Graduate Strategy Conference This Week!

The 15th Annual Graduate Strategic Studies Conference will be held this week on            1-2 March 2013 in the Rozsa Centre at the University of Calgary. All are welcome to come join our audience and enjoy presentations on past, present, and future security issues and challenges.

This year’s conference will kick off with an opening address by Dr. David Bercuson, the Director for the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies. Keynote speaker Dr. James Boutilier, the Asia-Pacific Advisor for the Maritime Forces Pacific Headquarters, will then deliver a talk titled Alarming Uncertainties: 21st Century Challenges for Students of Global Security. After his presentation, Dr. Boutilier will chair a panel on Pacific Security in the 21stCentury. The next panel – International Organizations – will be chaired by CMSS Associate Director Dr. Rob Huebert.

Other key-note speakers include: J. William Galbraith, Executive Director, Office of the Communications Security Establishment Commissioner; Dr. Eric Grove, Director, Centre for International Security and War Studies, University of Salford; and, Chief Superintendent Everett Summerfield, Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Other panel discussions on the conference’s first day include: The Making of the Modern Canadian Special Forces; Unconventional and Modern Threats; Human Security: International Relations Theory and Strategic Studies; and, Nuclear Weapons: Cold War and After. The final day will wrap up with panels discussing: The Canadian Military; Maritime Security Issues Through History; Contemporary Dynamics of Civil Unrest; Food and Resource Security; and Domestic Dynamics of Global Security. For a complete conference program and further information regarding our exciting two days of presentations and discussion, please visit the conference website: strategyconference.ca

This annual conference is organized by the graduate students of the University of Calgary’s Centre for Military and Strategic Studies (CMSS) for graduate students from around the world to showcase their academic work. The conference is multidisciplinary and aims to stimulate discussions on a range of issues, both domestic and international. The conference acts as an open forum for public debate on topics ranging from terrorism and conflict prevention and management to arctic security and defence policy. The audience has also expanded to include students from all backgrounds and disciplines, current and retired military personnel, corporate representatives, and the general public. The conference draws individuals from various professional and academic backgrounds while providing a stimulating and well-grounded exploration of contemporary and historical, and traditional and non-traditional security issues facing Canada and the world. By raising awareness of the most pressing and potentially pressing issues of the day, the conference empowers graduate students to inform, educate, and create continued interest in the strategic, defence, and security considerations shaping our national policy.

We hope to see you there!

Dark Souls – Gamers living dangerously under anarchy

One of the most interesting debates in international relations theory regards whether in an anarchic world – where there is no supra-national authority above the state – states will choose to cooperate or enter into conflict. Cooperate or prepare to take somebody’s lunch before they can bully you out of yours? Gamers in multiplayer Internet games are quite familiar with the cooperate/prepare-to-defend-your-lunch dilemma. If you dare to venture into a multiplayer game of Halo or Call of Duty, you can expect that, within 30 seconds, a fierce 7 year-old with a game controller surgically attached at birth will exterminate you and taunt you back to the single player mode.

For the past year I’ve been playing a game on Playstation 3 that offers an interesting case study about cooperation or conflict under anarchy amongst gamers. The game is called Dark Souls, by Bandai Namco Gamesdark souls 1Dark Souls is a medieval-style fantasy action game set in an undead, post-apocalypse world. It is also arguably one of the most difficult games ever made for a console. If your idea of gaming feels like a kids’ soccer ‘festival’ where the points don’t count and nobody loses, this is not the game for you. As the site’s name for the game implies, you will die. Often. The game doesn’t cuddle you or take you by the hand for two hours of colourful tutorials with talking animals in a sunny meadow. This is Japanese imagination at work to challenge and humble the foolish and masochistic alpha-types of the gaming world.

The game’s multiplayer concept reflects its general leaning towards the cruel and unusual. By connecting their game to the Internet, players can choose to enter the game’s anarchic world. Unlike other online games where server administrators can act as a supra-gamer authority, in Dark Souls the players operate in a self-help environment within the structure determined by the game. Basically, the game lets you invade other players’ games to eliminate his/her character for a reward, or allows you to post an on-line mark where another player can summon your character to cooperate in beating bosses in his/her game (or join forces to defend against other invading players). When some nasty player invades your game just before you can reach the next save point, this tends to cause severe anguish and frustration in the real world. Players can join clans within the game that reward you for either disrupting or assisting other people’s games. There is even a clan that seeks out those nasty invading players to dish out much deserved reprisal.

dark souls 2So, what about cooperation or conflict under anarchy as applied to Dark Souls as a case study? The game would support the neo-realist view that if you enter into the online world, you’d better have sufficient material capabilities (level, weapons, and armour) to survive against invading players. On the other hand, the game also lets you form punctual alliances to defend against invaders. These alliances can even lead to prolonged cooperation between players who help each other beat the game. The game itself is neutral about conflict or cooperation. The anonymity of the Internet removes any interpersonal or social stigma or reward of choosing between invasion or cooperation, thus eliminating social variables from the players’ individual choice of becoming a cooperating player or a complete troll.

It would be interesting to have Bandai Namco publish statistics to peek at the proportion of gamers who invade or offer to assist other players. In about a year of playing the game, my own empirical data would suggest that conflict is more frequent than cooperation in this game. The majority of on-line interactions I have encountered in Dark Souls tends to be of the invading troll kind. Maybe Hobbes was right (on average) after all.

