Venezuela’s unlikely rescuers: the US and Cuba?

By Jean Daudelin

Given the scale of its problems and the “quality” of its government, Venezuela could have collapsed into a civil war years ago. It did not. The restraint shown by the opposition and especially the fact that most weapons were on the Chavista side kept the lid on the pot.

The crisis is now deeper than ever, with deadly department stores’ looting now joining crippling shortages of basic necessities, increasing unemployment, the world’s highest inflation rate, stratospheric levels of corruption, disintegrating public services, crumbling infrastructure and terrifying levels of criminal violence.

At the same time, the government’s quasi-monopoly of violence is breaking down. President Nicolás Maduro’s control over the military and party militias has always been partial with National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, in particular, keeping a much-purged and corrupt military for himself. There are rumbles, however, both on the party militia side and within the military. Without surprise, the regimes’ much used but long unruly street gangs’ loyalty is less assured than ever. When it comes, in other words, the violence will start from within Chavista ranks.

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The sorry state of Canada’s foreign policy debate

By Valerie Percival

Much of the debate about foreign policy is directed towards the elected government, and the political positions it takes on current international issues. These positions deserve public debate and scrutiny, particularly given the upcoming October election. But what about the machinery behind the elected government? Much of foreign policy actually revolves around the day-to-day performance of unelected leaders within the bureaucracy. Do we encourage these leaders to develop and maintain skills – the knowledge base, the willingness to assess available research and evidence, and the intellectual curiosity necessary to be innovative in the face of new challenges? Perhaps this should also be an issue for debate during our election campaign.

To effectively teach in the field of international affairs, professors face several challenges. The field covers pretty much everything these days, from the traditional — conflict, security, trade, and development — to the more novel — health, environment, energy, finance, and more. The field is also prolific; new ideas and ways to view the world constantly emerge. Moreover, the world itself continually changes — the unexpected is always around the corner and tomorrow will not be like today. Explaining current events can be difficult. Yet explanation is definitely easier than predicting what will happen next year, or even next week.

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Brazil: The Crash of the Chicken

By Jean Daudelin

Cynics have long described Brazil’s development path as “the flight of the chicken:” brief spurts of growth, sometimes spectacular, followed by more or less brutal declines. After a tad more than a decade of expansion, the country is now going through one of those periodic crashes. And this one is ugly, perhaps because this time the chicken was flying really high, seemingly dreaming that, with all this talk of BRICS and emerging power, it was a chicken no more.

Analysts are predicting between two and four years of recession while inflation has reached its highest level in more than 10 years. Tax revenues are down (minus US$37bn projected for 2015), June’s “primary” deficit—excluding interest payments—is larger than the worst predictions of analysts while the overall deficit of the public sector borders 7 percent of the GDP. The Real is down 40 percent since June 2014 and the index of São Paulo’s stock exchange—the largest in Latin America—has dropped 20 percent in dollar terms since January 1. Exports were down in 2014, especially for manufactured goods (minus 14 percent) and the country saw its first trade deficit in years. The current account shortfall, at US$93bn, reached 4.3 percent of GDP last year, the largest since 2001 and interest-rates stand at a world’s “best” 14 percent. The country has lost more than 300,000 jobs in the first three months of 2015, to the point where the absolute size of the formal labour market has shrunk for the first time in years.

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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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Bombing Iraq 101: A primer on Canada’s action

By Steve Saideman

Now that Canada has dropped its first ordnance on Iraq since 1991, people have many questions, so let this post serve as a Frequently Asked Questions for what we know of the mission at the moment.

Q: What have Canadian CF-18s hit?

A: No official answer thus far although since Minister of National Defence Robert Nicholson mentioned Fallujah, although it appears that Monday’s Fallujah airstrikes hit equipment used to build defenses—bulldozers and trucks. Not exactly the normal targets of an air campaign, but it serves to prevent ISIL from preparing its defenses.

Q: Are Canada’s CF-18’s up to the task?

A: There was a report critical of the Canadian armaments, not so much the planes themselves. That is, Canada’s first bombs were laser-guided, which do not work well when it is cloudy. On the other hand, these kinds of bombs are better against moving targets. And many of the targets in Iraq will be moving. Indeed, the various officials have made clear this time that Canada is hitting both dynamic (moving) targets and deliberate (fixed) targets. In Libya, some countries would only attack fixed targets that could be vetted by lawyers and others before the pilots took off. There and here, Canadian pilots have more flexibility.

Q: Canada launched air strikes for several days but returned without dropping bombs.

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Message Mismanagement

By Steve Saideman

I have long argued that two key priorities have shaped Stephen Harper’s defence policies over the past several years: a balanced budget in 2015 and message management. Anyone interacting with government officials can tell stories about the climate of fear that exists there. That fear isn’t so much about policy being screwed up as it is about saying something aloud that the media might report.

Military missions pose significant risks to message management for two reasons. One, the mission itself can go awry. Two, larger missions mean more interactions with the media. It’s this second issue that this government seems more concerned with. Embedding reporters with thousands of soldiers is a nightmare for anyone seeking to control the messaging.[1] This is one reason why Canada’s deployments since Kandahar have been very restricted in size and scope.

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The stakes in Brazil’s final election vote

By Jean Daudelin

Brazil’s election campaign, marked by a dramatic and unexpected turn, ended with one more surprise this past Sunday, as presidential candidate Aécio Neves finished with a solid 33.5 percent of the vote, 12 points ahead of Marina Silva — expected for much of the campaign to come in second — and only eight behind incumbent Dilma Rousseff. These results pave the way for what will likely be the most savagely disputed and hardest to predict election round since Brazil’s return to democracy in 1985. The run-off vote takes place Oct. 26.

Vote distribution paints a divided country, with the poor North and Northeast coming out massively in support of Rousseff’s Worker’s Party (PT), while the West and Southeast, especially São Paulo, took a strong stand in favour of the opposition.

Two important anomalies are worth noting, especially as they happened in the richest and largest electoral colleges of the country. Rousseff prevailed in Minas Gerais (43.5 to 39.8 percent for Neves) and Fernando Pimentel, the PT candidate for governor, was elected in the first round, with 53 percent of the vote. Minas Gerais is an agricultural and industrial powerhouse but also the state where Neves was elected twice as governor, the state he represents in the Senate, and one where his overwhelming popularity was never in doubt before the campaign.

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The hawk’s dilemma

By Steve Saideman

In today’s Globe and Mail, Jack Granatstein, one of Canada’s foremost military historians and big fan of the Canadian Forces, wrote that the Conservative’s treatment of the military is causing him to vote for someone else next time.

Harper has lost a hawk despite his rhetoric about defense, his celebration of the Royal past of the CF, the focus on the glorious War of 1812. Why? Because Canada is spending less today, after adjusting for inflation than when Harper came into power. Perhaps not every procurement project is a disaster – but pretty much all of the big ones. Each year, the government announces that it has not spent all of the money budgeted for the military since the procurement programs are behind… and by coincidence ;) this makes it easier to reach a balanced budget.

My personal bugaboo has been the refusal to cut the size of the forces. If the dollars are going down, how about cutting personnel since they are a very big percentage of defence spending? No, Harper wants the numbers of personnel to stay the same so he can claim that he expanded the military. But if the personnel numbers do not go down, then cuts will have to come from elsewhere – operations (oops, mideast stuff is going to make this hard) and maintenance. Nobody here uses the American phrase “hollow force” but perhaps that is a matter of time.

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Nation-building in the Mideast? What is needed is a Sunni home in Mesopotamia

By Jean Daudelin

In an enthusiastic endorsement of Barrack Obama’s new offensive in Syria, Brookings’ Kenneth Pollack argues that the key to the stability of the region lies in effective nation-building.

In the face of innumerable failures and, over the last 20 years, of the progressive reconfiguration of Germany, Central Europe and the Balkans around newly created — or re-created — ethnic states, Pollack still argues that multi-ethnic or multi-communal nation-building is possible in the Middle-East, from the outside and without rearranging the absurd boundaries of the region.

And yet, if it were successful (a big if), the most likely outcome of the strategy he outlines — arming a “moderate” Syrian opposition and helping it take control of the country against both Assad and IS — would be the rise to power, in Syria, of a Sunni regime that would be a mirror image of Iraq’s Shia one, and under which you wouldn’t want to be a minority: Alawite, Kurdish or Christian, in this case, instead of Kurdish and Sunni in Iraq.

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The Debate Over the Iraq Deployment: Confusion Reigns

By Steve Saideman

One refrain I heard during Canada’s time in Afghanistan was that Canadians were confused about Afghanistan. Well, after more than 12 years in Canada, I can say that I am still quite confused about Canada. How so? Last night, there was an emergency debate about Canada’s deployment of 69 troops (Special Operations Forces) to Iraq to do training. I think the point of the debate was to provide some clarity about this effort, but if so, it failed miserably.

The Liberals called for this debate and only had a handful of members show up. If this is something that is vital, which is kind of implied by the term “emergency debate,” one would expect a better turn out.

The New Democrats sent a significant number of members to show up and, mostly, demonstrated that it takes the Defence file more seriously than the other parties. Of course, they still provide more confusion than clarity about whether votes are required for deployments (they are not and have rarely taken place).

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