“The Handshake Summit” and the breakdown of the Americas’ democratic rights regime

By Jean Daudelin

In Panama this week, Raul Castro and Barack Obama will meet and shake hands. Their symbolic encounter will add a superfluous nail on the rotting coffin of the Cold War. This pointless gesture will likely be the climax of the Seventh Summit of the Americas. Sound and perhaps even fury won’t be lacking, but real action, on anything, is most unlikely.

Since 1994, the “Summit Process” has progressively lost its relevance. Originally, it embodied regional efforts around two big endeavours: the economic integration of the Western Hemisphere, and the consolidation of the democracies that were emerging from decades of military rule. By the turn of the century, a lack of will in Washington along with Argentina and Brazil’s opposition to free trade had combined to kill the Free Trade Area of the Americas. All economic issues were pushed off the Summit Process agenda. This week’s meeting in Panama now buries the political and human rights component of the project. By next week, nothing of substance should be left.

Signs of the time, the main reasons for such a development have little to do with United States. The rise of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela implied the emergence of a left-wing authoritarian model led by a charismatic and ambitious leader keen on using his country’s massive oil wealth to promote himself and his “model” in the region. Chavez’ template directly challenged the liberal consensus embodied in the OAS Democracy Charter, the only really significant achievement of the Summit Process. “Substantive” and “popular” democracy now mattered more than electoral technicalities or “abstract” press freedom, and Chavez Venezuela showed the way, with the systematic and sometimes violent harassment of the opposition and increasingly strict constraints on independent media.

This should not have doomed the regime. Indeed, its moment of glory had precisely taken place in Venezuela where, in 2002, a military coup against Chavez had been roundly condemned by the region’s governments. In the face of hesitations from Canada and the United States and invoking the Charter, Brazil under Fernando Henrique Cardoso took the lead as the whole region made it clear to the conspirators that no recognition would be forthcoming, which helped cut their wings and bring Chavez back. A few months later, however, Cardoso was out and Lula and his Workers’ Party in, with a much more flexible attitude towards challenges to liberal democracy, as long as they came from the Left. Strong stands were taken against conservative coups or quasi-coups—in Paraguay and Honduras—but nothing was heard about democratic rights violations in Cuba or Venezuela.

The Panama Summit closes the loop as Cuba is re-admitted, with US acquiescence, into the big Inter-American family, in spite of its utter lack of democratic credentials. Venezuela, where the repression of non-violent political opposition has long been bad and is now getting worse, similarly won’t see its human rights record questioned by fellow Latin American governments. In fact, it will present itself as a victim of US destabilization attempts, a line of argument broadly accepted in the region. The freezing of the US-based assets of seven (!) Venezuelan officials has already been roundly condemned by the various groupings of Latin American governments. The colossal ineptitude of the US move is undeniable. Not only was the manoeuver hopeless in the face of a regime whose survival is at stake, but the freezing of foreign officials’ assets can only be legally justified when their government represents a threat to the national security of the United States, an argument that is beyond preposterous. The move’s manipulation by the Maduro government, in the last few weeks and now, no doubt, during the Summit, was also utterly predicable. Yet, the willingness of the region’s heads of state to play along is as lamentable as their reluctance to question his record.

In that context, paradoxically, the Canadian government finds itself in a comfortable position. Having signed free trade agreements with all the functional economies of the region and with the ability, on its own, to straighten relations with Colombia and Mexico by liberalizing its visa policy, it has very little at stake at the Summit. Canada has never cut off relations with Cuba and as a result, doesn’t have to “undo” counterproductive policies and in the same movement legitimate the Cubans’ return to the Inter-American family, as Obama will be doing. At the same time, it can also legitimately criticize both Cuba and Venezuela for their rights record and thus stand as the sole principled defender of the Inter-American democratic Charter. This is unlikely to have much impact in the region, but it may flatter the Harper government and also many Canadians’ sense of principled duty. Cheap thrill, but thrill nonetheless.

