The Paradox of the Non-Proliferation Treaty

The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is often labelled as a cornerstone of non-proliferation and one of the main factors curbing the spread of nuclear weapons. In a recent article, however, Orion Noda argues that the NPT is a nuclear proliferator; not of nuclear weapons per se, but of their symbolic value. 

The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is often labelled as a cornerstone of non-proliferation and one of the main factors curbing the spread of nuclear weapons. Its pillars – non-proliferation, disarmament, and the peaceful uses of nuclear technology – were designed by the nuclear powers to counter a perceived immediate threat at the time (nuclear proliferation), whilst promising to disarm in good time.

I argue, however, that the NPT is a nuclear proliferator; not of nuclear weapons per se, but of their symbolic value. Drawing from different fields, such as Anthropology, Linguistics, and International Relations, I suggest a theoretical model to study nuclear weapons and the NPT focused on symbolism and I reach two major conclusions.

Firstly, despite the shrinking nuclear arsenals, we are no closer to “general and complete disarmament” – one of the goals of the NPT. The treaty focuses exclusively on quantitative forms of nuclear proliferation, that is, how many nuclear devices a given state has. In that sense, the NPT overlooks a series of proliferation forms, such as qualitative and, more importantly, symbolic. Qualitative proliferation is linked to the modernization of nuclear arsenals or delivery vehicles, for instance. What I call symbolic proliferation, on the other hand, relates to the proliferation of the symbolic values of nuclear weapons. These values are often connected to ideas of power, status, prestige, modernity, and civilization. In that sense, nuclear weapons evoke and symbolize these ideas, making them valued items.

Secondly, the NPT not only fails to account for non-quantitative forms of nuclear proliferation, but also acts as a proliferator of these symbolic values of nuclear weapons. The way this works is through two mechanisms: historical and conceptual entrapment. Historical entrapment relates to the fact that the values and idea of nuclear weapons contained in the NPT was that of that specific point in time when the NPT was being negotiated. The NPT was negotiated in the 1960s, during a time when the symbolic perceptions of nuclear weapons were strongly associated with positive features, not only material (such as their unparalleled destructive power), but also subjective (such as status and prestige). In that sense, the idea of nuclear weapons brought into the NPT was that of the 1960s, an idea and a set of values unchanged until today, given the few alterations the treaty suffered.

Conceptual entrapment, on the other hand, alludes to how the NPT funnels most – if not all – discussions on the topic of non-proliferation and disarmament and, as a consequence of the historical entrapment, the NPT proliferates the values of nuclear weapons it carries within. In other words, given that the NPT embodies a specific set of Cold War-era values of nuclear weapons and the centrality of the NPT (the ‘cornerstone’ of the non-proliferation regime), most of the discussions on the topic, which goes through the NPT, are tainted with the NPT’s interpretation, perception, idea, and values of nuclear weapons.

In that sense, the NPT has, so far, failed to fulfill its promise of more than 50 years ago. There are some who argue that we should probably abandon the NPT, whilst some argue that the NPT is a stalwart of non-proliferation. In the middle, there are those who argue that although the NPT has major flaws, we would not be better off without it.

In my new article, I have shown that the NPT, in fact, has not done everything it was supposed to do: whilst the curbing of the spread of nuclear weapons may be counted as a positive NPT influence, disarmament cannot, despite the decreasing numbers. In order for the NPT to survive and function properly, it must broaden its definition of proliferation beyond the quantitative realm and, more importantly, acknowledge and reverse its position of symbolic proliferator by engaging with the debate on the immaterial values (or lack thereof) of nuclear weapons.

Orion Noda is with the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, London, and the International Relations Institute, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil. He is the author of “A wolf in sheep’s clothing? The NPT and symbolic proliferation”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming, which can be accessed here.

Externalizing EU Crisis Management: The EU, OSCE and Ukraine

After years of progressive enhancement of EU crisis management capacities, the Lisbon Treaty should have turned the EU into a more efficient global crisis manager. Yet Maria Giulia Amadio Viceré finds, in a new article, that the EU has relied on third parties to achieve its crisis management objectives, essentially externalizing its activities to actors over which it has no control.

The past decade offers both well-known and lesser-known examples of such externalization across different crisis management areas. Among other cases, the EU’s recruited and supported civil society organizations to promote human rights and democracy in the Middle East and in Northern Africa after the Arab Uprisings; it enlisted the Libyan coastguard and Turkey to manage migratory flows across the Mediterranean; and it relied on the OECD to improve public governance and support socio-economic development in the Western Balkans’ process of democratic transition. Hence, the question arises: Why and how does the EU outsource its security?

Through the lenses of the orchestration model, my recent article addresses this question by examining the EU relationship with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe during the Ukrainian crisis. Not only the EU had deployed several CSDP missions in the eastern neighbourhood already before the Lisbon Treaty came into force, but the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea and the ensuing destabilisation of Ukraine were perceived as the most dangerous predicaments in post-Lisbon European security.

For sure, as this crisis unfolded, the EU devised a series of measures aimed at supporting Ukraine politically and economically. At the same time, while the EU sought to compel Russia to solve its conflict with Ukraine trough sanctions, it attempted to soft balance its position in Ukraine by boosting the resilience of the Ukrainian security sector through the civilian CSDP mission ‘EU Advisory Mission (EUAM) Ukraine’. Still, to challenge Russia directly and confront Ukrainian separatists and Russian troops, the EU enlisted a third party over which it had no formal control: the OSCE.

My new article argues that the combination between the capability deficiencies across policy issues pertaining to EU crisis management activities and the OSCE’s capabilities determined the EU enlistment of the OSCE. Following the Russian annexation of Crimea, EU member states favoured an approach that would avoid direct confrontation with Russia, particularly in eastern Ukraine where Russian troops and military equipment had been deployed.

Since the mobilization of EU military and civilian crisis management capabilities largely depends on member states’ unanimous consent and on their willingness’ to coordinate their resources on specific issues, the EU essentially lacked the operational capabilities to confront Russia directly. On the external level, in turn, EU lacked both the competence and the reputation for an acceptable intervention in the conflict. Addressing Ukraine’s destabilisation through NATO was not an option either. Not only Ukraine was not a member of the Atlantic Alliance, but NATO’s expansion was considered by many among the causes of the crisis.

Against this backdrop, OSCE’s regulatory competence over Moscow’s behaviour in Ukraine and its reputation vis-à-vis Russia were crucial in the EU’s decision to enlist this international organization. In fact, the OSCE was the only organisation within the European security architecture that could confront Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine directly. Since both Russia and Ukraine are participating states in this organisation, the OSCE had rights of implementation and enforcement over Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine. Furthermore, the OSCE had a reputation for being an actor committed to ensuring cooperation between East and West.

