Obama – America’s First Air Power President

Even the strongest proponents for the uses of air power rarely claim that action in the third dimension can win a war by itself.  This is ironic, considering that the earliest air power theorists had nowhere near the technology or capabilities that todays air forces have, and yet they believed an air force could finish a war before the army was even mobilized.  Guilio Douhet felt that the bomber and the nation-state had made ground forces irrelevant. If you break the nations will through mass terror-bombing, you can force an enemy to capitulate, easy as that. However, the limited effectiveness of the strategic bombing campaigns of World War Two proved these theories wrong.

Along the way, while presidents used air power, none relied exclusively upon it.  North Korean aggression was met with troops, the same in Vietnam.  The Cuban Missile Crisis contained a contingency plan for both a bombing campaign, and a land invasion, but it was sea power that performed the relevant military maneuvers.   Reagan intervened with air power in Libya, but also ordered invasions and Grenada and Panama with boots on the ground.

The post-Cold War era saw troops deployed to stop Suddam Hussein Bill Clinton may have ordered a pro-longed bombing campaign in the former Yugoslavia in 1999, and short ones in Iraq, Sudan, and Afghanistan, but in the former it has been argued that it was the threat of ground invasion that led to the end of the conflict, and the latter three were meant to be punitive, not as a strategy for future operations.

President George W. Bush, meanwhile, responded to the 9/11 attacks with not just punitive invasions but occupations and a desire to remake the Middle East into a democratic haven.  This was impossible without boots on the ground, and the importance of air power was at a low ebb.

But, President Obama has brought in a new renaissance of air power.  While it is hard to believe that Obama has poured over the works of Robert Pape, Colin Gray, Gulio Douhet or John Warden, and developed through these the Obama Doctrine, he has been the first president to rely almost exclusively on air power to obtain American goals.  President Obama famously ramped up the drone campaign against al-Qaeda targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen.  This allowed him to continually attack terrorist leaders while remaining to be seen as the president who did not commit any more American troops.  Libya was a campaign performed exclusively through air power, and again we see in Iraq a refusal to send troops to stop ISIS. The Kurds – supplied through American airlift capabilities – are the primary kinetic means Obama is utilizing to fight ISIS. 

One of the few ways that America is reassuring its Eastern European NATO allies against Russian incursions, is through increased air patrols over the Baltic states with American fighters, and AWACS and JSTARS overflights constantly monitoring the Ukrainian situation.  It can even be argued that Obama’s lasting legacy, the SEAL raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, was an operation with air power at its heart: without the air capability to get a SEAL team in and out of Jalalabad, it is extremely unlikely the raid would have taken place.

Clearly Obama is taking this route because of his desire to not get American troops involved in another war, especially in the Middle East.  Air power allows him to intervene while keeping American casualties to a minimum.  It also allows him to sell his interventions as humanitarian, as Libya and Iraq show.  The United States will strike quickly if there is the potential for a humanitarian crisis (with, of course, the major exception of Syria).  In policing the world through air power, Obama has created a policy that is largely popular at home with the electorate.

However, though hard for an air power advocate to admit, the historical record shows that air power alone does not win wars.  It can be the largest factor in destroying an enemy army, especially when there is such a discrepancy in ability such as in Desert Storm, but when the enemy is so non-reliant on traditional centers of gravity like power grids or communication nodes, there is only so much air power can achieve.  However,  bands of guerillas fighting in the desert are much harder to find and engage without boots on the ground, as France in Mali has discovered.

In becoming the first president to rely almost exclusively on air power for military engagement, President Obama has gotten himself into a trap that was thought to be debunked 70 years ago.  Despite the importance of air power, the most important factor is the man on the ground with the gun.[1]

[1] Colin Gray“The Continued Primacy of Geography,” Orbis. (Spring 1996), 257.

Mathew Preston – MA student


The University of Calgary Wins the ISA

In April of last year, the students of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies and the students of the Political Science department met with a mission in mind. The idea was to get as many quality representatives from the University of Calgary as possible into the most prestigious conference in the International Relations world: the annual International Studies Association Convention. The students, with the help of the faculty, met several times in the boardroom at CMSS in order to painstakingly analyze each abstract. The atmosphere was candid, and ego had to be put aside, as each abstract was exposed to criticism both constructive and otherwise.

The end results were quite impressive. All told, 9 University of Calgary graduate students got 11 abstracts accepted to the prestigious conference. Not all of the students could make it and some double acceptances were declined, and in the end 8 students presented at the Sheraton Centre in Toronto between March 26-29, 2014.

The first to present was Shaiel Ben-Ephraim, a fourth year PhD candidate from CMSS as part of a panel on “Ethnicity, Authority, and Violence”. Shaiel presented on civil war conflict termination. His major thesis was that civil wars cannot be terminated in a stable long-term manner through political compromise. Instead, stable post conflict outcomes occur either when one side wins clearly or when both sides have an interest in presenting the appearance of compromise to international and domestic audiences. In order to measure which side has won, Shaiel introduced the measure of the “pivotal contested good”, the allocation of which determines the winners and losers in the conflict. The chair and discussant of the panel, Nikolaos Biziouras of the United States Naval Academy was impressed and said that the “pivotal contested good” measure was a “great idea.”

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim presents on civil war termination.

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim presents on civil war termination.

The next to present was Saira Bano, a third year PhD candidate from CMSS. Saira presented on a panel focusing on “New Directions for Constructivist Theorizing in IR” in front of a huge crowd. People were literally turned away as spectators poured out into the hall. Her presentation, entitled “Norms Competition in Constructivist Theory” tries to pinpoint exactly when contested norms are stable and when they are flexible. One of the great puzzles of constructivist theory is how norms can be simultaneously fluid enough to change over time and yet stable enough to influence political outcomes. In order to shed some light on this vexing problem, Saira imports Margaret Archer’s complex yet elegant Morphogenesis theory from the sociological sphere. In this theory, structure and agent work in sequence rather than simultaneously.  One of the discussants told the up and coming constructivist that “this is the most sophisticated paper in this panel”.

