The Ban Treaty and the Politics of Power

In a new article, Nick Ritchie analyses the power politics behind the recent Ban Treaty. He argues that the Ban Treaty challenges the set of core international social institutions of nuclear order. Whether this challenge is sustained remains to be seen.

We live in interesting times for the global politics of nuclear weapons. The resurgence of deep animosity between the United States, NATO and Russia, concerns about the ability of President Donald Trump to authorize the use of nuclear weapons, and the nuclear threats and insults between the US and North Korea in 2017 all revitalized public fears about nuclear war to an extent not felt since the 1980s. 

Global_Parliamentary_Appeal_for_a_Nuclear_Weapons_BanLess well known is a movement of governments, NGOs and international institutions over the past eight years to galvanize progress towards nuclear disarmament as the only long-term solution to the threat of nuclear violence. This resulted in a new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons negotiated at the UN in 2017 to ban nuclear weapons. It was supported by 122 states across the global South but rejected by the nuclear-armed states and their allies. This polarization is symptomatic of the fractious state of nuclear politics.

Given these significant developments, how can or should we understand the messy politics of nuclear weapons in today’s world? In my new article, I argue that the starting point has to be power. This might seem obvious, but it is often missing from serious analysis of nuclear politics and the idea of a ‘global nuclear order’. By taking power seriously we can get a much better understanding of the global politics of nuclear weapons as a ‘global nuclear control order’, one in which the power of the United States is central but not reducible to it. 

I define this as a well-established set of practices (material, institutional and discursive) that legitimizes, regulates, and disciplines the development and use of nuclear technology and knowledge. But it does so selectively and in ways that reproduce a global nuclear hierarchy in general and U.S. power and preferences in particular. This includes the selective regulation and disciplining of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy programmes and the selective legitimation of the possession of nuclear weapons and even nuclear attacks.

The United States has played the central ordering role in global nuclear politics as the world’s most powerful state. But my argument that the global nuclear control order is rooted in but not reducible to U.S. power is important because it demonstrates the ways in which the global politics of nuclear weapons is shaped by structures of power that have developed and endured over seven decades.

Three further points are relevant here: first, these power structures are hierarchical and they have enjoyed the widespread support of most of the world’s major powers with the exceptions of Germany and Japan in the 1960s, China until the 1990s, and India on a limited but continuing basis. Second, the United States might be the most powerful state in global nuclear politics, but only within a wider nuclear oligarchy of other nuclear-armed states and nuclear beneficiaries; and third, the nuclear control order is embedded in a broader set of power structures that characterize the post-1945 capitalist ‘international liberal order’.

Screenshot 2019-02-03 at 20.13.06For these reasons, the global nuclear control order should be understood as a hegemonic order. Hegemony, in this sense, refers to a structure of power that is sustained through a combination of coercion and consent between the dominant and dominated. Political scientist Robert Cox argued that coercion and consent are practiced through material power, institutions, and ideas about how political life should be organized. A hegemonic structure describes “a particular combination of thought patterns, material conditions, and human institutions which has a certain coherence among its elements” as Cox put it (p. 135).

Thinking about global nuclear politics in this way means thinking about power beyond traditional notions based on material military and economic power. Instead, we need to think about material power, institutional power, the discursive power of ideas, and structural power. It is the way in which these forms of power are exercised and experienced in global nuclear politics to selectively empower and legitimize that is captured by Cox’s framework. Through this lens, global nuclear politics constitutes a hegemonic structure of control.