The article’s findings have relevant implications for EU role as a conflict manager in international politics. Certainly, international organizations experience the absence of competence and/or reputation on a regular basis. Even if the EU had the competence and reputation to challenge Russia directly in the Ukrainian crisis, however, it would have not had the opportunity to mobilize the military and civilian capabilities needed to do this because of member states’ unwillingness to get directly involved in the conflict.

One could argue in this regard that decision-making stalemates and lack of political will to coordinate decentralized resources are typical of consensus based international organizations. Nevertheless, the vulnerability of a large part of the EU’s crisis management capabilities to member states’ contingent strategic preferences inevitably casts a shadow on the Lisbon Treaty’s attempts to boost the pooling of member states’ decentralized resources in the security domain.

The Ukrainian case demonstrates that orchestration has emerged as a crucial governance arrangement for the functioning of EU crisis management post-Lisbon. This governance arrangement can promote solutions to deal with contingent capability deficiencies which may mar different EU crisis management areas. In the case of Ukraine, outsourcing part of EU crisis management activities to the OSCE was not only necessary, but also appropriate given that the EU was perceived as being directly part of the conflict. Nonetheless, the EU’s adoption of orchestration to externalise its foreign policy activities raises serious questions about the EU’s overall capacity to act as a security provider through its crisis management activities.

For sure, the EU has enough ideational and material resources to guide and support third actors in addressing major security threats in its neighbourhood. In the long term, however, enrolling third parties cannot replace the lack of centralised operational capabilities at the EU level to respond to external conflicts and crises. Given the EU’s lack of control over its intermediaries, in fact, orchestration cannot be considered as a panacea for its structural deficiencies. This is especially so in policy sectors where the EU has so far mostly relied on member states’ voluntary coordination of their resources rather than on capacity-building, namely the CSDP’s military and civilian management; and the common foreign and security policy’s sanctioning power. Indeed, at a time when the West’s liberal values are being increasingly contested and hard security concerns have come back into the spotlight, the EU cannot afford to renounce to such crisis management tools.

Maria Giulia Amadio Viceré is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute (EUI) and a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University’s Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies. She is also an adjunct professor at LUISS and a research associate at Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI). Her twitter account is @mariagiuliaama. She’s the author of “Externalizing EU Crisis Management: EU Orchestration of the OSCE during the Ukrainian crisis”, Contemporary Security Policy, which can be accessed here.

The Erosion of the Global Nuclear Order

Starting early in the atomic age, states developed international arrangements intended to reduce the danger of nuclear war. In a recent article, Jeffrey W. Knopf describes the international nuclear order, identifies signs of erosion in that order, and proposes some short-term measures to help arrest these adverse trends.

The global nuclear order developed organically. It was not planned. And with some exceptions, most notably the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), major aspects of the nuclear order were not formally negotiated. Instead, they involve tacit understandings that are shared, to varying degrees, by elites in key countries.

The nuclear order rests upon three major strands: strategic stability, the nuclear taboo, and nonproliferation. The current order does not give similar priority to nuclear disarmament. Although nuclear abolition receives occasional rhetorical support and is listed as a goal in Article VI of the NPT, the governments of nuclear-armed states and their allies do not support pursuing global zero as a near-term objective. This is because these states still see value in the continued possession of nuclear arsenals. Hence, the purpose of the global nuclear order is to minimize the chances, while nuclear arms continue to exist, that they are ever used in ways that would kill people — and specially to ensure there is never a large-scale nuclear war.

Strategic stability, the nuclear taboo and nonproliferation

All three strands contribute to this goal. Strategic stability refers to efforts to minimize incentives for any state to feel pressure to be the first to launch a nuclear attack. Strategic stability can be enhanced by arms control, confidence-building measures, strategic dialogues, and anything else that contributes to restraint in policies and actions related to nuclear weapons. The nuclear taboo involves normative inhibitions against threatening or using nuclear weapons.

There is reason to question whether a genuine taboo exists or the current situation is better described as a tradition of non-use. Either way, however, there is a sense that any state that uses nuclear weapons would be crossing a major threshold. Finally, nonproliferation comprises a variety of measures intended to prevent the spread of nuclear arms to additional states. In the last two decades, nonproliferation has been supplemented by the goal of nuclear security, which aims to ensure that bomb-making materials do not fall into the hands of a non-state, terrorist actor.

The strategic stability and taboo strands of the nuclear order peaked in the early 1990s and have eroded since then. In contrast, the nonproliferation strand continued to get stronger into the early 2010s, but in the last decade positive trends in the nonproliferation regime have also started to unravel.

Erosion and unraveling

Strategic stability has suffered notable erosion. The end of the Cold War enabled remarkable progress in nuclear arms reductions by the United States and Russia. Now, only one nuclear arms control agreement, the New START treaty, remains in effect. And the prospects for a follow-on agreement appear daunting. Traditional approaches to stability also took a blow when the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. All of the nuclear-armed powers are now engaged in nuclear modernization efforts involving new weapon systems that could further undermine stability. More broadly, U.S.-Russia and U.S.-China relations have both deteriorated, adding to the chances of inadvertent escalation. In addition, India and Pakistan openly joined the nuclear club following nuclear tests in 1998. The two countries have since experienced multiple crises, adding a new source of instability to the global nuclear order.

Both the rhetoric and nuclear postures of nuclear-armed states suggest declining respect for the taboo as well. The United States has never been willing to embrace a no-first-use posture, and in 1993 Russia abandoned a no-first-use posture that had been adopted earlier by the Soviet Union. Successive U.S. Nuclear Posture Reviews (NPRs) have envisioned roles and missions for U.S. nuclear weapons that extend beyond deterring nuclear attacks. These include, in the Trump NPR, hints that the United States would consider nuclear retaliation to deter a large-scale cyber-attack. In 2017, an escalating war of words – and tweets – between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un suggested neither felt any normative inhibition against nuclear saber-rattling. And, in 2018, Russia’s President Putin gave a national address in which he unveiled several proposed new nuclear weapon systems. The speech was accompanied by a video simulation that showed a Russian nuclear warhead on a course to strike what appeared to be President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

Until recently, despite occasional setbacks, nonproliferation could be seen as an area of dynamism and innovation. In the 1980s and 1990s, several key countries joined the NPT and renounced nuclear weapons. In 1995, a review conference made the treaty permanent. Just as important, the NPT is now part of a multifaceted nonproliferation regime. Other elements of the regime include several regional nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZs), multilateral export control regimes, cooperative threat reduction (CTR) programs developed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and a variety of measures meant to strengthen nuclear security.

In the past several years, however, forward momentum has halted. The 2015 NPT Review Conference collapsed amid unprecedented acrimony among states parties. The 2020 conference was postponed until 2022 due to Covid, but none of the frictions that doomed the 2015 conference have been resolved. In addition, the Trump administration pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, and despite the desire of the Biden administration to restore the deal, prospects for rescuing it do not appear good. Hopes for adding new NWFZs are even less promising, as a long-sought zone in the Middle East appears dead in the water.

