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.


The Trip of a Lifetime – Canadian Battlefields Foundation Study Tour

The Canadian Battlefields Foundation (CBF) is an educational organization with the community mandate to remember Canada’s role in wars and military operations since the beginning of the twentieth century. To this end, the CBF has created a bursary fund so that young men and women from Canada can visit and learn – on the actual battlefields – what other Canadians have contributed to their freedom. The bursary fund, a truly living memorial, has allowed the Foundation to partially finance twelve university students, every year, from across Canada to study in Europe.

I was very fortunate to have been granted a spot on the 2013 CBF study tour. Alongside eleven other exceptional students from across Canada and our professors/tour guides Dr. Andrew Iarocci and Dr. Graham Broad, I spent over two weeks journeying through France and Belgium. We covered a lot of ground, visiting most of the major (and minor) battlefields, memorials, and cemeteries of both the First and Second World Wars. We literally walked in the footsteps of the fallen, tracing their journeys across windswept fields, through overgrown trenches, and atop hills they once thought impossible to climb. We visited memorials and monuments that stagger the imagination – some whose size and grandeur are only eclipsed by the sheer number of names that adorn their walls, others whose simplicity speaks more of loss and remembrance than words alone ever could.

Our group at Vimy Ridge

Our group at Vimy

Thiepval British War Memorial - it is impossible to adequately capture the size of this monument in a picture

Thiepval British War Memorial – it is impossible to adequately capture the size of this monument in a picture

Simple memorial to the soldiers who never returned  at Monchy-le-Preux

Simple memorial to the soldiers who never returned

Our visits to the cemeteries had an especially profound impact upon our entire group. Row upon row of grave markers dot the landscape in this part of the world, reflecting words of love from family and friends or acknowledging the service of someone whose name we’ll never know. Whether large or small, these cemeteries are everywhere, they are full, and they are often overwhelming.

Vis-en-Artois British Cemetery

Vis-en-Artois Commonwealth Cemetery

Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery

Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery

Beny-sur-Mer War Cemetery

Beny-sur-Mer War Cemetery

I would say that most of our strongest reactions to this entire experience were often felt in these cemeteries, regardless of the nationality of the soldiers buried there. Plenty of tears were shed, but I also think that our intense grief was at least matched in part by a sense of pride – in the individuals who gave their lives to serve their respective countries, and also in the communities that these individuals formed and those subsequently preserved by their actions. Walking among these graves really brought home for me the fact that remembrance is about more than just recognizing those connected to us through family, friends, or patriotism. We are all a part of a larger human community, one in which sacrifice is both mourned and celebrated in equal measure, regardless of which side you take up arms for.

The last two days of our journey were spent in ceremonies commemorating the sixty-ninth anniversary of D-Day and subsequent push to gain a foothold in France. We had the honour of participating in these ceremonies, laying wreaths at a number of different memorials and meeting those veterans who are still with us and able to make the long return journey to those distant shores. To have an opportunity to shake the hand of these veterans, to speak with them, was a humbling experience for us all. I will never be able to adequately describe what it was like to stand on Juno Beach, on the anniversary of D-Day, beside veterans who were responsible for storming its shores sixty-nine years ago.

Juno Beach - 6 June 2013

Juno Beach – 6 June 2013

6 June 2013 - D-Day Anniversary Ceremony at Beny-sur-Mer War Cemetery

D-Day Anniversary Ceremony at Beny-sur-Mer War Cemetery

Caen, France - Honouring the sacrifices of the Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment in the liberation of France

Caen, France – Honouring the sacrifices of the Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment in the liberation of France

I know our CBF group was further humbled by the fact that we shared this experience with another Canadian veteran, of a more recent war, but a Canadian hero none-the-less. Our tour-mate Bruce Moncur served with the Canadian Forces on two tours in Afghanistan, returning from the last severely wounded. Alongside our veterans who stormed the beaches in Normandy, Bruce was honoured in a speech given by former CDS General Rick Hillier at this year’s Juno Beach anniversary ceremony. This speech reminded us all that we must continue to remember and celebrate our veterans – those who fought for our freedom in the World Wars, but also those who have made and continue to make sacrifices in conflicts around the world. Remembrance should not end with the last total war. And it should not be overlooked or impeded because of personal political views regarding the validity of any one conflict.