Katie Domansky showed incredible poise during her presentation entitled “Innovation and Military Culture: The Civilian Shaping Military Change.” Katie, a fourth year PhD candidate at CMSS fit in perfectly with the theme of her panel: “A Changing Armed Forces?” She utilized the Canadian case of military reform, to argue that substantive changes in military culture should be guided by external civil oversight. She traced the process by which the Canadian Forces, an organization traditionally resistant to change underwent substantial reforms in the aftermath of the “Somalia Affair.” What is so striking about the Canadian case is that the civilian Minister’s Monitoring Committee on Change in the Canadian Forces managed to oversee successful reforms in the CF. Even more striking, is how deeply these changes were internalized by the military brass. One of the audience members told Katie she had come to the panel specifically to see her, and complimented the budding scholar on her performance.

Tim Choi was next to represent with a particularly timely and relevant presentation entitled “Whither the Seas? The Influence of New Manufacturing Methods on Seaborne Trade”. The paper addresses the long-term implications of the development of upcoming manufacturing technologies (for example the “3-D printer) and their influence on seaborne trade. In theory, rapid manufacturing technology could greatly reduce the volume of traditional trade by allowing the creation of those same goods on the spot. In order to demonstrate the advantages of rapid manufacturing over traditional manufacturing, Tim surprised everyone by pulling a fork out of his suit pocket. He said “this might look simple but in fact it requires a specific mold to make each type of fork”, he exclaimed while waving the utensil for dramatic effect. Rapid manufacturing technology meanwhile can be adjusted to make just about anything.

However, opinions differ as to the influence this will have on the international trade system. Tim painted three possible scenarios for international trade: in one scenario trade remains much as it was, in a second scenario anything can be produced at home and seaborne trade becomes completely outdated. However, Choi believes that most -likely basic products will be produced at home, complex products will be purchased online, while some “need it right now” products will be available at stores. Not surprisingly, the naval oriented scholar concluded that “seaborne trade is here to stay.” Discussant Margaret Kossal of the Georgia Institute of Technology praised Choi for approaching the issue in a “novel way.”

Tim Choi presents on rapid manufacturing. Too bad we did not get a shot of him with the fork.

Tim Choi presents on rapid manufacturing. Too bad we did not get a shot of him with the fork.

Next to present was Brice Coates, former CMSS Masters student and current Political Science PhD student. Coates utilized the formative years of the CIA in order to ascertain the factors which shape intelligence agency culture. Utilizing the insights of historical institutionalism, he traced the culture to the early turf wars the CIA was forced into in order to establish its role and later to defend that role. Brice explained that the CIA grew by taking the “path of least resistance”, and the role thus assumed constrained and shaped cultural development through a path dependent process. The characteristics thus developed became what is referred to by members as “agency gospel.” Discussant Thomas Mahnken of the US Naval War College gave excellent comments and noted that Brice delivered a “great paper on the origins of the CIA.”

David Torre, fourth year PhD candidate at the Political Science Department (and as far as we are concerned an honorary CMSS’er) had the ambition and gall to present two papers at the conference. The first, entitled “A Nuclear Rethink: Making Sense of the Nuclear Renaissance in the Developing World” tries to answer the puzzle of why nuclear energy continues to be popular in the developing world, while the developed world seems to be phasing it out. David questioned the assumptions behind the turn the developed world had taken against nuclear energy. There is an erroneous tendency to see the use of nuclear energy as an either/or proposition: when in fact it can be complementary. He also believes that the capacity of developed states to transition renewable energy sources is seriously hampered by the lack of relevant infrastructure.

In his second paper, titled “Some Assembly Required: The Role of the ‘Rogue State’ within the American National Security Debate”, David took on the concept of rogue states. His paper fit in perfectly with an excellent panel on “Discourses of Security”. He argued that the propagation of the concept of of rogue states, which the United States created in order to label states which do not conform to its conception of international norms, was an act of securitization with unintended consequences on an unintended audience. In order to demonstrate this dynamic, David asked the audience to “imagine we are out on a dinner date.” He went on to illustrate that while we tend to think of a date as occurring between the two people directly involved, there may be other people listening to the date and in a very real sense they are part of the date as well and a relevant audience. In the same way, Torre introduced the novel concept of the “secondary audience” in securitization theory. He argued that the US had classified certain states as rogue states in order to appeal to domestic audiences while neglecting whether or not that message was appropriate for secondary audiences such as Western European states. He ably demonstrated that the attempt to label Iraq as a rogue state was counterproductive in garnering support for the Second Iraq War.

The contingent of University of Calgary students did a tremendous job of representing the university and furthering scholarship in fields as diverse as intelligence studies, international political economy, critical security studies, energy security studies, civil war studies and constructivist theory. The students were exposed to the best and most cutting edge research in the field and correspondingly benefitted those around them by contributing to a fertile academic dialogue and process. The contingent is currently working on the abstracts for the 2015 convention in New Orleans, where they hope to go on to even greater success.

The gang celebrates after their presentations.

The gang celebrates after their presentations.

Whither Strategy? The S3C Conference, Crimea, a Freezing Day in Calgary, and the future of Strategic Studies

The 16th Annual Graduate Strategic Studies Conference convened at the University of Calgary hours after initial reports that unidentified and heavily armed forces had begun cementing control over the Crimean peninsula. By the end of the conference, it was clear that a large Russian invasion had been launched with the intention of dislodging Crimea from the Ukraine, presenting a serious dilemma for NATO members. Western nations found themselves completely unprepared for this scenario and with few appealing options for reaction.