Some ideas to halt erosion

What can be done? Getting the nuclear weapon states to recommit to the goal of nuclear disarmament would help. As a reflection of frustration over the slow progress on this goal, in 2017 the UN General Assembly adopted a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). This “ban treaty” has been opposed by all of the nuclear weapon states and their allies, so it appears unlikely to provide a vehicle that in the short term could generate new progress toward nuclear abolition. Efforts outside of (or perhaps alongside of) the ban treaty to persuade the nuclear weapon states of the importance of reinvigorating movement toward nuclear disarmament would be helpful.

Given that nuclear disarmament remains a long-term endeavor at best, however, we also need short-term steps to shore up the existing nuclear order. One approach would be to focus on the cognitive foundations of nuclear peace. It is important for national leaders and their advisors to have a deep understanding of the consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and a belief that nuclear dangers require states to act with caution. Several steps could help reinvigorate an appreciation of nuclear dangers.

First, new works of popular culture could draw attention to ongoing risks. In the Cold War, books and movies like “On the Beach” and “Dr. Strangelove” helped educate the public. Today, there are interesting efforts to utilize social media to alert people to nuclear dangers. So far, however, none have achieved extensive reach. Public awareness could be raised further if there was a breakthrough novel, movie, or TV show like the 1983 TV movie “The Day After.”

Second, it would help to have a policy proposal around which to mobilize people. An effort is already underway to multilateralize the 1985 Reagan-Gorbachev statement that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” Russia and the United States recently reaffirmed this statement, and there have been multiple calls for the other nuclear-armed countries to endorse it. A broad campaign to support this goal could provide a vehicle for reminding the world about how catastrophic a nuclear exchange could be.

Third, it is time to reboot the Humanitarian Initiative. This effort, launched at the 2010 NPT Review Conference, sought to educate diplomats about the consequences of nuclear weapons use. The initiative was primarily used to build support for negotiating the ban treaty. Now that the TPNW is in place, a Humanitarian Initiative 2.0 could be used to educate a broader audience of political and military leaders and the world public.

At a time when all the strands of the global nuclear order are getting weaker and the prospects for new treaties or major initiatives are not good, it is vital to halt further erosion of the existing order. Efforts to remind the world of the danger of nuclear war and encourage cautious behavior by states would be one place to start.

Jeffrey W. Knopf is a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS). He is the author of “Not by NPT alone: The future of the global nuclear order”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming, which can be accessed here. This post first appeared on the Global Governance forum.

Strategic narratives in the Sino-American COVID-19 “blame game”

In a recent article, Linus Hagström and Karl Gustafsson analyze the Sino-American narrative struggle over the meaning of COVID-19. They argue that the limited success of Chinese and U.S. efforts to gain support for their strategic narratives about the pandemic illustrates the limitations of strategic narratives as both concept and political practice.

“Strategic narratives” has become a popular concept in International Relations research and foreign policy practice alike. Scholars and practitioners have increasingly accepted that narratives matter and can affect world politics by attracting or even fooling global audiences into acquiring a particular understanding of reality. Many states currently spend huge resources on projecting their own stories to the world. Hence, much like discussions on “disinformation,” “propaganda,” “information warfare,” “sharp power,” and “fake news,” current commentary often seems to assume that international actors are able to control narratives and use them strategically.

One issue over which much ink has recently been spilled is the COVID-19 pandemic. After the pandemic hit the world in the spring of 2020, it did not take long until scholars and pundits began to comment on how the world’s two most powerful states—the United States and China—were seeking to construct and propagate strategic narratives about events as they were unfolding. They suggested that the narrative power struggle over the meaning of the pandemic could have implications for the future of world order and the ostensibly ongoing power shift from the United States to China. Some suggested that China’s strategic narratives were superior to that of the United States, and that this could even be a harbinger of China’s emergence as a global leader.

In our article, we examined the construction, dissemination and reception of Sino-American strategic narratives about the pandemic, as well as whether or how they invoked more deeply institutionalized, pre-existing master narratives and with what effects. We also explored to what extent and how those narratives were referenced and reproduced by decision makers in Australia, India, South Korea, Turkey, and the United Kingdom—five regional states seen as vital to the future of the current U.S.-led world order.

We found that both China and the United States sought to use narratives strategically. The United States projected two main strategic narratives: (1) COVID-19 originated in China, the country tried its best to hide the outbreak and refused to cooperate with investigations, and China duped the WHO, which is pro-China; and (2) the United States has taken a proactive approach to COVID-19 that is better than anywhere else in the world and the Trump administration has been highly successful.

China also promoted two main narratives: (1) China is the champion of the international system because its domestic crisis management is resolute and effective, and because internationally it is based on multilateralism and assisting other countries by providing medical aid; and (2) the United States engages in politicization and stigmatization, such as the Wuhan lab conspiracy theory, which is more dangerous than COVID-19 itself, and it wasted the time that Chinese sacrifice had given it.

However, we found that all of these narrative were largely unsuccessful. While elements of the U.S. narratives were referenced and reproduced in Australia and to some extent in the United Kingdom, the number of such references was very limited. Indian, South Korean, and Turkish statements praised cooperation with the United States, but did not reproduce U.S. narrative content. Similarly, key elements of the Chinese narratives appeared in statements from all five states, but China was only explicitly mentioned when cooperation with the country was praised. China did not figure at all when support for multilateralism, international cooperation and the WHO was discussed, or when stigmatization of Asians was criticized. Officials in Australia, India, South Korea, Turkey, and the United Kingdom primarily emphasized their own efforts and successes in fighting COVID-19, seeking to present themselves in a positive light. Instead of supporting either the United States or China, they had their own agendas and agency.

Based on our findings, we argue that there is reason for caution about the usefulness of strategic narratives as a policy tool. In addition, we argue that the analysis and use of strategic narratives cannot just take narratives about specific issues, such as COVID-19, into account, but must also pay attention to more deeply institutionalized, pre-existing master narratives. Not all Chinese narrative elements originated in China, and some of them—especially the emphasis on multilateralism and international cooperation—were quite general.

Hence, to the extent that Chinese narratives gained some international traction, they did not do so by spreading falsehoods, but rather by appealing to master narratives that are widely shared throughout the world. This demonstrates the limitations strategic narratives, as China’s narrative entrepreneurship around COVID-19 both appealed to and seemed constrained by pre-existing master narratives integral to the current U.S.-led world order.

Our findings suggest that the most significant narrative power resides not with particular states, but with influential master narratives. Therefore, when exploring the possibilities for changing global narrative power dynamics, we should analyze not only the diffusion and reception of strategic narratives, or even just changing master narratives, but also how key actors situate themselves in relation to existing master narratives. With the Biden administration more intent than the previous Trump administration on upholding and strengthening the current U.S.-led liberal world order with its emphasis on multilateralism and international cooperation, it may become more difficult for China, or any other state, to take control of or use these global master narratives for their own strategic purposes.