Screenshot 2019-02-03 at 20.14.01

This unequal and hierarchical nuclear control order is often framed as universal, normal, and legitimate in ways that conceal its underlying power relations. But the ways in which the ‘ban treaty’ process has actively challenged these power structures has made them more explicit. By taking power seriously and by using Cox’s understanding of hegemony and a more nuanced appreciation of power, a set of core international social institutions, or ‘structural pillars’, of nuclear order can be distilled. These include:

  1. A nuclear weapons and nuclear trade oligarchy centered on the five nuclear weapon states recognised in the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and their positions as permanent members of the UN Security Council;
  2. An understanding of security that requires a permanent operational capacity for strategic nuclear violence for an exclusive ‘club’ justified by an ideology of ‘nuclearism’; 
  3. A bilateral US-Russia institution of competitive, limited, negotiated and verified constraints on their strategic nuclear delivery systems alongside competitive development of advanced strategic weapons and recapitalization of Cold War nuclear weapon systems; 
  4. A Western nuclear security community of alliances that maps on to global wealth and power in the capitalist economic system with the U.S. as nuclear patron at the core;
  5. A system of intrusive and institutionalized nuclear policing led primarily by the U.S. and centered on state and non-state actors and networks, often in the global South, such that it is inadvisable to confront or militarily resist the U.S. and wider West without nuclear weapons; and
  6. A set of formal international institutions that regulate civilian nuclear technologies, knowledge and practices, notably through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The ban treaty has challenged the legitimacy of some (though not all) of these social institutions because of the growing permanence of nuclear inequalities and injustices. It is an expression of collective resistance to those aspects of nuclear hegemony, nuclear hierarchy, and practices of nuclear control that legitimize and perpetuate the existence of nuclear weapons, the practice of nuclear deterrence, and the continuing risk of catastrophic nuclear violence.

What is clear from this analysis is that changing the global politics of nuclear weapons through initiatives like the ban treaty entails confrontation with an embedded historical structure of power and hierarchy. A sustained challenge has the potential to change things at a time when wider power structures and hierarchies in global politics are in a period of flux, but it will need to be sustained. 

Nick Ritchie is a senior lecturer at the University of York, UK. He recently published “A hegemonic nuclear order: Understanding the Ban Treaty and the power politics of nuclear weapons”, Contemporary Security Policy, Advance online publication, available here

THAAD and Nuclear Deterrence on the Korean Peninsula

THAAD_1280px-The_first_of_two_Terminal_High_Altitude_Area_Defense_(THAAD)_interceptors_is_launched_during_a_successful_intercept_test_-_US_ArmyThe deployment of THAAD in South Korea has resulted in considerable controversy. In a new articleInwook Kim and Soul Park however argue that THAAD is vulnerable to readily available, relatively inexpensive, and highly effective countermeasures. They therefore suggest that the threat of retaliation should continue to be a dominant deterrence strategy.

In July 2016, huge political controversy and diplomatic friction erupted in Northeast Asia over the United States and Republic of Korea’s announcement to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), a latest ballistic missile defense (BMD) system, designed to intercept short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles at their terminal flight stage.

Though justified as South Korea’s defensive measure against North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats, multitude of actors in the region opposed the deployment. They pointed out issues such as environmental concerns or intra-alliance politics, but most contentious was its possible ramifications on U.S.-China strategic balance in the region.

Unsurprisingly, a desirability of the THAAD deployment quickly became a subject of intensely politicized issues and debates, presenting significant challenges to regional politics and security.

Our recent article is motivated by this seemingly irreconcilable, complex, and consequential controversy. Rather than confronting these debates as a whole, however, we choose to focus on the two fundamental questions that underlie the debates: whether THAAD is a capable defense system, and how best to ensure South Korea’s national security against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.

Is THAAD’s interception capability what it promises to be? Although some are more critical than others, the conventional wisdom can be summarized as “qualified optimism,” or that THAAD is not perfect but net-positive to South Korea’s missile defense.

However, we find assumptions of this widely-shared assessment too static because it fails to properly take into account military countermeasures North Korea would be prompted to undertake in order to neutralize the new BMD system.

To address this gap, we give analytical primacy to the dynamic nature of arms race, more specifically, to the availability, cost, and effectiveness of military countermeasures North Korea can develop. Examining a variety of countermeasures against BMD systems, we find that manipulation countermeasures, those designed to exploit the THAAD’s technical vulnerabilities, are readily available, relatively inexpensive, and highly effective.

Three such countermeasures are particularly noteworthy. First, North Korea can deceive the THAAD system by making discrimination of real warheads from decoys difficult. By “mimicking the appearance of real reentry vehicle when viewed by various optical or radar sensors,” decoys have been an effective measure to confuse the radar and hence reduce a chance of successful missile interception.

Second, missiles could be turned into tumbling or spiraling in their terminal phase of flights. They make the missile flight movements erratic and unpredictable, against which THAAD and its radar is yet to demonstrate monitoring and interception capability. So far, the BMD tests have only been conducted against incoming missiles with stable and straight flights.

Third, North Korea can simply outnumber the THAAD interceptors. One THAAD battery comes with only 48 ready-to-launch interceptors and they take up to one hour to reload. It is also estimated to cost $800 million per battery. From Pyongyang’s point of view, the use of numerical superiority is an attractive option as no new technical knowledge is necessary and it imposes significantly higher cost to Seoul to maintain the numerical parity of THAAD interceptors.

In short, as missile technology decisively favors offense over defense, we find the technical and financial viability of defending North Korea’s missile threats through the construction of a missile defense system questionable at best.

Rather than to deploy the THAAD system to beef up defense capabilities, we argue that the current extended nuclear deterrence framework based on massive retaliation should continue to provide strategic stability on the Korean peninsula. In other words, a “deterrence gap” does not seem to exist against a nuclear-armed North Korea that warrants additional enhancement of defense capabilities.

In our article, we examine two key components of nuclear extended deterrence. First, the current nuclear balance and projections moving forward all remain highly favorable for the United States against regional nuclear states. As it stands, the overwhelming U.S. nuclear and conventional retaliatory capability can easily overwhelm North Korea’s small arsenal even in the most pessimistic of scenarios and without the added THAAD defense capability.

Such strategic nuclear arsenals are further supplemented with U.S. military commitment to the Asia-Pacific region at the conventional level. Thus, massive retaliation based on the current and conventional balance should serve as strong deterrence mechanism against any North Korean nuclear attacks or military provocations.

Second, extended nuclear deterrence remains a viable option as long as the U.S. remains committed to its allies against nuclear North Korea. To this end, successive American administrations in the post-Cold War era have continuously reaffirmed its security commitment to the U.S.-ROK alliance and to the maintenance of extended deterrence in East Asia. This policy stance has remained unchanged under the current Trump administration as key officials have continuously identified its alliance with South Korea as being the “lynchpin for peace and security” in the region.

Tellingly, as North Korea continued to conduct nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests in 2017, it was the logic of massive retaliation and not the logic of denial that underpinned the Trump administration’s strategic posture. More crucially, credibility does not necessarily have to operate with 100% assuredness. Pyongyang only need to believe that the U.S. might respond to an attack for extended deterrence to remain credible. In fact, the credibility of extended nuclear deterrence has been institutionalized even further within the U.S.-ROK alliance framework as the Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group (EDSCG) was regularized under the Trump and Moon Jae-in’s administrations.

In sum, how should South Korea maintain “deterrence under nuclear asymmetry”? Given the relatively inexpensive countermeasures readily available and with the technological imbalance favoring the missile offense over the THAAD defense capabilities, the threat of retaliation against a nuclear North Korea should continue to be a dominant deterrence strategy.

However, we caution against outright rejection of THAAD’s deployment. THAAD has never been a mere technical issue but increasingly become one concerning alliance credibility. Therefore, while Seoul and Washington are ill-advised to treat THAAD as a reliable defense system, they still should evaluate its benefits and costs in the larger context of alliance credibility management.

More broadly, our article draws attention to a lack of appreciation for security dilemma among practitioners–security is a product of interactions between two or more states and therefore the optimality of weapons acquisition must be assessed with the adversary’s ability and willingness to respond.

