While Harper may have some animus towards Putin (something that we share), the Ministry of Multiculturalism has been mostly focused the past few years on playing towards different ethnic communities in advance of the next election.  Sending a small number of troops to Ukraine about six months ahead of the election is a happy coincidence?

Up to now, most of Canada's efforts in this area have been in support of NATO's reassurance missions--flying planes over Romania and the Baltics, small units of troops taking part in training exercises in the region.  This is a significant step forward, as most of NATO is not doing this, and it does mean that Canada will have troops in a country that is at war.  To be clear, the training effort is on the other side of the country, so there is little risk to the troops or of escalation.  Still, it is not something to be done lightly.

There may be other dynamics involved in this, but the combination of Anglo-American-Canadian cooperation AND ethnic politics at home makes this move almost inevitable.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Marvel Forever! DC Sometimes

I have long been a Marvel fan, and only rarely read DC comics.  The Marvel movies have utterly dominated the DC ones in my mind.  The latter go for darkness for darkness sake just a bit much.

But the CW's televised versions of DC shows definitely dominate Marvel's:





Just more fun, more interesting stakes than Agent of Shield.  Agent Carter was great but too short.

Of course, if the rest of the Netflix Marvel is as good as the first five episodes of Daredevil, we may see a new winner in comics fight club.  We definitely live in a golden age of superhero stuff in the movies and on TV.  And for that, I am grateful.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Logistics, Logistics, Logistic: Cold Hard Realities

Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino "says he’s confident Canada can hold its own when it comes to defending the Arctic in the face of any threats from Russia."  Sounds like empty boasting or incredible commitments but there is something to this.

Not it is not about the small exercises that Canada has in the far north that demonstrate a capability to deal with the Russian menace.  No, it is precisely the reality that operating in the far north is so very expensive and so very difficult that Canada has invested far less than promised.  Whuck?

"Hold its own"  is not so much about what the Canadians can send to the Arctic, but a basic reality that the Russians, to threaten Canada's ability to hold its own, would have to not only get stuff to the highest part of the Russian Arctic but then move it even further to the Canadian side and then sustain it.  And that is truly difficult. 

People do not really appreciate how far away these places are, but the length of time for rescue ships, for instance, to get up to the northwest passage is measured in months, not days.  Yes, the Russians are building bases in their side of the Arctic, including air defenses that can reach out beyond their territory.  But to be a serious threat, Russia would need more--the ability to extend its control and stick with it.  The stopping power of water is something the Realists get right, and when combined with the cold climes (Arctic may be getting warmer but it ain't warm), it is very difficult to operate over long distances and/or for long periods of time.

So, Canada can hold its own in the Arctic not so much because it has much capabilities, but because the Russians are still not that close and are not likely to be able to maintain their ops over a long time.  A nice comparison is China's island building campaign in the East/South China seas.  Is anything like that imaginable in the far north?  Only if one is really drunk or high. 

I am not an expert on the Arctic, but the few basic facts suggest that defense is far easier than offense way the hell up there.  So, it is not time to panic.  And if the Russians want to keep sinking lots of money in the Arctic, let them.  Don't interrupt an adversary when they are making a mistake, Napoleon said.  He got much many things wrong, but that is not one of them.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Chillaxing About the Arctic

There is often much concern about Arctic security these days.  Russia is investing in bases and equipment, and Canada lacks both.  So, the concern is that Canada would not be able to defend its arctic possessions.  Despite lacking in arctic knowledge, I feel pretty confident in my comeback: who is going to take what and how?  Russia, of course, Russia.  Oy.

The Arctic is a hard place to operate because it is cold and it is very, very far away.  This is not just true for Canada but for everyone else and especially Russia.  That is, to poach Canadian territory means operating on a regular basis in the high, high north.  It is very, very expensive and for what?  Resources?  Seems like the reality is that the resources to get there and stay there will continue to challenge those who want to dig up the stuff.

So, as I have been fond lately of quoting Napoleon: do not interrupt your adversary when he is making a mistake.  Russia is, indeed, an adversary, and spending heaps of money on arctic capabilities is a mistake. 

The other countries--US, Norway, Denmark--aren't adversaries.  So, chillax.