A Theory on Theory

CMSS is a truly remarkable and wonderful place. However, I have noticed from the very start that the student body here suffers from one catastrophic malady. Theoryphobia. Clearly, I am painting in wide brush strokes here and there are a few brave souls who actually enjoy theory at the centre. But these poor people have to nod and smile as they hear others refer to theory as “bullshit”, “irrelevant drivel”, and my personal favorite “an academic circlejerk.”

While the vast majority of students have had to deal with theory in their research, this is usually imposed by the advisor. Often it seems as if the beleaguered student is forced to swallow his theory remorsefully, as if he were reliving the horror of partaking particularly noxious medicine as a child.

The major claim against theory, as a concept, seems to be that it is disconnected from reality. The main thrust of most graduate work at CMSS seems to be to dissect policy. In this manner of thinking, theory as seen as irrelevant to the actual policy on the ground and a needless distraction. While the vast majority of students have had to deal with theory in their research

Needless to say, I seriously disagree.

First of all, policy analysis is not an academic pursuit. It is a completely professional pursuit. The academic enterprise is based on the concept of advancing and building


knowledge. It is designed to seek answers which can be examined and debated, falsified and argued and hopefully: improved and assimilated. Policy analysis is disposable. Once the circumstances change, it becomes irrelevant. It is sort of like the difference between Led Zeppelin and Justin Bieber.

Furthermore, the field we are in is strategic studies. Strategic studies is simply a subfield of international relations. The field is intimately tied to those nasty “ism’s” we have all come to hate. Strategic studies champions the application of theories in a manner which is intimately related to the issues of the day. Ultimately, the idea is to tie the burning security issues of our time with the tremendous body of knowledge which the relevant academic disciplines have amassed over the years.

When we approach a political question without theory, we stumble around blind, looking at facts without context. What often tends to happen is that the analysis and policy


prescribed unknowingly use the same approach as an existing theory but apply it badly due to a lack of understanding of the nuances and elements that were put into it, and without any comprehension of its pitfalls. The weakness of every important theory is ruthlessly exposed by peer review and the counterarguments of the proponents of other theories. This causes an almost Darwinian process whereby the weak-points are abandoned and new and more tested structures are built on the strong points. But none of the benefits of this process are bestowed on the knowingly ignorant.

Clausewitz, the undisputed high priest of CMSS (who I am contractually obligated to mention in this blog) told us: “theory exists so that one need not start afresh each time sorting out the material…” He also tells us that it serves a higher purpose, not as a simple call to specific action, but in order to “provide a thinking man with a frame of reference for the movement he has been trained to carry out, rather than to serve as a guide which at the moment of action lays down precisely the path he must take.”

Just as importantly, theory gives us an important measure of humility. Other people, just as smart as we are, have thought about these same problems before we have. Chances are, whatever our intuitive approach is, someone has spent years elucidating and refining similar ideas. We must acknowledge the previous work and find the holes, gaps and weaknesses in existing bodies of work, rather than pretending that it is all worthless and irrelevant.

Finally, theory and academic speculation have shaped the world around us. For good or for ill. We live in a liberal nation built on the work of Locke and Hume. We have a capitalist system built on the work of Smith and Ricardo. The United States came out of a cold war opposing the results of the socio-economic analysis of Marx, which it managed to control using ideas of deterrence based on Brodie and Schelling. Its policy in the world for twenty years was based on the Democratic Peace Theory, developed by Doyle and Rummel.

There is no escaping the importance of theory in shaping our lives and its importance in our discipline. Belittle it at your peril.


Pipeline or Bust!

Headlines that read, “Obama rejects Keystone XL pipeline” are only somewhat misleading. Although Obama admits that this judgement was not reflective of the pipeline’s “merits”, but “the arbitrary nature of a deadline set by the Republicans”, his decision is obviously part of a greater political strategy. Kicking this controversial can to after the 2012 election is certainly a wise decision.

Current Keystone 435,000 b/d; Proposed Keystone XL 700,000 b/d

But this pipeline isn’t solely an American decision, is it?

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Jeremy Carl, a research fellow with Stanford University, was asked to comment on the environmental and political consequences of America potentially rejecting the pipeline. He stated, “Canada is going to do this. That’s where the environmental argument should be made about whether or not this is smart. The reality is, otherwise, this oil is likely to wind up in China, and what are the environmental, political and security implications of that?


Proposed Northern Gateway: 1,177kms, 193,000 b/d capacity

I ask, is a pipeline a foregone conclusion? A race to the bottom if you will? Pull up your socks America, because if you don’t take it, Canada has no problem selling to China – and we’re not bluffing? It’s happening!

If this is reality, I must have lost the plot, because I hear opponents of the project still exist.

Are the Native bands, environmentalists, and those who think such money should perhaps be directed towards R&D aimed at alternative energy sources all ailing from some sort of mass delusion? Any person who has taken a moment to critically assess pro-pipeline arguments associated with job creation, or the infamous ‘ethical oil’ stance, would recognize that XL is not the mother ship proponents claim it to be. Opponents of the pipeline are not suffering from granola-induced hysteria. These concerns, in addition to those associated with tar sands green house gas emissions, are valid.

