It’s a new semester, which means I should report on an event from the previous one. As mentioned, some of us attended the International Society of Military Sciences (ISMS) annual conference in Kingston, 23-24 October 2012. Four years earlier, the defence academies and colleges of Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden, and the Baltic Defence College created the ISMS “to build a network for the creation, development, exchange and diffusion of research and knowledge about war, conflict management and peace support efforts.” The call for papers made it clear that this year’s theme, “Balancing Domestic and International Security Requirements,” really meant “Security in an age of austerity.” While bituminous sands have kept things from going pear-shaped in Alberta, the hallway chats about Canadian and European budget cuts emphasized the accuracy of the unwritten theme.
Fortunately, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. For example, the panel on which I presented as part of the Security and Defence Policy and Strategy working group was only partially on grand strategy in austerity. I argued against terms like energy weapon, petro-diplomacy, gas wars or energy diplomacy, proposed the concept of hydrocarbon statecraft, which describes influence attempts relying primarily on oil and/or gas, examined its possible forms (either for use or for analysis) and gave a couple of examples from Soviet history. Then a PhD candidate from Reading argued that most definitions of grand strategy are more grand than strategic. Per his abstract, “the migration of grand strategy to the overcrowded fields of statecraft and policy undermines its utility through unnecessary duplication of concepts and dilution of the meaning of strategy.” Perhaps incorrectly, I see grand strategy and statecraft as linked. The final paper was given by a Brigadier General from the National Defence Academy in Austria on the future of international crisis management after Afghanistan. Basically, states have opened their eyes after a ‘Yes, we can’ phase (2001-2006). Of course, UN interventions will continue but there will also be regional solutions for regional problems. Perhaps there will be a period of selective management (such as the use of air forces in Libya). Money will continue to matter. Especially in Europe, tight funds will be directed at other public services and the military may not be prepared for it. Possible solutions may include ‘smart defence,’ outsourcing defence, shared services within the EU, etc. Basically, he brought us back to security in austerity. By the way, here’s one lesson learned: research others on your panel before you present. Hypothetically, it could be useful to know if you will present on the same panel as someone supervised by Colin Gray. Opportunities lost…
One of the highlights for me was watching the relatively large audience, which included one of the keynote speakers, respond positively to the work of two of our own, Katie Domansky and Rebecca Jensen. They persuasively presented a theoretical framework to explain Canadian participation in international interventions in the post Cold War period. One of the other keynote speakers, who led stability operations in Congo and Afghanistan, observed the neglected distinction between acceptable representation of the citizens and representative democracy. A former Canadian diplomat also spoke about the ten international areas to watch in the near to mid-term and their influence on Canada. The MP for Kingston and the Islands gave the post-dinner keynote address on increasing Canada’s productivity by tapping into military research and development. Having worked at a regional development agency and examined the role of regional development agencies in strengthening business clusters, I found it interesting but I doubt others did. Most of his examples came from the US, such as Bell Labs or the declassification of GPS, so I wonder if the solution has less to do with his request for suggestions from the audience and more to do with either getting private industry to take bigger risks in investing in bold innovation and declassifying of existing military tech. Throw in the problem that governments are terrified of being seen picking winners and you’ve got a less than ideal situation. I wonder what our European guests thought of it.
I booked my flights before I knew that I would get cut from the second conference, so I was already planning to spend my week in Kingston. This gave me time to focus on coursework, attend some of the CDAI conference and buy some souvenirs (see photo). Walking between the hotel and RMC a few times caused me to agree with last year’s assessment that RMC is beautiful. It also seems that everyone jogs in Kingston. While I admire the consistency of joggers — there were as many joggers in the morning as there were in the afternoon — I go for a much a much simpler approach: bran, babies (they’re both cardio and weight training) and bicycles. For me, forced exercise is the only kind that happens and the good fitness regime that happens beats the ideal that doesn’t. Perhaps it all comes down to motivation.
I agree that it’s worth applying to more conferences than the typical three Canadian graduate security conferences including non-student (which one student calls ‘grown-up’) conferences. Admittedly, the CDAI, S3C and Dalhousie conferences are predictable, which makes it easy to slot them in your calendar. This means you may have to work harder to catch other calls for papers (try H-Net as a starting place). Plus, your subject/field might not get as many one-off conferences as others (I’m looking at you, naval history) which increases the pressure when you find out about a conference that fits perfectly.
Applying to conferences is a crap shoot. Some conferences turn out to be awesome and others are not spectacular. For example, you could be in a panel for new researchers in your subject area or could present to eight people in the basement of a library. Honestly, I think everyone at this stage gets rejected by student and non-student conferences. I’m not convinced that Masters students find better odds of getting into a conference by applying only to student conferences — as noted elsewhere organizing committees may favour a PhD student instead. So, if you’re going to apply for a conference, why not make it an interesting one? Plus, at least in my experience, ‘grown-up’ conferences have better rejection letters.
The most useful thing said at my undergraduate convocation (actually at my sister’s ceremony in the afternoon after mine) should excite every good constructivist: Not only is the reputation of your university in the next five years important in your career path but it’s something that each of us can help alter. The same is probably true of the Centre’s reputation. CMSS students presenting at bigger, including non-student, conferences should help all of us. At least, it can’t hurt.
 See Davis S. McDonough, “Grand Strategy, Culture, and Strategic Choice: A review,” Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, 13, no. 4 (2011): 6 (http://jmss.org/jmss/index.php/jmss/article/view/425/431); Harry R. Yarger, Strategic Theory for the 21st Century: The Little Book on Big Strategy (Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania: Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College, 2006), 5 (http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/download.cfm?q=641); David A. Baldwin, Economic Statecraft (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), 9, 13-14. For those of you looking for extra reading, Baldwin (64-65) quotes extensively from Book Eight, Chapter Six, “B. War Is an Instrument of Policy” of On War (see pg 605 of the beloved Howard and Paret translation) to argue that “neither war nor economics can be divorced from politics.” Thus, it seems reasonable that grand strategy connects multiple forms of statecraft, such as Baldwin’s organization of propaganda, diplomacy, economic statecraft and military statecraft, to achieve one’s policy objective.