Canada if the US collapses

The most disturbing thing about the January 6th riot and Trump coup attempt has been the reaction of American politicians. Despite being witnesses and targets of the attack, politics as usual has persisted, including Trump’s dominance of the Republican party.

This suggests a substantial danger that Americans in power will choose the victory of their tribe over the other above the endurance and peace of the union.

In today’s Globe and Mail, Thomas Homer-Dixon writes:

By 2025, American democracy could collapse, causing extreme domestic political instability, including widespread civil violence. By 2030, if not sooner, the country could be governed by a right-wing dictatorship.

During my international relations undergrad, profs often told us about how for most of Canadian history the biggest threat to Canada’s sovereignty has been invasion from the south. If mass political violence does erupt in the US — likely accompanied by a mass sense that the federal institutions of the supreme court, congress, and the presidency do not hold legitimate power over the whole US populace — it’s hard to believe that the US-Canada border would be respected in the uproar.

Of course it’s undiplomatic to talk in public about what will happen if your neighbour and strongest ally falls into civil war or ceases to be a democracy. Nonetheless, given the pathologies in American politics and society, it’s something Canadians must consider with growing seriousness and urgency.

Cohen on the purpose of Dimona

The scope of the Israeli request for French technological assistance, the details of which Shimon Peres spelled out in Paris in 1956/1957, was tantamount to a national proliferation commitment. Enough is now known about the extent of the Dimona deal to appreciate how determined Ben-Gurion was to pursue it. The Dimona nuclear complex was designed to include all the technological components required for a plutonium-based nuclear-weapons infrastructure. The project’s scope and purpose were evident in the facility’s sanctum sanctorum, the deeply dug underground reprocessing facility designed to extract plutonium from spent uranium rods. Nothing is more indicative of Israel’s initial commitment to build a nuclear-weapons capability than this supersecret and costly facility. From the beginning, Israel hoped that [sic] within a decade or so to have enough fissile material to build its own nuclear device.

Cohen, Avner. The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb. Columbia University Press, 2010. p. 57–8


Climate change and human migration

One of the certain consequences of climate change is that it will change the relative prospects and appeal of living in different areas, both in the short-term as acute incidents like wildfires and floods occur and long-term as agricultural productivity, water availability, and sea level shift.

This is a reason why climate justice activists see migrant rights as fundamentally linked to the fight against climate change. Theoretically, it could also be a motivation for conservatives who are skeptical about large-scale and uncontrolled migration to do more about limiting how badly we damage the climate.

The scale of movement driven by climate disasters is already substantial, exceeding the level of internal displacement caused by war according to the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

Even in rich countries, a large scale managed retreat from coastal areas may be forced by storms and rising seas — a development that hasn’t yet percolated into the thinking of citizens and politicians.


Will China invade Taiwan?

This week’s issue of The Economist has Taiwan on the cover and describes it as the “most dangerous place on Earth”.

It is widely reported that a central purpose behind China’s military buildup and particularly the acquisition of naval and amphibious warfare capabilities is the country’s ambition to conquer its democratic neighbour. The implications thereof could be profound, including in terms of China and Taiwan’s domestic politics, Taiwan’s crucial global role as a microprocessor manufacturer, and the confidence of America’s regional allies in America’s security guarantees. If their confidence is sapped by a Chinese takeover, increased regional militarization and perhaps nuclear proliferation are plausible.

China’s conduct toward Taiwan may also be illustrative of its long term geopolitical role as it continues to rise in affluence and military strength, potentially going beyond maintaining an oppressive, nationalistic, and militarist system at home into the actual domination or conquest of foreign territory (though China’s government asserts that Taiwan has been part of China all along).

The question of China and Taiwan also influences domestic national security policy in countries including China. Based on recent decades of use, the likely role for new military platforms like the ships being built for the navy and next-generation fighter jets long under contemplation would be a combination of continental defence under NORAD (arguably with no nation states as plausible enemies in this sense) and expeditionary use in multilateral coalitions for peacekeeping or (as in Afghanistan to begin with) warfighting. If China is developing into a threat that western countries will need to meet with military force, however, it will be indispensable to have advanced weapons and forces capable in their use ready before the conflict begins.


