Launching a “Bloody Nose” Attack Against North Korea is Likely to Backfire

by Mark Haichin

Throughout the past few weeks, there’s been considerable speculation that the Trump administration is considering a preventive military strike against North Korea in response to its nuclear weapons program. Presumably, this strike would target some aspect of the weapons program, like a nuclear facility or launch site, to signal to Kim Jong-Un and his regime that they need to act less aggressively or face a larger-scale attack in the future. The logic here is that a “rational” government would be expected to weigh the costs of backing down versus the costs of fighting against a nuclear superpower and choose the former, since the latter would almost certainly result in losing power or being outright annihilated. This would seem to be pretty consistent with basic deterrence theory so far, since a limited attack could be considered a signal of American willingness to retaliate against a North Korean attack (just ignore the Trump administration’s statements that North Korea can’t be deterred).

The problem is that trying to get North Korea to back down by “bloodying its nose” is a a fundamentally flawed plan. If anything, the evidence seems to suggest that launching this kind of attack against North Korea is, at best, likely to be totally ineffective at getting Kim Jong-Un’s government to back down on its aggression. The worst-case scenario, going from both my own research and the work of mostcommentators observing the current crisis, is that this could actually provoke North Korea into attacking the US or South Korea – i.e. the very thing that the attack is meant to prevent. So why is it that a limited strike against North Korea is such a bad idea?

To begin with, it assumes that the North Korean government has the same sensitivity to the costs of war as the US. There’s a large body of research, however, that argues that this is not the case. Rather, nondemocratic states like North Korea are expected to be less sensitive to the costs of war to their population than a democracy because their governments draw power from a few elite supporters instead of a large base of voters. As a result, they’re not worried about being voted out of office because of an unpopular and costly war; instead, they need to keep their backers (usually political elites and top military officers) rewarded to keep their support. My own PhD research suggests that these governments will be fine with fighting other states if their supporters don’t suffer as a result. Moreover, an actual attack against them will put these regimes in a position where they need to retaliate in some way to avoid looking weak, since that can get them removed from office (sometimes in a very permanent manner).

In the North Korean context, this means that launching a limited attack to try and scare the regime with the potential costs of war is unlikely to work. Historically, the Kims have repeatedly shown that they are willing to let their citizens suffer extraordinary costs to retain power, including causing famines by redirecting resources to their supporters. Furthermore, North Korea has also repeatedly antagonized the US and South Korea, including capturing the USS Pueblo in 1968and repeatedly attempting to assassinate South Korean presidents. The North Korean government has continued to act aggressively despite becoming diplomatically isolated and repeatedly sanctioned for its actions, since its supporters mitigate the costs by taking resources from the population instead. A preventive attack against North Korea would fail to deter it from further aggression simply because its government is insensitive to costs that don’t directly impact the leadership.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/42/Sejong_the_Great_%28DDG_991%29%2C_Yang_Manchun_%28DDH_973%29%2C_USS_Wayne_E._Meyer_%28DDG_108%29%2C_USS_Michael_Murphy_%28DDG_112%29%2C_USS_Stethem_%28DDG_63%29%2C_USS_Lake_Champlain_%28CG_57%29_and_Nimitz-class_aircraft_carrier_USS_Carl_Vinson_%28CVN_70%29_%2834389374276%29.jpg
The USS Carl Vinson and several South Korean Navy ships conducting a joint exercise in South Korean waters in May 2017

What the “bloody nose” strike is likely to accomplish is provoke North Korea into attacking either South Korea or the US in retaliation. Given the numerous threats made by President Trump throughout 2017 and the buildup of US forces nearby, it would be easy for Kim to assume that even a limited attack is the prelude to a larger war. If this was the case, he would likely respond with force to deter the US from escalating further, which would mean his removal from power and, in all likelihood, his death. This would likely mean attacking Seoul with the thousands of artillery pieces placed near the border, as well as launching conventional and nuclear missiles at American military targets, which even conservative estimates suggest would lead to hundreds of thousands being killed. Even if the limited strike is recognized for what it is, Kim would likely still launch some kind of limited reprisal as a show of strength and to avoid a potential coup. Overall, proposals to deter North Korea with a limited attack are more than likely to lead to disaster instead of deterrence.

 

Mark Haichin is a PhD candidate with the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University. He has a Masters in International Relations (Research) from the London School of Economics, UK. He specialises in issues relating to nuclear deterrence and proliferation. In addition, he has strong research interests in terrorism, ethnic conflict, and international relations.

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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.

From Nascent Insurrections to Full-Blown Insurgencies: Why Some Militant Groups Engage in Sustained Armed Conflicts

The following post summarizes findings from NPSIA Ph.D. Candidate Michael Shkolnik’s latest research paper.

In October 2014, the Sinai-based militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis conducted a sophisticated, multi-pronged attack targeting two Egyptian military positions and killing 31 soldiers. A month later, that group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, escalating violence and solidifying itself as an unprecedented threat to Egyptian national security. The dramatic and rapid rise of the Islamic State group and its affiliates shocked many observers around the world. By waging a successful military campaign in 2014, the militant organization was able to gain control of significant territory in Syria and Iraq, consolidate new power bases in the region, attract an unprecedented number of foreign fighters, and coordinate large-scale attacks around the world. Now, as the group loses its core territorial stronghold, observers are concerned about the potential emergence and escalation of other terrorist insurgencies around the world.

Data on terrorism and civil wars point to a sharp increase in militant activity worldwide in recent years – both in terms of casualties from terrorist attacks and battle-related deaths during armed conflicts. It is puzzling why some initially weak militant groups, who face immense difficulties in garnering material resources and support, are able to eventually engage in sustained violent operations and confront more powerful militaries. Most militant groups fail to survive beyond their first year, let alone pose a serious threat. Why do some militant groups engage in sustained armed conflicts while other groups do not?

In a recent paper, I conduct quantitative regression analysis on 246 prominent militant groups from 1970-2007 and find that, on average, organizational characteristics are better predictors of sustained armed conflict than measures of group capabilities. Some of my core findings diverge from current explanations of insurgency onset or outcomes. Posing a serious challenge to a state is not necessarily a function of how powerful or capable a group may seem – it’s more about the competitive militant environment and internal organizational capacity to effectively mobilize resources and maintain armed hostilities against regime forces. Three particular factors of importance emerged from my analysis: group ideology, organizational structure, and competitive militant environment.

Militant Group Ideology

Exploiting or fueling grievances among a particular population is critical for groups to mobilize for an insurgency. Some militant groups should be more capable of capitalizing on grievances than others – particularly religious and ethno-nationalist groups that can draw on resources from a well-defined constituency. Religiously motivated groups, in particular, tend to be more lethal and maintain indivisible objectives, making negotiated settlements improbable. These types of organizations are also better at overcoming key militant organizational hurdles: collective action and principal-agent problems. Religious groups are often in a stronger position to effectively screen recruits and mobilize resources via their robust social networks compared to more secular rivals. This is one explanation behind why Hamas was better at managing its operatives than its more secular rival Fatah. Religious groups rarely achieve their ultimate objectives. But my research suggests that those religiously motivated militant groups are far more likely to engage in sustained armed conflicts than other ideologically oriented groups – whether they are ultimately successful or not.

Organizational Structure

Research on social movements and militant group structures suggests that centralized and formally structured groups are more likely to achieve broader objectives than more decentralized groups. Militant groups with hierarchical structures tend to be more lethal and have a higher likelihood of ultimately defeating the states they fight. More centralized and integrated groups are more capable of allocating resources effectively, reducing principal-agent problems, and keeping lower-ranking members in line with the group’s broader objectives. By looking at a different dependent variable, however, my findings challenge conventional wisdom: groups with relatively less centralized command and control are just as likely to engage in sustained armed conflict than the most hierarchically structured organizations. Groups with more autonomous cells and specialized wings should still be able to launch a sustained insurgency, regardless of whether they end up beating the regime. Less centralization might make it harder for counterinsurgency forces to infiltrate and dismantle militant groups.

Competitive Environment

Competition for resources and manpower among rival constituent factions and other rebel groups is particularly crucial in the early phases of a violent conflict. Violence serves as an important signal of capabilities and resolves among groups competing for leadership of a particular constituency. Recent work highlights the importance of rival relations and internal movement structure to assess strategic success. In general, I find that more competitive militant environments also reduce the likelihood any particular group presents a major threat to the states they fight. This study also finds that the overwhelming majority of militant groups that engaged in sustained armed conflicts were the most dominant group in their environment around the time the group challenged the state. In the nascent stages of an insurgency, militant groups often have to consolidate rivals – whether by destructive campaigns or alliance formation – before emerging as the dominant organization and then taking on the regime.