Strategic Studies, since its inception as a modern discipline in the 1950’s has been the handmaiden of the security establishment and reflected the concerns of Western governments. Correspondingly, the post-Cold War era saw Strategic Studies moving away from conventional interstate war and nuclear deterrence to different approaches to conflict. As the NATO battlefield shifted from a conventional one to an asymmetrical one, the concepts of terrorism, human security, humanitarian intervention and counterinsurgency dominated the field. The assumption was that the conventional battlefield would become a nostalgic memory as a more complex security reality unfolded requiring the integration of social, moral and technological means far more sophisticated than those utilized in the past. While many of these approaches have reached theoretical and methodological impasses, they have essentially become the new orthodoxy of the field.

Recent events strongly challenge these assumptions. The actions of the Russian Federation fall in line with classic inter-state strategies. While many are reminded of the Cold War, Putin has actually utilized the Adolph Hitler playbook step by step. Here, a dictator passes laws discriminating against a vulnerable minority in his own country and yet is allowed to host the Olympics and turn it into a spectacle glorifying his authoritarian regime. Emboldened by the feebleness of the West and their willingness to pay tribute to him, he takes over a part of a neighboring country for supposedly irredentist reasons, to liberate his ethnic kin. All this is done in violation of an agreement signed twenty-years ago guaranteeing the sovereignty of a new and vulnerable state. The only difference being that, unlike Hitler, Putin did not bother asking the West for permission. Despite the fact that we have seen this entire scenario play out before, we still find the use of traditional power politics surprising. Inter-state war with Russia seems unthinkable to us, but the use of conventional military to improve national prestige and geopolitical standing seems natural to Russia.

The young scholars who gathered at the Rosza Centre on a freezing Calgary weekend allowed us a glimpse at the current state of the discipline of Strategic Studies. Are the future scholars of Strategic Studies prepared for the re-emergence of conventional threats and classic power politics? Has the focus on asymmetrical warfare and social factors given us a deeper understanding of conflict which can be assimilated to any future battlefield or have they distracted us from more powerful and dangerous conflicts with great powers?

The conference focused disproportionately on the “new” battlefield of the 21st Century and the post 9/11 orthodoxy of asymmetry and human security. Roger Patrick Warren of St. Andrews University gave a fascinating insight into the narratives inspiring mujahedeen fighters in Syria. Andrew McLaughlin of the University of Waterloo discussed the role of embedded journalists in the Iraq War, while Harris Stephenson discussed Canadian strategy in Afghanistan. Shaiel Ben-Ephraim of CMSS, highlighted the difficulty of achieving compromise based peace agreements in civil wars. Meanwhile, Ezra Karmel of the University of Victoria discussed the fragility of the Jordanian state.

The metanarrative behind these presentations is the controversy over threat of  “the Clash of Civilizations” and the threat of failed states which former Secretary of State Robert Gates had once called “the main security challenge of our time.” However, from a contemporary vantage point these threats seem almost quaint. Failed states tend to be in strategically peripheral areas, while great power threats emerge in strategically crucial regions such as Europe and East Asia. They also do not involve the potential for nuclear war. Furthermore, Islamic terrorism has proved to be mostly a threat to other Muslims and not to the West. As the University of Maryland START figures have clearly shown, the number of terrorist attacks against Western targets have declined precipitously in the last few years while inter-Islamic terrorism has skyrocketed. What is happening in the Middle East is not so much a war against the West but an internal Islamic conflict.

Nuclear deterrence was mostly absent as a salient topic in the conference. The only presentation which touched on deterrence in a meaningful way, was given by Joseph Andrew Buscemi of the University of Waterloo. In a colorful and insightful presentation, he explained how the United Kingdom had given up its famous blitz era system of civil defense in favor of reliance on nuclear deterrence. After a political battle, the concept of nuclear survivability was abandoned as an option despite the fact that it was an easier sell to the public. The stand Duncan Sandys took in this 1957 Defense White Paper is an example of both strategic foresight and political courage.

The lack of attention to conventional deterrence today among both scholars and practitioners is troubling. Public opinion today does not comprehend the importance of classic deterrence concepts such as credibility, commitment and red lines. This is why the American decision to compromise its credibility by ignoring its own “red lines” in Syria was applauded by the public and the media. The West, and particularly the Ukraine, is now paying the price of this conceptual neglect. The return of nuclear deterrence to the center of both policy-making and strategic studies is necessary to avoid the recurrence of this travesty.

Interestingly, Canada is quite comfortable in the new-old paradigm of geopolitical rivalry. The members of the Canadian establishment who were invited to speak at the conference possessed a remarkably old fashioned concept of geopolitics. Kelly Williams, Director of Strategy and Government Relations at General Dynamics Canada, told the young audience that the pillars of Canadian security do not change, only Canadian ambition does. Rob Huebert, Senior Research Fellow at CMSS and known Arctic hawk, warned that “whatever happens in the Ukraine will spill into the Arctic.” Reil Erickson, pilot in the Royal Canadian Air-Force evinced a very old fashioned view of air power, stating that fighters are there to guarantee air superiority and deny aerospace to the enemy. Interdiction and missions’ related to human security are secondary. Her personal experience in intercepting a Russian bomber in Canadian airspace may have had a hand in constructing this cold war mentality. This mentality may be what is behind Stephen Harper’s swift old-school reaction to the Russian invasion, the withdrawal of the Canadian ambassador to Moscow “for consultations”.

The scholars on the Canadian panel at the conference had a more nuanced vision of the Canadian role but one that similarly stressed continuity. Matthew Wiseman of Wilfrid Laurier University talked of the traditional role that Canada has played as “monkey in the middle” between the United States and Russia, particularly after the development of missile technology which could overfly the Great White North. Therefore, a great deal of the involvement of Canada in great power struggles has less to do with Russia and more to do with the alliance with the United States.