Despite these arguments, is Carl correct? Have we entered a ‘hop on the train or get off the tracks’ type of situation? Pipeline or bust? I would like to say no, but now I’m not so sure…


Concerned supporter of oatmeal and other cereal grains

Focus Issue: The Littoral Combat Ship

The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is set to become America’s replacement for the current fleet of FFG 7 *Oliver Hazard Perry *class frigates. There are twenty-six of the latter remaining in service as of November 2011. The *Perry* class is currently armed with only a 76mm gun and Phalanx CIWS, plus two organic MH-60R helicopters and two sets of triple torpedo tubes. Originally fitted with the MK 13 single-arm missile launcher for use with SM-1 and Harpoon missiles, the launcher was removed in order to allocate the few remaining SM-1 inventory for America’s allies who use second-hand FFG 7 ships. In recent months, America’s FFG 7s have begun to be fitted with a remote-controlled 25mm machine gun on a bandstand on top of the old MK 13 launcher area. Given these limited armaments, the *Perry* class is not expected to engage significant surface and air opponents, though they do appear to be adequate in ASW and countering small boats.

The roughly 3,000-ton Littoral Combat Ship, on the face of it, appears even less capable – a single 57mm Bofors gun on the bow and a SeaRAM launcher. The SeaRAM is an eleven-round RAM launcher mounted within the Phalanx CIWS frame so as to provide radar guidance in the absence of separate guidance radar on the LCS. Two versions of the LCS exist: the LCS 1 *Freedom* monohull design and the LCS 2 *Independence* trimaran. Despite the drastically different hull forms, they are both nonetheless fairly similar in terms of naval capabilities. The aforementioned weapons are standard to both, as well as room for organic helicopters on the same order as DDG 1000. The major innovation with the LCS is the concept of mission-specific “plug-and-fight” mission packages. These are separate systems that offer a variety of capabilities: mine countermeasures (MCM), surface warfare (SUW), and anti-submarine warfare ASW). Twenty-four each of the MCM and SUW packages and sixteen of the ASW modules are to be procured. These will be distributed amongst a planned total of fifty-five LCS hulls. Depending on the mission, an LCS can swap out its modules (or have them added in) within two days. Additionally, the LCS was built for very high speeds: over forty knots for short durations. Their structural forms were also designed for maximum stealth against electromagnetic radiation.

USS Independence LCS-2; the future of seapower? (Source: Wikipedia)

The mine-hunting package is currently undergoing revision as the original mine-clearing system is not performing as well as the Navy would like; instead, the Navy is looking into a new MH-60R-mounted system called the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) as a basis for modification into carrying out the mine-hunting mission. Another part of this mission package is the unmanned vehicles that would operate on and under water, such as the AN/WLD-1 Remote Minehunting System mentioned above. However, these have yet to demonstrate efficacy in realistic conditions or have yet to be proven sufficiently reliable.

The anti-surface warfare module currently consists of two 30mm cannons added to slots located on top of the hangar. These would be used in conjunction with the stock 57 mm Bofors, which has a range of seventeen kilometers. The Navy has recently decided to settle on the Griffin missile as an extra means of providing defence against small boat swarms. The Griffin missile is currently very short-ranged – a mere 2.7nm. This is supposed to be a short-term solution until a longer-ranged weapon of comparable size can be found. This may not seem like a lot of reaction time, but the LCS’s high sprint speeds may well provide the extra time needed to address the threat. Running away from threats may not be very glamourous, but the tactical advantage this may provide cannot be ignored.

Finally, the following equipment would be added to comprise the anti-submarine mission package: a “Light-Weight Tow Torpedo Countermeasure”, a “Multi-Function Towed Array System”, and a “Continuous Active Sonar – Variable Depth Sonar”. In conjunction with the MH-60R (presumably equipped with torpedoes), this should give the LCS a decent ASW capability.

But the LCS program has received significant criticisms based on their cost, low survival standards, and construction defects. The Navy desires 55 LCSs over the next few decades as a relatively cheap way to bolster its force numbers. The original price for the LCS seaframes (without mission packages and modules) was to be $250 million, but has since nearly doubled. Congress appears to have become resigned to the inevitable fact that the $250 million figure was too optimistic and has settled for instituting a cost cap of $450 million.