Linus Hagström is a Professor of Political Science at the Swedish Defence University. Karl Gustafsson is an Associate Professor of International Relations at Stockholm University. He tweets at @KarlGustafsson5. They are the authors of the article “The limitations of strategic narratives: The Sino-American struggle over the meaning of COVID-19,” Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming, which can be accessed here.

Global Britain in the grey zone

In a recent article, Vladimir Rauta and Sean Monaghan analyze the new UK Integrated Review to understand how the United Kingdom attempts to grapple with its hybrid policy. They argue that this presents a good blueprint for thinking about some of the questions grey zone poses, not just for the UK but for all Western allies.

Over the past decade, trans-Atlantic and European security and defense policy have tried to make sense of the grey zone challenge. It framed this debate using a range of monikers: hybrid warfare/threats/interference, sub-threshold/hostile/malign activity, subversion and political warfare. What started with a discussion on combined modes of operations by supposedly weaker non-state armed actors such as Hezbollah took a life of its own in the aftermath of the 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by Russia.

On the one hand, with it came supposed Russian doctrines and repetitive claims that war and peace have merged into some strategic blur. On the other hand, it raised serious questions on security and defense policy, capability, and directions of military transformation and adaptation.

One such recent example is the United Kingdom’s (UK) review of national security, Global Britain in a Competitive Age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy (Integrated Review), published alongside a new Integrated Operating Concept 2025 (IOpC25) and the Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) own contribution to the review, Defence in a Competitive Age. The review and its accompanying documents are part of a multi-level, multi-stakeholder conversation about how the UK should view and deal with the present and future security landscape, which for the Ministry of Defence will determine the shape of military capabilities and how they are employed in the years to come.

In our new article, we argue that this presents a good blueprint for thinking about some of the questions grey zone poses, especially as the UK has not the only nation to take a “hybrid-turn” in its security and defense policy in recent years. In fact, both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU) have a strategy for countering hybrid threats—not to mention a dedicated institution in the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats (NATO, 2017). Similarly, recent strategy documents published in the United States, Australia, France and Germany, all cite forms of hybrid or grey zone conflict as a primary challenge in the coming years.

Our argument invites scholars and policymakers alike to find utility in a simplified conceptual discussion based on distinguishing between threats and warfare. For better or worse, they are established policy terms which not only cement the idea that hybridity is a pervasive and constant feature of statecraft and warfare, but can help spark professional debates and public dialogue about evolving security threats in which both parties might play a part: Whether directly (e.g., cyber-security, disinformation, democratic interference, business resilience) or indirectly (e.g., in supporting government investment and the role of the Armed Forces in new security interventions, from NATO deployments to homeland resilience). Examples of the threat-warfare distinction currently in play include NATO’s policy and Counter Hybrid Threat Strategy, the EU’s “playbook” for countering hybrid threats, and the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats.

Against this background, we use the example of the UK’s attempts to grapple with its own hybrid policy as a national case study in closing the gap between rhetoric and practice which we call the stagecraft versus statecraft problem. There are two issues worth noting here. The first is the inconsistent and opaque language used by the UK government to describe a wide array of threats. The second problem is the need for concrete action to—in the words of Boris Johnson— “tackle hybrid warfare.”

The UK’s previous commitment to adapt to new hybrid realities also looked anemic when compared to the efforts of its allies and partners during the same period. Central European, Nordic, and Baltic nations revitalized Cold War “total defence” style strategies—complemented by highly visible strategic communications campaigns—while the United States Marine Corps spent a year experimenting to develop their new role in countering gray zone strategies and the Australian 2020 Defence Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan offer significant detail on the changes to strategy, force structure, and capability.

In contrast to previous efforts, the Integrated Review sets out a clear strategic approach towards hybrid threats through “a force structure that principally deters through ‘persistent engagement’ below the threshold of war”. It also backs this up with a wide array of measures to deliver and enhance the capability required to deliver this vision. In doing so it builds on the UK’s conventional prowess as one of only two NATO allies capable of wielding nuclear, offensive cyber, precision strike weapons and fifth-generation strike aircraft—plus a carrier strike group and “Tier 1” Special Forces. These forces underpin existing contributions to NATO operations in the Baltics, high readiness forces and major multinational exercises—including framework nation leadership through the Joint Expeditionary Force, a multinational force comprising the UK, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland, which “offers these countries flexible options for managing sub-threshold competition”.

These are much-welcomed developments on which we draw to outline some avenues—informally, through a series of questions, puzzles and lessons—designed to help international policy and research communities align their efforts to address their own stagecraft-statecraft dichotomies. In doing so, we hope to support international efforts to discover just what the fundamental transformation advocated by the UK establishment really means in practice. For hybrid threats, we highlight three key questions or puzzles that are raised through the UK’s review, but not quite answered: Tolerance, going beyond deterrence, and the role of defense. Taken together they are useful for those wishing to further develop policy and scholarship on countering hybrid threats.

For hybrid warfare, we argue the policy agenda has to be reset and reconfigured in three ways. First and foremost, around conventional war/warfare, understood primarily through the lens of inter-state war. Second, to conceptualize and engage with the “combination” problem: That future adversaries are likely to mix and match forms and modes of warfare to offset conventional battlefield strength. Third, to avoid “Next-War-itis” and instead seek to be prepared for a range of contingencies across conflict and actor spectra.

As such, our article has focused on two related—but distinct—challenges that emanate from this environment: hybrid threats and hybrid warfare. It used the UK’s review to reveal lessons and insights for international policymakers and scholars also grappling with these challenges, forming these into policy and research guidance for both. Yet a closer look reveals a series of lessons, questions, and puzzles on tackling hybrid challenges to which the UK does not provide such convincing answers. These were used to draw a tentative way forward for international scholars and policymakers, using our threats-warfare distinction to provide some structure.

Taken together, this series of questions left hanging by the UK’s review form a loose research agenda for those in the international community developing policy and scholarship on countering hybrid threats and dealing with hybrid warfare—and in so doing, take further steps on their own journeys from stagecraft to statecraft.

Vladimir Rauta and Sean Monaghan are the authors of the article “Global Britain in the grey zone: Between stagecraft and statecraft”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming, which can be accessed here

Do Submarine Data Cables Require Better Security?

Submarine data cables may be invisible, but they are responsible for 99 percent of the world’s digital communications. In a recent article, Christian Bueger and Tobias Liebetrau review the security implications of submarine data cables and outline a research agenda for the future.

Submarine data cables are the core critical infrastructure of the digital age. 99 percent of the world’s digital communications transit through the global cable network: Zoom meetings, emails, hotel reservations, flight bookings, and financial transactions depend on it. All of this data does not travel through satellites or the air, but physical fiber-optic cables that lay on the ocean floor. With the current trend toward remote work, the increasing use of cloud storage and the arrival of 5G and the Internet of Things, industrial production, public services, and our everyday lives will become even more dependent on the smooth working of undersea cables.