However, this alliance has also traditionally been part of a strategy of homeland protection against a constant Russian threat. Tiffany Vinci of Carleton University pointed out that the focus of Canadian intelligence gathering throughout the cold war was the Soviet air threat. This same threat led to the creation of NORAD as well which heralded an era of increased Canadian-US closeness. Not much seems to have changed on this front. As Rob Huebert summed up the panel he pointed out that those same concerns are as pertinent as ever since Russian bombers continue to fly in Canadian airspace. Thus not only do cold war institutions continue to exist well into the 21st Century, but they continue to be utilized to counter the very same threats.

However, the call for the importance of human security and domestic factors which has dominated Strategic Studies discourse for the past decade or so was still heard loud and clear. In fact, the salience of the term in non-academic settings such as the military and the private sector were particularly striking. Mark Lalonde, Director at CKR Global Risk Solutions spoke of the considerations the private-sector takes into account in assessing investment risk. These are largely human security elements, such as unemployment, literacy, access to water and concerns of corporate responsibility much more so than interstate threats.

The ability to work and fight with diverse groups within nations facing internal security problems requires cultural sensitivity and the ability to work with different social actors, tribes and ethnic groups. Harris Stephenson of the University of Calgary spoke of the Canadian conception of war in this reality, which had integrated human security as a core concept. The War in Afghanistan, he claimed, could be seen as a four-block war integrating peacekeeping, humanitarian operations and civil-military cooperation alongside traditional war fighting. Riley Collins of the University of Calgary described the virtual simulation programs provided by the United States military as an attempt to prepare soldiers for this new and complex battlefield. These included not only the sorts of complex civilian oriented combat situations which are an integral part of COIN, but also intense and surreal cultural orientation training. For example, recruits are put in social settings and taught what the appropriate reaction to social situations would be in the local culture. Collins said that this approach was based on the frightening yet intriguing concept that “empathy is a weapon.”

However, the deconstruction of the state in current Strategic Studies is unhelpful in understanding the extreme nationalism fueling Russian foreign policy. It distances the West from the strategic and cultural concepts motivating its geopolitical rivals. It seems that not much has changed in Russian foreign policy or in the inability of the West to understand it. As Patrick Cabel of the University of Calgary ably demonstrated, French Intelligence in the 1920’s did not know what to make of the Soviet combination of inferior capabilities and intense and aggressive nationalism. At first the USSR was not taken seriously because it was viewed as incapable of launching sustained military operations. However, the USSR surprised the French by signing the Treaty of Rapallo with Germany. By 1927 French Intelligence was increasingly concerned about Soviet intentions, and called the USSR “the most militaristic state in the world.” Misconceptions about Soviet intentions and capabilities would contribute to the Western failure to ally with the USSR against Nazi Germany in the 1930’s and then to predict renewed German-Soviet rapprochement through the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement.

Despite major advances in intelligence technology, our ability to comprehend the motives of Russian foreign policy seem no more advanced today. Perhaps rather than deconstructing the state, it would be more helpful to return to the concept of strategic culture. Iain Johnston argues that ‘different states have different predominant strategic preferences that are rooted in the early or formative experiences of the state, and are influenced to some degree, by the philosophical, political, cultural and cognitive characteristics of the state and its elites.’ Not surprisingly, the concept was first coined in 1977 in order to better understand the enigma of Soviet nuclear policy and it remains as useful today as it was when Jack Snyder wrote “The Soviet Strategic Culture : Implications for Limited Nuclear Operations” in 1977.

Samantha Hossack of the University of Calgary gave an incredibly topical talk, in analyzing the Soviet decision to invade Afghanistan in 1979. She asked the question “what made the USSR invade a sovereign state in 1979?” The answer of course being for the same reason it invaded one now. Just as German aggression was greatly exacerbated by its two-front vulnerability, so is Russian belligerence fueled by legitimate fears. Russia is obsessed with security due to incredibly destructive invasions by foreign powers. In order to prevent that, it has traditionally created buffer states under its control. In 1956, 1968, 1979 and 2014 it attacked when pro-Russian governments lost a grip on power and threatened to remove the protection provided by these buffer states. Yet, the West has forgotten these lessons.

As Colin Chia from McGill University pointed out, great power prestige and nationalism are major factors in the formulation of Russian and Chinese foreign policy. Using Deborah Larson and Alexei Shevchenko’s model, he pointed to the nature of great power ambitions. These elements include the creation of a sphere of influence, the pursuit of deference by other great powers and revanchist impulses. The theory seems to fit Putin’s Russia perfectly. Russia is using the Ukraine and Georgia to establish a wider sphere of influence. It seeks EU and US deference in the Ukraine and recognition of their superior status. It has also utilized its former control over Crimea and its irredentist claims on the local population to justify its aggression in the area. This classic great power policy shocked US Secretary of State John Kerry. He recently accused Russia of behaving “in a 19th century fashion.”

The liberal tradition of Western states discourages this sort of collectivist and statist view of power politics. Chia claims that Canada seeks its identity and prestige outside of geopolitics, by emphasizing its excellence in hockey for example. However, it is not absent from the calculations of Western states either. Harris Stephenson of the University of Calgary made a case for the continuing importance of prestige in Canadian policy. In explaining why Canada had decided to take on the demanding role of COIN in the Kandahar area rather than controlling “an empty hilltop somewhere”, he said that officials had stated that since “Canada was a serious nation” it should take on a serious role.