In France and Belgium, at least, remembrance has not ceased to hold a meaningful role in everyday life. Everywhere we went – at every single memorial, monument, and cemetery – fresh flowers or wreaths could be found. At every single one. Every day. Last post ceremonies are also held on a regular basis – daily at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium.


Cabaret Rouge Commonwealth Cemetery

Cabaret Rouge Commonwealth Cemetery



We also had local residents coming up to our group in the streets telling stories of the Canadians they remember liberating their village or town. One gentleman came out of his home upon seeing our group in the ‘Place des 37 Canadiens’ – a square in the village of Authie, France where the SS killed 37 Canadian soldiers – to share his memories of being a nine year old boy (in the same home, incidentally) and witnessing this event first hand. In this corner of the world, remembrance is a feature of everyday life. It never ceases. It really puts into perspective the remembrance ceremonies held once a year here in Canada…

I would also like to recognize the important role that my 2013 CBF cohort played in making this journey more than just educational. While visiting the battlefields, memorials, and cemeteries certainly formed the foundation of our excursion, our shared experience is what truly made this journey exceptional. For a group of strangers who knew nothing of one another less than two weeks ago, we became remarkably close. We are all proud Canadians who share a common love of history and a special affinity for the World War period in particular, but we are nothing if not a diverse group. However, despite our differences in age and varied backgrounds we managed to find a lot of surprisingly common ground. We became a family for the few short weeks we travelled together, and I know that the genuine, honest, and heartfelt openness shown by my tour-mates during this journey was what truly made this experience profound.

Group Photo at Quarry Cemetery

Group Photo at Quarry Cemetery

As a student of military history, especially one who recently completed her candidacy exams and feels she has read a ridiculous amount of books on the World Wars and the Canadian military in particular, I thought I knew exactly what to expect from this trip. It would be moving, I was sure, and I would have an opportunity to see places I have only ever read about, but the experience would be simply supplementary to my educational journey thus far. I had no idea what a profound impact this experience would ultimately have. I can honestly say that I have returned to Canada a changed person. I want to sincerely thank the Canadian Battlefields Foundation for allowing me to participate in the 2013 study tour and for continuing to make it possible for Canadian students to set foot on the ground that so many Canadian and Allied soldiers fought and valiantly gave their lives for. I strongly encourage all students – of history or otherwise – to apply for this amazing program in the future. I promise it will be an experience you will never forget.

Katie Domansky

P.S. to hear about this journey in my tour-mates words, see the CBF study tour blog here. After reading some of these posts, I promise you will understand why I call my experience with these folks profound.

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

This blog post is done*

I recently finished my thesis.

If my wife were reading this, she’d probably break into gales of laughter. “I’ve finished my thesis” is a statement I made a good dozen times over the last month of the slog towards final submission. “It’s done.”

Well, it was done. Then it was done again. But this time it’s really done. I mean, sure, I’ve got a few more sources coming in through interlibrary loan, but I mean other than that it’s pretty much done. I’ll probably take another editing pass or two at it, but that won’t change much I’m sure.

There’s the “I’ve finished primary writing” done. Then there’s the “I finished the editing” done. Then there’s the “I sent the draft of the final off to my advisor done”, quickly followed by “yes I made all the bloody edits” done. But then you’re done.

Of course, after that it’s time to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous defense panels, and the post-defense edits that almost inevitably follow. And the wrangling over the little things you largely ignored that you didn’t consider important until then, like your dedications (“what do you mean I can’t dedicate my thesis to Slayer?”).