CIC tag

ISA Preview #2: Energy-Security, Myths of Counter-Terrorism, and Terrorism Hoaxes

Michael Shkolnik and Uri Marantz, Causal Pathways of Resource Conflict and the Energy-Security Nexus: The Case of Egyptian-Israeli Relations

Why do some states conflict over energy resources while others cooperate? This paper expands Colgan’s (2013) causal pathways linking oil to international conflict by proposing similar mechanisms for natural gas. Egyptian-Israeli energy relations serve as an important case study since it demonstrates unique variation on the dependent variable, a rupture followed by a reversal of cooperative energy trading policies, especially when subject to stringent counterfactual analysis. Egyptian regime changes and political turmoil since 2011 have challenged the cold peace with Israel and provided an interesting opportunity to analyze the resource-based conflict dynamics of two Middle Eastern powers. As Islamist insurgents in the Sinai Peninsula target gas pipelines from Egypt to Israel, Egypt’s desperate economic situation coupled with recent natural gas discoveries off Israeli shores have led to a reversal in the energy producer-consumer relationship between both states. The use of counterfactuals highlights new causal pathways for theorists to conceptualize dynamic energy relationships and reveals vital policy implications for national and regional leaders in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Nicole Tisher, Debunking the Myth of Globalized Counter-Terrorism: How the Study and Practice of Counter-Terrorism Reify the State

Terrorism is frequently labeled a “globalized threat” in need of a “globalized response.” In spite of this common formulation, however, counterterrorism (CT) is not really “global,” nor is it meaningfully treated as such within academia. Instead, the very character of CT, and the academic methods applied to study it, both serve to buttress the role that states and their national interests play in countering terrorism. This paper first examines how academic research espouses a methodological nationalism that consistently positions the state at the core of CT activities; CT research does not meet the standards of theoretical or methodological globalism or transnationalism. Second, it demonstrates that this methodological nationalism in CT studies is not misplaced, due to CT’s offensive and defensive nature, and the factors considered when allocating resources between these two approaches. States’ national interests are embedded in the essence of CT activities, even when these do take on international or global dimensions. The paper concludes with implications for policy and theory of the blurring—or, at worst, conflation—of the “global” and the “transnational” in policy and academic discourse; and of privileging the “global” or “transnational” in discourse at the expense of the role and significance of the state.

Nicole Tisher, Characteristics of Terrorism Hoaxes and their Perpetrators

The academic literature on terrorism has failed to accord serious attention to terrorist hoaxes; where they are acknowledged (in terms of inducing fear and draining financial resources), they are subsequently discounted since they do not pose a serious threat of bodily harm or property damage. This paper reviews existing literature and available data to outline the contours of hoaxes. Hoaxes are understood as a low-resource mode of low-severity terrorism, whereby perpetrators: 1) use benign materials to give the impression that a terrorist act is, or has been, underway (hoax devices); 2) threaten a future terrorist act, without the intention of actually carrying out this act (hoax warnings); 3) claim responsibility for incidents they did not cause (hoax claims of responsibility); or 4) exploit false claims or staged activities as a means to facilitating an act of “serious” terrorism (instrumental hoaxes). Using data drawn primarily from ITERATE, the paper also provides descriptive statistics to delineate the scope and nature of terrorist hoax activities worldwide; present profiles of hoax perpetrators; and highlight substantial inconsistencies in the ITERATE dataset itself. It concludes with an assessment of potential contributions that serious attention to hoaxes can provide to broader terrorism studies theory, approaches, and debates.

ISA Preview: Organizing Aid and Canada’s IR Discipline

Over the next few days, we will be posting abstracts that summarize papers that NPSIA faculty and students will be presenting next week in New Orleans at the Annual Meeting of the International Studies Association.  Some of the posts will have links to the actual papers.

The first two are:

  • Rachel Calleja,“Organizing Aid: A Cross-Comparative Analysis of the Determinants of Aid Agency Structure”
    This paper offers the first cross-comparative analysis of the determinants of the organizational structure of bilateral aid agencies. Based on the understanding that organizational structure constrains agency function, this study asks why donors organize their aid agencies differently. Focusing specifically on the five models of aid organization identified by the OECD, each of which depicts a different structural relationship between aid agencies and foreign ministries, this paper tests whether aid agency organization can be statistically linked to key structural and political factors. Using a unique dataset that covers all OECD donors from 1990-2012, this paper conducts regression analysis to test competing hypotheses from the organizational theory and donor behaviour literature. It is expected that variation in the organizational structure adopted by donors is linked to domestic political sentiment towards aid programs, where donors that primarily view aid as a foreign policy tool are more likely to adopt organizational structures that place aid agencies within foreign ministries to maximize the alignment of aid spending with national interests. Alternatively, donors that primarily view aid as a tool for poverty reduction are likely to adopt autonomous aid structures that allow aid agencies to pursue policies aligned with international standards of donor best practice.
  • Stephen Saideman, The State of Canadian International Relations Research and Teaching
    This paper examines the Canadian data collected by the TRIP project to assess the state of Canadian IR scholarship. In the first part of the paper, Canadian survey results are compared with survey results from the surveys of the US, the UK, and the rest of those studied by the TRIP project to see if Canada is closer to its American or British cousins. The focus then turns to considering an intra-Canadian divide: between the three most prominent Political Science programs and most of Canadian IR scholars. The results indicate that the stereotype that the Big 3 are more “American” is based on some real differences, although there is much diversity in what is valued at both the big three and in Canada. After addressing preferences in epistemology and paradigms, the paper considers rankings of scholars, presses, and journals before moving onto perceptions about hiring and promotion.