The United States however has an utterly different concept of national prestige, and this has been both a hindrance and a boon to its global position. This is part and parcel of the manner in which the Obama administration misunderstands Russian foreign policy and its motives. As Tim Anderson of the University of Calgary convincingly demonstrated, much of American thought is based on moral precepts rather than realpolitik. Anderson showed how the neoconservative approach to American foreign policy is fully applicable to the Kantian categorical imperative. Ultimately that approach, and most major American approaches to American foreign policy, stress the benefit of the international community and not just the national interest of the United States. This has increased American cultural appeal, or as soft power. As Anderson said, the conception among policy elites is that “American hegemony is for the benefit of all mankind.” However, this lens of morality and American expectionalism is unhelpful in comprehending the foreign policy interests of classic power politics driven powers such as China and Russia.

The overt focus on the wrong variables and the lack of attention to classic explanations and cases does pose some interesting philosophical questions. Does the academic and Western focus on innovation, change and the individual mean that we are losing sight of the timeless truths of politics and strategy? One thing is for sure, from the vantage point of March, 2014, the insights of history and the classics of strategy seem more insightful than ever while the post 9/11 orthodoxy of asymmetry and human security seems dated and incomplete. Perhaps we should heed Sun Tzu’s advice (quoted in the program) “If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles.”

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim. PhD Candidate.


Why Germany’s newest attempt at a European Army is bound to fail: And how it might work, after all.

Germany has long considered itself the motor of Europe. As the continent’s most populous and most powerful economy, Germany has come out of the 2008 financial crisis as the dominant force in Europe. This dominance, however, is mostly economic – despite its population, the German armed forces today are a far cry from the German armies that attempted to dominate Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Despite slowly increasing foreign deployments, the Bundeswehr’s budget hasn’t even increased enough to keep up with inflation in recent years. German public sentiment remains largely pacifist, and without the threat of the red tide at the borders, it has become nearly impossible to justify budget-increases for an army without a real enemy.

Surrounded by friendly states, German decision-makers such as current Minister of Defense, Thomas De Maizière have been looking to redefine German security in a pan-European context. One of the most popular concepts for this is the establishment of a joint European Army. Since it has become nearly impossible for German politicians to imagine a scenario in which the German army would deploy outside of a more or less collective European mission, wouldn’t it make sense to combine forces, reduce redundancies and increase efficiency?

This is of course far from a new idea: As far back as 1950, a demilitarized Germany pushed for the establishment of a pan-European defense force. Germany was even able to convince the Italians and the Benelux states to join a “European Defence Community”. Of course there can be little doubt that the notion of a Germany lacking a sovereign army was a very appealing thought when memories of the war were still fresh. However, France feared the loss of national sovereignty more than a potentially resurgent Germany, and killed the project. Germany was forced to rely on a national army after all.

Sixty-three years after the failed EDC, Germany is promoting a regional security concept again. This time, however, Germany’s approach is different, and its immediate goals appear more limited. Germany wants to establish NATO-“nation groups”, individual groups of EU-states whose military capacities would be pooled and whose procurement would be harmonized, alongside increased joint training and doctrines. The end effect would effectively be joint European armies.

Such a concept has a lot going for it: Europe’s armies, while exceeding the US in total manpower, are too fragmented to muster anywhere near the fire power of the US military. The need for independent operational capability spawns near infinite redundancies, while individual procurement contracts are generally too small to support truly high-end projects. Furthermore, different doctrines and requirements wreak havoc on the few multi-national projects that do exist. Each army orders slightly different versions of the same weapons systems, causing unnecessary delays and cost overruns while undoing any theoretical benefits due to increased economy of scale. If the European states were in fact able to harmonize doctrines and procurements, their collective capabilities would increase; while at the same time reducing redundancies and increasing Europe’s international punching power.

Nevertheless, there is resistance to the concept in Europe. Many critics are the usual suspects of EU-skeptics still engulfed in the old world’s traditional tribalism. However, it is not only nationalists that are uncertain about these plans. Even supporters of the European dream appear to be uncertain about joining one of Germany’s “nation-groups”. Ironically, the greatest flaw European critics see in these plans appears to be the participation of the idea’s greatest advocate: Germany.

Now, hearing this, one might understandably be tempted to think this is out of fear of German dominance in Europe – Germany does, after all, already dominate the EU economically, on the face of it, domination is a reasonable fear. Yet this could not be any further from the truth. Rather than fear a more militarily powerful Germany, the country’s European and trans-Atlantic allies continuously call for Germany to increase its military capabilities and international participation.

Germany is no longer the bogeyman of Europe. While some of the weaker countries are concerned by Germany’s seemingly unstoppable economy, none of Germany’s neighbors fear physical invasion or aggression. Rather, it is Germany’s constant unwillingness and hesitance to become militarily active that makes its neighbors think twice before cooperating with them. Germany has become lazy. As powerful as it may potentially be, Germany’s current strategic culture is marked by extreme restraint and an unwillingness to risk its soldiers’ lives. Forty-five years of American occupation and unconditional protection have left a mark on Germany. Germany has forgotten that security isn’t free.

The Bundeswehr rules of engagement in Afghanistan are stricter than ISAF standards and German High Command refuses to send its soldiers on “Taliban-Hunts”. Instead, “combat” troops are forced to patrol in heavily armored cars and ordered to “break through” or “retreat” when ambushed. Search and destroy missions or offensives are a major taboo, as they increase the risk of casualties. Artillery support is predominantly limited to smoke screens. Too great is the fear of the domestic political damage of dead German soldiers and collateral damage.

