November 13, 2012
I was invited to speak in a grade 7 classroom at Beaconsfield High School about the Afghan conflict on the 9th of November, and placed it within the context of remembrance day considering the date. My gracious hosts had given me two broad mandates: to explain why we are there, and why it is so difficult to give these people schools, hospitals and governance.
The first of these great questions is in itself a feat. And a sampling of these students' answers read like a sampling of polling data. "To give them democracy." "Because of 9/11." "To help them with their rights." It turns out these - and many more answers - were self-fulfilling prophecies throughout our engagement in Afghanistan, but to treat this talk seriously was to tell this classroom that we are in Afghanistan because in 1949 we were afraid of the Soviets. That's why we joined NATO, and that's why Article 5 of the Washington treaty was invoked on 9/11. An hour and a half later in my 15 minute lecture, we had discussed the European settling of African borders, asymmetric technology in warfare, the human element in war, a quick bit about Afghan history and some current statistics, elements of Democratic Theory, Corporal Jason Patrick Warren of the Black Watch RHC and the importance of remembrance in a long-since peaceful society.
The second question, partly addressed by my now counterinsurgency-quagmiresque answer to the first, threw in stories of one thousand honor killings, why people around the planet don't think like we do, and why some don't like us. I didn't dare go too much into a religious divide rant after my discussion of the Russians as our "enemies" in the Cold War got one student's hand in the air with the remark "My father's Russian". Nevertheless, this giant unstructured mess of a presentation not only gave me hope for civic education in the next generation of Canadians, it left me wanting more time with students to talk about all of these notions, and others such as the variable value of human life around the world, why we should be proud that there is so much red tape here (it exists in that space where in other countries, the red is of a more visceral character), and oh so many more topics ranging from democracy to strategy.
Thank you BHS for being such great hosts, and for educating such remarkable and courteous Canadians.
We Will Remember Them.
November 05, 2012
To be sure, these are qualities. These are pillars of a society that relies on immigration and international cooperation for national prosperity. They are societal boons to be protected through policy and education.
However these very qualities are double edged in a world filled with actors who do not share our values. While we have collectively lowered our arms in a half-century bid for "proper" international relations, our enemies have not.
Yes Canadians, we have enemies. Are you Liberally shocked?
Oh, and by the way, we also have men and women waging covert war against these enemies every day of the year. It's just that in Canada, we neither hear about - nor place great value on - these national protectors.
Mr. Dwight Hamilton, a former member of Canada's military intelligence, has put together a very informative introduction to our various intelligence branches and challenges. With Inside Canadian Intelligence, every Canadian can benefit from reading the various chapters, written by three professionals who have experienced first hand the struggles described, and one journalist that has attempted to cover them.
At times, the book also takes shots at the very delicate, yet ever important, debate between democratic values and national security. Whichever side you may associate with on this debate, elucidations about how the intelligence apparatus views your arguments can be educational.
September 07, 2012
August 30, 2012
The PRC is on the prowl for investment opportunities abroad, notably in the energy sector. Canada's blooming oil sands industry are an alluring target for its state-owned industries to purchase. In fact, the purchases have already begun. "In recent years, Chinese energy investments in Canada have grown significantly, with Chinese state-owned companies purchasing minority and controlling stakes in Canadian oil and gas projects worth $16 billion in 2010 and 2011."
In the present case China has made an overwhelmingly attractive offer for Canadian company Nexen, above and beyond the textbook value of the company.
However, as the article states, this move may not so much be about purchasing Nexen, but rather about creating legal and political precedents for Chinese purchases in Canada, which has previously ruled against foreign acquisitions.
I raise several points of contention with the sale, leaving aside the obvious benefit to shareholders.
1. While shareholders seek short term benefit, what of the billions in R&D invested by Canadian tax payers? How will they get their due? While the benefits of a Nexen sale would be private, much of the costs are public. R&D is heavily subsidized by the federal government, and our lands are being significantly damaged by the oil sands industry. It seems that at the very least, it is Canadians that should reap the long term benefit of this industry. In this case shareholders are selling the goose that lays the golden eggs.
2. CNOOC is a Chinese state owned enterprise. Should we allow foreign governments to literally control Canadian economic and strategic assets? Would China allow Hydro Quebec to purchase Chinese damns?
3. Aside from the fact that the oil sands are gearing up to be a significant portion of our economic productivity, oil is a strategic resource, period. Hence its sale should be treated differently than other commodities. Is our government thinking about what the PRC may fuel with our oil?
There may be cases where a sale like this is warranted. But this definetly requires significant pondering, and not just about how this will affect the next federal election.
Picture courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
June 18, 2012
Provided that this rumor is true, it means roughly a half dozen interesting assumptions.
1) this is unprecedented use of military force to affect international politics on the part of China, meaning another great and official step in its emergence as a world power;
2) this is an unequivocal show of support for the Assad regime from the "red" block;
3) Being a Syrian rebel just went from bad to worse;
4) The US was about to invervene and this is a preemptive troop positioning to counter that (since the US won't want to engage Russian or PLA troops directly), and;
5) Said "red block" is bolder than ever in their antagonism of US policy, putting their troops on the line and therefore national prestige... something the US will undoubtedly fold against for fear of starting a major power war over very little of strategic import.