Inwook Kim and Soul Park are respectively Assistant Professor at the Singapore Management University and Lecturer at the National University of Singapore. They  recently published “Deterrence under nuclear asymmetry: THAAD and the prospects for missile defense on the Korean peninsula”, Contemporary Security Policy, Advance online publication, is available here

How should we use cyber weapons?

cyberIn a recent article in Contemporary Security Policy, Forrest Hare argues that we should shift the cyber conflict debate from the “Can we?” question to the “How should we?” question.

The recent release of the United States Department of Defense’s 2018 Cyber Strategy timed closely with National Security Advisor John Bolton’s declaration that the White House has authorized offensive cyber operations suggests that the United States intends to take a much more aggressive approach to combatting perceived threats in the domain.

However, these developments generate as many questions as answers. For example, is the U.S. military prepared with the capabilities required to make good on the National Security Advisor’s declaration? How should the US Department of Defense even structure its military capabilities to combat the threats it faces in the domain?

In my recent CSP article, I hope to spur the cyber conflict debate forward in a productive direction, and away from a focus on strategic alarms, so we can get at answers to these questions. In other words, we must acknowledge that military conflicts have now expanded to cyberspace and it is time to start focusing on ensuring that its conduct is carried out in a professional manner that address all the valid concerns and implications of conflict in the domain.

With this backdrop, I argue in my article that developing precision cyber weapon systems, to be used during a lawful conflict, can be an important part of a responsible national security strategy to reduce the amount of violence and physical destruction in conflicts. To make this argument, I first describe a precision cyber weapon system in a military context. I then present three compelling rationales for the development of precision cyber weapon systems based on ethical, operational, and financial considerations.

For many years now, we have been engaged in debates about the potential for acts of “mass disruption” in cyberspace and the possible legal, moral, and other implications of such strategic incidents. Many writers and popular media have raised the alarm about the dangers that will confront us as a result of an all-out cyber conflagration. Is it possible that this resistance to accepting the usefulness of cyber capabilities has actually led to more death and destruction in conflicts?

Detractors may not consider that an unintended consequence of their conflation of issues, and a singular focus on potential strategic effects, may be creating greater risk to the warfighter, civilian populations, and even the taxpayer. Arguments against the use of any cyber weapon capabilities may put militaries and civilians on both sides of a conflict at unnecessary risk when kinetic weapons may be preferred unnecessarily.

To be clear, I do not argue that precision cyber weapons will be a panacea. We should never expect cyber weapons to replace other weapons in conflict. There will always be a requirement for a spectrum of capabilities to defend a nation in all domains. However, I look forward to the day when there is a broad acknowledgement by military and academic professionals to consider precision cyber weapons an important force multiplier and component of a responsible national security strategy.

Forrest Hare is a retired Colonel in the United States Air Force having served most recently at the Defense Intelligence Agency. His recent article “Precision cyber weapon systems: An important component of a responsible national security strategy?”, Contemporary Security Policy, Advance online publication, is available here

The place of weapons in intrastate peace processes

Confiscated weaponsDemobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration (DDR) programs play a central role in intrastate peace agreements. Yet DDR is often asymmetrical. Non-state actors are required to give up their weapons. The weapons of state parties, in turn, are mostly left out of these peace negotiations. Monica Herz and Victória Santos analyze in a recent article how we can understand the emergence of this situation, and what is missed by this silence regarding state weapons in peace processes?

We argue that a crucial part of this trend is connected to the separation between two “associations of experts” that are devoted to different dimensions of the place of weapons in the production of insecurity.

On one side, there has been a historical emergence of a transnational association of actors who are dedicated to Arms Control and Disarmament (ACD) practices, including a number of intergovernmental agencies, government officials, researchers and, increasingly, humanitarian workers. These actors have sought to generate a series of limitations regarding the production, use and trade of a variety of weapons–limitations which have often been translated as obligations for states, as seen in transparency mechanisms.