Patrick Michel Ulrich, PhD Student

A Strategic Studies Student Explores Israel

Existential threats. Israeli settlements. The Jordan River. Winter. I thought I understood these concepts, until December 2012, when I had the opportunity to travel to Israel. Now I have much more patience with the potentially off-putting statement “you don’t understand; it’s much more complex.” After taking the week-long educational Israel Young Leaders Program and comparing my impressions now to when I began, I realized that the Israeli-Arab situation and the Middle Eastern security environment are indeed much more complex. As one of my CMSS classmates concluded after taking the same trip last year, “if you want an accurate understanding of anything in life, you need to experience it.” This was what I found in Israel.

The program, which took twelve Canadian students to Israel for a week during the winter break, included touring the country and meeting with political commentators, civil servants, students, and the Canadian ambassador. In addition to the individual elements of the program, the experience was immeasurably enhanced by our tour guide. Israeli tour guides go through rigorous training, and Michael Bauer is one of the best. (He’s so good there’s a parody of him on CBC.)

Riding camels near the Dead Sea.

Riding camels near the Dead Sea.

An immediate surprise was the safety and peace prevalent in all the areas we visited. We witnessed calm interactions between all types of nationalities in Jerusalem, and one of the most striking aspects of the environment was all the children running around the largest city in the country with no adult supervision. Parents generally don’t let kids play soccer unsupervised in random alleys in Toronto. I also hadn’t expected to drive calmly into settlements (some of the older ones) and through the West Bank (on Israeli-controlled roads, but still). While I recognize all these phenomena would not be present during periods of heightened hostility and violence, it was eye-opening that this level of peace is possible, in a region that we understand from outside reports to be in a perpetual state of hostility and insecurity.

As a security student, I was particularly interested that we were able to walk right up to the security barrier and visit the Golan Heights, where we toured a bunker (I later discovered this is described as the “tourist bunker”, which explained the adjacent coffee shop). Standing in the Golan Heights and hearing distant explosions from Syria put into perspective the magnitude of some of the terms being proposed in the peace negotiations, such as the possible return of the Golan Heights. I had some understanding of how the region has changed hands in recent history; however, visiting the region underscored its immense strategic value, and the vulnerability of the strip of Israeli land between Lebanon and Syria without that elevated eastern position.

The trip had one element that invoked less recent strategic studies history. On our way to the Dead Sea, we toured Masada, Herod’s ancient fortress at the top of a plateau. From the top we were able to see remnants of the Roman siege of Masada (which was undertaken partly to give the soldiers something to do, to avoid idleness and disobedience). The siege remnants included walls built unnecessarily out of a strict adherence to orders and training. All of this took me back to the days of studying ancient strategy and warfare at CMSS with Dr. Cooper and Dr. Herwig.

At Masada. Israelis are refreshingly honest about historical restorations.

At Masada. Israelis are refreshingly honest about historical restorations.

On a lighter note, I earlier mentioned the Jordan River. The stories and songs had led me to expect a majestic torrent of water. Instead I saw a stream. I mean no disrespect to either it or the Sea of Galilee, but they were a tad small. Nonetheless, it was neat to see them, and they illustrated the importance of fresh water in the region, reflected in their elevation to majestic status.

A concept that resonated throughout the trip to Israel was human resilience. We heard several stories about the strength of human determination in the face of considerable odds. One of the most unusual stories was in Pkiin, a Druze village, where we met Savta Gamila, who overcame considerable discrimination to found her own international soap business, still lives in her same village, and has a grade one education. The theme of human resilience was evident throughout the country, and it was powerful to see examples of how much the human spirit can withstand. I haven’t even discussed the trip to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum, and our meetings with Holocaust survivors.

We also had a chance to travel with Israelis our own age, which brings me to a quirky juxtaposition: the Israeli students embedded in our group talked to us one night about their initial reluctance to serve in the army, their exposure to security threats, in one case, being in the vicinity of a terrorist attack. This prompted the question: “why do you live here?” They responded that Israel is home and they could not imagine living anywhere else, and spoke of the sense of comradeship throughout the country (including examples of a mass movement to travel south to the city of Beersheva to kickstart business after security concerns had shuttered part of the city). There is an amusing contrast between this and an encounter by last year’s Canadian group (related by tour guide Michael) with elementary school kids in Sderot, near the Gaza border. Sderot has been a frequent target of rocket attacks, and these children have been trained in taking cover if they hear sirens. Meeting the Canadians, they asked about winter. After hearing about piles of snow, wind chill on your face, and being unable to feel your fingers, they responded with the instinctive, innocent question: “why do you live there?”

I didn’t want to put a photo of myself swimming, so here is “Johnny Depp” applying mud at the Dead Sea.

I didn’t want to put a photo of myself swimming, so here is “Johnny Depp” applying mud at the Dead Sea.

There were many lighter parts of the trip I haven’t gone in to – notably swimming in the Dead Sea, celebrating my birthday on a kibbutz, after a Golan Heights Winery wine tasting (they gave me free birthday wine!), and celebrating New Year’s Eve with exuberant Russian Jews who liked their dancing. In all, Israel is a fascinating country and worth visiting, both as a tourist and a student. In a nutshell, it is indeed complex.

Maria Robson, MSS Student