Would Scottish independence mean an end to the UK deploying nuclear weapons?

Britain’s Armageddon weapon are their four Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines: Vanguard, Victorious, Vigilant, and Vengeance. Since decomissioning their aircraft-dropped bombs in 1998, the subs have been the only means of delivery for British nuclear weapons, with each possessing 16 ballistic missile tubes for Trident D5 missiles, each built to carry as many as 14 of some warhead types.

Oddly, and despite the obligation under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty for existing weapon states to work toward disarmament, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in March that as part of his government’s ‘Global Britain’ agenda they will raise the cap on the number of warheads deployed on submarines from 180 to 260.

All of the British subs are headquartered at Her Majesty’s Naval Base, Clyde at Faslane in Scotland. Today, The Guardian is reporting that if Scotland chooses to secede from the UK it would raise difficult questions about what to do with the subs, in part because building an equivalent facility in England or Wales would be very costly and would provoke intense opposition.

Even if done out of constraint rather than principal, it would be encouraging to see a nuclear weapon state stop deploying its weapons. As Richard Rhodes summarized in his fourth volume on nuclear weapons:

It followed, and follows, that there is no military solution to safety in the nuclear age: There are only political solutions… The impossibility of resolving militarily the new situation that knowledge of how to release nuclear energy imposes on the world is the reason the efforts on both sides look so desperate and irrational: They are built on what philosophers call a category mistake, an assumption that nuclear explosives are military weapons in any meaningful sense of the term, and that a sufficient quantity of such weapons can make us secure. They are not, and they cannot.

Threatening to use or using nuclear weapons in warfare has always been highly questionable under international law. However they are used they would have downwind consequences which would not distinguish between combatants and civilians, and it will always be questionable whether the use of such weapons is proportional to any provocation or whether it would serve a purpose of military necessity. A mass nuclear exchange literally threatens the existence of humanity, since smoke from burning cities would rise high into the stratosphere and cause drastic global cooling with appalling agricultural and humanitarian consequences.

Keeping such weapons for the sake of national prestige, and thus running all the associated risks of miscalculation or accidental or unauthorized use, is neither prudent nor justifiable in a world where a nuclear arms race is already apace.


US to withdraw from Afghanistan

The Biden administration has announced that most US forces will withdraw from Afghanistan by September 11th.

What have we learned since 2001 and what have the consequences of the war been? Could Al Qaeda have been expelled or destroyed without the invasion? How will the US / NATO / Canadian intervention affect Afghanistan’s long-term future?


The just world assumption and our inbuilt vulnerability to scams

But the Patten con [an evangelical congregation cultivated and exploited for self-enrichment of the preachers] wasn’t just any scam. It was the scam of all scams—the one that gets to the heart of why confidence games not only work but thrive the world over, no matter how many expert debunkers and vocal victims there may be. It was a scam of belief, the most profound yet simple belief we have: about the way the world works, why life is the way it is. We want to believe. Believe that things make sense. That an action leads to a result. That things don’t just happen willy-nilly no matter what we do, but rather for a reason. That what we do makes a difference, however small. That we ourselves matter. That there is a grand story, a higher method to the seeming madness. And in the heart of that desire, we easily become blind. The eternal lure of the con is the same reason religions arise spontaneously in most any human society. People always want something to believe in.

The crux of the belief doesn’t matter, [cult infiltrator David] Sullivan thought. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Vishnu, Jesus, or a new way to get rich quick. It’s immaterial to me,” he had said. The techniques and basic psychology remained the same. “They’re being profoundly—subtly but profoundly—manipulated at their great expense, at the expense of their lives in some cases.”

And the reason it happens—and often happens to the most intelligent of people (note, Sullivan would say, the typical cult recruit: young, smart, sophisticated, savvy)—is that human nature is wired toward creating meaning out of meaninglessness, embracing belief over doubt. “There are certain essential things we all have in common,” Sullivan said. “There’s a deep desire for faith, there’s a deep desire to feel there’s someone up there who really cares about what’s going on and intervenes in our life. There’s a desire to have a coherent worldview: there’s a rhyme and reason for everything we do, and all the terrible things that happen to people—people die, children get leukemia—there’s some reason for it. And here’s this guru who says, ‘I know exactly the reason.'” It’s the reason behind all cons, from the smallest to these, the deepest.

