Thursday, September 22, 2016

Ontology of What Is or Is Not or Is this Week

What should we talk about? There is a lot going on in the world this week, which means there is not much going on in the world this week. Let’s see…so-called big report out from The Atlantic Council about the Future of the Army — yawn. You can read it, but I will forewarn you, it says a lot without saying a lot. It is a disappointing read if you are looking for some halfway decent analysis of actual challenges facing the future Army force. Let me sum up the report, which corresponds with other similar analyses: do more/further/faster.

What about the UN? What is going on with our nations, united in New York? Well, there is the President’s final address — blah blah blah. I may surprise some about my political perspective, but that withstanding, this was the standard trope: do more/together/forever.

Syria? Too complicated. Or rather, complex. Complicated and complex. Complexly complicated. Complexicated. Unsolvable…for now.

There was an interesting tussle between Pakistan and India. Now, there is an opportunity to look at the consequence of antagonistic nuclear powers and the risk of a troubled nuclear state losing control of its arsenal to extreme organizations. What could this mean for the region: do more/against each other/thanks big brother (U.S.).

Colombia and the FARC? Nah.

U.S.-Russia relations? We’ve seen this before. Watch Rocky IV. “I must brrrake you.” “Dragooooo!”

The U.S. election? Definitely no.

Refugees? We should talk about it, but we won’t.

How about this, then? Let us look at what is, or rather, what is not about this last week. Unless, what is not is conceived of as not, and therefore is conceived and therefore actually is. Thus, what was not this week, actually was because we conceived it as so— as not — and by conceiving it as not it actually was. More likely, though, what was, was simply not what it was. For more on this ontological argument — what is — enjoy this important piece of philosophy: St. Anselm gives us much to think about when there is much to think about or when we have not much to think about. Enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Who are You Going to Call? Pentagon? or State?

I have to admit, this recommended reading is a bit like reading a phone book. It is dry. However, much like the phone book, the more you read into it, the more you will discover...So that's where the Templeton's live...Look, there's our address!...Are there that many auto dealers in town?...Where do I go to give plasma? On that note, where does one find the inner details of foreign policy? In authorities.
An interesting Congressional Research Service report looks into some of the authorities that DoD has allowing them to provide resources for a wide range of security assistance or security cooperation activities. The August CRS report, DOD Security Cooperation: An Overview of Authorities and Issues, looks at the variety of authorities the Department of Defense has acquired to conduct security assistance, or in DoD terms, security cooperation activities. This is an important topic because at the heart of it is a very contentious debate about the fundamental nature of U.S. foreign policy. Who defines foreign policy? The president? The State Department? The Department of Defense? Angelina Jolie? Since 2001, there has been a perceived shift, at least in dollars, toward the DoD's ability to do activities traditionally left up to other agencies, namely the DoS. There are a number of reasons why that is so, and we can look more at them later.
Nevertheless, a serious political and academic debate centers on this idea of proponency. Who is the proponent for managing foreign policy? Is that not a designated State responsibility? They would say it is; however, they are not funded in the same manner and with the same capabilities and with the same forcible authorities given to DoD. Therefore, DoD has found itself at the forefront of shaping foreign policy rather than just providing a set of tools with which State or others could shape policy.
This is one of the key cautions mentioned in a fantastic new book by Rosa Brook. If you have not bought your copy of How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything, I really encourage you to. She challenges the underpinnings of our current bureaucracy and its tendency to press the “easy button” with DoD. One of the questions she implies is, along what kind of trajectory might a foreign policy that relies heavily – or too heavily – on the military, head? Anyway, regarding security assistance or security cooperation, here is a good analysis of authorities that have been given to the DoD. I would encourage reading carefully through the appendix too. The appendix lists many of those authorities. Trust me; they are quite interesting…like discovering there are actually piano tuners in town – several of them.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Divining the Future

Are you one of those gifted diviners of the future? If so, then compare your vision with that of the "experts." Out now is the Joint Staff's assessment of what we will face until 2035: contested norms and persistent disorder. As you read it, look at the assessments of the way we face contested norms through the lens of history and international relations theory, from about the mid-1800s through the mid-1990s. Consider also the idea of persistent disorder from an historical perspective of punctuated periods of pervasive disorder: late 1700s, mid-1800s, 1910s, 1930s and 40s, and the 1960s. Now ask yourself this question. Does a diviner more clearly see looking forward or backward?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Westphalia or Wavy Gravy: The Agency Paradox

A couple weeks ago we looked at a bit of history — the history of our so-called Westphalian international system. We understand today’s system of states and state sovereignty be an outcome of treaties signed in Westphalia that ended the 30 Years’ War in 1648. If you read the treaty text, you would have noticed that actually, a system of states and state sovereignty were not explicitly established. Instead, the treaty reinforced an assortment of political arrangements that were already in effect. Furthermore, it emphasized the authoritative right that heads of autonomous territorial holdings had on decisions with regard to the people and conveyance of property rights within those distinct territories. The extent to which the treaty “established” sovereignty within territories is debatable.

The broader point the treaty does reveal is that authority over a particular polity is more broadly distributed than just a handful of powerful institutions: the Catholic Church, the Roman Empire, a Protestant union, etc. Those were not distinguished as the source of ultimate political authority. Political authority was affirmed as distributed, consequently distributing power beyond the Pope and the Empire. The next question then, is how should that power be used? That is a question premised on theory. Should power be extended or retained?

To help get a better perspective of extending power, let us listen to two complementary speeches. The first is by former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright given just couple weeks ago at the Harvard Kennedy School. The second is by former Chief of Staff of the Army and Secretary of State, George C. Marshall, also given at Harvard. They characterize a view of international relations that suggests state interests, such as gaining and retaining power, are best achieved through actively pursuing and promotion democratic ideals, namely American ideals.

Madeleine Albright commencement speech at the Harvard Kennedy School in May 25, 2016

See also an insightful interview on the HKS Policy podcast
George C. Marshall commencement speech at Harvard on June 5, 1947

Listen to George C. Marshall:
If you are not feeling moved by this particular history and theory of international peace, then let me offer a cerebral alternative. Take a look at the 1960s hippie movement of peace and love through the eyes of non-violent activist, Wavy Gravy. In a fantastic documentary about him, you see how the idea of state power and power projection is to a certain extent, blunted, by the power of protest. There is actually an interesting connection between what Albright and Marshall explain about power and what a clown activist demonstrates about power. That is the agency paradox, which is the agency of power and the power of agency. So, if you do not want to listen to stodgy academic rhetoric about power and national interests, sit back and watch a clown eschew power through human interests in Saint Misbehavin': The Wavy Gravy Movie.

Saint Misbehavin': The Wavy Gravy Movie
More about Wavy Gravy at: