Elliot Cohen and the Canadian Forces

After the today’s core seminar, I went to a Changing Character of War presentation given by Professor Elliot Cohen. Focused on examining the American military, especially with regards to counterinsurgency operations in Iraq, if offered a familiar but well expressed perspective. All the standard big issues came up: public opinion, the differences between the branches of the military with regards to the conflict, current controversies, military relations with allies, private military firms, and the rest. I asked him afterwards about the perspective he has seen on the Canadian armed forces, among those serving in the United States. His response was a typical one: that they are good people profoundly hamstrung and sapped by a lack of financial and material support. The operational tempo of the Canadian Forces has never been higher relative to its capabilities. As Allen Sens so effectively conveys in his Canadian Foreign Policy lectures at UBC: by almost any measure, both long-term procurement and short-term funding are grossly inadequate.

Right now, Canada has about 62,300 active forces personnel (the 60th largest army in the world) and it is funded at the level of $12.9 billion per year. That is 1.1% of Canadian GDP. We have 114 tanks (obsolete, in Germany), about 300 infantry fighting vehicles, and about 1000 armoured personnel carriers. The Maritime Command has four Victoria Class submarines (diesel, obsolete), three Iroquois Class destroyers, and 12 Halifax Class frigates (the backbone of the navy) – all hampered by completely inadequate helicopter support. We also has 12 Kingston Class coastal patrol vessels, used for things like search and rescue and fisheries enforcement. That is one boat per 16,840km of coastline: the equivalent of 2.38 boats to patrol the entire circumference of the earth.

In terms of airlift capability, the best we have is 32 CC-130 Lockheed ‘Hercules’ combat transports. Stripped of all other cargo, they can carry two Light Support Vehicles (ie. jeeps). We entitled the 2005 International Policy Statement: A Role of Pride and Influence in the World, but when we sent the Disaster Assistance Response Team to Asia after the tsunami, we had to rely primarily on private chartered airlift to deliver the bulk of their equipment to the theatre of operations. We do have five CC-150 Polaris aircraft, but they are incapable of carrying large equipment and lack any defensive capability. One of the five was converted into a VIP transport during the 1990s and two more are slated to be converted into air-to-air refuelling vehicles.

At present, more than 1400 Canadians are deployed overseas: more than 1000 of them in Afghanistan as part of Operation Archer. To field a force of that size, about another 8000 individuals need to be in the process of preparing for deployment or returning from one. The next largest commitment is 190 troops serving in the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights. The next largest operations are 32 people each in the Sinai and Sudan. Of the 15 missions ongoing, five involve ten or fewer people. Eleven involve fewer than 20, according to the Canadian Forces webpage. We may have opted to put Canadian peacekeepers onto some of the new pieces of currency, but we haven’t opted to put terrible many out there in the world. In those places we have, they are often equipped at an inadequate level: the lack of armoured jeeps in Afghanistan being a notorious example.

Canada likes to maintain an international image as a helpful fixer and a leader in peacekeeping. We expect to be treated as an equal by our allies and generally considered a contributing member of the internatioal community. We take pride in backing things like the worldwide land mines ban through the Ottawa Process and the concept of the Responsibility to Protect. If that’s a role we want to play – or at least an image we want to maintain – we’re going to need to commit the necessary resources.

While it’s not particularly clear that any of the political parties running in the present electoral campaign is serious about making that commitment, it’s something that Canadians should be asking about. Whether you support the military or not, whether you support peacekeeping and other forms of international military engagement or not, it seems clear that trying to do these things on the cheap is the worst of all strategies. It endangers the lives of those serving while not producing the security which is the object of the mission. Looking at the numbers above certainly makes Stephen Harper’s plan to militarize the Arctic seem particularly wasteful of scarce resources.

On the ‘bombs and rockets’ side of IR

This afternoon, I got an invitation to attend a briefing on the final recommendations of the Bi-National Planning Group: one of the bodies that we met with in Colorado as part of the NASCA trip. Formed after September 11th, 2001, their mandate is to investigate security cooperation between Canada and the United States and make recommendations for improvements. They have been involved with projects like the Smart Border accord. While I obviously will not be able to go, I encourage the other NASCA participants to attend, if they can manage it. The briefing Dr. Baker gave us in Colorado Springs was certainly a solid demonstration of the good work that the BPG has been doing. When writing the report (PDF), I remember the BPG as an organization that received nearly universal praise. I look forward to reading their final report on enhanced military cooperation, once it gets released in May.