When the United Nations convened to vote on the military intervention in Libya in 2011, Germany voted alongside Russia and China for domestic reasons. No matter how they tried to spin it in hindsight, the Merkel government placed a state election over alliance loyalty. Similarly, when there was talk of intervention in the ongoing Syrian civil war, Germany was one of the first to condemn it, placing itself in direct opposition to the French. With this kind of a track record, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Germany’s European allies are hesitant to bind themselves to it. While few European countries could ever be accused of being bellicose, most of them are nevertheless much more active international security players. Almost all of Germany’s most likely “nation-group” partners – the Danes, the Dutch and the Belgians – are more likely to participate in international missions than the Germans. Thus it is a serious question of concern whether they should tether themselves to a passive and unreliable partner, thereby risking paralysis when the Germans inevitably veto, or at the very least delay, the deployment of German troops and equipment.

There have already been the first penalties for Germany’s behavior: Recently, France announced the dissolution of the 110e régiment d’infanterie, composed of some of the most well trained and best equipped forces in the French army. This might very well spell the end of the Franco-German brigade, a first rate mechanized infantry brigade which has never actually been deployed in a bi-national combat mission in its 24-year history. Individual national battalions from the regiment have been deployed, but never in a joint Franco-German manner. In a time of financial struggle for France, it is less willing to waste its money on an expensive symbol-unit. Much to the chagrin of Germany, France sees itself forced to prioritize utility over symbolism.

Not all is lost, however. Recent developments in German politics imply that Berlin is aware of its allies’ perception of German trustworthiness. As a part of the ongoing coalition negotiations, Andreas Schockenhoff, CDU’s chief defense expert, put forward the notion of changing Germany’s constitution to allow for Bundeswehr deployments without prior parliamentary mandate. The aim is to increase Germany’s ability to participate in international missions in a timely and efficient manner. The Bundestag would, of course, maintain the ability to recall troops at any time. By putting the impetus on automatic participation, rather than passive refusal, this might very well lead to a more active Germany.

In view of this potential political paradigm shift, the Dutch 11 Luchtmobiele Brigade is the proverbial canary in the coalmine. Beginning in 2014, this elite force of Dutch infantry will be placed under German command as a part of the new German Division Schnelle Kräfte (“Division Fast Forces”). As one of only three Dutch infantry brigades, this is the Netherland’s infantry force of choice for international missions and a kind of acid test for future cooperation. Should Dutch decision-makers find themselves hamstrung by German timidity in a future crisis, it would likely spell doom for any German plans of increased cooperation in the foreseeable future.

As it stands, the very timidity of German foreign policy makes it unlikely that any of its European allies will be willing to bind its armed forces to the Bundeswehr on a fundamental level, despite benefits in other dimensions. Europe’s minor military powers are significantly more willing to use military force when deemed necessary, and as such dread the notion of being disabled by German pacifism more than they fear any kind of German military dominance. Unless German foreign policy undergoes a fundamental paradigm shift, its attempts at military cooperation and integration, no matter how well intentioned, are bound to fail. This is simply a product of Germany’s own unreliability. The historical fear that Germany will be too aggressive has been replaced by the current certainty that it is not aggressive enough.

Steffen Gaudig – MSS Student

The Dimensions of Procurement: A Case for the Rafale

While everything seems to have gone wrong with the Canadian F-35 procurement process, one test case may show us how things can go right. In September of 2012 the Indian Air Force chose the Dassault Rafale as their new multi-role fighter. Should Canada learn from the Indian experience and purchase the Dassault Rafale as well?

The concept of policy success is elusive and difficult to pinpoint, because a decision of this sort touches on different elements of the Canadian national interest. Through a focused comparison of the benefits of the procurement of each aircraft to Canada in the most important dimensions of procurement: an informed decision on which aircraft should be purchased can made. A successful procurement process must take into account the following dimensions: economic, the technological, the political, the technological and the operational.

The Economic Dimension of Procurement: The Indian example highlights the political advantages of the Rafale. If the Indian deal is to be mirrored in the Canadian case, the economic benefits would be great. Dassault has promised full transfer of technology and licensing for the production of 108 of the 126 fighters to be purchased by the Indian Air Force. While Canada was to benefit economically from the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) project as well, the full manufacture of the aircraft was never promised.

In all fairness, Canadian companies would profit from the F-35. Lockheed Martin recently stated that Canadian companies stand to lose a possible $10.5 billion in contracts if Canada chooses not to purchase the aircraft.[1] Orlando Carvalho, the executive vice-president of aeronautics at Lockheed stated that the current $488 million in contracts that have already been awarded to Canadian companies in relation to the F-35 would not be affected.[2] At the same time, the Indian deal, which was for 126 fighters, would net Indian contractors some $20 billion in revenue.[3] While a Canadian order would not be as large, it highlights the potential of economic spin-offs for the Rafale.

This leads to a problem in arguing for the economic benefits of the Rafale; there are no guarantees production-wise and just because the Indians were allowed manufacturing deals does not mean Canada will receive the same benefits. At the same time, the reported sum of $10.5 billion would be the amount spread out over 25 to 40 years. These figures were disseminated by a Lockheed Martin official in an attempt to purchase the F-35.[4] This means that the potential $10.5 billion sum touted by Carvalho would only be received by Canadian companies if they won all available contracts pertaining to the F-35. This is both economically and politically impossible, as the American government would undoubtedly seek to spread out economic benefits amongst all nine current partners in the JSF program.[5]

Despite the problems, the Rafale would be the more economical fighter. At a fly away price tag of around US $82.3 million[6], the Rafale is cheaper than the F-35 at approximately US $153.1 million[7], with the constant threat of ever rising costs. In fact just this week Senator John McCain, which whatever you may think of him, is still an ex-Air Force pilot with extensive experience in military matters, called the JSF program “one of the great national scandals” as the program became the country’s first trillion-dollar acquisition program.[8] Recently, a former U.S. Army Brigadier General has written that the JSF has become a monster, simply “too big to fail.”[9]

The Technological Dimension of Procurement: Both fighters have their share of technical problems. The F-35 has had engine problems as of late[10], while issues have been raised as to whether the Rafales engines can operate in extreme cold, a major problem for an air superiority fighter meant to patrol the Arctic. At the same time, both have their unique qualities that give them certain edges in combat. The F-35 has an extremely low radar profile, the main stealth capabilities being negated when external weapons are loaded, and the SPECTRA electronic warfare package of the Rafale is touted as one of the best defence systems available in an active fighter craft.[11]

The Operational Dimension of Procurement: In order to weigh which problems would least effect each fighters ability to perform the job that Canada needs it to do, one must look at what jobs Canada’s Air Force has done in the past. Missions in Libya saw Canadian CF-18s bombing targets on the ground, similar to what was done in the 1990s in the Balkans. Here the Rafales SPECTRA system has been proven by French missions in Afghanistan, Libya, and Mali to successfully protect the aircraft from ground based threats.