Konnikova, Maria. The Confidence Game. Why We Fall for It… Every Time. Penguin Books, 2016. p. 307, 310-1


Con artist terminology

The confidence game starts with basic human psychology. From the artist’s perspective, it’s a question of identifying the victim (the put-up): who he is, what does he want, and how can I play on that desire to achieve what I want? It requires the creation of empathy and rapport (the play): an emotional foundation must be laid before any scheme is proposed, any game set in motion. Only then does it move to logic and persuasion (the rope): the scheme (the tale), the evidence and the way it will work to your benefit (the convincer), the show of actual profits. And like a fly caught in a spider’s web, the more we struggle, the less able to extricate ourselves we become (the breakdown). By the time things begin to look dicey, we tend to be so invested, emotionally and often physically, that we do most of the persuasion ourselves. We may even choose to up our involvement ourselves, even as things turn south (the send), so that by the time we’re completely fleeced (the touch), we don’t quite know what hit us. The con artist may not even need to convince us to stay quiet (the blow-off and fix); we are more likely than not to do so ourselves. We are, after all, the best deceivers of our own minds. At each step of the game, con artists draw from a seemingly endless toolbox of ways to manipulate our belief. And as we become more committed, with each step we give them more psychological material to work with.

Konnikova, Maria. The Confidence Game. Why We Fall for It… Every Time. Penguin Books, 2016. p. 11-2

Our psychological vulnerability to the con

In the 1950s, the linguist David Maurer began to delve more deeply into the world of confidence men than any had before him. He called them, simply, “aristocrats of crime.” Hard crime—outright theft or burglary, violence, threats—is not what the confidence artist is about. The confidence game—the con—is an exercise in soft skills. Trust, sympathy, persuasion. The true con artist doesn’t force us to do anything; he makes us complicit in our own undoing. He doesn’t steal. We give. He doesn’t have to threaten us. We supply the story ourselves. We believe because we want to, not because anyone made us. And so we offer up whatever they want—money, reputation, trust, fame, legitimacy, support—and we don’t realize what is happening until it is too late. Our need to believe, to embrace things that explain our world, is as pervasive as it is strong. Given the right cues, we’re willing to go along with just about anything and put our confidence in just about anyone. Conspiracy theories, supernatural phenomena, psychics: we have a seemingly bottomless capacity for credulity. Or, as one psychologist put it, “Gullibility may be deeply ingrained in the human behavioral repertoire.” For our minds are built for stories. We crave them, and, when there aren’t ready ones available, we create them. Stories about our origins. Our purpose. The reasons the world is the way it is. Human beings don’t like to exist in a state of uncertainty or ambiguity. When something doesn’t make sense, we want to supply the missing link. When we don’t understand what or why or how something happened, we want to find an explanation. A confidence artist is only to happy to comply—and the well-crafted narrative is his absolute forte.

Konnikova, Maria. The Confidence Game. Why We Fall for It… Every Time. Penguin Books, 2016. p. 5-6

Canada and military procurement

Writing for Maclean’s, Scott Gilmore suggests that Canada should “ban the buying of made-in-Canada warships” because politicians have a bad record of fiddling with the process for their own purposes, and shipyards have a poor record of delivering. He presents it as a job protection scheme rather than national security, and a shockingly expensive one:

“But what about the jobs?!” I can hear the lobbyists cry. Yes, let’s talk about the jobs. According to the government of Canada’s own figures, only 11,100 people are employed in Canada’s shipbuilding industry (we have more massage therapists). If we were to add on those indirectly employed, that number creeps up to 15,200. Now, let’s pretend the Canadian frigate contract is the only shipbuilding job out there, and buying from France would mean every one of those 15,200 people would be out of work. If we were to give each of them $1 million in compensation, Canada would still save over $50 billion (in addition to getting the ships faster).

Similar political patterns seem evident in Canada’s long-running imbroglio about replacing fighter jets, though that may have more to do with the nuances of maintaining the Canada-US security relationship than with subsidizing Canadian firms and workers.