UPDATE: This troop movement is reportedly a disinformation campaign on the part of Iran. It is unclear what was hoped to be obtained from this action however, as reports like these can be quickly refuted in time even by open source research.
February 24, 2012
The United States’ reluctance to involve itself in the Syrian conflict is puzzling to most, considering the amount of domestic bloodletting the regime has indulged in. However Bashar Al-Asad has limited the risk of intervention by not letting the conflict spill over beyond his borders. Due to the reasons below, one should not look to Washington, or other occidental powers, for resolution. The best hope for intervention rests with Arab players more capable of untangling local problems and less likely of enflaming grievances. Here is why:
- Syria is a close ally of forces opposed to the West generally, and to Iran specifically, making ground action there much more likely to encounter “friction”.
- Syria falls under the patronage of Russia, and seemingly now of China, making a move against it a move by proxy against these heavier weight players.
- Syria has had a heavy hand in Lebanon over the years, and has several contested border points with it. This makes any outbreak of unrest an invitation for unknown variables and the opening of old wounds.
- Syria is deeply mired in the Arab Israeli cold war, with a part in the contested Golan Heights. It is also a commonly held belief that destabilised or weak states make for ideal terrorist safe havens. It is likely Israel actually wants a strongman to retain control of this 90% Muslim population.
- Syria is already home to over 1 million refugees that fled the Iraq conflict, and roughly half a million Palestinians. Who would care for them, and who would politely convince these disenfranchised men and women not to see this an opportunity? By the way, this represents over 5% of the country’s population, without citizenship.
- Syria produces less than ¼ of the oil output of Libya, making any profiteering incentives unsound.
November 02, 2011
US forces are now engaged on yet another front, this time an unexpected one against the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. This brings to seven the number of publically disclosed theatres where US forces wage war, six of which are against insurgents of various shapes. One hundred Special Forces troops, possibly the first of several waves, now serve as "trainers" in the central African nation. In this first article of a series on the topic, I review the historic context for the Uganda incursion.
Uganda is a landlocked and impoverished nation. However by African standards, it does relatively well. Due to its colonial heritage its army is one of the most structured and professional in Africa, though that isn’t saying much. However, military efficacy is not the only thing that a colonial heritage handed down to Uganda. Created by lines drawn across a map somewhere in Europe, Uganda suffers from having no common national heritage. Rather, it is home to a plurality of tribes which do not get along. The British amplified this problem by grooming bureaucrats and business elites from the South, and soldiers and workers from the north. Hence under London’s hand the South became rich, while the army became Northern.
Once Britain stepped out of Africa, Ugandans were left to their own devices, and it was not long before a perpetual cycle of civil war wrecked the country. The South would take power, only to face Northern guerrillas. Once they took power, Southern guerrillas would take to the bush. Idi Amin was a product of this equation, and a vicious example of how war is waged by Northerners. The current “president”, Museveni, has been in power since 1986, the latest guerrilla-come-head-of-state. He is from the South, and so a Northern guerrilla movement soon materialized. However this revolution failed to gain traction and changed leadership several times, only to fall in the current leader’s hands, one Joseph Kony.
As the Northern tribe (the Acholi) lost hope and faith in this new movement, now called the Lord’s Resistance Army, Joseph Kony was forced to reinvent insurgency theory. While most movements count on the population for supplies, shelter and recruits, Kony took what he needed by force. The Lord’s Resistance Army became a self-sustaining bush army, only coming out of the jungle to ransack villages for goods and recruits. Kony will pillage everything in his path, leaving behind nothing but cinders and scars. He takes with him children of all ages, to train most boys as “soldiers” and most girls as “wives”. Those not worthy either end up as workers or worse – as fatal tests of the other children’s loyalty.
The government of Uganda is little better, utilizing this security threat as a pretext to tighten its grip on the afflicted north (see this site for one Acholi perspective). Civilians have been herded into “refugee camps” by the Ugandan forces, so as to “better protect them”. However, these civilians have not been given the choice, and now they are forced to abandon their ancestral lands, and all their worldly belongings, to go live in impoverished – and guarded – camps. There they exist (in contrast to living) at the mercy of South Ugandan and Western aid, and suffer massive abuses at the hands of Ugandan soldiers. All the while, their “unsafe” lands are being auctioned off by the government, perpetuating the crisis beyond this generation.
The world has looked on all the while, without giving much more than lip service to the Acholi's cause. They have stood on the sidelines for many reasons, chief of which is the absence of direct national interest for any would-be helpers. There are no ressources to secure in Uganda. There is no port of interest. There is absolutely nothing in this landlocked country which could have warranted a costly intervention. Hence pressure has been limited to the pearly halls of international justice, from where condemnation is throw at Joseph Kony in the form of an international warrant for his arrest. Ironically this only harms the peace process, as Kony now knows that he can forget about any peace deal involving amnesty for him and his top commanders.
For over twenty years this difficult conflict has raged as much in the souls of Ugandans as on their lands. Anyone under 30 in Uganda has known nothing but horror for as long as they can remember. It is in this context that President Obama has ordered forth the firm hand of US benevolence, as decades of diplomacy and legal pressure have yielded nothing but time for Kony’s bush army to perfect its craft.