It is unlikely that Canada will be providing the first wave of strikes in order to achieve air superiority in the foreseeable future, so a stealth, or stealthier, fighter is not of prime concern. Of much greater importance is the ability to carry a large payload, which when equipped with external weapon pylons the F-35 loses much of its advantage in the stealth department. In contrast the Rafale the largest weapons payload as compared to its main competitors that are currently operational (the Eurofighter and the Saab Gripen) in addition to the F-35.[12]

For foreign strike missions, the Rafale has proven itself to be a reliable, safe, and deadly workhorse. For domestic security the Rafale seems also to be superior to the F-35. For starters, the Rafale is a twin engine fighter. Any pilot will tell you that the safety of a second engine is a strong provider of peace of mind. Couple with the current Canadian strategic obsession with maintaining a presence in the Arctic, this means we can expect long air patrols over thousands of kilometers of frozen tundra. In these cases, that second engine may become the difference between life and death. Besides the twin engines, the Rafale has an operating range of approximately 2,000 nautical miles[13], much more than the F-35’s 1,200 nautical miles.[14]14 When patrolling and operating in the Arctic, range is key.

The Political Dimension of Procurement: Politically, selling the F-35 is getting harder and harder. Here at home a lot of the political problems could have been solved with more transparency and an open tender for the fighter contract. This is now in the cards, but the cost increases have made the JSF program a juicy political target nonetheless. In the Netherlands a coalition government is experiencing some significant infighting over the issue,[15] and even in the US, land of bloated defence spending, the F-35 is becoming a hot-button issue due to its cost overruns.

I’m not saying the Rafale is perfect, and there are other proven aircraft out there that could replace the aging CF-18 fleet, the most obvious being the upgraded Super Hornet. What I am saying is in the most important dimensions of procurement, the Rafale has proven itself. It has survived both tendering processes and combat, and in the world of military procurement sometimes the former is the harder battle to win.

Mathew Preston – MA Student

[1] 1http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/us-company-says-backing-out-of-f-35-deal-will-cost-canada/

[2] Ibid.

[5] At its outset the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Turkey, Denmark, The Netherlands, Norway, Italy and Israel signed on to the development program. http://www.lockheedmartin.com/us/products/f35/globalpartnerships.

html. and http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/us-company-says-backing-out-of-f-35-dealwill-


One reason for a little more theory…

A love of international relations theory does not appear to be universal. I doubt I will ever join in a debate about the merits of Realism vs. Liberalism but I have found that the more theory I read the more it reminds me to think about the meaning of the words I use. Let me be clearOther sources beyond international relations theory have made me think that words matter. Additionally, I do not think that theory is required for one to use terms consistently. However, there seems to be a correlation between theoretical rigour and definitional rigour.

This is particularly true on the subject of energy. As Susan Strange observed twenty years ago: “although it is clear that state policies with regard to energy are much concerned with the question of energy security, the political theorists who work on security matters still tend to think of strategy as something pertaining mainly to military strategy, to defence policy and not to energy policy. The concepts and methods of strategic studies (and for that matter of the mirror-image, peace studies) are not easily applied to the political economy — the who-gets-what-and-why — of the world energy system. In short, it seems to be a classic case of the no man’s land lying between the social sciences, an area unexplored and unoccupied by any of the major theoretical disciplines.”[1]

Does that describe the field today? It certainly seems like it. The intervening years have produced competing definitions of energy security (I prefer Alhajji’s definition) and a debate about whether above- or below-ground factors will most constrain states’ access to energy. However, aside from an occasional discussion of energy security realists and liberals, little of the discussion has interacted with broader international relations theory.[2]

Another standard framing device for energy in international relations is a matter of geopolitics. Anyone with a slight familiarity with Mackinder will know that current uses and abuses of that term have little in common with the Geographical Pivot of History. I don’t have a soft spot for his work but Michael Klare should know better than to use the following definition:

“Geopolitics and oil have been closely intertwined for a very long time. Geopolitics — or the efforts undertaken by a state to advance its political and economic interests abroad — has a natural affinity with petroleum because oil is essential for the functioning of modern economics and military organizations and because it can only be found in certain areas of the world.”[3]   Klare had several options, such as grand strategy, foreign policy, and statecraft to better describe a state’s “efforts … to advance its political and economic interests abroad.” Though, geography plays a vital role in determining a state’s renewable and non-renewable energy sources, it is not a sufficient reason to avoid clarity by alluding to Mackinder’s theory on the importance of contiguous landmasses.

Unfortunately, energy in international relations is framed extensively (if not exclusively) as either energy security or geopolitics of energy. We continue to use the same word to mean lots of things (energy security is ensuring security of supply, which might include physical security or price security, except when it means security of demand or when it is critical infrastructure protection) or to mean something the word itself does not.   Why are experts so imprecise in their language? I do not know — ask an expert. This habit of wresting words may explain why, despite its increasing importance in the past two decades, there have been few theoretical advances at the intersection of energy and strategy.

