NATO and the International Order: It was Kind of Nice, Wasn’t It?

by Stephen M. Saideman

People have been asking me lately–what is the big deal with this international liberal order?  What has it ever done right? What has it ever given me? There are lots of pieces to it, but I am focused on NATO for obvious reasons, including my assignment at next week’s Kingston International Conference on Security.

So, here’s Mattis’s quote from the NAC (North Atlantic Council) Defense Ministerial:

and my reaction.

I used to scoff at the usual NATO existential crisis stuff–that NATO needed a reason to exist in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse, that there was some conflict within that might lead to the alliance breaking up, etc.  But now I am in the club of those who fear for NATO’s future.  Why?  Trump.  It is that simple.  Putin actually did more for NATO unity in 2014 than anything else by making folks remember NATO’s day job–keeping Europe peaceful and, as a result, prosperous.  But his gambles on Trump, on Brexit, on supporting right wing aspiring autocrats (Orban of Hungary, Erdogan of Turkey, etc) have worked out.

The alliance has worked and changed our conception of alliance not just because it is far more institutionalized than any other alliance past or present, but because all of it relied on largely shared values.  Not just democracy but democracy with embedded liberalism–that governments played a role in adjusting to international shocks, made easier by international cooperation.

And now is a splintered G-7 meeting due to Trump using “national security threat” to play a particularly problematic card–to impose tariffs on allies without the consent of Congress.  To be clear, this is the opt out card built into the agreements.  He does not really believe that these countries or their exports to the US are any kind of threat, but he does not believe in norms, rules or the future. So, Trump has used this exception, antagonizing everyone except maybe the Italians (their own populist election results are handy for self-destruction).

So endeth the shared values.  Orban has already promoted illiberal democracy, and Trump would too if he could articulate anything (note that Gorka is back, and Gorka is a living embodiment of Orban’s illiberal democracy).  True, Trump is not the US, but he is, alas, 40% of it, and the GOP seems ok with selling out American values for tax cuts and court seats.  So, even if/when the Democrats come into power, they will not be able to reassure the Europeans and the Canadians.  After all, this big split is the most significant … since the last Republican president and the misconceived Iraq war of 2003.

So, how can NATO provide security by reassuring nervous members and deterring adversaries?  The lack of common values undermines NATO credibility–will the US show up if Russia does something?  Perhaps not since Trump is now trying to get Russia back into the G8 despite everything Russia has done since seizing Crimea.

NATO isn’t dead, and I hope to see signs of life when I go to the expert side party at the summit next month. But NATO is far from healthy, and I worry that we soon look back at those 70 years Mattis speaks of and wistfully remember the good old days.  Maybe the good old days weren’t as good as they seem, as Billy Joel reminds us, but they were better than the days before that–WWI, WWII and all that.

 

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Much Learning in Two Weeks in Korea

by Stephen M. Saideman

Fun times in Korea, eh?  I was really struck during my two weeks there of a split in opinions–most of the folks I met were “cautiously optimistic” about the situation, that the Trump-Kim summit might lead to a significant improvement in regional tensions, while other folks were in the “ruthlessly pessimistic” camp.  And I was a member of the latter.  Why?  Because TeamRP just could not see anyway for North Korea to “denuke” in any meaningful way when the US had, ooops, done some regime change on Libya.

So, I get back to North America and notice that Bolton has been talking about the “Libya Option” seriously, which did ultimately send the desired signal (if Bolton does not want peace) to the North Koreans.  So, the North Koreans have said that they had no intention of trading their nukes for economic assistance.  That, along with the earlier announcement that that they were skipping a meeting since the US and ROK were not cancelling a key military exercise, reminded us that North Koreans have always been the most obnoxious trolls in International Relations (sorry, John and Stephen).

So, folks are having an epiphany–negotiating with North Korea is hard, and they aren’t giving up their nukes.  I had a bit of a different Korean epiphany thanks to some sharp outsiders (Canadians and Americans who took me out for drinks and bbq:

American troops have long been based in South Korea to do two things: deter the North Koreans and reassure the South Koreans.  Standard tripwire type stuff.  Now, things have flipped as smart South Koreans want the Americans to stay to deter an American attack on North Korea.  Yeah, that seems backwards, but the idea is that Trump would not attack North Korea with so many Americans in harm’s way (is that wishful thinking rearing its ugly head again?).  That Trump would have a freer hand if the Americans were no longer down range of North Korean artillery….