Best graffiti ever.

Best graffiti ever.

It’s not until you finally hit “Enter” on that electronic repository submission that you’re well and truly done.  But a thesis is just such a beast that you’re interested in declaring it dead as soon as possible. And, just like victims in a horror movie, grad students tend to say “this time it’s dead for sure” far too early, usually getting dismembered by their advisors’ chainsaw for their troubles. And then the thesis returns for Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Thesis Part 2: The Reckoning.

Keith Hann, MSS

2013 Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference

The 2013 Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference took place at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Centre, Washington D.C. on April 8-9, 2013. This conference brought together 800 nuclear experts and policy makers from 46 countries to discuss emerging trends in nuclear nonproliferation, disarmament, and nuclear energy. It was a great learning experience for me to attend this conference and meet experts, scholars, and policy-makers with diverse backgrounds.


Yukiya Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was a keynote speaker in the conference. He outlined the contributions as well as challenges of the IAEA. He described Iran, North Korea, and Syria as the biggest challenges for the agency but at the same time he was optimistic about the greater role of the agency in coming days. He described how the IAEA safeguards evolved with the passage of time and emphasized the greater role of advanced technology in the verification process.

The next session was about “deterrence and disarmament in Obama’s second term” in which speakers from the USA, Russia, and China participated. Yao Yunzhu from the Academy of Military Science, China emphasized that the US and Russia have the biggest nuclear arsenals and should first disarm themselves to the level of China before China can join the disarmament process. Alexei Arbatov (Carnegie Moscow Centre) argued that China is the only country with small nuclear arsenals that can build nuclear weapons quickly to the level of Russia, therefore, China has an important role to play to make sure that China will not benefit from the situation if Russia and the US reduce their nuclear weapons. Rose Gottemoeller (Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security) highlighted the initiatives taken by the Obama Administration to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in national security and emphasized the need for further negotiations with Russia.

In the “Humanitarian Dimension of Nuclear War, Deterrence, and Disarmament” session, the role of nuclear weapons from a moral perspective was discussed. In the 2010 NPT Review Conference, countries agreed to comply with international law, including humanitarian law. This was an important development, which shifted the state-centric approach to nuclear weapons towards a human security approach, but the question of how using nuclear weapons in self-defence can be reconciled with humanitarian law remained unresolved.

The “Too Little Disarmament, Too Much Nonproliferation?” session discussed the balance between nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. Christopher Ford (US Senate Committee on Appropriation) argued that nonproliferation is the base of the regime and without a strong base we cannot build other pillars. Herald Muller (Peace Research Institute Frankfurt) was in favor of the right balance between nonproliferation and disarmament.

In the “Proliferation Implications of New Fuel Cycle Technologies” session, the debate focused on the impact of new fuel technology, like laser enrichment and processing, on proliferation. Advocates argued that safeguards could prevent proliferation while critics emphasized the adverse affects of this technology for nonproliferation if commercialized.

In the “Deterring Cyber and Space-Based Threat” session, use of cyber attack and capability to destroy objects in space was discussed with the relevance of nuclear deterrence to these threats.

“Are Treaties like FMCT and CTBT Still Vital?” was a question asked in the next session. The Conference on Disarmament (CD) cannot start negotiations on FMCT unless Pakistan joins the consensus. Maleeha Lodhi (Former Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States) defended Pakistan’s position in the post India-US Nuclear Agreement and pointed out that Pakistan can join the consensus if offered the same nuclear agreement or is willing to negotiate a FMCT treaty that includes existing fissile material.

Group photo with Maleeha Lodhi, former Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States (fourth from the right)

Group photo with Maleeha Lodhi, former Ambassador of Pakistan to the United
States (fourth from the right)

In the next session, “Whither Nuclear Power?” was discussed with the relevance of the use of nuclear power after the Fukushima accident.