In a related point, I think I should start attending the meetings of the Oxford Strategic Studies Group, as I know some members of the IR M.Phil program have been doing. Much as I try to concentrate on environmental politics, the international use of force is obviously and permanently central to the study of international relations. As an IR scholar, you would never go hungry with war as your area of interest, especially since the pervasive ‘war on terror’ began. The fact that the strategic studies group meets at All Souls is also a significant point in favour of attending.

For me, environmental politics and strategic studies have a number of common factors that are appealing. They involve interaction with professionals who, as a social scientist (a term I remain skeptical about), you need to understand but not replicate. Scientists and soldiers are both fascinating kinds of people for me. They are endowed with specialist knowledge, which inevitably carries cachet for someone embedded in academia. They are also pleasantly straightforward and expected to be. That’s the reason why our NORAD / NORTHCOM briefing was so satisfying, as conversations with military people of all ranks from both countries have generally been. Speaking with Major General Lewis Mackenzie or cadets at West Point, you get the sense that they are at least making honest arguments that they genuinely want you to understand. Their apparent candour makes a nice contrast with the fiddly, theoretical bits of politics that seem to fascinate some of my friends and colleagues and that mostly just exasperate me. The same goes for scientists: whether those working at the UBC Fisheries Centre, people involved in the Northern Contaminants Program and Stockholm Convention, or others. Part of that comes from being unusually willing to admit when something is uncertain: perhaps the true mark of professionalism in such disciplines.

Another appealing commonality is the obvious possibility of making real-world improvements in both our approach to the environment and to war. These aren’t just areas that we should study for the sake of understanding better. We need to step beyond that and direct that understanding towards improvement. Again, the kinds of philosophical arguments that assert that such progress is impossible – that, in some complex way, such efforts are self-defeating – are exasperating to me. If we can significantly reduce the number of people who get malaria or AIDS, who suffer malnutrition from depleted fisheries, or who get killed by unexploded munitions, we’ve taken concrete steps towards a more just, more preferable world. Ultimately, that’s what I want to be a part of.

The Lesson of the Tallinn Occupation Museum

Prison cell door

One lesson you cannot help taking away from the Occupation Museum in Tallinn is that the protection of individuals from government is one of the most essential kinds of security. This is a point that is being completely missed in a wide variety of circumstances, especially as it relates to the so-called “War on Terror.” The question is not whether the government can protect citizens from terrorism, but what the ultimate balance of risks should be. Perhaps giving powers for increased surveillance or ease of detention decreases the likelihood of suffering a terrorist attack, though that is by no means proven. What it certainly does is increase the danger of the arbitrary and unjust use of force against civilians.

Given the enormous power and resources of government, the danger that it is capable of posing to citizens is extraordinary. That is why governmental accountability is absolutely essential. All power entrusted to government simply must be granted in conditional fashion: subject to revocation should it be abused. In turn, the only way we can be aware of the presence or absence of abuse is through public, civilian oversight. Government cannot be trusted to regulate itself, because to do so it to instantly accept a kind of de facto tyranny. Without knowing what is being done, supposedly on our behalf, we run the risk of being subjected to unjustified and difficult to reverse power grabs. There is almost incontrovertible evidence that this has taken place, in almost every developed country, since September 11th. Once again, this point is largely being lost in political debate in the west. As I wrote in the the NASCA Report (PDF), submitted to the Canadian Department of National Defence:

Maintaining openness about the measures being put in place, as well as allowing independent examination and discussion of both threats and responses, is a crucial mechanism for ensuring that an appropriate balance is being struck on matters of security. It is worth recalling that security is always a trade-off: with costs of various kinds rising to greater or lesser degrees as safeguards are created. For those safeguards to be a justified and legitimate part of a democratic society, they must be subject to public awareness and scrutiny. (21)Protection of the individual from unreasonable or arbitrary power – in the hands of government and its agents – is a crucial part of the individual security of all citizens in democratic states. While terrorists have shown themselves to be capable of causing enormous harm with modest resources, the very enormity state power means that it can do great harm through errors or by failing to create and maintain proper checks on authority. (25)

While it’s personally satisfying to have presented a document including such sections to policy makers, I have no way of knowing whether it will ever be taken seriously.

Looking at the photographs above, affixed on the inside of one of a whole line of doors from secret prisons formerly operating in Estonia, drives home the the point of human vulnerability contrasted with the facelessness of power. It’s an image that should stick in our minds when we are choosing to confer legitimacy upon governments, or seeking to withdraw it.