Before I left for South Korea, I thought that the likely outcomes from a KJU-Trump summit would be in decreasing likelihood:

  1. A modest agreement, such as NK agrees not to test any more nukes (its test area is broken and other new nuclear powers tested six nukes, so a convenient time to give away this chip) and US promises to de-escalate a smidge.  Trump would come home, declaring he solved the Korean problem, and the pundits/press would buy it, but not much would have really changed.  Woot!
  2. NK agrees to give up its ICBM capability, Trump agrees to reduce or even eliminate US forces in South Korea, so NK gets not only recognition of being a nuclear power but decoupling of South Korea and Japan from US.
  3. Trump and KJU yell at each other as each is upset that they don’t have a common understanding of “denuclearization.”  So, the road to war is a bit clearer, and John Bolton does a happy dance.

Now?

  1. No meeting as NK does not want to signal that it gave in to “massive pressure” from US.
  2. No meeting as Trump realizes he can’t get the Nobel Prize.
  3. A meeting with much reduced expectations–perhaps freezes of NK’s weapons in exchange for US promising not to regime change (which is believed by none).
  4. War.
  5.  A meeting, then war.

So, yeah, not great.  Are things clearer now than two weeks ago?  Not sure.  I do think Team Relentless Pessimism is feeling pretty good about feeling pretty bad. Woot?

 

It invoked terror – but we can’t call the Toronto van attack terrorism

By Stephanie Carvin

Hearts across Canada sank when news broke that a driver of a rental van had deliberately struck pedestrians along Yonge Street in Toronto on Monday. Images of similar events in London, Barcelona and Nice – all linked to terrorism – immediately come to mind during such incidents. But this is not the first time we have seen vehicle-based attacks in Canada – the October, 2014, attack in St.-Jean-sur-Richelieu as well as the 2017 attack in Edmonton, allegedly in the name of violent extremism, are two recent cases.

In the hours between the attack and the news conference on Monday night, speculation as to whether the attack was a terrorist incident grew on social media. Sadly, it was not so long ago that we had a similar conversation in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting. How could it be that someone who accumulated machine guns in order to kill innocent concertgoers was not a terrorist?

In Canada, the answer to this question is somewhat unsatisfying, but worth discussing. Section 83.01 of the Criminal Code states that any act carried out for political, ideological or religious reasons is terrorism. But not all political, ideological or religious reasons are alike. When an act is carried out in the name of a listed terrorist entity – such as al-Qaeda or the Islamic State (IS) – prosecutors can easily point to a coherent set of ideas upon which a terrorism charge can be laid. However, when it comes to fringe movements and broad anti-government ideologies, prosecution becomes trickier.

For example, Justin Bourque, the perpetrator of the 2014 Moncton shootings that killed three RCMP officers, subscribed to an anti-government ideology. And over the past two weeks we have learned that Alexandre Bissonnette had consumed vast amounts of conspiracy theories and alt-right media that demonized Muslims and refugees. Mr. Bissonnette apparently became convinced that society was under attack and he had to do something.

The problem for prosecutors is that in these two cases, the person may have been politically motivated, but pointing to a coherent set of ideas on which their acts were carried out is not possible. So, although their attacks may have been similar, terrorism charges have not been laid.

Part of the issue is the circumstances in which our terrorism legislation was written. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, the government envisioned terrorist groups with coherent ideas, leadership and goals. It is doubtful that they could have foreseen that someone might be politically motivated because of their consumption of material produced by an internet subculture or online videos of conspiracy theorists.

Does this make our terrorism legislation inherently biased? There can be no question that the legislation does a better job of capturing certain violent extremist views and not others. The question then is, would we be better off broadening the crime of terrorism or eliminating it all together?

It is imperfect, but there are practical reasons for keeping the current definition, even when it may lead to what seems to be inconsistent results. First, it helps to set out and limit the mandate of what we want our security services to investigate as violent extremism.

Second, terrorism offences are largely geared toward augmenting the prison sentence of someone accused of plotting a terrorism offence before it is actually committed. Once the act is actually committed, the police have the evidence necessary to put someone away for a considerable period of time. Proving that someone was motivated to act from a particular point of view is difficult and consumes resources at a time when investigative resources may already be burdened in the aftermath of an attack.

