War as violent politics: A proposed framework for irregular and non-traditional strategies

size0David H. Ucko and Thomas A. Marks propose, in their new article, a theoretical framework that places military tasks in their proper supporting relation vis-à-vis the political and which identifies and explores the interaction of military tasks with other, non-military lines of effort.

Despite its efforts to conceptualize present challenges through concepts such as “hybrid war” and “the gray zone,” the United States remains overly reliant on the strategic utility of military force and has struggled to translate such martial abilities into political progress. Ironically, these shortcomings were also found in abundance in the U.S. effort to counter insurgency. At heart lies an understanding of war replete with theoretical barriers and unfounded presumptions, constituting an up-stream source of analytical friction with real implications for how strategy is conceived and implemented.

The foundational premise of our study of war should emphasize its political nature: war is not just political violence, but more accurately, violent politics and as such a subset of contentious politics. This placement of politics as the central engine of action, both violent and non-violent, is in line with the manner in which the American Revolution was waged by the Patriots but also Mao Tse-tung’s approach to strategy, as well as that of the Vietnamese.

Strikingly, a similarly supporting (rather than supported) function of military force is found in the so-called Gerasimov Doctrine. Though the Gerasimov Doctrine is neither doctrine nor the intellectual creation only of General Valery Vasilyevich Gerasimov, the former Russian chief of general staff, it does provide the main coherent theorization of the shadowy, gradualist approach used by Putin in the Near Abroad—in Ukraine, Georgia, Estonia, and elsewhere. In contrast, despite the West’s tireless invocation of Clausewitz, its discourse and conduct of war fall short of treating it as “a continuation of politics by other means.”

To encourage the necessary type of thinking about war, we propose a theoretical framework that places military tasks in their proper supporting relation vis-à-vis the political and which identifies and explores its interaction with other, non-military lines of effort. Such a framework can be constructed by interrogating the irregular conflicts of the past to derive a guide, or blueprint, for analysis and action.

“People’s war,” whether of the variety utilized by the American Patriots or by the Chinese and Vietnamese, all in their respective revolutions, has left a substantial body of material that has been used to operationalize a truly political strategy of warfighting. As the Chinese noted at the time in their communications with Che Guevara, the revolutionary’s construction of a new world is best achieved by a symbiosis of “kinetic” and “nonkinetic” approaches, something Che’s foco theory fatefully failed to grasp, relying instead on the use of violence to inspire spontaneous mass mobilization (and leading to Che’s death in Bolivia in 1967).

As an insurgent, Mao chastised those of “the purely military viewpoint,” those who “think the task of the Red Army … is merely to fight. They do not understand that the Chinese Red Army is an armed body for carrying out the political tasks of the revolution … Without these objectives, fighting loses its meaning and the Red Army loses the reason for its existence.”

What unites Mao’s “non-state” approach to strategy with Russia’s, or China’s, “state-based” version of the same is the blending of disparate lines of effort into a coherent whole—a political center that other efforts, to include the use of force, support. To mobilize people and resources politically, find the issues to which they will rally. Simultaneously, win over domestic allies who will back the cause on tactical issues even if they hesitate to do so strategically. Use violence only as appropriate to the situation to enable these two fundamentally political activities. Use non-violence, such as subversion, propaganda, offers of negotiations, or inducements, to coerce by other means than force; this is what Kennan meant by “political warfare.” And internationalize the struggle, making it difficult to contain or terminate within national borders.

The approach presented here offers an intellectual blueprint for the necessary type of analysis. Rather than front-load the analytical process with answers, it begins with five questions.

  1. What is the threat doing politically?
  2. How is it exploiting domestic alliances to better reach its objective?
  3. How is violence used in support of its political project?
  4. How is non-violence used?
  5. What is the role of internationalization in the struggle?

These questions, if used for careful interrogation of threat strategy, correct many of the cognitive shortcomings of present-day analysis and policy. Rather than detach military and security affairs from their political purpose, they force close consideration of their intimate relation. Rather than bifurcate artificially state and non-state uses of force, they anticipate a blending of styles and of modes of violence to achieve a political effect. Rather than let the use of violence, or of terrorism, eclipse the broader strategy at play, they compel a comprehensive analysis of wide-ranging lines of effort and their interaction. It is through careful engagement with these questions, and the construction of an effective counter-strategy, that we do better in the challenge at hand.

The approach serves to map both irregular strategy and operational art, whether violent or non-violent, by either state or non-state actors. Though the framework does not seek to comment specifically on traditional warfare, its treatment of irregular or non-traditional warfare informs, through its emphasis on politics and legitimacy, nearly all expressions of physical coercion. In effect, the manner of analyzing violence presented in this article opens a door to sorely needed theoretical insights into the nature of contention across the standard spectrums and dichotomies. By so doing, it also guides the construction of an effective response to the ambiguous threats of the 21st century.

David H. Ucko is an Associate Professor at the College of International Security Affairs (CISA) of the National Defense University (NDU). Thomas A. Marks is Distinguished Professor and the MG Edward Lansdale Chair of Irregular Warfighting Strategy at the College of International Security Affairs (CISA) of the National Defense University (NDU). They are authors of “Violence in context: Mapping the strategies and operational art of irregular warfare”, Contemporary Security Policy, 39(2), pp. 206-233. It is available here.

Chemical weapons justice for Syria

OPCW-men-at-work-in-SyriaThere appears to be agreement at the international level that those who employ chemical weapons should be punished. But in the Syrian case it has been clear that this does not equate to a guarantee of swift prosecution. In a new journal article, Brett Edwards and Mattia Cacciatori examine the emergence and politicization of the chemical weapon justice agenda.

The chemical weapon norm has been repeatedly violated by parties in the Syrian civil war. The gross violation of such an internationally-sacrosanct norm would appear to provide clear impetus for collective action; including criminal justice. After all, chemical weapon issues have received heightened attention as compared to other war-crimes. Chemical weapon atrocities are also subject to a comparatively well-developed set of international instruments.