 

Canada’s IR scholars: who they are and where they think you should go to school

By Steve Saideman

The Teaching, Research and International Policy [TRIP] project at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, U.S., has been surveying scholars of international relations for over 10 years to find out what they are teaching, what they are researching, how they look at policy oriented work compared to basic research, and more.

With every new iteration of the survey, the number of countries covered has increased. Canadian IR scholars were first surveyed in 2006, and as one of the Canadian partners, I have the results from the most recent survey — conducted in 2014. Over the next few months I will be presenting some of those results here on OpenCanada and elsewhere. You can also read about the results of the latest survey here. For details about the methodology, see the TRIP website.

I want to focus here on the basic demographics of Canadian IR scholars and what they consider to be the best university programs for undergraduates interested in IR, for policy-oriented MA programs, and for aspiring PhD students.

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Ethnic Security Dilemma Revisited and Regretted

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.

Tag, You’re It: Canada’s Fuzzy Iraq Mission

By Steve Saideman

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.

Shuffle Up and Deal: Veteran’s Affairs Edition

By Steve Saideman

In October, I argued that hawks in Canada have a problem–the party that would seem to be their friend has been cutting various programs, harming the readiness of the Canadian Forces and undermining the services for the veterans.  Where could such folks go?  Could they find a party that might support their interests more?   My answer then: probably not.  That the Liberals would more likely pander to NDP voters than to Tory voters, so that it was unlikely that they would advocate for more defence spending.

The good news for the Liberals is that the repeated coverage of poor stances on Veterans Affairs has provided an opening.  Harper turfed his Minister of Veterans Affairs, Julian Fantino, sending him to be Associate Minister of Defence, responsible for Arctic Security, information technology secuirty and foreign intelligence.  Am I reading too much into this to read it as Fantino being sent to equivalent of Nome, Alaska or Greenland?  That is where the US military sends folks who are out of favor (the best equivalent to the Hogan’s Heroes threat of the “Russian Front”).  Arctic Security is not just a metaphor for a distant area of responsibility (feels mighty close with the super-cold temps this week), but a failed portfolio–that the government’s commitment to the Canada First Defence

Strategy and a focus on Arctic Sovereignty has produced exactly nada, nil, zilch, zero, zip.  Info tech security?  Only will be in the news if there is some kind of cyber security failure.  Foreign intel portfolio?  Sshhh!  Again, only in the news if something goes awry–a Canadian Snowden or Ames or something like that.

So, things are looking great for the Liberals, eh?  Well, this piece in yesterday’s Ottawa Citizen suggests that the Liberals are going to aim at dis-affected hawks via these candidates with military experience.  The thing about this piece is it makes the Liberal attempt look kind of lame.  I have heaps of respect for Lt. Gen. (ret.) Andrew Leslie, but there is really nothing in the piece about what the Liberals might to run the military or veterans affairs better.  More money?  Where would that come from?  Cancel the F-35 and then do what?  The Liberal history of cancelling programs is chock full of glory?  Not so much.  The Liberals can claim that this government is starving the military (which it kind of is, even as it limits the real choices the military could make to ease the pain of the cuts), but the Liberals starved the military pretty well in its not so distant past.  And Trudeau’s stances last fall on Iraq suggested that he needs to listen to Leslie and pals much more closely so that he does not step on himself.

Still, firing one’s ministers and sending them to the Russian front are a signal that Harper is concerned about that portfolio and seeking to fix it before the election season really heats up.  Will we see any better performance on Defence and Vets issues in the new year?  I doubt it, as again it would require making choices.  And there is no real need to do that since Harper knows that the hawks have limited choices indeed.