— Nathan Hawryluk, MSS Student


[1] Susan Strange, States and Markets, 2nd ed. (London: Pinter Publishers, 1994), 195.

[2] Gal Luft and Anne Korin, “Realism and Idealism in the Energy Security Debate,” in Energy Security Challenges for the 21st Century, ed. Gal Luft and Anne Korin (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2009), 340.

[3] Michael Klare, “The Changing Geopolitics of Oil,” in Handbook of Oil Politics, ed. Robert Looney (Routledge: London, 2012), 30.

Kenneth Waltz is Pablo Picasso: A Tribute to a Guy I Never Met

The first thing I did when I saw that I had been accepted to the ISA convention was to check if Kenneth Waltz was on the program. He was and that is how I sold it to everyone around me: “I am going to the same conference as Kenneth Waltz!” But he dropped out of the program and there were some dark rumors in the corridors of the San Francisco Hilton about his health. Now, just a month after the convention, he is gone. That means that Waltz will always remain just a name in a book to me, but maybe that is the way it should be. But when it comes to the field of International Relations, Waltz is not just a name, he is THE name. Why does Waltz remain the most important and recognizable theoretician in the field?

I can remember my first encounter with Waltz quite vividly. Like most of my fellow undergraduates I had not done my assigned reading, but one of my fellow students assured me that the class on Realism was going to be great. “Those guys are so pessimistic, it is awesome.” When I first ran into Theory of International Politics, it kindled my lifelong interest in theory. It was an overarching explanation of how the world worked, full of powerful and  elegant imagery. Three simple yet evocative concepts held sway in my imagination and those of my fellow students, anarchy, self-help and structure. They were simple enough for a first year student to get their heads around and they also seemed to explain everything. Within a week of reading it I was explaining how the world worked to my bewildered friends and my bored girlfriend. Half of my undergrad class became confirmed neo-realists (especially the males) and half became opponents of neo-realism. The heated arguments in class centered on 9/11 and the Iraq War as the hapless TA tried to control the excitement.

When I first entered graduate school, he was anything but fashionable. I remember the head of the department telling us in our theory seminar that Waltz had killed all the nuance in realism. He pointed to Machiavelli and Hobbes and their natural 20th Century heirs, Morgenthau and Carr. “They understood the richness of political life”, he told us. Waltz had simplified the interaction of political units into an abstract formula which seemed ridiculous in light of the development of the European Union and globalization. This seemed to make sense at the time and I found myself distancing myself from neorealism. My studies took me into the field of ethnic conflict. This meant that every article I read and every theory I tried to formulate further broke down the state-centric approach Waltz embodied. I joined those who viewed Kenneth Waltz as a dinosaur with a useful yet ridiculously outmoded approach to theory.

The day he died, it hit me. Kenneth Waltz is our version of Pablo Picasso. The simplicity and elegance of his later models were the product of the sort of deep understanding that only the greatest master of detail and nuance could muster. If you forgive the tortured art parallel, before Picasso broke new ground in his Cubist period he mastered Modernism and Symbolism before putting these existing forms into new perspective in his Blue Period. Similarly, Kenneth Waltz taught political theory and his PhD (which became the book, Man the State and War) focused on the rich teachings of the greatest political philosophers. In examining why wars break out, he looked first at the age old argument on the nature of man. Analyzing the debate between Niebuhr and Plato and putting it into a political perspective. He then proceeds to examine the debate on the proper structure of the state and regimes and their contributions to war and peace, looking into the old claims of Kant, Hamilton and Marx. Finally, he takes the complex and misunderstood political thought of Rousseau and fashions it into a concept we take for granted: the system. Just like Picasso, even when treating the work of the masters with reverential respect, Waltz cannot avoid creating bold and new concepts. Man the State and War, gave us the material for the first class you teach in any IR theory class. By breaking down the political arguments of the classical theorists into three categories, Waltz created the much vaunted levels of analysis: individual, state and system.

But just like Pablo Ruiz, Waltz did not stop there. His next major contribution came out twenty years later (there is no way he would have gotten tenure nowadays). In Theory of International Politics Waltz created the equivalent of abstract art. Without describing reality, Waltz tried to impart a deep understanding of the structure underlying it by using symbols and mentally evocative concepts. “Anarchy” and “self-help” were powerful metaphors for the fears which underline the operation of the system and the obsession with physical security which typifies states and so mystifies peace activists and well-meaning civilians.

The end result was a huge and ambitious canvass which inspired and essentially spawned the modern discipline. It did so in two ways, first of all by the previously mentioned appeal of the overarching explanation and the evocative language of neorealism. Second, and more importantly, just like abstract art or jazz: the missing details or the notes which are not played are the key to inspiration. I would argue that just about all of the important works of the decade following Theory of International Politics were based on an attempt to play those absent notes and fill in those blank portions of the canvass. Keohane asked, what the role of institutions and incentives in promoting cooperation? Jervis asked what about the interdependence created by trade? Wendt asked, what about the meaning we invest in the concept of anarchy? Cox asked, what about the normative assumptions inherent to this invention of structure? All of these scholars challenged various assumptions, while paying tribute to the way Waltz stimulated their imagination by writing nuanced critiques which built both their reputations and the robust and pluralistic discipline we see today. Would so many thousands have flocked to San Francisco for the ISA Convention this year if it had not been for the genius of Kenneth Waltz? Personally, I think not.

I have now been working as a lecturer or teaching assistant for six years. Just last semester we discussed anarchy. In one class, I was explaining the different angles and criticizing Waltz’s conception of anarchy using both Archer and Wendt. A heartbroken student raised his hand and said, with deep pathos, “are you saying Waltz is wrong?” The cycle continues. 

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim, PhD Candidate