Yet, the diplomatic discourse on this matter has been particularistic and impotent. Most recently, a specially developed attribution mechanism (the Joint Investigative Mechanism) became the victim of disagreements, which had dogged the initiative since its inception. This leaves us currently, in a situation which borders on farce: all sides agree that chemical weapon attacks have continued to take place; all sides agree punishment is important; and all sides are apparently eager to take action on this issue. Yet collective action between all major powers against impunity, even on this narrow issue, seems a bridge too far.

It is clear, that the apparent deadlock on the issue of chemical weapon justice, centres at one level on a situation in which veto powers in the UN Security Council have committed to differing accounts of who is behind chemical weapon use in Syria. Whether this reflects a genuinely-held consensus on the issue within intelligence communities and in the higher echelons of government is beyond the scope of our analysis.

It is also clear that selective outrage has been the norm, in the context of a broader bloody and vicious civil war. In our paper we argue there is a need to take into account more than cynical patronage alone to understand the politics surrounding this issue. Analysis needs to go beyond narrowly construed strategic conceptions of the drivers of public diplomacy.

That is to say, while it is clear that quests for justice have undoubtedly been made sub-servient to other state interests during the conflict, as well as broader struggles to define the international order, justice as a value and a concept still matters in diplomacy; and has helped define the scope of the politically desirable and possible in this area. This is in the sense that justice has informed decision making in both national and international forums. In laying out our argument, we point to areas of agreement, disagreement as well as practical initiatives particularly in areas such as war-crime documentation, multilateral attribution processes and prosecution.

Our study is presented as a historical case-study as part of an attempt to point to key contingencies, moments, path-dependencies and re-current patterns of behaviour. Our central argument is that there have been substantive disagreements between states on the issue of justice, which reflect broader positions on transitional justice. However, justice initiatives are tightly intertwined with other drives and interests of states.

This has contributed to a situation in which where has been a partial stalling of the justice agenda in relation to chemical weapons. However progress toward ensuring some form of accountability on the issue was made through a number of distinct formal international mechanisms and through civil-society evidence collection, curation and archive systems during the period studied.

Our findings helps contextualise events in Spring 2017, which led to U.S. airstrikes against the Syrian regime. They help us understand the structures of the disagreements within the UNSC and OPCW in particular, which have served to motivate, but also curtail initiatives to ensure accountability for those who employ chemical weapons. Including the work of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (which was terminated in the context of a split UNSC at the end of 2017), work under the auspices of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, the OPCW Fact Finding Mission; the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism on International Crimes Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic as well as the recently established International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons.

Brett Edwards is a lecturer in security and public policy at the University of Bath. Mattia Cacciatori is a lecturer in conflict and security at the University of Bath. They are authors of “The politics of international chemical weapon justice: The case of Syria, 2011–2017”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming. It is available here.

How contestation can strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime

BantheBombHow robust is the Non-Proliferation Treaty which has recently come under severe attack? In a new articleCarmen Wunderlich and Harald Müller examine contestation within the nuclear nonproliferation regime. They argue that debate over international norms does not necessarily result in erosion, but may also strengthen international norms.

122 countries voted, last July, for the legal prohibition of nuclear weapons. Yet, the five official nuclear weapon states and their allies strongly oppose a nuclear ban. They argue that it might undermine the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The NPT is, after all, the cornerstone of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime.

With near universal membership, the NPT can be considered a success of global security governance. However, like all systems of norms, the regime has not been free from contestation; challenges to its normative structure have been a common feature. Yet, so far it has proven robust. Why this relative stability, and what about the future?

Multilateral treaty regimes like the NPT present complex compromises among actors with multiple interests and worldviews. Therefore, the regimes incorporate structural fault lines deriving from the main differences of interests and ideas manifest already during the negotiations. These fault lines spark continued processes of contestation which keep normative dynamics within the regime alive.

Norms are never carved in stone but subject to interpretation and change of meaning – triggered by intrinsic (non-compliance or internal disputes) as well as extrinsic events (technological developments or shocks like 9/11). Such disputes about normative meaning are the engine driving norm dynamics. They are instantiated by actors committed to preserve the status quo, to reform, or to revolutionize the regime.

Whether contestation leads to normative progress, or blockage or even decay ultimately depends on three factors: commitment by the powerful parties to appreciate the concerns of the many, the work of bridge-builders for compromises, and the construction of reciprocal gains from compliance by all.

Many disputes within the NPT relate to its inherent inequality: it distinguishes between nuclear weapon states (NWS) and non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) which bear different rights and duties. These differences create opposite perspectives on the NPT, the way it operates, and how to improve its functioning. From these perspectives, different ways to understand the regime norms, their relative weight and their interrelations result, all structured by conflicting justice claims.

NWS justify their privileged status by their responsibilities for world order as permanent members of the UN Security Council: a status-related concept of justice. NNWS demand the elimination of the power difference which different NPT status implies: an equality-based concept of justice. In addition, developing countries claim preferred access to civilian nuclear energy as compensation for the past wrongs of colonial exploitation: compensatory and need-related concepts of justice.

What is called the NPT’s three interrelated “pillars” – nonproliferation, peaceful uses, and disarmament – installed as result of a “bargain” between the different groups of states, constitutes the regime’s fault lines, from which key patterns of contestation derive: the disarmament and the peaceful uses/nonproliferation disputes. Additionally, contestation results from disagreement on the relative weight of the “pillars” (are disarmament and peaceful uses as weighty as non-proliferation or even weightier?), the difference between states parties and non-NPT members, and procedural disputes. In all issue areas, contestation is related to the NPT’s inherent inequality.

Contestation consequences vary: disputes have repeatedly led to incremental norm improvement by specifying prescriptions and proscriptions, sharpening the nonproliferation tools, and widening the NPT agenda. If accompanied by a spirit of understanding and compromise, positive norm dynamics emerge.