Concerns have also been voiced regarding the survival standard to which the LCSs are built. To minimize cost and leverage existing civilian infrastructure, the ships are built only to a “Survivability Level 1” standard – enough to allow the crew to evacuate after a hit, nothing more. In other words, despite the fact that it is termed a “combat ship”, it is not expected to maintain “mission capability in a hostile combat environment.” That is not to say it is going to be a write-off at the first sign of combat, however. Some fragmentation armour protection and automated damage control systems, plus a shock-hardened hull, means that it has a chance to “reposition” after being hit. That the LCS will heavily employ remote-controlled vehicles for its various missions also means that it does not have to approach threats, particularly mines, as closely and thereby reduce its risk exposure. Further, it appears that the LCS is expected to operate as part of a networked group of combatants, either other LCSs or large surface combatants and aircraft, if the threat expected is to be of “high intensity”. When operating by itself, it is to be in only “low-to-medium threat environments” where it can outgun small boat threats and defend itself from sudden ambushes with its RAM. The design principle appears to be based on the acceptability of a “mission kill”, which is a tactical loss, so long as the ship survives and thereby maintains theatre-level strength.

Of course, to get to the point where combat survivability is an issue, a basic structural integrity under non-combat conditions has to be initially present. Yet, LCS 1 USS* Freedom* has suffered from significant hull cracking during its trials. In February 2011, heavy sea conditions resulted in a six inch crack below USS *Freedom*’s waterline on the outside hull, with a three inch crack on the inner side of the bulkhead and resultant leaking. The crack appears to have been the result of a poor-quality weld between steel plates, rather than a design defect. However, other smaller cracks had also appeared earlier on the vessel’s aluminum superstructure, which have since been addressed via design changes. Problems with the first-ship-of-class notwithstanding, these appear to be problems that should be fairly easily addressed.

USS Freedom LCS - 1; Freedom never tasted so salty. (Source: Wikipedia)

Despite the problems outlined in this section, the Littoral Combat Ships are likely to be effective so long as they keep within the strict confines of the operational concepts that justified and defined their development. The only problem – one that has not been mentioned – that appears likely to plague the LCS fleet in the future is the same one that threatens the relevancy of the DDG 51 class: room for growth. The need to attach *ad hoc* buoyancy tanks to USS *Freedom *and subsequent lengthening of other LCS 1 hulls means that they are already reaching their maximum usable displacement. This may severely limit the extent to which future technologies can be integrated with the LCS 1 seaframe.

Tim Choi

Mzungu Musings in the Pearl of Africa: field research reflections

Once a “do not travel to” area, Uganda (particularly northern Uganda) is now shedding its war-torn image.  With help from the international dollar coming from the plethora of non-governmental organizations, missionaries, and curious backpackers in Gulu, the city is now a far cry from the image of a city ravaged by rebels prowling the streets.  Take a trip to Gulu and try to speak Acholi, eat bor (a peanut paste cooked in oil with bitter greens), and take a boda (motorcycle) ride through the green country side.  Feel like a celebrity from all the children following you as you walk shouting “Mzungu how are you I am fine” in one single breath (“mzungu” is any white foreigner).  As for food, if you like spice you will not find it here, but with that being said I never once dined at a food point where the local chilli sauce was not available.  Head to Uganda and if you are lucky like me, you will be even able to snag a ride on a back of a charcoal truck if your bus breaks down.

So how did I come to choose Uganda for my research?  Northern Uganda, more specifically Acholiland, has been plagued by conflict and fear from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) since 1987. The LRA, led by Joseph Kony, is infamous for its use of terror tactics on civilians and the abduction of children to be used within army ranks. It was this indiscriminate nature of the atrocities committed by the LRA and the lack of international attention given to the conflict which was my initial lure to northern Uganda. However, it was not until learning that many of the women and girls in the LRA have been trained in combat (though they are not yet considered to have been combatants) that my decision to travel to Gulu to find out why was firmly set.

At the beginning of her research trip, Kimberly Pavelich helped develop programs in reproductive health

Initially my research focused on the reintegration of female ex-combatants back into their civil community and the challenges these females faced.  From focus group discussions I held, one particular and significant challenge that emerged is that females are not recognized as combatants (particularly in the cultural context).  This results in women and girls missing out on key reintegration services and support.  The importance of these services is evident in the vast efforts taken by non-governmental and governmental agencies to assist in the reintegration of combatants due to the potential security threat posed by frustrated ex-combatants drifting back into crime or renewed conflict.  However, through talking to women I discovered that not only do some women speak of returning to the bush (the colloquial term for returning to the LRA) in part due to the of lack of support from their community, but women also want to be treated as equals to their male counterparts in the reintegration and justice process.  It is from this that I decided to shift my research from reintegration to instead focus on the consequence of ignoring females as active participants in the LRA in their community post-conflict.

In the end, the most valuable aspect of my research was my connection to the community, which I was able to gain through work with a Ugandan grassroots organization.  With this organization, I spent the first of my three months in Gulu assisting in programme development in the area of reproductive health.  By the second month I had become a familiar face within the community. This allowed me to contact community leaders I had worked with about holding potential focus groups on the extremely sensitive nature of my research with female ex-combatants.  After approaching the leaders, they would not only organize a group of women for me from their community, but they also would provide a safe and comfortable spot for the women for us to hold our discussions. Ultimately it was this connection that allowed me to be welcomed by community members which in turn opened up a window of culture, war, displacement, and re-growth.

Kimberly Pavelich

Masters Student, Centre for Military and Strategic Studies