Since the start of the twenty-first century, military contractors such as Blackwater (now named Academi), Kellogg, Brown & Root, and SNC Lavalin have become household names in many countries. The reasons for their prominence vary from case to case. One is notoriety. Particular firms hold contracts valued in the millions if not billions of dollars, and the conduct of some firms has not been beyond reproach in terms of military effectiveness or their observance of human rights. A second reason is reliance. Contractors are needed to keep state military personnel fed and supplied, to maintain their machines, and in some cases even to protect them. Developed world states especially require them for warring, training, and simply operating given the limited numbers of available national military personnel, the increasing sophistication of military technologies, and the political ramifications of applying state forces overseas. In many states, contractors have therefore become part of the total national force. Yet another reason pertains to dedication and sacrifice. Many firms suffffered significant levels of casualties during the long-term interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thousands of contracted personnel have provided continuity over the long haul in often austere and intemperate conditions. All of this points to the considerable depth and scope of contractor involvement, which is arguably unprecedented in recent decades if not centuries. It also stands at odds with traditional conceptions of expensive state security sectors and their capabilities and responsibilities to manage and apply violence.

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A lively and vivid debate is ongoing over the extent, nature, and objectives of a possible shift in the ideological foundations that have governed Canadian foreign policy since the 1940s. Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper is said to have overseen, since coming into office in 2006, a rupture not only in style but in substance of Canada’s international orientations, goals, and behaviour. Some note an increasingly aggressive and militaristic foreign policy,[1] others highlight a neoconservative foreign policy agenda notably based upon asserting moral clarity and cultural superiority,[2] while still others emphasize the electoral clientelism and broader desire to brand a new Canadian international identity as the goals of this ideological shift.[3] One thing is certain: very few dispute the notion that Harper’s Conservative government rejected core elements of the liberal internationalist consensus that is said to have governed Canada’s foreign policy since the Second World War.

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Over the last few decades one of the hottest subjects of debate in the social sciences has been the emergence of ‘cyber’ and its effects on all manner of social relationships and human communities.[1] The term itself is chronically contested and the understanding of the nature of cyberspace in the literature (i.e., its delimitation, composition, and relations with other sorts of space) has a certain buffet quality to it, meaning one thing to some scholars and something else to others.[2] The most influential literature on the subject largely steers clear of the term in the search for the essence of the problem at hand. The sociologist Manuel Castells, for instance, has described the arrival of what he calls the “network society.” The basic idea, in a nutshell, is that the recent (or, perhaps better, ongoing) putative ‘revolution’ in information technology has, in turn, given rise to a paradigmatically new form of organization of human activities—political, economic, and cultural—that is structured around network flows of information, wealth, and, ultimately, power.[3]

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I was surprised to be asked to write a review article of “Still notable: Reassessing theoretical ‘exceptions’ in Canadian foreign policy literature” by David R. Black and Heather A. Smith. This article that introduces the 2014 annual John W. Holmes issue of the leading Canadian journal International Journal is itself a review article on the field of Canadian foreign policy. It is conceived as an update of a similar article written by the two authors in 1993 and published by the Canadian Journal of Political Science.[1] I was asked to write a review of a review article inspired by a review article. And yet, not only did I enjoy very much reading the piece – which is not surprising as it is written by two seasoned and prominent scholars in Canadian foreign policy – but writing that review proved itself to be a fascinating and exciting opportunity to discuss important issues facing the field.

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American Allies in Times of War coverThe defining characteristic of modern international politics is unipolarity. Never before has one state achieved such a remarkable lead in economic capacity and military capability. American power today is unrivalled and durable, even after the economic crisis of the last decade. It will be a very long time before another state qualifies as a peer competitor.

 

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Perceptions of Cuba coverLana Wylie has enhanced our understanding of Canadian and U.S. policies toward Fidel Castro’s Cuba by providing a comparative perspective that extends from 1959 to the present.  Wylie applies a constructivist approach which proposes that “culture and identity are integral to a complete understanding of the dynamics of international relations.” (6) Wylie proposes to move from a “focus on systemic-level analysis” to examine “national-level identities in order to understand differences in foreign-policy behavior.” (8)  Furthermore, Wylie examines not only state action at the international level but also domestic factors.  “It is not just international culture that constructs a state’s identity and corresponding behavior,” Wylie suggests, “but also domestic-level culture, identity, and ideas.” (9)

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