But when norm contestation engenders an antagonistic feedback cycle that drives parties further apart, the regime community is shattered; blatant non-compliance might then meet insufficient response, parties turn to unilateralism and seek progress outside the procedures of the NPT. This may lead to norm erosion or even regime collapse. Such processes might arise when deeply emotionalized justice claims guide either side and make compromising difficult.

The origins of the Humanitarian Initiative and the failure of the 2015 RevCon on the Middle East suggest that this is most likely when parties get frustrated by a series of broken promises: The CTBT is still not in force, the FMCT is not even being negotiated, and there is no progress on the Middle East. Disregard by the powerful for the majority’s complaints betrays a lack of respect and recognition that drives negative emotions.

When such antagonistic contestation coalitions face each other over time, preventing all adaptation of the norm system to changing circumstances, the regime will look increasingly ineffective. Members may lose interest in membership. This stalemate motivates norm entrepreneurs (mostly of the “good citizen” type) willing to build bridges and to shape cross-cutting coalitions beyond the boundaries of the established groups, to explore and shape compromises. Their activities enhance the chances for consensus-building considerably.

Eventually, the NPT inequality problem can only be solved through a credible disarmament process, reciprocated by improved nonproliferation measures. Without satisfactory offers of civilian assistance and cooperation to the Global South by the North, regime efficiency will remain limited. The prospect of win-win results mitigates regime inequality and induces cooperation.

What does that tell us for the future of the NPT given the newly established nuclear ban treaty? For one, the ban treaty should not be regarded as competing with but rather as complementary to the NPT. Sure, a stronger wording would have been desirable. Yet, the humanitarian initiative is a direct result of ongoing contestation processes within the NPT, which resulted in frustration and anger of many NNWS with the slow pace of disarmament within the NPT.

By moving the issue beyond the NPT, the protagonists of the humanitarian initiative and the promoters of the ban treaty took a last resort, regained recognition for their demands and exerted considerable normative pressure on the NWS (and their allies). Furthermore, many ban advocates have been actors with a long-standing commitment for the NPT. That they went beyond the NPT does not mean they want to destroy it. It could rather be assumed that they keep their long-standing commitment for the NPT.

Carmen Wunderlich is a postdoctoral researcher at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF). Harald Müller was Executive Director of the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (ret.) and is Prof. emeritus for International Relations and Peace Studies at Goethe University Frankfurt. They are authors of “Not lost in contestation: How norm entrepreneurs frame norm development in the nuclear nonproliferation regime”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming. It is available here.

Alliance Entrapment and the Foreign Policy of Donald Trump

lanoszkaIn a new article in Contemporary Security Policy, Alexander Lanoszka provides a new conceptual framework to study how allies can entrap the United States in their conflicts. He argues that the Trump administration is actually attuned to those entrapment risks.

When Donald J. Trump became U.S. President in January 2017, many observers feared that he would abandon U.S. deterrence and defense measures in Europe in favor of rapprochement with Russia. After all, during his campaign he strongly criticized fellow members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as having suckered the United States into shouldering their defense burdens and even bearing the risk of their foreign policies. Yet almost one year into office the Trump administration has seen Montenegro join NATO, signaled strong support to Poland, contemplated selling lethal arms to Ukraine, and even approved of Georgia’s stance in its territorial disputes with Russia.

Foreign policy experts might be forgiven for thinking that Trump plays fast and loose with the so-called alliance dilemma. This alliance dilemma arises when a defender calibrates its security commitments to its ally. If the ally is confident that the defender will rescue it, then that ally might take undesirable risks. The defender thus worries of entrapment—that is, of being dragged into unwanted wars. However, if that ally doubts that it can truly rely on its defender in a future crisis, then it fears abandonment. Whereas Trump generated abandonment fears as presidential candidate, his actions as president might be seen as being blind to entrapment risks.

Are they really so blind, though? In a new Contemporary Security Policy article, I argue that international relations scholars have postulated different accounts of what shapes entrapment risks, often advancing theoretically incomplete arguments and contradictory policy prescriptions when taken together. Moreover, scholars often have overlooked how an underlying conflict makes both alliance formation and war more likely, making it empirically difficult to tease out an underlying entrapment risk from confounding factors. Leaders might even discount entrapment risks in pursuing their international strategies.

Four factors allegedly drive entrapment risks. One is institutional: by giving carte blanche to an ally, the defender emboldens that ally to adopt a risky foreign policy that raises the likelihood of water. Another is systemic: the number of major powers in the international system (i.e. system polarity) and whether attacking is easier than defending. If attack is easy and at least three great powers exist, then entrapment is likely because the defender will see the ally as necessary for maintaining a favorable balance of power. The third factor is reputation. An ally might believe that it will receive the support of a defender eager to preserve its commitments just for the sake of appearing reliable.

The final factor is transnational ideological. In the case of NATO, the alliance evolved from securing members against the Soviet threat to defending liberal democratic values. Accordingly, states that appeal to those values can maximize their likelihood in gaining support from that alliance, especially if they can also leverage elite networks.

Some critics argue that Georgia tailored its institutions to extract U.S. and NATO support in the years leading up to the August 2008 war with Russia. Indeed, those critics contend that Georgian leaders came to believe that alliance support was forthcoming even though their country failed in its application for the Membership Action Plan (MAP) earlier that same year. Their confidence made Georgian leaders more aggressive towards Russia than what was rationally justifiable, thereby creating the danger for that local conflict to spiral out of control.

These four accounts are compelling, but they do not square with other observations about international politics and even imply contradictory policy prescriptions. States can use institutional mechanisms—such as treaty precision and conditionality—to attenuate entrapment risks. Yet systemic drivers leave states powerless to formulate policies that would minimize entrapment risks. Moreover, defenders also wish to have reputations for not being reckless with their alliance commitments.