The global submarine cable network needs to be governed and protected, but it also has risks and vulnerabilities, and indeed the potential to spur new forms of tensions and conflicts. To date, the network has mainly been viewed in narrow, technical terms, despite its importance for national and international security, geopolitics, and statebuilding and development.

Security Concerns

While protecting and controlling submarine communication infrastructure was a core part of security calculations during the two World Wars as well as the Cold War, in the post-Cold War environment uncontested US naval hegemony and the primacy of non-state threats moved such issues to the margins.

Renewed concerns center around the rise of hybrid warfare, the perceived hostility of Russia’s foreign policy, fears of a large-scale cyber-attack, and the growing technical sophistication of terrorist groups. Some experts have begun to consider the undersea cable network as a national security priority and have called for military responses to mitigate such threats, including increased naval patrols and surveillance activities.

The calls were largely triggered by observations of Russian submarine activities in territorial waters and in proximity to cable routes—which became public in 2015—raising concerns that the Russian navy may tap into cables for espionage and surveillance purposes, tamper with them, or even cut them as part of a hybrid warfare campaign.

Others suggest that undersea cables are inherently susceptible to attacks from non-state violent groups and terrorism since their location is usually public, cables tend to be highly concentrated geographically, and the level of technical expertise and resources required to damage them is limited.

So far, no intentional hostile disruptions to the submarine cable infrastructure have been reported publicly. The scenarios underpinning the threat discourse seem to be built not on prior incidents but on overall assessments of the geopolitical landscape. Arguably, this implies that the threat scenarios being discussed could be exaggerated and suggests a substantial risk of threat inflation and fearmongering.

The Geopolitics of Submarine Cables

Cable systems establish particular forms of transnational relations that often extend or transcend conventional bilateral or regional forms of cooperation. Some countries have a particularly important position in the international cable system, acting as connecting points between political regions.

Cables are, however, increasingly spurring geopolitical concerns. Contemporary geopolitical dynamics concerning the new fiber-optic cables are particularly revealing in at least two regards: the return of geopolitical inter-state contestation and the rise of transnational technology companies as geopolitical players.

Geopolitical competition primarily revolves around two centers of gravity—the United States and China—but pledges to digital sovereignty, technological sovereignty, cyber sovereignty, and data sovereignty are increasingly seen throughout the world.

One example of the geopolitical importance of the submarine cable network and its entanglement with digital sovereignty is the Clean Network Program, announced by the United States (US) in August 2020, which includes five lines of effort—in addition to 5G—to counter China’s influence on US telecommunication networks, mobile app stores, software apps, cloud computing, and undersea cables. The goal of the program is to safeguard sensitive citizen and private company information from intrusions by malign actors.

In Europe, the Portuguese government announced earlier this year that it intends to “focus on the strategic creation of a European Data Entry Platform based on submarine cables, in particular for links between Europe, Africa, and South America, to contribute to greater European digital autonomy, linking infrastructures and data.”

It is, however, not only Western countries that are occupied with the crucial geopolitical role of undersea cables. While discussions among BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) of a shared undersea cable system appear to have been abandoned, major international players, including individual BRICS countries, either have or are planning to build their own submarine cable networks, to bypass what they perceive to be the US-dominated internet and associated surveillance risks demonstrated by the Snowden revelations. The expansion of the cable system is part of the Chinese “Digital Silk Road” strategy.

The rise of transnational Information, Communication, and Technology (ICT) companies is intrinsically entangled with the geopolitics of emerging and disruptive digital technologies and infrastructures, as well as the renewed great power rivalry. The entanglement is evident when thinking of the undersea cable network as an economic trade route carrying the most important commodity of the information age: data.

Until recently, highly specialized international telecommunications conglomerates laid and operated most of the undersea cables, but over the past decade, it is increasingly American tech giants or other state-owned companies that control this critical infrastructure. Internet content and cloud service providers, such as Facebook or Google, now own or lease more than half of the undersea bandwidth and they are behind about four-fifths of transatlantic cable investment planned in 2019-2020. The Chinese company Huawei has also heavily invested in undersea cable systems all over the world. Huawei Marine, its submarine cable subsidiary, deployed over 50,000 kilometers of submarine cable, including 12 submarine cable systems in Africa from 2008 to 2018, before being sold in 2019.

Such trends raise concerns over digital sovereignty, but also the practices of surveillance, algorithmic governance, and cyber security that shape and are shaped by global tech companies. It also raises the question of whether the cable network can be governed as a global common.

Small States and Fragile States

The cable issue goes beyond the industrialized nations that have hitherto been the center of attention. States require stable connectivity for future growth, but they are often dependent on a single, sometimes badly secured cable connection. Breakdowns can lead to major economic harms.

States that are particularly vulnerable are those that are reliant on one or two cables, are in remote locations, such as small island states, or are developing or recovering economically. In 2019, accidental damage to the single cable connecting the Pacific Island state of Tonga took two weeks to repair and caused considerable economic damage. The tourism sector—the country’s main source of income—was hit particularly hard, with all flight and hotel bookings halted.

Cable protection also concerns fragile states and those recovering from civil war. The importance of cable infrastructures for democratic transitions and participation of civil society should not be underestimated. There is hence a need to feature cable governance into statebuilding, interventions, and post-conflict reconstruction programs. Whether and how violent conflict and terrorism can directly threaten the system—intentionally or not—is also of concern.

Whether it concerns small island states or post-conflict states, efforts to secure submarine cable connections should be included in development, peacebuilding, and capacity-building projects.

Protecting The Undersea Cable Network

While many of the threat scenarios of deliberate attacks to cables are over-exaggerated, there is a need to zoom in on the actual vulnerabilities the network faces, mainly accidental damage and non-human hazards. Accidents or malfunctions stemming from marine activities such as fishing and shipping account for at least 40 percent of the damage done to the undersea cable infrastructure. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, landslides, and sharks feature among the non-human threats. Much of the protection of the cables will continue to revolve around mundane technical tasks.

Other vulnerabilities are linked to weak governance, lack of law enforcement, and the absence of effective regulatory policies. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)—the primary legal regime governing submarine cables—states are asked to establish national legislation concerning the functioning and protection of the system, including criminalizing the destruction of theft of a submarine cable. Yet most states have not fulfilled these obligations, and in many countries, it is unclear which government agencies are in charge. There is an urgent need for countries to review their protection regimes and strengthen the implementation of existing legal obligations.

Submarine cables must also be considered in broader maritime management and marine spatial planning processes. States could, for instance, establish cable protection zones over submarine cables of national significance in order to prohibit or restrict activities in zones where damage is likely to occur. While such approaches are viable within territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zones of a coastal state, the majority of cables are in the high seas, and rights and responsibilities under international law—both of states and ICTs—are ambiguous at best. There is even no agreed-upon definition of cables under international law. Other challenges arise in situations where maritime boundaries have not been delineated or are subject to ongoing contestation and disputes. No international governing body is in charge of overseeing and protecting cables or addressing disputes.