On the other hand, in the context of peacebuilding and intrastate peace processes, a separate association of experts, who have focused on how the weapons of non-state armed actors are to be handled–that is, through DDR programs and, at times, through demining activities–has been formed. The production of international standards and the circulation of lessons and manuals regarding the treatment of (non-state) weapons in peace processes participate in the socialization of this second group.

The boundaries of these two associations are fluid and in continuous transformation, but the interactions that take place within each of these two groups favor the sharing of frames of references for the understanding of the relationships between weapons and violence.

While both associations tackle the centrality of weapons for the production of peace and security, their separation reinforces a crucial silence in the context of intrastate peace processes. As only the weapons of non-state actors are understood as political matters for negotiation, the place of state weapons in the constitution of a peaceful political community is neglected. While the weapons of non-state actors are understood as the “problem” to be overcome through a peace process and through subsequent DDR programs, state weapons are continuously constructed as part of the “solution” to violence.

In other words, peace processes, as moments when the reconstitution of the political community is at stake, are leaving out of the table of negotiation a crucial factor: a broader discussion on the legitimate place of means of violence owned and deployed not only by non-state actors, but also by state forces.

This process is reinforced through the circulation of DDR expertise across intrastate peace processes and through the associated standardization movements, which lead to the crystallization of a model of arms control in which state militarism is necessarily left untouched. As recently seen in the case of the Colombian peace process with the FARC, while the weapons of non-state actors are collected, melted and turned into monuments that symbolize a violent “past,” military expenditures of states often continue to rise in post-conflict contexts and are built as part of a peaceful “future,” with no place for a politicization of such processes of militarization.

As the treatment of weapons and violence in peace processes is limited to the technical implementation of DDR packages, through the routinization of activities that are presented as “lessons learned,” other possibilities–such as the promotion of transparency and downsizing of states’ military expenditures, or pressures for their compliance with international arms control mechanisms–are left out of political negotiations.

In order to overcome this trend of depoliticization of state weapons in the context of intrastate peace processes, we suggest that an approximation between the knowledge produced by arms control and disarmament (ACD) experts and by peacebuilding experts could provide a valuable contribution. While certain ACD practices end up reinforcing forms of state militarism, we argue that these mechanisms have the important potential of holding states accountable for their use and trade of weapons.

As peace processes represent an important moment in which the constitution of a political community is brought to the table, the knowledge of ACD practitioners could help overcoming the silence on state militarism that so frequently marks these negotiations. In other words, instead of peace agreements that merely seek to reinstate the rule on the monopoly of violence by the state, we could have intrastate peace processes in which the place of weapons and violence is brought to the center of how political communities are to be built.

Monica Herz is an associate professor at the Institute of International Relations of the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (IRI/PUC-Rio). Victória Santos is a PhD student at IRI/PUC-Rio. They are the authors of The disconnect between arms control and DDR in peace processes, Contemporary Security Policy. Advance online publication.

U.S. troops abroad lower allies’ will to fight for their own country

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (2-L), Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (C), US President Donald Trump (2-R) look on as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a working dinner meeting at the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) headquarters in Brussels on May 25, 2017 during a NATO summit. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Matt Dunham (Photo credit should read MATT DUNHAM/AFP/Getty Images)U.S. President Donald Trump has consistently criticized allies for their lack of contributions to common security and defense efforts. A new article in Contemporary Security Policy shows he is partially right: The presence of U.S. military personnel abroad, while bolstering U.S global influence, also lowers the willingness of the host states’ citizens to fight for their own country.

U.S. President Donald Trump is clear in his demand that allies must contribute far more to common defense efforts. Even before becoming president, he claimed that allies “are not paying their fair share” and that they “must contribute toward their financial, political, and human costs … of our tremendous security burden”; and that if they do not, “the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves.”

In short, the message is that defense burdens are unequally shared, and that allies unfairly free-ride on The United States’s military might. The United States’s military might, for its part, is unprecedented and unrivaled. The U.S. military budget exceeds 600 billion dollars, accounting for over one-third of world total military spending. The U.S. also has a vast, globally-spanning network of military bases, which no other country comes close to equaling.