Arguments emphasizing transnational ideological networks need to explain why a pro-ally lobby should succeed in influencing the foreign policy of a defender over other competing interests. Indeed, in the Georgian case, such arguments need to explain why Georgia succeeded in eliciting support from the United States, Poland, and the Baltic countries but not from Western European allies. They also need to explain why Georgia still felt emboldened to behave aggressively towards Russia despite its rejected MAP application. Perhaps Georgian leaders like then President Mikheil Saakashvili were prone to misperceptions, hot-headedness, and other decision-making biases that would have raised the likelihood of war even in the absence of NATO.

What do these observations mean for comprehending Trump’s policy towards Europe and Russia? One take-away is that the Trump administration is not only attuned to entrapment risks, but even accepts them so as to place further pressure on Russia. By having allies become stronger vis-à-vis Russia, the Trump administration may believe that it is enhancing deterrence.

Indeed, many of the accounts of entrapment described above overlook a basic analytical issue—that is, conflict drives both alliance formation and the war. More conflict means a great acceptance of alliance entanglements and higher likelihood of war breaking out. The Trump administration may not want war with Russia, but it nevertheless believes that peace is best achieved through strength.

Alexander Lanoszka is lecturer in the Department of International Politics at City, University of London. His new Contemporary Security Policy article may be accessed here. For more on his research, please visit his website at www.alexlanoszka.com. You may also follow him on Twitter.

The Counterproductive Consequences of America’s Vicarious Wars

PIC 1In seeking to confront various security threats while simultaneously evading associated military and political costs, America has come to rely on the vicarious warfighting approaches of delegation, danger-proofing and darkness. Thomas Waldman shows in a new CSP journal article that the results are not promising. Security is not a commodity that can be bought on the cheap.

Following the failed military campaigns of the 2000s, America has not shied away from military intervention but has instead settled upon a low-level, limited, and persistent mode of fighting which I term ‘vicarious warfare.’

The concept covers a diverse range of military approaches that come together in different combinations in different contexts. It is broadly characterised by the outsourcing of military missions to proxy actors, the use of force in ways that minimizes the danger to American personnel and assets, and the conduct of covert and special operations in the shadows.

These methods are held together by decision-makers’ belief that wars can be fought economically, at arm’s length, and in discrete, limited and controllable ways, while at the same time evading various risks and restraints. In a recent article, I argue that the rationales underpinning the prosecution of vicarious warfare are deeply flawed. The attractions of such methods are clear, but the benefits are outweighed by longer-term harmful effects.

U.S.-led Operation Inherent Resolve has arguably been fought as an archetypal vicarious war and, in late 2017, has largely succeeded in removing Islamic State from its major strongholds in Iraq and Syria. Welcome news of course, but at what cost for the future?

In Syria, American-backed groups find themselves in confrontation with regional powers and new political realties make future ethnic strife between Kurds and Arabs likely. In Iraq, the way the operation to retake Mosul was conducted means “there is a real risk that this battle will form one more chapter in a seemingly endless cycle of devastating conflict.”

PIC 2But how can we account for the emergence of vicarious warfare? Looking back to the early 2000s, influential voices such as General Sir Rupert Smith suggested that we had entered into an age of “war amongst the people” – timeless irregular conflicts involving non-state actors and influenced by an ever-present mass media. Many American security elites thought it advisable to steer clear of such messy conflicts, especially following the bloody debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet, contrary to informed and sober analysis, politicians continued to believe that America was assailed by various menacing threats and risks – such as those posed by radical Jihadists and other rogue actors – that had to be confronted with force. But how to do this without being dragged into yet more debilitating irregular wars?

Evolving methods appeared to offer a way to essentially flip Smith’s logic and fight “war without the people” – to prevent serious security incidents, while keeping the necessary measures economically affordable, socially acceptable, legally permissible, and politically viable. Responsibility could be delegated to those designed to take considerable risks (special forces), those about whom the public is little concerned (private contractors, proxies), or those with the ability to sweep risk under the carpet (CIA).

This is the essence of vicarious warfare, and I suggest that it can usefully be understood as comprising three “Ds”: delegation, danger-proofing and darkness. Briefly considering each in turn, it is possible to see how vicarious methods lead to consistently and cumulatively counterproductive outcomes.

Delegation

The notion that proxy actors might serve as effective force multipliers while concealing the true costs of war appears persuasive. However, the empirical record is less positive and most rigorous studies profoundly sceptical. Rushed programs to build state security forces, sacrificing quality and sustainability for immediate effect, have resulted in “hollow” forces plagued by corruption, divisions and operational deficiencies. Support to irregular militias has been typified by short-term gains balanced by long-term harm: most groups have been associated with a lack of control, radicalization, and abuses. Similarly, incidents involving private contractors have generated baleful consequences leading scholars to conclude that the benefits of outsourcing “are either specious or fleeting, and its costs are massive and manifest.”

Danger-proofing

Driven by increased political interference in decisions that are usually the responsibility of commanders, America fights so as to minimize harm to American personnel. Yet, there are reasons to believe that excessive protection undermines operations and even increases the risk of casualties. Airpower and stand-off weapons such as armed drones and cruise missiles – extreme forms of danger-proofing, offering protection through distance – have rained death on America’s enemies. Yet, insurgent organizations “exhibit a biological reconstitution capacity” because the underlying causes of their regeneration remain unaddressed. The costs of unremitting drone warfare outweigh whatever tactical gains they deliver.

Darkness

Covert action, special forces, and rapidly emerging offensive cyber warfare capabilities seemingly allow elites to attain objectives while evading difficult political questions. Yet, such approaches have contributed to major “blowback” and led to embarrassing political crises. Special forces have provided support to local forces, enabling impressive battlefield victories. Yet, focusing on “kinetic” operations has distracted attention from addressing critical underlying issues. Attempts to remove terrorist leaders through “decapitation” strikes have failed to defeat targeted groups, and may have contributed to their longer term lethality.