This helps to explain why Abdulahi Sharif, the accused in the Edmonton attack, has not faced terrorism charges, despite an IS flag in the vehicle that was used to assault police and civilians. And given that Mr. Bourque received one of the most severe sentences in Canadian history for murder (75 years without chance of parole), it is not clear that terrorism charges would have added anything to his punishment.

There is nothing to stop politicians from describing the attack in Toronto as a terror incident. Indeed, politicians from all parties did so in the wake of the 2017 Quebec mosque shooting. While we may never get terrorism legislation right, there is no reason why our response to any such violent incident should not be the same – to stand up for our communities, to empathize and to work toward a better Canada.

 

This post was originally published by the Globe and Mail 

Progress? Not Fast Enough, ISA 2018 edition

By Steve Saideman

I have been in this business for more than 25 years, and have gone to about 25 or so annual meetings of the International Studies Association (and about the same number of APSA’s).  Over the years, I have been struck by how much has changed since I started.

Besides the disappearance of polyester and leisure suits (yes, they still existed in the early 1990s), one of the big changes has been the gender balance.  It used to be the case that it seemed as if the only young women at these meetings were those representing the book publishers.  There are far more women (although not that many seniors) than there once was.

This time, I was struck by the increased ethnic diversity.  Sure, I know from the TRIPstudies (including my own) that 21st century IR is mighty white.  But it is less so than it was.  So, I could be pleased by the improvements. Yet….

Oh, my.   The only person I heard of getting badged–checked to see if they belong in the sea of ISA goers–was an African-American woman.  The same woman was also asked by multiple participants to get their drinks or clean up the lobby.  I will not go into the details, as it is her story to tell, but FFS!!!

So, I am reminded of many conversations with Teen and now College Senior Spew:
Me: sure, things aren’t perfect, but we have made progress (on gender, race, LGBTQ, etc).
Her:  NOT FAST ENOUGH!!!

And, yeah, she persuaded me that she was right.  This ISA was mostly a super-positive experience for me, but it is easier since I am a white, straight, male with an endowed chair and heaps of tenure.  It is easy for me to look around and notice that there is more diversity.  What is less easy for me is to see how the women and the African-Americans and the Latinx and the Asian-Americans and all the rest of the folks are treated and how they experience the event.

Which reminds me of something that happened at the airport.  On my way out, I sat next to a white woman who left her bag behind and walked off.  See something, say something, right?  After waiting a few minutes, I did so.  And then moved far away from that bag.  Twenty minutes later, she returned–that bag had acted as a seat-saver, I guess.  Oh, and security didn’t show up in that 20-minute interval.  Hmmm.

So, see something, say something and then some, right?

Coordinated diplomatic activity against Russia in response to chemical weapons incident in UK

by Jez Littlewood

Russia can expect to be welcoming over 100 of its diplomats back to Moscow in the coming weeks. Sixteen states have today ordered 106 Russians to leave their territory in a coordinated series of national announcements. The US ordered 12 Russian representatives to the United Nations in New York to leave, and a further 48 were also expelled alongside the order to close the Russian consulate in Seattle. Canada, France, Germany, and Poland each ordered four diplomats to leave, Ukraine ordered 13 to depart, and ten other European states took similar actions.

The coordination of national actions itself indicates a few things.