Legal analysts suggest that an ideal solution would be the development of an international treaty specifically on the protection of undersea cables, for which there appears to be little appetite. Other suggestions for enhancing the regulatory regime span using the structure of the UN counterterrorism conventions over proposals for the creation of national cable protection zones, to the deployment of an international agency rooted in the UN system with legal and policy responsibility for submarine cables, which could lead the development of additional law. The negotiation of the new treaty for the high seas under the header of Biodiversity beyond National Jurisdictions could also potentially provide new opportunities for cable protection in international waters.

Overcoming The Triple Invisibility Problem

Physically, submarine cables lay underground, and they are out at sea, rendering them largely invisible. There is a tendency to pay little attention to what happens at sea more generally—a phenomenon that has been described as sea blindness.

Like other types of infrastructure, they often go unnoticed until they fail. It is when streets close, shipping routes are blocked, or the electric power grid fails that we recognize our dependency on them.

Given that data is the defining resource of the twenty-first century, protecting submarine cables is far too essential a domain of international politics to remain a technical addendum to security studies. It concerns how our digital futures will be governed, and how a global free, open, and secure circulation of data can be ensured.

A debate is required on how cables should be governed at the global level, how the different actors can be orchestrated, the industry is regulated, responsibilities and rights are clarified, and which global governance and United Nations bodies are in charge.

Christian Bueger is a professor of international relations at the University of Copenhagen, and one of the directors of SafeSeas. He tweets at @c_bueger. Tobias Liebetrau is a postdoctoral researcher at Sciences Po, Paris. He tweets at @TobiasLiebetrau. They are the authors of the article “Protecting hidden infrastructure: The security politics of the global submarine data cable network”, Contemporary Security Policy, which can be accessed here.

This blog post first appeared on the IPI Global Observatory.

Strategic cooptation and India as nuclear power

Patrick Frankenbach, Andreas Kruck, and Bernhard Zangl show how India was strategically coopted into the existing non-proliferation regime. Their recent article in CSP holds lessons for all international institutions that need to adjust to changes in the global order.

Shifts in the global distribution of power put the international order and its underpinning institutions under stress. As powers such as China and India rise and powers such as the US or the UK decline, international institutions such as the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) or the World Trade Organization (WTO) come under pressure to adapt to new power realities.

The prevailing view is that the adjustment of international institutions to a changing distribution of power is a highly conflictual process of power bargaining. (So far) dominant preservers of the status quo wrestle with rising revisionists, exchanging threats and trying to force the other side to give in. If anything, this power game is assumed to be particularly conflictual in security (institutions).

Our recent article on India’s inclusion into the nuclear non-proliferation regime belies this conventional narrative. Instead, it underlines the relevance of a different mode of institutional adaptation, namely strategic cooptation. In 2008, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a major component of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, terminated the three-decades-long embargo on nuclear trade, which it had imposed after India’s nuclear tests in 1974. India turned from a nuclear pariah of the international community into a de facto recognized nuclear power.

The NSG waiver constitutes a cooptation deal in which NSG member states – led by the US, but supported by other nuclear powers – traded institutional privileges in return for India’s increased institutional support of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. The US and the other nuclear powers offered India the privilege of being recognized as nuclear power and taking part in international nuclear trade. In return, India promised to support the nuclear non-proliferation regime by shoring up its nuclear export controls and making the majority of its nuclear sites subject to IAEA safeguards.

India’s cooptation into the nuclear non-proliferation regime reflects a mode of institutional adaptation that is more cooperative than the prevailing narrative of the highly conflictive power-bargaining between rising revisionists and declining preservationists would have it. Cooptors actively pursue limited institutional adaptation desired by cooptees to keep the institutional core intact.

Strategic cooptation is a mutually beneficial mode of cooperation among unequal actors that exchange institutional privileges for institutional support. Cooptation is common and widely studied in domestic political settings, but it is also relevant for institutional adaptation to global power shifts, even in the realm of security. It is particularly relevant for international (security) institutions which provide institutional privileges to some states, while denying them to others.

The general focus in academia and among many policy-makers on conflictive great-power bargaining obscures the importance of strategic cooptation. This is problematic because it comes with the neglect of three important features of institutional adjustments to global power shifts:

First, for some challengers of the institutional status quo, who are willing and able to provide needed institutional support, relying on strategic cooptation (making promises) may be a superior strategy compared to power bargaining (issuing threats). Sometimes strategic cooptation is not only better suited to attain institutional adjustment; it is also less conflictive and allows to nurture cooperative relationships. On the other hand, defenders of the institutional status quo should not simply assume that challengers will engage in power bargaining. After all, policy responses that are adequate for addressing power bargaining are often counterproductive in dealing with strategic cooptation. Starting negotiations with promises rather than threats often leads to better outcomes. The negotiations between the US and India about the latter’s integration into the nuclear non-proliferation regime are a case in point.

Second, a strategic cooptation approach sensitizes observers and policy-makers to important conditions for achieving institutional change that are overlooked in the power bargaining account, namely third-party resistance to power-sharing deals between emerging and established powers as well as institutional opportunities for overcoming it. The nonproliferation regime–India case underlines that it is often third parties that put up strong resistance against cooptation agreements. When the US announced in 2005 its intention to lift the embargo on trade with nuclear material, resistance from non-nuclear “middle powers” was massive: A group of “like-minded states” comprising Austria, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and New Zealand formed to stop India’s recognition as nuclear power, with New Zealand taking the lead. This group – rather than the nuclear great powers – rejected India’s recognition as nuclear power. For the deal to materialize, it was crucial that proponents could strike the deal within the more exclusive NSG rather than the more encompassing NPT context, thus managing to circumvent the third-party resistance typical of any cooptation deal. More generally, policy-makers should take into consideration the potentially fierce resistance (middle or even minor) third parties might put up against any great power bargain and they should weigh the institutional opportunities for overcoming this resistance.

Third, even then cooptation is not a panacea for stabilizing troubled institutions. The story of India’s cooptation suggests we should not take for granted the medium- and longer-turn effectiveness of cooptation as a means of stabilizing international institutions. The cooptation of India did not silence other critics of the NPT among the “nuclear have-nots” nor did it stabilize the status quo of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Quite the opposite: India’s cooptation further alienated dissatisfied non-nuclear weapons states under the NPT, thus widening the gap between nuclear powers and non-nuclear weapon states. Criticizing the nuclear deal with India at NPT Review Conferences, several non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT (but not the NSG) took offense with the privileges granted to India. If anything, India’s cooptation created growing resentment and increased criticism of the regime centered around the NPT, which ultimately contributed to the quest for the new Nuclear Ban Treaty.

Thus, academics and policy-makers alike should more seriously consider the option of cooptation as a mode of institutional adaptation. However, they should not simply equate agreement on a cooptation deal with longer-term stability for the institution in question. Expected contributions to institutional stability may not fully materialize or they may provoke unintended consequences – often precisely due to lasting third-party resistance.