Operation Iraqi FreedomThe three “Ds” are all adopted for their attraction as low-cost, tactically effective approaches to deal with pressing challenges. Superficially, these approaches are not entirely without merit. Rather, it is the way they have come to drive policy that leads to counterproductive outcomes. They distract decision-makers from addressing vital political dynamics, encourage militarised approaches which exacerbate complex problems, and drag America into unintended commitments.

Perhaps more concerning is the deeper self-harm being inflicted on the American polity. The normalization of the persistent use of military force, the expansion of under-scrutinized executive authority and, the rise of xenophobic populism are perhaps just indications of worse things to come.

The record of the Trump administration’s first year in office suggests the central dimensions of vicarious warfare look set to persist. Trump’s loosening of rules governing the use of force by commanders and the marginalization of the State Department may usher in an era of unprecedented militarization, while the costs borne by civilians – directly through bombings, raids, and abuses, or indirectly through protracted conflict and psychological trauma – cumulatively fosters discontent and continued resistance.

Thomas Waldman in lecturer in security studies at Macquarie University. He has published widely on war, military strategy and contemporary conflict. His Twitter handle is @tom_waldman and his work can be followed on Academia.com. He is author of “Vicarious Warfare: The Counterproductive Consequences of Contemporary American Military Practice”, available here.

Defense cooperation 2.0: The challenge of trilateral and quadrilateral defense arrangements in the Indo-Asia-Pacific

Burgess_BeilsteinDespite heightened tensions in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region–and increased calls for trilateral and quadrilateral defense arrangements–the United States and its allies find it difficult to establish multilateral defense cooperation. In their CSP journal article, Stephen Burgess and Janet Beilstein analyze recent developments.

There is a growing call for multilateral defense cooperation in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, given China’s territorial expansionism and increasing influence and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) nuclear missile program. A power transition is taking place in the IAP that is causing the United States and its allies and partners to cooperate more closely to balance against a rising China.

China is more of a military and economic power now than ever before, including in the maritime domain. Also, the DPRK can threaten the Republic of Korea (ROK), Japan, and the United States with nuclear weapons. These trends mean that the United States is no longer confident that it can dissuade and deter rivals by itself or with the help of only one less powerful ally, such as Japan. Instead, the United States is looking to develop trilateral and quadrilateral arrangements that can be force multipliers and reinforce the regional status quo.

While the DPRK presently only threatens the ROK, Japan, and the United States, the deepening trilateral defense cooperation may serve as a template for a broader balancing coalition against China. In November 2016, Japan and the ROK signed a General Sharing of Military Intelligence Agreement (GSOMIA), which will make information-sharing on DPRK missile launches and missile defense cooperation easier.

In addition, the GSOMIA could enhance trilateral intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) with the deployment of the fifth generation F-35 fighter, which has advanced networking capabilities. The ROK could also integrate its ISR platforms with the U.S. P-8, Japan’s P-1 and reconnaissance satellites, providing for more effective anti-submarine warfare in the ROK’s economic exclusion zone. Established procedures for information-sharing and interoperable network systems are being developed so that coalition partners will have a common operating picture.

In the future, the agreement to allow the United States to deploy its Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) and AN/TPY-2 radar system could enable the ROK’s missile defense system to be linked into those of the United States and Japan and provide early warning of missile launches in the region.

Trilateral defense cooperation involving Australia, the United States, and Japan, on the other hand, revolves around a combination of the development of interoperable air and maritime capabilities and concern about freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. In 2010, Japan and Australia signed an Acquisition and Cross-Sharing Agreement and, in 2012, a GSOMIA, which paved the way for greater trilateral cooperation in the sharing of logistics and information.

Submarine and anti-submarine warfare are areas of increasing cooperation, given China’s growing submarine fleet and forays into the Western and South Pacific and Japan and Australia’s acquisition of new submarines and P-8 surveillance aircraft. The three countries have plans for the joint development of amphibious capabilities. The three countries have stepped up joint exercises in the Western Pacific, including the Cope North exercises around Guam starting in 2014, which have involved the U.S. Air Force (USAF), the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). The RAAF also hosts the biennial Exercise Pitch Black, in which many regional air forces participate.

The acquisition of the F-35 by Australia, Japan, and the United States provides the opportunity to take a leap forward in trilateral interoperability and air superiority. Repair and maintenance of the F-35 will take place in Australia and Japan. Increasing cooperation among the three air forces is especially important, given increasing challenges by the PLAAF over the ECS and SCS. Trilateral air force cooperation over the SCS and ECS would be helped by the development over a joint base in Guam.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has focused on building India’s strength to balance against the growing challenge from China and moved toward greater multilateral defense cooperation with the United States, Australia, and Japan. India has revived the Malabar multilateral naval exercises in the eastern Indian Ocean, and India, Japan and the United States have held joint naval exercises in the South China Sea.

China’s offensive assertiveness on its border with India–most recently in the PLA’s confrontation against Indian forces on the Doklam Plateau between Bhutan and Sikkim– provides a rationale for quadrilateral defense cooperation and raises the need to access advanced defense technology and expertise.

In particular, the intensifying bilateral security relationship between Japan under Prime Minister Abe and Prime Minister Modi and India is laying the foundation for a robust quadrilateral defense cooperation framework. They committed to align Japan’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy” with India’s “Act East Policy” through enhanced maritime security cooperation, improved connectivity in the wider Indo-Pacific region, strengthening cooperation with ASEAN, and promoting discussions between strategists and experts of the two countries. They pledged cooperation in defense equipment and technology in areas such as surveillance and unmanned system technologies and in defense production.

It is clear that regional powers are building their military capabilities and coalescing in reaction to the rise of China and the DPRK threat. Multilateral defense cooperation may slow China’s offensive assertiveness and show resolve in the face of DPRK provocations. However, until China and the DPRK engage in major escalation, the effectiveness of cooperation will continue to be limited due to divergent national interests. If and when escalation occurs, coalitions will be prepared to respond; the question is how united they will be and how much force they will use.