Theoretical and Policy Implications

This study offers some implications for scholarship and policy, by examining an underexplored outcome of interest and addressing a selection bias prevalent across literature on political violence. It is important to study analytically distinct phases of armed conflict and differentiate between various militant group objectives (i.e. organizational, strategic) when evaluating success. Understanding this phenomenon is critical since groups that sustain military operations gain more influence and fundraising capabilities while further weakening the target state. Battlefield successes, in turn, encourage more recruitment and defections from rival groups. It is far more difficult for states to defeat a full-fledged insurgency than prevent a nascent insurrection from flourishing. There is no single theory that can explain particular militant group trajectories and counterinsurgency campaigns require context-specific analysis. But this paper presents generalizable empirical associations across diverse militant groups, while acknowledging the limits of large-n research, and identifies key cases for in-depth analysis by the author in subsequent work.

 

Michael Shkolnik is a Ph.D. Candidate at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. He recently served as a senior adviser and scholar-in-residence with the Strategic Foresight unit in Canada’s foreign ministry, focusing on futures of terrorism and international security trends. In the past, Michael worked with security-related research institutes in Ottawa, Washington D.C., and Israel. The views expressed here are strictly those of the author.

 You can follow him on Twitter:  @Shkolnik_M

 

 

Interdisciplinary Programs: Creating ‘Expert-Generalists’ or Simply Re-packaging and Re-branding Curricula?

by Samuel 

Many university students will choose to enrol in an interdisciplinary program as the first step towards a career upon leaving high school, or as a means of refining academic achievement at the graduate level. Interdisciplinary programs, university degrees which blend multiple disciplines to create a student with diverse skill sets, are designed to create professionals who have a ‘toolbox’ of academic disciplines which enable them to solve increasingly complex problems in the workplace. Interdisciplinary programs are increasing in popularity and may be important to generating capable workers for knowledge-based economies, but what impact are they having on traditional academic disciplines? Is reduced ‘depth’ the price of increased ‘breadth’ of education?

A critique of academia recycling and repackaging curricula

Although seemingly harmless, a managerial tool enabling post-secondary administrators to reshuffle academics and programs can be overused to the detriment of learning and the reduction of degree value. There are four main criticisms of the current state of academic interdisciplinarity caused by administrative pressures:

Insularity of faculty. When it comes time to design new interdisciplinary programs, a tendency to pick professors from a single discipline or to build the program as an off-shoot from a larger department may lead to group-think mentality. Therefore, insularity stems from the lack of cross-disciplinary conversation within the new department and the lack of fresh outside perspectives. Avoiding such narrow thinking was the whole point of interdisciplinarity in the first place! Although the average political economy degree, for example, may attract new students that would otherwise not have applied to a political science department, political economy departments across Canadian universities hire an overwhelming majority of political scientists. Academic homogeny within departments may erode the notion that interdisciplinarity is more than the simple repackaging of academics.

Borrowed infrastructure and virtual programs. The creation of ‘virtual departments’ that bring together an assortment of professors as well as other teaching staff and researchers, but do not have a distinct location, is often a cost-effective solution to creating an interdisciplinary program without needing additional capital investment. The shared faculty in such departments generally remain attached to their primary department (most often a ‘traditional’ discipline) and are asked to teach on specific topics that fall under the umbrella of the ‘virtual department’. Such ‘virtual departments’ use disciplinary silos without blending disciplines and fail to bring academics from a cross-disciplinary environment together. This often leaves ‘virtual departments’ with no permanent tenured faculty members of their own to their own devices. It can also complexify the administrative tasks students face as well as a lack of advice from faculty that can affect students’ theses, grant and proposal writing, and opportunities for research assistant positions.

Academic deflation. Many have argued that the lack of specialisation, especially in previous degrees such as college or bachelors, fail to provide students with the fundamental building blocks generally found within any discipline (and that there already exists collaboration across disciplines). In addition to students’ knowledge being spread too thin across a variety of subjects, the lack of specialisation can cast doubts with regards to what can often be perceived as watered-down skills in many disciplines. ‘Create your own degree’ programs that allow students to pick their own coursework across a wide array of disciplines and subjects often fail to provide their students with the necessary core courses or building blocks within each discipline. This dynamic lends itself to academic deflation and a re-packaging of academics to create generalist degrees with a theme.