  1. This is serious. States do not readily expel diplomats from their territory. They can signal displeasure with another country through a variety of means in both public and private channels, for example recalling their own Ambassador to Russia. Ordering Russian diplomats to leave is very public and purposeful. The coordination of national activity, in this case, indicates clearly that certain Western states share the UK’s concerns about Russian activity and have been convinced that Russia must answer questions about the chemical weapons attack in the UK earlier this month.
  2. The response increases the pressure on Russia. The UK has been working with its allies and partners over the last few weeks on how to respond to the use of a chemical warfare agent in Salisbury (UK) in an attempted assassination of a former Russian intelligence officer. The UK has stated it believes Russia is responsible and its Western partners have now acted in a manner that supports that claim. Democratic states do not expel diplomatic staff on a whim. This coordinated response indicates that whatever information the UK has shared with its allies and partners has been convincing enough for them act and to act together. Coupled with other UK activity, including last week’s arrival of inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to take samples from the victims of the attack, the signals here are that the UK, and others, have a very high degree of confidence in the evidence about the chemical weapon used. Even if Russia did not order or sanction the attack – something that will probably not be known for many years – the type of chemical used (the alleged ‘novichok’ type of chemical warfare agent) leads back to Russia and some very serious questions. The UK is not alone in holding this view.
  3. It is not just about chemical weapons. The chemical weapons incident is being linked to other Russian actions over the last few years. As the Canadian statement notes: “This is part of a wider pattern of unacceptable behaviour by Russia, including complicity with the Assad‎ regime, the annexation of Crimea, Russian-led fighting in eastern Ukraine, support for civil strife in Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and other neighbouring countries, interference in elections, and disinformation campaigns.”
  4. Russia will retaliate. Further diplomatic expulsions are likely for the states who have acted today. Indeed, TASS is reporting that Russia will reciprocate in each case. One potential key early indicator will be if Russia reciprocates (in numbers) or escalates the number of expulsions across some or all states. Another aspect to watch carefully is whether or not Russia responds to some states more harshly than others.
  5. This issue is not going away. The deaths of various Russians over the last few years have been ignored or subject to private diplomatic signals or statements. Aside from the inevitable response from Russia in the coming hours and days, this chemical weapons issue is not going to fade any time soon. Last week inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrived in the UK to take samples and send them for independent analysis. At some point in the next two to four weeks the results of that analysis will have to be revealed. If the results confirm the UK analysis, pressure will mount in the OPCW and internationally for Russia to explain a few things. If the results contest the UK analysis, the UK will itself have some explaining to do to its allies and the wider world. Even if things calm down over the next few days, the issue will be pushed to the fore once again in a few weeks.
  6. The continued fallout will have negative implications in the near term. A continuation of the deterioration in Russian-Western relations generally should be expected. At stake here is not simply chemical weapons but the actions of the Russian state in a variety of areas as the Canadian statement notes. The collective signalling from Western states might, however, act as a catalyst for change. A slow, walk back from both covert and overt adversarial activity might be initiated if Russia takes the view that its interests are now being hurt and other foreign policies thwarted because of its actions. In short, the perceived advantages of such activities are outweighed by the disadvantages incurred by a coordinated Western response. It is not likely to be identifiable in words any time soon, but actions over the coming months may indicate a reduction in tensions.
  7. How, or if, other states respond, will be informative. Statements of support or statements objecting to the Western response may indicate if this issue remains contained as a Western-Russian flare-up or is spreading to the wider international order. We should expect Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, and potentially others to express support for Russia and decry the perceived hostility of the UK, US, Canada, and others. What China, India, Brazil, South Africa, or others do or not do in the coming days will be an important indicator of whether or not Russia stands alone, or the risk of a West versus the Rest international dispute is taking shape as many fear.
  8. There will be knock-on effects. Outside the immediate issue of chemical weapons where the dispute itself is likely to have serious detrimental impacts on the CWC and the OPCW in 2018, there are likely to be direct and rippling indirect effects on other arms control issues in the coming months. US-Russia relations in the nuclear weapons area have been deteriorating for several years and this is one further obstacle to any new talks on nuclear arms control. The fate of the Iran agreement – the JCPOA – and the expected summit between the US and the DPRK will also experience some of the negative implications of this dispute. As, indeed, will the routine arms control meetings under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention, and in the United Nations Security Council as it attempts to deal with continued use of chemical weapons in the Syrian war.

 

Key sources:

Spy poisoning: Russian diplomats expelled across US and Europe http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-43545565 [March 26, 2018]

Canada expels Russian diplomats in solidarity with United Kingdom https://www.canada.ca/en/global-affairs/news/2018/03/canada-expels-russian-diplomats-in-solidarity-with-united-kingdom.html [March 26, 2018]

Guidelines for NATO Spending: Inputs, not Outputs or Outcomes

I tend to complain a lot about the NATO 2% expectation – that members are supposed to spend 2% of their GDP on defense stuff, which probably makes more Canadian than anything else I do (I don’t skate or watch hockey much).  This is aspirational and countries are supposed to reach it by 2024.  I have written much about why this is problematic (it tends to make Greece look good, which is a clue; doing is more important than spending, etc), but today I want to focus on the heart of the matter: 2% is a measure of input and nothing else.

The basic idea is if we all spend a significant hunk of money, we will get more defense than if we spend somewhat less money.  But spending more money on defense may not improve NATO’s ability to field effective armies, navies and air forces.  For many members, spending more could simply mean spending more on personnel, which might lead to a more capable force or it might not.  There are additional NATO goals which get far less coverage, which are aimed at persuading members to spend significant hunks of cash on capital–building ships, planes, tanks and other equipment.  Again, this is a focus on input.  Spending more on equipment does not necessarily mean getting better or more equipment.  It could simply mean more waste.