Stephen F. Burgess is Professor of International Security Studies, U.S. Air War College. Janet Beilstein is International Education Program Specialist at International Officer School, Air University. They are the authors of “Multilateral defense cooperation in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region: Tentative steps toward a regional NATO?”, Contemporary Security Policy, Advance online publication. It is available here.

Why September 11 and drones don’t tell the whole story about targeted killings

Mathias_Grossklaus

To understand the proliferation of target killing as a new method of warfare, we have to look beyond events like 9/11 or the emergence of new technology.

For centuries, assassination was an accepted instrument of foreign policy and considered a normal practice. During the early modern period, however, resorting to assassination gradually became a taboo, something modern states would not do because of their self-perception as modern. Today we observe a weakening of this taboo. Reframed as “targeted killing,” assassination seems to move towards normalization, as more states engage in the practice and, instead of denying it, openly justify targeted killing strategies. “The gloves are off,” a senior CIA official stated mere weeks after the attack on the World Trade Center, “[l]ethal operations that were unthinkable pre-September 11 are now underway.”

Scholarly attempts at making sense of this normative change sometimes seem to implicitly share this assessment. They tend to overemphasize the role of September 11, 2001 and the ensuing “War on Terror” as turning points. Similarly, scholars have argued that the anti-assassination norm has been eroding because of the development and availability of drone technology. Consequentially, the vast majority of studies concerned with such normative change only look at post-9/11 cases. In my article, I seek to shift the focus. Rather than concentrating on major events or technology, I highlight the pivotal importance of two meta-norms, sovereignty and liberal thought, in the transformation of assassination norms prior to the War on Terror.

It has often been argued that historical state-sponsored assassination and present-day targeted killing constitute two completely different subjects, since the targeted killing of terror suspects seems so different from headline-grabbing assassinations of state leaders during the 19th and 20th century. Yet those share a common normative realm. When the term “targeted killing” was coined in the late 1990s and early 2000s, however, it represented a deliberate attempt to render some forms of killing permissible precisely by uncoupling them from their restrictive historical assassination context. Indeed, today’s targeted killing programs largely rest on similar logics, on the assumption that terrorist networks are centralized enough to allow attackers to degrade enemy functioning through killing leadership.

It is beyond doubt that 9/11 marked a severe turning point in security practices, and my article does not seek to refute its general importance. However, the normative underpinnings of those shifts were subject to much slower change–not as rapid as cursory accounts of the history of assassination might suggest. This transformation started not only before 9/11 but also well before the end of the Cold War.

During the early modern period, state-sponsored assassination became increasingly rejected due to the emergence of sovereign statehood and liberal thought. Those are reflected in debates about assassination as a specific (and from a liberal perspective deplorable) nature of killing as well as debates about the special protection of specific persons from being targets of assassination due to their status as representatives of sovereign statehood. This distinguishes assassination from many other changing international norms.

Liberal norms and the sovereignty norms have frequently collided, as the case of humanitarian intervention and the “responsibility to protect” exemplifies: Here, a liberal responsibility collides with sovereignty rights of nation states. The same is true for most norms rooted in human rights discourse, since the mere existence of such a norm means that it is universal enough to have some effect on the behavior of states, which is then by definition generates a tension with state sovereignty. It can be argued that the tension between the two meta norms of sovereignty and liberal thought constitute the core of most instances of norm contestation.

In this sense, assassination norms are peculiar. Rather than being in tension with one meta-norm and shielded by the other, they are rooted in both discourses. At the very core of the assassination/targeted killing normative realm lies an incentive to protect the long-term stability of sovereign states and a state-based order and a liberal impetus to avoid harm to human beings.

As I maintain in my article, this connection also helps understand the weakening of the norm, as they can be invoked by actors in order to reinterpret it. On a grand scale, the second half of the 20th century saw an overall strengthening of liberal values at the expense of state sovereignty. During the same period however, actors began emphasizing assassination’s sovereignty implications at the expense of its connection to liberal meta-norms.

Over time, the condemnation of state-sponsored assassination had become a mere subset of sovereignty, no longer shielded by its original powerful liberal underpinnings. Hence, when states began to openly advocate targeted killing policies in the early 21st century, precisely on the ground of liberal values and in spite of sovereignty during the War on Terror, the normative ground had already been prepared.

Mathias Großklaus is a PhD candidate at the Graduate School of North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin. He is the author of “Friction, not erosion: assassination norms at the fault line between sovereignty and liberal values”, Contemporary Security Policy, 38(2), 260-280. It is available here.

How Human Rights Watch Tried to Suppress a Targeted Killing Norm

14203284_10153734268660894_3046983579658798280_nThe United States has been persistently trying to build support for its case that its targeted killings should be considered legal. Human Rights Watch has been actively trying to resist this effort, with varying degrees of success. This clash offers us deeper insights into how the global rules of the game are determined.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently stated, “It’s long past time for the US to assess the legality of its targeted killings, as well as the broader impact of these strikes on civilians.” HRW has doggedly resisted U.S. efforts to normalize what has long been taboo: the killing of specific individuals outside conventionally understood battlefields.

International relations scholarship tells us a lot about how human rights groups try to introduce new ideas to improve the human experience and how states attempt to thwart these efforts.  But it tells us less about the inverse: Namely, how human rights groups aim to impede state-led campaigns to expand their ability to act in the global arena.

My recent article explores the ways in which HRW, a prominent member of the anti-targeted killing network, strove to do just that. My article demonstrates how HRW initially tried to entirely suppress the emergence of a targeted killing norm by demanding the United States halt its denials and admit to the practice. HRW also named and shamed the United States and its allies for violating human rights and sovereignty norms.

Then came bin Laden’s death, which was a watershed moment in changing global opinion about this practice, from one which largely opposed it to a tepid, and perhaps temporary, tolerance of it. This change in global opinion contributed to a change in how HRW resisted targeted killings. It switched strategies by focusing on suppressing the emergence of an unbridled norm, one that might clash with deeply entrenched protections afforded to state sovereignty and human rights.