These overseas military facilities have many noteworthy effects. One is that they significantly augment U.S. influence abroad and contribute to upholding U.S. hegemony – or Pax Americana. Another is that forward-deployed U.S. troops provide a “tripwire” that credibly conveys to any enemy of the ally that an attack on the latter will most likely draw in the United States. The tripwire function served by U.S. soldiers was brilliantly described by Thomas Schelling at the height of the Cold War; the same rationale still underlies much of U.S. base policies, including in states such as Japan, South Korea, and recently Poland as well. When U.S. troops are placed “in harm’s way,” deterrence is markedly strengthened. But so, too, is the ally’s knowledge that their patron cannot realistically abandon them. The ally’s scope for free-riding is therefore inevitably linked to the tripwire mechanism.

For U.S. allies, then, butter can to an extent be substituted for guns. This lies at the core of President Trump’s admonitions about allies’ purported free-riding: Their military spending usually make up only a meager share of total national income. On the other hand, it is quite common for allies of the United States to reciprocate by contributing in other ways; they often make other important policy concessions – such as providing access or basing rights, making financial contributions to the alliance, or, more generally, aligning their foreign policies closer to the United States.

This also means that it is not a straightforward exercise to measure whether allies “free-ride” on the United States. Still, the problem is more salient when burden-sharing and free-riding are conceived of as material – that is, as highly tangible – concepts (such as defense spending as a share of GDP). These are eminently measurable factors that the United States can influence quite directly. Things differ, however, when we consider the attitudes, norms, and values of the allies’ populace, such as the willingness to fight for their own country. The U.S. can certainly not have any direct power over the sentiments of people, which are exclusively intangible factors. This implies that, if the deployment of U.S. troops causes a lowering of citizens’ willingness to fight for their own country, the latter cannot as easily be compensated by policy concessions in other areas. Free-riding might therefore be more prevalent in its non-material version.

In our empirical analysis, which covers the period 1989–2014, we rely on global survey data that draw on the responses of over 200,000 people in about 100 countries. Our results show that citizens’ willingness to fight for their own country drops markedly if U.S. troops are stationed on their soil. Even when we control for a number of other relevant factors that can impact willingness to fight, U.S. overseas military bases remain a potent predictor. The forward-deployment of U.S. troops seems – as an unintended consequence – to contribute significantly to non-material free-riding by allies of the United States.

The results also indicate the existence of a tripwire- or free-riding threshold. One hundred U.S. troops, for example, are largely insufficient for purposes of creating a tripwire effect. A few hundred troops, however, may well be enough. And once U.S. troops numbers pass 500, and in particular 1000, it seems that the host state’s citizens become firmer still in their belief that their state’s defense has been credibly outsourced to the United States. These numbers approximate the size of a battalion – that is to say, an independently-functioning military unit. A battalion-sized U.S. force is a fully-working tripwire. But a battalion-sized U.S. force thereby also signals that the United States is providing for the defense of its ally – which essentially means that less is required by the ally itself.

The empirical evidence of non-material free-riding means that President Trump (and the many who share his opinion) is not necessarily in the wrong when he claims that allies free-ride. However, it is also true that U.S. alliances and forward-deployed troops are not acts of charity. They are, in fact, key ingredients of a long-standing grand strategy that stresses the centrality of a global presence; vital U.S. security and economic goals are served by the network of bases. Both the United States and its allies gain much and lose a bit from such relationships. For that reason alone, we can surely expect that the debates and bargaining about defense burdens and free-riding will continue for a long time.

Jo Jakobsen is a professor in political science at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Department of Sociology and Political Science. Tor G. Jakobsen is a professor in political science at NTNU Business School. They are authors of “Tripwires and free-riders: Do forward-deployed U.S. troops reduce the willingness of host-country citizens to fight for their country?”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming.

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.