The second day of the conference was started with the keynote speech of M. J. Chung (Member of National Assembly of the Republic of Korea). He explicitly argued in favor of South Korea’s nuclearization against the North Korea nuclear threat.

In the “Managing Nuclear Power Post-Fukushima” session, the safety of nuclear power was assessed in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.  The panel agreed on the sovereign right of states to develop nuclear power but Fukushima forced us to focus more on cost, security, and safety.

“The Arab Spring and a Middle East WMDFZ” was next, in which implications of the political changes in the Middle East were assessed for implementing a WMD-Free Zone. Dore Gold (Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs) rejected the possibility of the zone in an unstable political situation. Representatives from Egypt and Iran argued that if Israel has nuclear weapons there is always incentives for other Middle Eastern states to pursue a nuclear path, therefore, Israel has a more important role to play in negotiating the zone.

“Is there an ‘Emerging Power’ Agenda?” was a session in which representatives from India, Brazil, and Turkey explored a common nuclear agenda. They agreed that ‘emerging powers’ are in favor of the nonproliferation regime but demanded a greater role.

It was an interesting discussion in the next session, “Extended Deterrence: Defining the U.S. Reassurance Requirement”, examining how the United States could have a balance between reducing the role of nuclear weapons and fulfilling its extended deterrence commitments.

The last session “Proliferation and Regime Change” assessed how nuclear proliferation caused changes in regime policies.

The above-mentioned conference proceedings show that the conference focused on deterrence, nonproliferation, disarmament, and nuclear industry. This conference examined these four themes through broader analytical lenses such as multilateral nonproliferation measures, sanctions, humanitarian law, and the implications of regime-change policies for the regime.  For me, it was a unique learning opportunity to familiarize myself with scholars from around the world who share an interest in my research topic. It was beneficial for me to discuss my topic with them, and was helpful in setting the stage for formal interviews and contacts with respect to my research.

— Saira Bano, PhD Candidate


Bad Powerpoint Presentations?

An opinion by Boris Trnavskis, MSS student.

I have heard some CMSS students and the occasional professor disparage PowerPoint presentations. So what is worse than a bad PowerPoint presentation? In my humble opinion, it is a presenter who undermines his outstanding analysis, ideas, and insights by reading his paper or script, word-for-word, in a monotone using an allegro tempo. At least with a lousy PowerPoint presentation, I have something to look at while the presenter reads his script.

But all kidding aside, I see two important advantages of using PowerPoint or some equivalent visual medium when presenting ideas. By using PowerPoint slides I am engaging two of the audiences’ senses – hearing and seeing.  I recall reading somewhere that the more senses you can engage, the more likely the audience will absorb and retain what you have to communicate.

But more importantly, if I am clicking away my slides instead of burying my nose in the paper I am reading, I can read the visual feedback and cues my audience is sending me.  Am I connecting and communicating or are people checking their tweets, text messages, emails, surfing the net, etc.? Am I using jargon, acronyms, or terminology they are unfamiliar with? Do I need to re-phrase or re-state a point I just made because it is not clear? Am I droning on too long on a particular point?  Are they all tired after a big lunch and about to fall asleep unless I raise my voice or energize them? etc. etc.  I also like to give the audience a copy of my slides in advance so they can jot down questions next to the relevant slide, while the question is still fresh in their minds, or they can make their own notes and comments in the margins.

If at all possible, try to engage a third or fourth sense.  Here is a crazy example: I brought in some mountaineering gear and placed one piece of equipment in front of each student, while delivering a PowerPoint presentation on mountain warfare in Dr. Huebert’s Strategic Studies class.  Students were encouraged to look at and touch the specialized climbing gear.  It helped me to emphasize the point that conventional infantry soldiers are not trained to use even the most basic mountaineering gear, which is used routinely by mountain infantry like the Gebirgsjäger.  If the students got bored and were a bit twisted, they could smell my old, beat-up, leather climbing boots with attached crampons.

Just my opinion.