For instance, it sought to limit the number of US actors engaged in targeted killing by pushing for the end of CIA participation in the program.  It also pressured the United States to be more transparent about civilian deaths in a bid to restrict the practice and hold it accountable for “collateral damage.”

By showcasing this contestation between norm champions and norm suppressors, the article also further refines Finnemore and Sikkink’s exemplary norm life cycle model, highlighting the dynamism in global normative debates. Normative content is not static, remaining unchanged once its advocates take it up. It is subject to modification as a result of the battles waged over its prescriptions and parameters throughout the norm life cycle. These conflicts have the potential to both strength and weaken norms.

In my article, I also emphasize that normative death and regress is a possibility at any stage in this model. Normative ideas can fail to emerge. Even well-established norms are vulnerable to attacks which may eventually lead to their demise. Furthermore, there is nothing inevitable about the normative journey. Just as entrepreneurs can help their ideas advance through the norm life cycle, norm suppressors can stall their progress and move them backwards.

Additionally, I illustrate how similar state and non-state actors act, both as advocates for new ideas and resistors to those ideas. Among other things, both sets of actors effectively deploy frames to attract supporters and weaken their opponents. They also comparably form alliances to further their objectives. Furthermore, I argue that norms scholars should study “bad” norms, norms that widely differ from their rights-protecting counterparts that dominate the scholarly landscape. Doing so is not only more faithful to a neutral understanding of norms (shared understandings of appropriate behavior in a given situation), but will also help us understand a wider range of political phenomena like the current global rise of right wing populism, regulatory moves to control cyberspace, or the growing push to limit or abolish gay rights.

Studying norm suppression not only fills noteworthy gaps in the scholarly corpus, but also helps us better unravel intriguing puzzles like why some norms fail to emerge and others find more success. These insights allow us to better understand how norms operate in the global arena, significantly contributing to theoretical and policy-making debates.

Betcy Jose is an Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department at the University of Colorado Denver. She works on issues related to global norms, international humanitarian law, and civilian self-protection. She has published in Critical Studies on Terrorism, International Studies Review, Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics, Foreign Affairs, World Politics Review, and Duck of Minerva. She is currently working on a book manuscript exploring contestation in armed conflict norms to be published in 2018. Her Twitter handle is @betcyj.

Caveats in coalition operations: Why do states restrict their military efforts?

PerMarius3Caveats refer to the reservations states impose on how their forces can operate when assigned to a military coalition operation. Many argue that caveats have been a particular problem for unity of effort in multinational military coalition operations in the post-Cold War period.

The practice of caveats rose to prominence in defense and policy circles with NATO’s ISAF-campaign in Afghanistan, often emphasized as one of the most significant causes to NATO’s lack of operational effectiveness. While states sent troops to Afghanistan, the problem for NATO was that many nations set heavy restrictions on what their forces were permitted to do. Some could not operate at night. Others could not take part in offensive operations. The most commonly used restrictions were perhaps geographical limitations for where forces could operate in Afghanistan.

Caveats are often mentioned in the context of NATO’s operations in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, similar examples of national reservations are well known also from other coalition operations in the post-Cold War era.

While it is unusual for states to fully surrender their military forces to operate under other nations’ command, caveats represent a particular puzzling type of reserved state behavior in military coalitions. Why would states provide a specific military capability and then prevent the coalition from using the full potential of the forces by applying caveats? If a state for some reason finds it necessary to adjust its support to the coalition, would it not be more meaningful to send a military capability that the coalition could use without reservations?

The use of caveats is further puzzling when we take into account how controversial the practice of caveats has become over the last decade. Operationally, caveats hamper coalition commanders’ operational flexibility and often require coalition forces to fight with one hand tied to their back – reducing the coalition forces’ military progress. One U.S. general even referred to national caveats as “a cancer that eats away at the effective usability of troops”. Politically, caveats are contested because they can easily be seen as part of a buck-passing strategy, adding more burdens to those states that do not apply caveats – risking breaking the cohesion among coalition partners.

So, what motivates states to apply caveats to their military forces in coalition operations when such reservations limit military progress and weaken the political cohesion in the coalition? In my recent study on the use of caveats by Denmark, Norway and The Netherlands during the NATO operation in Libya, I found that there are three possible causes that can lead to caveats.

First, confronted with the question of whether or not to join military coalition operations, many governments have found themselves between a rock and a hard place – between external pressure for supporting allies and domestic skepticism about what the external pressure demands and exactly how to respond to it. To gain sufficient domestic support for making a military contribution to a coalition, it might be necessary for a government to add caveats to address concerns among political parties that can block the decision to make a contribution. For a government eager to see their forces take part in coalition operations, it might be better to make a reserved contribution than to make no contribution at all.

Second, the use of caveats is rarely fully determined by the need to make a domestic political compromise. Domestic factors help to explain whether or not there will be caveats, while external pressure helps to explain the form that such caveats takes. Clever national policy-makers will spot opportunities for how caveats can be implemented. By adjusting how caveats are practiced, more of the units’ military value to the coalition operations can be maintained. As such, decision-makers can secure a better balance between, on the one hand, to make a more relevant contribution to a coalition’s demand for military support and, on the other, maintain domestic support for such a contribution.

Third, with unanimous domestic support for a nation’s military participation in a coalition operation there is another possibility for caveats. Ideally for the purpose of utilizing the military resources at the coalition’s disposal, a coalition commander would like to have no national strings attached to the contributed units under his or her command. However, cutting off every national string to a national military unit to ease the challenges with coordinating military effort might be counter-productive. In lack of clear guidance from their national principals, military officers might themselves apply reservations in fear of reprimands or of causing domestic political crisis by simply following coalition orders.

In military coalitions, operational effectiveness hinges on states’ ability to coordinate their military efforts. The phenomenon of caveats in post-Cold War coalition operations illustrates how national control have challenged states’ ability to coordinate their military efforts when operating together and how this has affected coalition forces’ operational effectiveness. With different causes leading to caveats, there is no easy solution to make a stop to the growing practice of caveats in coalition operations. To overcome the practical problems that caveats create, policy-makers and military decision-makers should develop a better understanding of the reasons for why caveats appear.