Multiplication of disciplinary silos. Unfortunately, to multiply the number of cross-disciplinary programs, universities have occasionally recycled and re-branded academics into their own new disciplinary silos. Creating new insular silos of study, as opposed to transdisciplinary sharing, bears the danger of, as Reading claims, “interdisciplinary programs themselves becoming disciplines”. The critique here lies in the multiplication of disciplines within universities, which achieves little other than re-branding silos. As an example, these new silos for students could consist of anything from a health sciences degree that fails to interact with the faculty of medicine to an environment/conservation degree that fails to interact with the department of public policy or any of the natural sciences.

So, why does academia occasionally engage in ‘cheap’ interdisciplinarity?

Although it is our opinion that interdisciplinary programs have a great deal to offer students, these critiques of trends in universities recycling, repackaging and rebranding academics should serve as warning signs to applicants in interdisciplinary programs of study. But why do administrations do it this way?

Attracting an untapped demand and expanding revenues. The workforce continues to rapidly evolve. Employers are seeking employees who are cognitively flexible and capable of drawing from a broad array of academic disciplines. Driven by the ‘knowledge-based’ economy, employers demand experts within a given field, who also can draw from a toolbox of generalist skills. An economist may be required to support the accounting department of a start-up company while also understanding the political climate of a given market. In general, demand for flexible and interchangeable agents creates demand for ‘expert generalists’ (pardon the neologism), which certain universities have capitalised on. The risk associated with this dynamic is the creation of interdisciplinary programs – perceived to be selective and elite – which output students with a dressed-up general degree.

Stretching current resources. From an administrative perspective, interdisciplinary programs also set conditions to increase the productivity of an indeterminately employed faculty while supplementing them with contract instructors. Rather than allowing faculty to research and teach exclusively within a given discipline, cross-assigning them to interdisciplinary studies departments increases the potential number of students which can access a given faculty member. For example, a political science professor may now also instruct graduate students focusing on sociology, economics, or history. By pulling faculty out of specific disciplines, the potential number of students they may influence becomes much higher.

Not only stretching resources but also adding cheap resources. The multiplication of interdisciplinary programs (or at least how they are currently implemented in academic institutions) makes it easier to bring in adjunct professors and sessionals that are cheaper. For example, applied interdisciplinary programs such as public policy, international development, journalism and so many others can call upon practitioners as sessionals or part-time faculty. The practice of relying on sessionals and other part-time faculty has been widely criticised within academia but has often fallen on deaf ears.

Finding the magic formula: creating the ‘proper’ interdisciplinary program

To ensure quality and credibility of interdisciplinary studies programs, it will be incumbent upon universities to ensure the assigned faculty are genuinely interdisciplinary: academic credentials from multiple disciplines must be demonstrated. So how can we build a truly interdisciplinary program? Building a robust interdisciplinary program requires institutionalisation and branding. A few key characteristics should be considered when program-building:

Dedicated faculty. Although some cross-listing of faculty may be acceptable, core faculty must exist within an interdisciplinary school. This is critical to establishing and maintaining a high standard of intake and output. Such faculty should be ‘protected’ from delivering research or instruction within other, larger departments, and should be the leaders in establishing the definition of ‘interdisciplinary’ from the school’s perspective.

Dedicated facility and space. The existence of an interdisciplinary school should not be on paper alone. A physical location with dedicated study space, library facilities, and support staff is required. This ensures a sense of permanence among faculty and students and sets conditions for the institutionalisation of research units, alumni, and scholastic journals.

Branding and association. Given dedicated faculty, standards, and physical location, a school’s association with a given industry, sector, or profession provides both students and faculty direction and guidance with regard to research objectives and curriculum development. This ‘centre of excellence’ approach sets important conditions for academic/practitioner interaction and can be a mechanism to measure the school’s effectiveness.

Controlling standards. Ultimately, the department and faculty themselves must monitor the standard, and clearly articulated standards must exist within a designated interdisciplinary program. Students must have a clear understanding of how they may be permitted to draw from various disciplines to accomplish course objectives, and some degree of differentiation from a ‘traditional discipline’ approach should be apparent. Close monitoring of standards is required.