The funny thing is that the US is pushing Belgium to buy the F35, suggesting that this would help them get to 2%.  Buying a super-expensive plane may or may not improve Belgian military performance, but it might get Belgium off of the free-rider list?  I am trying to remember a similar example of being so focused on inputs that they become more important than outcomes, but can’t at the moment.*

Sure, we tend to focus on inputs or even outputs because they are easier to measure, and in NATO dynamics, are things about which it is easier to come to a consensus.  It is hard to measure outcomes like readiness and effectiveness.  Also, big numbers are not secret whereas actual military capability–what can a country really do–might have to be covered in secret sauce.  But what really matters is whether NATO can fight better (against others, not against each other) or not.  Spending more might help, but it might not, depending on where the money goes.  When countries underperform, is it because they underspend or because they have restrictive rules or because they have lousy strategies (who could that be?) or because their procurement processes are busted (hello Canada!) or because the adversary gets a vote?

One last semi-related point: asking the Western democracies to spend more on defense after encouraging austerity post-2008 is a hard sell, and, yes, domestic politics is a thing.  After years of saying that spending must be cut on social programs because debt is the supreme evil, saying that the first priority now must be defense is just not going to fly, especially with all of the complex coalitions that are barely governing so many members of the alliance.

So, as we keep invoking 2%, let’s keep in mind that many countries will never reach it, as it would require more than a few to increase defense spending by 50-100% AND it allows us to ignore the bigger challenges of how to foster greater effectiveness and readiness.

* The only thing I can come up with would be examples from the Soviet Union of meeting five year plan targets by building huge non-usable things that helped reach the goals measured by weight like one really ball-bearing or something like that.

Teaching Can Be Fun: Dissertation Proposal Edition

The hardest part of research is starting.  The hardest part of a PhD program, in my humble opinion, is crafting the dissertation proposal.  It means coming up with an original project–which is no easy feat as much good work precedes us.  It means coming up with something feasible.  Oh, and many good questions go unanswered because they are impossible: “hey, could you guys start a war under these conditions, so we can see what happens?”

I have been teaching a seminar that aims at getting the students through the proposal.  This is tricky enough, but is even more complicated by a few key realities at my school:

  • The students are a mix of economists and political scientists, so they have very different research topics with all of the economists and most of the political scientists working on issues and using methodologies that are outside my expertise and often way outside.
  • As an interdisciplinary program, we don’t always have clear understanding of what is to be expected–how much theory?  How much methods?  How specific? How long should the proposal be?
  • The aim is for these folks to work in non-academic settings, but we have no idea what that market is really demanding and most of the profs (nearly all of us) were trained by traditional disciplines aimed at producing professors.

The way I teach this class is workshop the dissertation proposals piece by piece: the question, the possible answers (the dreaded lit review), the theory, the testable hypotheses, the methods.  Scattered along the way, due to various opportunities, we spend time on grant proposals, research ethics, and other stuff.  Each student gives a practice dissertation proposal presentation somewhere along the way.

The fun but challenging part is to try to give feedback on projects that are, as I said, all over place and beyond my expertise for the most part.  The good news is I have fresh eyes.  The bad news is that I have no idea if they are asking original questions (I don’t know the literatures they are reviewing) or if their methods make sense (if they are working on something fairly technical).  Today was the last course meeting, and I realized I have had fun getting inside their projects, providing feedback where I can.  I was able, I think, to provide some useful advice (take it or leave it, no biggie) even to those working on the stuff that is beyond me, and I had fun with some of the ideas that I could plausibly research myself.  The students have made much progress, although their advisers may be horrified by my suggestions.  Ooops.

Anyhow, as much as we complain about reading multiple drafts of stuff and how work in progress is often very slooooowly in progress, in my conversations during and after class, I was reminded that it is fun to work with folks as they are starting out.  The work is really hard, but the creativity is inspiring, and working with them to figure out how to surmount the obstacles can be fun.  I got in this job in part to play with ideas, and I use the word “play” deliberately.  As this is fun stuff, and I am glad to be reminded of that basic reality, which is often lost in the daily grind.

So, thanks to my INAF 6900 seminar for reminding me.