Patrick Frankenbach, Andreas Kruck, and Bernhard Zangl are researchers at the Geschwister-Scholl-Institute for Political Science, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany. They are the authors of “India’s recognition as a nuclear power: A case of strategic cooptation”, Contemporary Security Policy, which can be accessed here.

Ambiguity of hybrid warfare

Understanding what hybrid warfare means to political and military representatives allows us to correctly interpret country’s policies and countermeasures. In a recent article, Silvie Janičatová and Petra Mlejnková analyze the British political-military discourse on Russia’s hostile activities, and the role of defense policy in countering it. This gives us a bottom up understanding of hybrid warfare.

“Hybrid warfare” and “Russia” have become connectively used words in political, military, academic, or even public spheres almost on daily basis since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Still, there is a fair amount of ambiguity in describing what hybrid warfare means, let alone the correct use of the term itself, which is further reinforced by conflicting arguments about the novelty of this concept. Such lack of clarity raises the question of how a particular country and its leaders understand hybrid warfare, which has important implications for formulating respective policies and countermeasures.

This article focuses on the British political-military discourse on hybrid warfare in the context of Russia’s hostile activities and the role of defense policy in the period 2014-2019. However, rather than examining this issue solely by applying the concept itself, as compared to other studies, a bottom-up approach, qualitative content analysis with quantitative aspects in particular, is used to obtain results from 68 primary sources of various actors relevant to British defense. The analysis itself aims at three areas: terms used to describe Russia’s hostile activities; Russia’s hostile activities abroad and their perception including corresponding tools and methods; and UK’s response to Russia’s hostile activities.

The results provide number of interesting insights and allow to indicate further implications. For example, the representatives not only used a wide range of different terms to describe Russia’s hostile activities, which corresponds with the overall ambiguity of hybrid warfare and its conceptualization and which tends to approach this issue in a further context, but the quantitative perspective further showed that they highlighted information and cyber warfare more often in comparison to other particular components of hybrid warfare definitions.

In the context of the UK, this calls for a more unified understanding of the issue, whether it could be in the form of adopting NATO’s approach to hybrid threats or formulating UK’s own perspective, for example, within the MCDC Countering Hybrid Warfare Project which the UK is a member of. And since there is naturally a risk of creating more ambiguity than there already is, it is crucial to base such an approach on facts and proper understanding of Russia’s aims, tools and methods, since it would have additional implications for response measures.

Similarly, while keeping in mind the limits of generalization of one case study, these results also deserve some attention in regard to the hybrid warfare debate since they raise the question whether hybrid warfare is not really just a label primarily used for political purposes and it is really more suitable to research the particular components – an approach already held in academic circles.

Another example is the role of defense policy in countering hybrid warfare in the context of Russia, which was undoubtedly recognized in the British political-military discourse, although its engagement was considered being ultimately dependent on the nature of a particular hybrid threat that Russia poses. The results and their analysis may represent a helping tool in interpreting British strategic documents (including the potential differences between the political-military discourse and the documents), decisions made in relation to defense (such as preferences in development of particular capabilities or support of certain propositions at NATO level), or related countermeasures. And if additional data and governmental actors were added to the analysis, this approach could also be adopted towards other British policies which are impacted by the same threat.

Last but not least, the article shows that focusing on hybrid warfare within a particular discourse can provide interesting insights into particular country’s understanding of the concept as well as respective policies and countermeasures. The case study of the UK could thus serve as an example for researching political-military discourses in other countries/institutions that also have to deal with such a threat, in order to generate more data and even provide some comparisons, and the applied bottom-up approach, which proved its usefulness in analyzing such discourse, may represent a way how to achieve it.

Silvie Janičatová and Petra Mlejková are researchers at the Department of Political Science, Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University, the Czech Republic. They are the authors of “The Ambiguity of Hybrid Warfare: A Qualitative Content Analysis of the United Kingdom’s Political-Military Discourse on Russia’s Hostile Activities and the Role of Defense”, Contemporary Security Policy, which can be accessed here.

 

 

UN Peace Operations Will Evolve, Not Disappear

The United Nations currently deploys nearly 95,000 uniformed and civilian peacekeepers in a dozen active operations, at an annual cost of approximately $6.6 billion. Its worldwide deployment of uniformed personnel is second only to the United States. And yet considerable uncertainty surrounds the future of UN peacekeeping. So much so, that last year, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres established the “Future of Peacekeeping” project to imagine what future peace operations might look like. In a new article, Katharina P. Coleman and Paul D. Williams argue that future evolution is more likely than extinction.

Compared to 2015, there’s been a 24 percent reduction in peacekeeping personnel and a 23 percent reduction in spending. Peacekeeping missions have closed in Côte d’Ivoire (2017), Haiti (2017), and Liberia (2018), while the hybrid mission in Darfur has ceased operations, and the mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to downsize. The UN has not established a new multidimensional peace operation since 2014, and Secretary-General Guterres prefers focusing on preventive initiatives and special political and peacebuilding missions with “light footprints.”

The UN’s missions have also come under financial pressure. The United States under former president Trump and some European countries have sought drastic cost reductions, which the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to intensify. Escalating tensions among the permanent members of the UN Security Council also risk undermining cooperation on peace operations more broadly. Taken together, some observers think UN peacekeeping is in crisis.

These trends and challenges are real, but we shouldn’t write off UN peacekeeping. Peace operations are a highly resilient international institution for managing armed conflict. Their resilience derives from “collective intentionality” and “constitutive rules.” Collective intentionality means that peace operations exist as a distinctive form of international activity because international actors have agreed to recognize them as such. Consequently, peace operations will only become extinct if international actors become convinced that this type of activity (should) no longer exist. Constitutive rules are the set of commonly understood principles that define what counts as a particular socially recognized activity. Constitutive rules are malleable but cannot be changed unilaterally—at least a critical mass of those holding these understandings must be persuaded (or induced) to alter them.

Despite a range of current constraints, challenges, and crises, UN peace operations are unlikely to become extinct unless a critical mass of states consistently withdraw material support for them and explicitly denigrate the concept of peace operations itself. We see little evidence that both these things are likely to occur. However, the constitutive rules guiding UN missions and peace operations more generally are likely to continue to evolve due to ideational and material changes. While the proliferation of actors and mission types makes precise predictions impossible, we expect an evolution in both how various actors define their own peace operations and how these actors relate to each other.

There are four main reasons why continued evolution of UN peacekeeping is more likely than extinction. First, the central problems UN missions are intended to help tackle are unlikely to disappear and ignoring those problems will prove difficult. Limiting war and the threat of war, particularly those that might involve or draw in the great powers, remains an urgent need.