First Cowley Road foray

Margaret and books, Cowley Road

Today was refreshing. I took a walk to Cowley Road with Margaret and was excited by what I saw: intriguing looking ethnic restaurants, the brewery where the Hobgoblin Ale enjoyed at the bloggers’ gathering is made, as well as plenty of bike shops, used book stores, and small grocery stores. I am not sure whether my initial comparison to Commercial Drive is an accurate one. The balance between businesses is quite different (though the profusion of relatively inexpensive barber shops has rekindled hopes that my hair will soon return to a manageable length). The not-inconsiderable distance from Wadham to the area has made me think again about getting a bicycle. They had some used ones available for about eighty quid. I am not sure how much it would cost to have my bike in Vancouver sent by the cheapest form of surface mail, but that is worth looking into as an alternative.

Today also involved a lot of non-academic reading. I read a very interesting thesis about how John Walker – a spy in the American Navy – conducted an incredibly effective espionage campaign on behalf of the Soviet Union over a period of years. In particular, it is illustrative of the kind of huge security failures that can take place when there is inadequate communication between different agencies, as well as excessive secrecy applied in the wrong places. I also read from Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters, which Nora passed on to me when she found out that I was reading the sequel: Witches Abroad.

I also purchased the Philip Pullman edition of Paradise Lost and read the introduction and first two books. Reading Book II to Nora the other day reminded me what an engaging and enjoyable poem it is, and how worthwhile it will be, in the long run, to have a nice copy. The only bits I have a recall particularly well are the second book and the invocation to the Muse. I am not entirely certain of whether it is the right sort of reading material to mark out the spaces between stats and the study of international history in the interwar period. In the end, though, what could go wrong?

I called Lindi this evening to wish her a happy birthday. It was good to speak with her. She is still working on research for NASA, though her boss is apparently doing classified work for the Department of Homeland Security, as well. In ages of the world long past, Lindi and I were lab partners for Biology 10 – back at our mutual high school. When I was in first year, she lived in the tower adjoining mine in the Totem Park complex at UBC. She had considerable skill at playing the piano, as well as miraculous abilities of cooking better food than the cafeteria could offer, using only a miniature fridge and a toaster oven. Despite the fact that we share an enthusiasm for tramping about in the wilds of British Columbia, I can’t remember a time when we actually managed to do so together.

Surrounded, for the second night in a row, with the bursting and banging of fireworks and self-charged with the role of reporting on life in Oxford, I set out to find Guy Fawkes Night. I should have known better. I began heading southward, down Cornmarket and then St. Aldates, across the Folly Bridge and down Abingdon Street. I was following the boom and flash of explosions that always seemed about a kilometre and a half away: due South. 

What I realized, eventually, is that that Guy Fawkes Day is a decentralized holiday. My efforts to find it fared no better than the efforts of Bilbo and the dwarves in The Hobbit to crash the forest party of the elves. Guy Fawkes Day happens all around, but nowhere where people really congregate – at least, nowhere I could find. Several times, once I was about three kilometres out of Oxford, I passed a field from which a huddled group let forth a few volleys of fireworks, but there were no bonfires to be found and nothing with the appearance of a thing that a stranger can just wander into.

This is the antithesis of Vancouver’s Symphony of Fire: in which enormous masses of people congregate in the same place to watch a large, centrally provided show of pyrotechnics. It’s a different kind of community in Vancouver, I suppose: one too large for an individual to play a role in defining, but one inclusive enough that it can just roll along, adding new people to its bulk.

All that said, the night is yet young – the JCR bop that is to occur tonight hasn’t even begun, though I already have a good sense of what it will involve. Despite the very heavy police presence that Friday and Saturday nights seem to bring to the centre of Oxford, it can be an extremely rowdy place. Not in the sense of violence, but rather extreme noisesomness and general low-level harassment of passers-by.

And in luxurious cities, where the noise
Of riot ascends above their loftiest towers,
And injury and outrage: and when night
Darkens the streets, then wander forth the sons
Of Belial, flown with insolence and wine.
(PL I:498) 

Perhaps, with the passage of a bit more time, I will make another attempt to locate a Guy Fawkes bonfire. It would definitely help to have some inside information from a longer-term resident than myself. Likewise, it would be good to have someone to explore with. The cluster of people with whom I’ve spent the bulk of my time is really very small, and I soon begin to feel guilty for imposing upon them. I must widen my circle of social acquaintances, so as not to excessively press myself upon any of them.

PS. Here is an interesting video (Quicktime) of what you can manage if you are bold enough to attach a Mac Mini driven projector to the side of a Berlin subway car.