Hiring more faculty that themselves studied in an interdisciplinary environment could be a great leap forward. However, regardless of where one stands, some consideration should be given to whether it is incumbent upon faculty to provide a truly interdisciplinary approach, or if students themselves must piece together a degree within a multidisciplinary environment.

 

 

Samuel MacIsaac is a Ph.D student at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, where he specializes in International Economic Policy. He holds a Masters in Economics from the University of Montreal. His research interests include international migration, international finance and trade, and international relations. He has written on issues relating to negative interest rates, the impact of trade on education outcomes and forecasts of immigration within Canada.  

Bryan Bereziuk is a Ph.D student at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, where he specializes in International Conflict Management and Resolution.  He is an experienced practitioner in counter-insurgency operations and defence organizational development.  His research interests include counter-terrorism policy development, insurgency containment, and international technology transfers. 

Probably a Violation of the Terms of Service: Donald Trump’s Tweets and the Risk of War

by Mark Haichin

Well, it’s hardly surprising that something went wrong with Donald Trump’s trip to Asia. It seemed to be going fairly well at first, too, at least by the standards set by Trump’s behaviour this past year – mostly due to the fact that he avoided raising uncomfortable topics such as human rights and democracy in China and the Philippines. But then he found himself defending Vladimir Putin’s denials about meddling in the US elections last year and being forced to awkwardly clarify his remarks when it was pointed out that the US intelligence community strenuously disagreed. And on November 12th, he responded to an earlier statement by the North Korean government that referred to him as an “old lunatic” with a passive-aggressive tweet where he called North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un “short and fat” (though for whatever reason he didn’t take offense to being described as a lunatic).

The fact that the President of the United States is petty enough to launch insults at other heads of state over Twitter, especially in the way a stereotypical teenager would, is a problem in itself. It transcends merely embarrassing behaviour to become an outright national security concern, however, when those insults are aimed at the leader of a hostile nuclear weapon state that is already feeling seriously threatened by a number of other tweets and hostile signals, as North Korea has over the course of the past year. Perhaps most blatantly, an earlier tweet by Trump in late September, which stated that North Korea’s leaders “won’t be around much longer,” was explicitly referred to by the North Korean government as a declaration of war (which is admittedly a frequent statement). Bizarrely, threatening another state apparently doesn’t count as a violation of the Twitter terms of service, as presidential statements are considered newsworthy by default and thus supersede pesky rules like not harassing and threatening people.

All of this serves to indicate the broader issue that Trump’s use of Twitter is circumventing the usual means of conducting diplomacy – which is especially concerning in light of reports that his administration is essentially gutting the State Department. In the past, professional diplomats have been key in preventing conflict by communicating with each other and clearing up possible misperceptions that leaders might have about the intentions of their peers. Such misperceptions have a tendency to lead to war between states, as leaders on both sides overestimate the other side’s actual hostility and willingness to fight until one or the other decides they need to strike first.

Unfortunately, this seems to be what’s happening between Trump and Kim Jong-Un at present. North Korea’s government has long been concerned about the US invading and removing it from power (given that they had fought during the Korean War and has never fully ended hostilities with US-aligned South Korea), and invested significant resources into developing a nuclear arsenal in order to prevent this. The present consensus is that if the North Korean government believes that it is about to be attacked by the US and overthrown, it will retaliate with every weapon at its disposal – after all, if Kim Jong-Un and his lackeys are removed from power, they’ll likely be killed like Saddam Hussein and Moammar Qaddafi were, so what would they have to lose at that point? By threatening this kind of retaliation, the regime’s intent is to make any attempt at overthrowing it a suicidal venture, especially since the Kim family’s style of governance over the years have made it readily apparent that they are willing to do anything to stay in power. Naturally, the reasonable thing for other states to do in this situation would be to avoid any kind of signal that would lead the North Korean government to think it will be attacked, such as threatening to “rain fire and fury” on it in response to its nuclear tests.

Trump, however, seems to lack the filter that most heads of state possess, and regularly tweets whatever he’s thinking without so much as consulting advisors and diplomats as to whether it would be a good idea to do so (or to make sure his remarks are anywhere close to factually correct). Moreover, as the leader of the US, his comments are easy to interpret as his country’s official position. So when Trump tweets that the US has prepared military solutions to deal with North Korea, it’s only logical for the North Korean government to seriously consider the possibility that an attack is likely. Given the heated rhetoric on both sides, it is likely that either North Korea or the US ends up believing that the other side is about to attack and decides to strike first, even if it turns out that no such attack is imminent. While there have been calls in the US to mitigate this by removing Donald Trump’s authority to launch a nuclear first strike (with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee actually debating this), Trump’s erratic tweets could still help provoke a war by giving the impression that there may be a conventional attack.

