Fighting Fire with Water: Counter Putin’s Ambiguity with Clarity

I was at a very interesting roundtable at the Lithuanian Embassy in Ottawa a couple of days ago.  I cannot say what others had to say due to Chatham House Rule, although a former CF general had some interesting things to say that I will need to think about.  But what I can discuss is what I said and what the conversation provoked me to think about more.

One of the themes of the conversation was that Putin uses ambiguity to his advantage.  Who owns those little green men who show up?  He only claims credit for sham referenda after the fact.  He has stretched plausible deniability to the breaking point or perhaps not, as Europeans of various stripes still consider Ukraine in ways that buy some of Putin’s spin.

So, I wondered is the best way to respond to ambiguity is with more ambiguity or with clarity?  My bet is on clarity, and that is what drove my comments/recommendations.

How best to make the situation less opaque?  How to make it easier for outsiders (and insiders) to understand and assess?

  1. Make the condition of the Russian-speakers in the Baltics better.  Putin has claimed the plight of Russians in the near abroad as a justification for Russian aggression.  While he will always be able to say that Russian speakers are oppressed, the more obviously false this is, the better.  Citizenship for Russian speakers varies among the Baltics.  My recommendation in Brussels two weeks ago and since is for the European Union to dump a heap of cash on the areas where Russian speakers live in the Baltics to improve the local economies.  It would also make sense to run an info ops campaign showing the Russians of the Baltics what life looks like in Moscow, Crimea and Eastern Ukraine (not to mention Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, etc).
  2. The governments of the Baltic Republics should make it abundantly clear that any effort to subvert or salami slice will be met aggressively.  My recommendation, which is plenty provocative, is that the rules of engagement for the Estonian, Latvia, and Lithuanian militaries should be to grant the low ranking officers on the ground with the authority to shoot at “little green men” if their communications to their headquarters are disrupted.  Yes, shoot first, and ask questions later.  Actually, that is the first step, and the second step is to let everyone (Putin/Russia, NATO) know that they have delegated this authority.  This would mean that any Russian effort here would immediately spiral.  This is good, yes, good, because Putin is an opportunist and, as far as we can tell, not suicidal.  The threat to use nuclear weapons is always incredible, but the threat to start something that might spiral out of control is not.  Any Russian attack (cyber, unconventional, whatever) will lead to discussions at the North Atlantic Council (NATO’s decision making body) that may take days, and Putin wants to get inside that decision loop, acting faster than NATO and then presenting with faits accompli.  Delegating authority to soldiers on the ground AND letting everyone know that would make those faits accompli have an automaticity to them–of escalation.
  3. The Baltics should try to entice the US to base troops on a more than just continuous basis.  Give the US discounts on property, subsidize exercises or even the movement of stuff to be based on their territory.  Anything they can do to make it easier for the Americans to base permamently is a good thing.  Continuous exercising, the NATO fudging, is not clear, and we need more clarity.  Ambiguity in this might be good for getting consensus at the NAC, but the US can do this on its own.  It might hurt NATO solidarity a smidge, but Putin acting in the Baltics would do far more damage.

I did suggest one other thing–that the more pressure NATO faces, the more the stakes become about NATO, the more NATO will respond.  NATO’s history is one of reluctance until pushed and then unity: Bosnia 1995, Kosovo 1999, Afghanistan for years (even those who left early returned in another capacity).  So, the more Putin makes NATO his target, the more NATO will show up and unite.

by Steve Saideman

The NATO Russia Founding Act is O.B.E.*

*O.B.E is one of my favorite acronyms that I learned while working in the Pentagon for a year: overcome by events.

Some argue that NATO cannot do much more in the east because of commitments made as part of the NATO Russia Founding Act. My take is that the agreement is dead, dead, dead.  Let’s take a look.

There is a key line in the second paragraph:

NATO and Russia do not consider each other as adversaries.

Um, oops.  That has been overcome by events.  Putin/Russia has been making nuclear and other threats towards NATO members, and has been guilty of killing citizens of NATO countries via the downing of the airliner.  So, this basic assertition is dead.

Ok, now lets look at the big conditions necessary for this all to work out (my commentary in red and bold applied wherever I feel like):

To achieve the aims of this Act, NATO and Russia will base their relations on a shared commitment to the following principles:

  • development, on the basis of transparency, of a strong, stable,
    enduring and equal partnership and of cooperation to strengthen security
    and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area; [do any of these terms still apply: stable, enduring partnership, cooperation?]
  • acknowledgement of the vital role that democracy, political
    pluralism, the rule of law, and respect for human rights and civil
    liberties and the development of free market economies play in the
    development of common prosperity and comprehensive security; [this almost reads like a joke.  How is that rule of law thing going in Russia?  Civil Liberties?  Kleptocracy and capitalism are often confused but are not identical]
  • refraining from the threat or use of force against each other as
    well as against any other state, its sovereignty, territorial integrity
    or political independence in any manner inconsistent with the United
    Nations Charter and with the Declaration of Principles Guiding Relations
    Between Participating States contained in the Helsinki Final Act; [this is the killer principle that no longer applies as Russia has used force, it has violated the territorial integrity and sovereignty if Ukraine, it has issued threats against Denmark and the Baltics, nuclear ones, as well as others that I am forgetting about for the moment.  Repeat: the invasion of Ukraine and seizure of Crimea is about as complete a violation of Helsinki as one can imagine]
  • respect for sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of
    all states
    and their inherent right to choose the means to ensure their
    own security, the inviolability of borders and peoples’ right of
    self-determination as enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act and other OSCE
    documents; [Do I need to repeat myself?  Irredentism is inherently a challenge to borders]
  • mutual transparency in creating and implementing defence policy and military doctrines; [Not so much]
  • prevention of conflicts and settlement of disputes by peaceful means in accordance with UN and OSCE principles; [Given that Russia’s first response to political change in Kiev was the use of force, we can pretty much write this principle off as well]
  • support, on a case-by-case basis, of peacekeeping operations
    carried out under the authority of the UN Security Council or the
    responsibility of the OSCE.

So, tell me, which principles that are supposed to serve as the basis of NATO-Russia relations are still intact?  Yes, exactly.

here is a fun paragraph:

Provisions of this Act do not provide NATO or Russia, in any way, with a
right of veto over the actions of the other
nor do they infringe upon
or restrict the rights of NATO or Russia to independent decision-making
and action. They cannot be used as a means to disadvantage the interests
of other states.

This could be read both ways, of course, but seems to me that NATO should do what it needs to do, considering the implications for Russia’s security but not subjecting itself to veto by Putin.

Another:

NATO and Russia affirm their shared desire to achieve greater stability and security in the Euro-Atlantic area.

I guess this is just a “we agree to disagree” over what stability and security mean when Russia takes a hunk of a neighbor and calls it an effort to improve its security even as it creates insecurity for the neighbors.

Here is the key commitment that should not be seen as a commitment any longer:

NATO reiterates that in the current and foreseeable security
environment
, the Alliance will carry out its collective defence and
other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration,
and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent
stationing of substantial combat forces

Guess what?  The security environment has changed.  Russia has seized the territory of a neighbor and when that was not sufficient, invaded, using separatists as cover.  So, the security environment now is different from that in 1997.

Of course, folks can say that it changed with Kosovo, but there are many differences.  The big one, of course, is that NATO only used force after much effort to reach a peaceful settlement.  Russia, on the other hand, used force immediately after the change in regime in Kiev and did not give peace any chance at all.  The fait accompli was not driven by real fears of Ukrainian ethnic cleansing but by the desire to impose a new reality before anyone could react.  Good for judo, but not justified.

The NATO Russia Founding Act has been overcome by events.  If the Europeans (well, if Germany, France and Italy) want to stick to the letter of the agreement, then the US should act with willing partners to do what they feel is in the best interests of the allies.  This might hurt NATO a smidge, but abandoning the Baltics because one feels like this dead agreement still constrains is probably far more dangerous to the alliance.

By Steve Saideman

“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.