Per Marius Frost-Nielsen was a PhD candidate at the  Department for Sociology and Political Science, Faculty of Social Sciences and Technology Management, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim, Norway. He is the author of “Conditional commitments: Why states use caveats to reserve their efforts in military coalition operations”, Contemporary Security Policy, 38, forthcoming. It is available here.

Israel and the Gulf States: Towards a Tacit Security Regime?

blog_israel_gulfThe nuclear threat posed by Iran has brought Israel and the Gulf States closer together. This nascent tacit security regime allows these countries to address the common threat while sidestepping the more intractable issue of Palestinian statehood.

Israel and the Arab Gulf States do not have diplomatic relations; indeed, some do not even recognize Israel as a state. However, shared concerns of Iran have, since 2006 brought these erstwhile foes closer together. These relations, short of an explicit alliance, are an expression of realpolitik rather than shared values or of deep intimacy. However, the Israelis, Saudis and Emiratis, underpinned by shared perceptions of threats to be countered and interests to be realised, have been cooperating on security related matters for some time.

For Israel and the Gulf States, the nuclear deal with Iran singed in July 2015 has done little to curb Iran’s regional conduct or indeed its longer term nuclear ambitions. Another motivation that bring the sides closer relates to disagreements with the Obama administration over its Middle East policies and deep concerns that in the long run their main security guarantor will lessen its commitment to their security and further decrease its military and diplomatic leverage across the region.

Although relations between the sides warmed up in recent years, they are not new. For example, Oman and Qatar, whether it was to find favour in the eyes of the Americans or to anger the Saudis, established official relations, albeit partial ones, with Israel. Israel opened missions in both countries, but the second intifada in 2000 and Operation “Cast Lead” in Gaza led to their closure. Now, however, it seems that Saudi Arabia in particular is more willing to acknowledge its ongoing dialogue with Israel, if only to test how its public will react to more overt relations. It already got the attention of Iran and Hezbollah.

This new openness that carries with it a heightened political symbolism, is gradually breaking a long-held taboo that any Saudi, let alone one identified so closely with the ruling family, could ever appear in public with their erstwhile foe. These days, one does not have to look hard to find opinion pieces by senior Israelis or Saudis in each other media outlets. State-run media in the Gulf appears to be softening its reporting on Israel, running columns floating the prospect of direct relations, quoting Israeli officials, and filling its news holes with fewer negative stories on Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians. The outspoken Prince Alwaleed bin Talal was also very candor speaking about the startling relations of Wahhabist Saudi Arabia, custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, and the Jewish state and noted that “For the first time, Saudi Arabian interests and Israel are almost parallel … It’s incredible.”

Faced with crumbling Middle East state order, Israel is, again, actively looking to form ties with states and non-state actors, some even former enemies. While in the past they stood in the shadows of others, the Gulf states too have adopted a more assertive foreign policy needed to confront regional changes. It remains unclear, however, if the two sides will be willing to take the same foreign policy risks, this time towards each other, to realize the full potential of their relations.

The fact is that the shared antipathies towards Tehran does not preclude competition or divergent interests pursued in other fields. Gulf States, have strongly supported the recent adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 regarding Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Furthermore, Saudi officials make clear that unless Israel is willing to engage seriously with the Arab Peace Initiative and with it, tangible progress towards realising Palestinian self-determination, overt ties with Jerusalem will hardly move beyond the symbolic handshakes at academic symposia. Netanyahu too remains hamstrung, politically as well as ideologically by a domestic constituency unwilling to accept substantive territorial concessions to the Palestinians.

The hierarchy of threat in favour of Iran trumped any immediate desire among the Gulf states to push the Arab peace initiative, however signalling it’s still “on the table”. Furthermore, at the end of 2015, the most senior cleric in the Kingdom, Shaykh Abdulaziz al-Shaykh stated that ISIS was in reality an adjunct of the Israeli army. Such statements emanating from such an authoritative figure are indicative of the current boundaries of the relationship on the Arab side.

Internal constraints on all sides will continue to determine the type and intensity of external engagement. Indeed, neither side is willing to pay the price needed to realize the strategic potential inherent in their relations. Both sides are benefiting from the advantages of covert ties without having to pay a political price for pulling them out of the closet.

This nascent tacit security regime between Israel and the Gulf states has, for the most part, been shaped by its lowest common denominator, the perceived threat from Tehran, while sidestepping perhaps the more intractable issue of Palestinian statehood. Whether, overtime, the contours of the regime can foster the confidence building measures that will be required to reach a formal treaty satisfactory to all sides will, in truth, be the real test of its leverage beyond the immediate purchase of hard security. For now, all concerned remain the best of adversaries.

An attempt to change force such relations from the shadows would undermine what has been achieved so far but even so, there is a wide range of policy options between full diplomatic relations and a total lack of contact, and the actors involved can and indeed have taken advantage of this. Israelis in particular have increasingly taken the opportunity to express in public forums the interests shared between Jerusalem and what Major General Herzi Halevy, Head of Israeli military intelligence, referred to as “pragmatic Sunni countries” and the opportunities therefore to be realised.

Israelis and Arabs alike hope that the Trump administration will reverse the Obama-era policy of leading from behind. But if Trump follows suit and makes good on his pledge to Make America Great Again, beginning at home, Washington’s Middle East allies could find comfort in their secret, under the-table relations. Those already become an important template for understanding shifts in alliances and regional security systems, across the wider Middle East and beyond.

Clive Jones holds a Chair in Regional Security (Middle East) in the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University, United Kingdom. Yoel Guzansky is Research Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University and a Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. They are the authors of “Israel’s relations with the Gulf states: Toward the emergence of a tacit security regime?”, Contemporary Security Policy, 38, forthcoming. It is available here.