The fact of the matter is this: Donald Trump’s habit of blustering and threatening leaders on social media is not just unbecoming of a world leader, but is a threat to US national security in its own right, as it may lead other states to believe an attack is imminent even when this is not the case. If a nuclear war were to break out, that threat could end up having dire consequences for states beyond the belligerents, especially if other nuclear weapon states like China (which is technically allied with North Korea, if only out of perceived necessity). Shutting down Trump’s Twitter account seems like a simple solution to this, if only because it would force him to think about what he says a little more and potentially go through somewhat more sensible advisors. Yet Twitter’s moderators claim that even his most threatening tweets don’t actually violate their terms of service due to their newsworthiness, and thus his account shouldn’t be shut down or even suspended in response. We can only hope that they decide to change their minds before one of Trump’s tweets leads to disaster.

 

Mark Haichin is a PhD candidate with the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University. He has a Masters in International Relations (Research) from the London School of Economics, UK. He specialises in issues relating to nuclear deterrence and proliferation. In addition, he has strong research interests in terrorism, ethnic conflict, and international relations.

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.

Dismounting the Moral High-horse: Nuancing Canada’s Perceived “altruistic” Approach to Immigration

Canada is a leader in welcoming refugees. Claims that the government holds an altruistic stance on immigration have become part of the collective national consciousness. What is especially surprising is the belief, regardless of political affiliation, that Canadian immigration is a form of charity to newcomers that allows them to start a new life. Whether it be praise for Trudeau’s acceptance of Syrian migrants or criticism of his overly generous refugee acceptance at taxpayers’ expense, many Canadians perceive their country as generous with regards to immigration policy. Although this perceived altruism may appear as a fundamental international responsibility to some, or a misguided charitable policy that holds a high economic cost to others, the notion that immigration policy is not in Canada’s own self-interest is fundamentally wide off the mark. There may be a charitable portion to immigration by accepting refugees (both government funded and privately sponsored) fleeing danger and seeking asylum, but the majority of immigration remains principally economically motivated.

Put bluntly, the question is whether Canada’s policy is really based on welcoming those in need, or not. Does it not restrict admittance to only the best candidates to further its economic agenda, thanks to the points system (as well as other provincial programs aimed at filling employment and skill gaps), whilst natural barriers to illegal immigration do the rest? The underlying motive here is to demystify Canada’s role in “progressive immigration strategies”. The Canadian immigration strategy should more adequately be portrayed as a mix of charitable and economically viable policy rather than erroneously labelling it as one or the other.

A little bit of back story: what do the numbers say?

So, what do we mean by “immigrant”? The term immigrant refers to non-native citizens and non-citizens residing in Canada, excluding temporary foreign workers and those on work or student visas. There are three main classes of immigrants in Canada as defined by Citizenship, Immigration and Refugees Canada: Economic Class, Family Class, and Refugees.

Samnumbers-1024x512

Note: The 2016 and 2017 figures appear as targets since official numbers have not yet been released for the entire year (only available for the first few quarters).
Source: Immigration data and target data.

Two prominent economists studying migration, Abdurrahman Aydemir and George Borjas, point towards large influxes of “skilled” migration in Canada (mainly due to the points system that favours economic migrants) narrowing the wage inequality gap. They also claim that large influxes of “low-skilled” migrants in the US have had negative labour market impacts, including unemployment and reduced wages. Although their research dates back to 2006, the central policy conclusions remain true today. Canada has seen a steady increase in its admittance of economic class migrants that prioritise Canadian economic welfare over its compassionate international responsibilities towards vulnerable displaced individuals worldwide.

Canada the altruist: the good face of Canadian immigration

As many celebrated the return of the Trudeaumania of the late 1960s, the acceptance of additional thousands of Syrian refugees became one of the cornerstones of the Liberal platform. Between the renaming of Citizenship and Immigration Canada to Citizenship, Immigration and Refugees Canada and the trending #welcomeRefugees Twitter tag, it seemed to usher in a new era of increased appreciation for Canada’s international responsibility. This grand humanitarian gesture towards those in need reaffirmed Canada’s image as a welcoming country, in stark contrast to the rising isolationist, populist and nationalist waves across many western nations.