Second, there is robust empirical evidence that UN peace operations work. They are effective at preventing armed conflict, reducing violence against civilians and battle deaths once armed conflict has started, helping belligerents achieve peace, and preventing organized violence from recurring once wars have ended. Moreover, UN peace operations are highly cost-effective both as investments for conflict management and in terms of deployment costs. UN member states are unlikely to reject them indefinitely, though peace operations might become less frequent and more constrained in the absence of great power cooperation.

Third, expressed more negatively, there is no better alternative tool for managing armed conflicts. The comparison between wars where significant peace operations were deployed and wars without such deployments is suggestive, despite the difficulty of comparing conflicts and assessing counterfactuals. To take some recent examples, peace operations have certainly struggled to contain organized violence in several theaters, notably Mali, DRC, Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Somalia. However, without peace operations the levels of casualties in these conflicts would probably have been much higher and they do not compare unfavorably with war zones that have not witnessed the deployment of major peace operations, such as Syria, Yemen, Libya, Ukraine, and Myanmar.

Fourth, historically, peace operations have persisted through considerable variation in the levels of interest states and organizations have shown in deploying them—especially larger operations with more robust mandates—and rebounded after periods of relative disinterest. The current period of challenges is thus not unprecedented. Indeed, in broad terms, the history of UN peace operations can be depicted as a series of retreats, reflections, and renaissances. The current contraction is no more likely to be permanent than previous ones, given the factors noted above.

Of course, UN peace operations operate within the constraints set by geopolitics. Great powers will remain unlikely to accept peace operations led by other actors in their own conflicts. Diminished great power leadership may reduce the resources available for peace operations. Increased contestation among great powers may further reduce the number of missions, restricting them to areas where there is great power consensus or at least acquiescence. Nevertheless, UN peace operations remain a potentially useful tool for great powers to manage (or appear to manage) a wide range of conflicts. As a result, there is no reason for great powers to make general arguments for abolishing peace operations—and to date, no great power has done so.

Katharina P. Coleman is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of British Columbia. She tweets @KPColeman. Paul D. Williams is Professor in the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University. He tweets  @PDWilliamsGWU. They are the authors of “Peace operations are what states make of them: Why future evolution is more likely than extinction”, Contemporary Security Policy, which can be accessed here.

This blog post first appeared on the website of the IPI Global Observatory.

Private Sector Contribution to National Strategies of Cyber Deterrence

More often than not, the delegation of national security responsibilities to private actors has generated controversy. Notable cases include the United States’ reliance on private military contractors in the recent conflicts of Afghanistan and Iraq. Hence, it may come as a surprise that the current debate around private sector contribution to national strategies of cyber deterrence has been largely exempt from such controversies.

On the contrary, a steady consensus has grown around the idea that national strategies of cyber deterrence would benefit significantly from the direct participation of actors in the private sector. In particular, there have been repeated calls for tech companies, cyber-security firms, and owners and operators of critical infrastructure to bring their vast resources to the table in order to boost governments’ ability to fend off malicious cyber activity.

Without dismissing the opportunities originating from the contributions of the private sector, a new article written by Eugenio Lilli highlights how such private contributions could also pose significant security, legal, and moral challenges.

The first step to assess the desirability or not of private sector contribution to national strategies of cyber deterrence is to define the concept of deterrence in cyber space. As it is the case with many neologisms containing the prefix “cyber”, cyber deterrence also lacks a universally agreed upon definition. In the article, cyber deterrence is defined as the deterrence of malicious activity occurring within or through cyber space. It is also argued that deterrence in cyber space should be

  •  Restrictive. It should seek to shape and limit the overall frequency and severity of malicious activity rather than aiming at dissuading all attacks from occurring at all times.
  • Comprehensive. It should encompass deterrence by denial, punishment, entanglement, and norms; it should rely on deterrent measures taken in the other operational domains of land, sea, air, and space; it should include the whole range of instruments of national power including diplomatic, information, military, economic, financial, intelligence, and law enforcement (aka DIMEFIL) instruments.
  • Dynamic. In response to rapid technological innovation, it should constantly monitor systems and networks, update defenses, improve intelligence sharing, patch vulnerabilities, and renew contingency plans; in response to change in cyber norms, it should implement measures aimed at actively shaping the evolution of norms in cyber space.
  • Complemental. It should not be expected to work best as a separate tool in an actor’s toolbox but rather, as complemental to other forms of coercive and non-coercive strategic interaction.

By relying on the RCDC (Restrictive, Comprehensive, Dynamic, Complemental) conceptualization of cyber deterrence, the article identifies specific areas where private sector contribution can be especially beneficial to national strategies of cyber deterrence. For example, there is evidence to support the argument that private actors can be instrumental to hardening cyber defenses and enhancing resilience, to sharing information, to imposing costs to adversaries, to attributing cyber incidents, to creating strategic interdependencies, and to advancing norms of appropriate behavior in cyber space.

Some important benefits of private sector contribution appear to be common to all areas. To begin with, the private sector can offer unique state-of-art-technologies, highly skilled human capital, and critical funding to compensate for a national government’s limited resources. Moreover, while government authority is often geographically limited, private actors’ visibility and reach can extend beyond national borders. In addition, compared to the somewhat cumbersome processes of policymaking characteristic of state bureaucracies, private sector processes of policymaking give these actors more flexibility and speed; key abilities given the fast-changing nature of threats in cyber space.

Given the above, it is not surprising that the number of those people calling for more private participation in national cyber deterrence is steadily increasing. However, as it is often the case, the devil is in the details. The opportunities originating from private sector contributions are apparent, yet these same contributions also have the potential to raise serious security, legal, and moral challenges that need to be thoroughly understood.

For example, contracting a private company to host classified military information can give fast-track access to the latest technologies but it could also endanger national security if the private company is successfully breached by a hostile actor. Similarly, private companies, especially big tech companies, usually employ people from the world over. Where would these employees’ loyalty lie in case of heighten international tensions or an open confrontation? With the country which contracted them or with their country of origin?

Moreover, legal considerations could limit the willingness of the private sector to contribute to activities of intelligence sharing and active cyber defense. In the context of the United States both types of deterrence activities, while beneficial, may in some cases violate domestic law.

There are also instances of contributions which raise moral issues. For example, private sector’s access to government’s sensitive information could lead to the abuse of such information for private gain. Private companies are ultimately responsible to shareholders rather than to the citizenry. How can they be held accountable to the nation’s interest? With regard to attribution of cyber incidents, commercial interests could make private actors somewhat biased in their public attributions. In particular, they could refrain from publicly attributing incidents to specific governments because they do not want to jeopardize their access to these countries’ profitable contracts and markets.

To conclude, these few examples show the need for starting a more nuanced debate on the nature and desirability of private sector contribution to national strategies of cyber deterrence which is not limited to highlighting the opportunities deriving from it but that also considers the related challenges.

Eugenio Lilli is a lecturer at University College Dublin. He is the author of “Redefining deterrence in cyberspace: Private sector contribution to national strategies of cyber deterrence”, Contemporary Security Policy, which is available here.