I fought the law and… did fairly well, actually

Out for drinks with ITG

Today was mostly marked with good news. The Justice of the Peace who adjudicated my Translink case gave me a very considerable reduction in my fine: from $173 to a much more manageable $15. After the very brief court appearance, I spent a few hours reading The Economist and then having sushi for lunch with my father, near his office. When I got home, I was pleased to find a letter from the domestic bursar at Wadham College informing me that I’ve been granted a room for next year within the main complex of the College. I will be living in the Library Court, immediately above the College library. As my mother suggested, perhaps this will save the the discomfort of lugging a bicycle across half of England.

The one piece of bad news so far today relates to the fish paper. As E.D. Brown said in an email today:

Our referee was fairly positive about your paper though he felt that it could have been more tightly focussed and had a tendency to wander off into related regions/theories. He also noted that it was based on only a handful of secondary sources. Despite these observations, we might well have accepted your paper had it not been in competition with a significant number of other papers. 

Reading it, the vision of an academic life that has been coming into tighter and tighter focus over the last few months wavered a bit. I am still hopeful that some journal can be found that will be willing to publish it. I always thought it more than a bit ambitious to submit it to Marine Policy in the first place, given my position as an interested neophyte in the subject area.

Last night, Fernando and I hammered together the version of the NASCA report which has been passed on to Allen Sens. It has been duly titled: “Common Threats, Shared Responses.” That’s partly to highlight our determination to make constructive criticisms rather than simply anger them with out uncomfortable undergraduate convictions.

In an hour, I am to meet with ITG – partly to discuss the future of the fish paper and partly as a sendoff. I am looking forward very much to the party on Saturday evening, as well as the hike on Friday morning. Alison and Ashley are both on board for the latter, with thoughtful messages from a few others who had to decline to participate.

Having a conversation and a drink with Ian was interesting, as always. Hopefully, he and Daniel Pauly will find some journal willing to publish the fish paper – once I have appropriately modified it for them. He has, in any case, been brought into the rolls of those who have official knowledge of the blog.

Departure in seven days.

Working for Staples no longer

Fernando working on the NASCA report

Today, my tenure at Staples came to an end. It’s a thrilling turn of events because, with any luck, this will also be my departure from the whole world of entry level jobs. The next time when I have a space open for employment, I will have finished the first year of my degree at Oxford and (I think, I hope, I pray) will be able to get some kind of thinking job in the UK.

Immediately after work, I met with Fernando. First at Tim Horton’s, then at our favourite 24 hour produce shop (on Lonsdale), and finally at my parents’ kitchen table, we pushed the NASCA report forward to version 1-3 and created a new opening segment for it. Tonight and tomorrow, I will finalize the executive summary, while he will write a letter of introduction and produce a cover page. Then, we need only add some photos, tweak the formatting, combine the two sections without screwing up the separate pagination, submit the thing to Allen Sens so he can write an introductory letter, create distinct versions for print and for the web, print and post the thing, and relax. The great majority of the work – I estimate at least 100 hours of reading and writing on my part – is done.

All this was propelled forward tonight by one iced cappuccino of the size bigger than extra large and at least two litres of Earl Grey tea. The latter is strongly reminiscent of late nights in high school, when provincial exams were the most significant thing worrying me. I’ve only just realized how appropriate it was to spend the evening of September 11th writing a report about defence planning. I really appreciate all the hours that Fernando has put into helping me with this document – the only other member of the group who has made a large contribution to the writing or editing process.

I anticipate that Sens will take issue with sections of the report, but thankfully that can actually serve to help us. By saying: “I would never have thought this way, or said these things” he can underline the value, as least insofar as diversity of ideas goes, of having student expeditions like NASCA take place.

Tomorrow night, I am going to a restaurant on Main called Himalaya as part of Kerrie’s visit to Vancouver. I forgot to mention how yesterday, while walking through Fairview on our way to the law faculty, Meaghan and I ran into Kerrie and her husband Nolan beside The Beanery. Their presence definitely also contributed to the dispelling of my sense of Fairview primarily as a menacing place where my ex-roommates might be encountered.

I’ve been meaning for ages to write some appreciative and insightful comments about The Great Fire and I have been writing little notes to myself in my European poet style black lined notebook, but now is not the time for such things.

PS. Anyone who can give me a correct French translation of the following will have my thanks:

The North American Security Cooperation Assessment (NASCA) 2005 Student Tour was made possible through the generous support of the Security Defence Forum Special Projects Fund of the Canadian Department of National Defence. 

Apparently, a single French paragraph is enough to make the report bilingual enough to suit the government. It says something about the state of my intellectual decay that I am not confident about my own attempt to translate the above – confounded by uncertainties about the proper usage of the partitive article.