Although far behind Germany, Canada ranks among the very top regarding inflows of asylum seekers per capita in the world according to OECD estimates. Fulfilling, even surpassing, its international responsibility as per the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Canada has experienced significant growth in its acceptance of permanent residents or immigration numbers, including family reunification through family member sponsoring programs. This increase in diversity puts Canada on the path to nearly one in two residents being either an immigrant or second-generation immigrant (person with at least one parent being an immigrant) by 2036. Although this bright and altruistic depiction of Canadian immigration policy may be inspiring to many, Canadians should remember that the majority of immigration remains economically motivated as opposed to the often-portrayed humanitarian idealism. Refugees and compassionate/humanitarian immigrants remain a small fraction of Canadian immigrants (14.5% per the 2017 immigration target data).

Case against the moral high-horse: nuancing Canada’s altruistic stance

Although it can be flattering to see descriptions of Canada as a compassionate country that is accommodating of migrants of all kinds, one does not need to look far before conceding that such claims need to be nuanced. Despite having become more accommodating over time, the refusal of Jewish migrants and their return to Europe in the wake of the Second World War and rigid ethnic quotas for immigrants (particularly Chinese immigrants before the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1947 since it was inconsistent with the United Nations Charter of Human Rights) still mar Canada’s historical immigration record.

Canadian immigration, which remains mainly self-interested and economically minded largely depends on the points system to filter out “less-skilled” migrants (although this could potentially include “less-skilled” family members of the primary applicant). These economic migrants serve as important drivers of Canadian entrepreneurship and long-term growth, and it is erroneous to dismiss this as Canadian compassion, selflessness or altruism. Economic migrants offset the costs of other more compassionate forms of immigration such as family reunification or refugees. There also exist natural barriers that prevent these “less-skilled” migrants from crossing into Canada illegally. It is easy to claim that Canada accepts many immigrants on compassionate grounds when it doesn’t have to worry about undocumented migrant waves that are largely “low-skilled” and a potential drain on public resources (at least temporarily) and has economic migrants through the points system that offset costs.

Appreciating Canada’s nuanced stance on immigration: balancing humanitarianism and economic benefit

There exist significant benefits to immigration. These range from higher fertility rate in second-generation immigrants, to maintaining balanced demographics (landed immigrants or first-generation immigrants tend to be older and do not have this rejuvenating effect), to filling employment gaps and reducing inequality, to increasing the average entrepreneurial spirit and increased average education levels. Therefore, immigration can be a boon for Canadian growth. However, we are cherry picking migrants by largely focusing on economic class migrants. And although Canadians have often welcomed asylum seekers and others in need, choosing the cream of the crop when it comes to economic migrants is primarily motivated by economics and demographics, not altruism.

On a global scale, Canada remains among the highest receivers of refugees per capita, with Germany a mile ahead of the pack. Canadians have, to a certain extent, earned the right to claim some moral high ground when it comes to immigration issues. Recent uptakes of family and refugee class permanent residents indicate a more charitable stance to immigration during the Trudeau government’s tenure. But let us all remember that immigration remains a fundamentally economic issue. The recent reductions in targets for refugees (from 55,800 in 2016 to 40,000 in 2017) and the increase in economic immigrants (from 160,600 to 172,500) are a testimony to that.

Canadians from across the political spectrum appear to believe their country is generous in accepting refugees. Canada may be welcoming to refugees and those in need, but claiming its immigration policy is purely selfless is willful ignorance from the “pro-immigration” camp and an easy target for advocates of reduced immigration. There is nothing inherently wrong with a charitable or a self-benefiting (focused on more productive economic migrants) immigration policy, but let it be clear: Canadian immigration policy, as it currently stands, is mainly driven by economic self-interest. We can debate the merits of a philantropic and charitable versus a self-benefiting immigration policy, but let us be clear: Canadian immigration policy, as it currently stands, is mainly driven by economic self-interest.

 

Samuel MacIsaac is a PhD student at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, where he specializes in International Economic Policy. He holds a Masters in Economics from the University of Montreal. His research interests include international migration, international finance and trade, and international relations. He has written on issues relating to negative interest rates, the impact of trade on education outcomes and forecasts of immigration within Canada.