To ban killer robots, codify human control

The fourth industrial revolution – with automation as its key feature – is in full swing. Militaries around the globe intend to benefit from this development, and so called “autonomy” in weapons systems is on the rise. In a new article, Elvira Rosert and Frank Sauer compare the international humanitarian disarmament processes on blinding laser weapons, anti-personnel landmines and lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) aka “killer robots.” Emphasizing that weapon autonomy differs substantially from past issues, the authors argue that the international campaign against LAWS cannot rely on simply modeling their effort after past successes. Instead of aiming to define and ban LAWS as a category of weapons, the use of autonomy in weapons should be regulated through codifying a positive obligation to retain human control.

Since 2013, the international community has been discussing LAWS at the United Nations in Geneva. The main venue of this debate is the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), a framework convention tasked with restricting or prohibiting weapons deemed to have indiscriminate effects or to be excessively injurious. This diplomatic process is owed in large part to a global coalition of 160 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in 66 countries, coordinated in the joint “Campaign to Stop Killer Robots” (KRC), tirelessly raising awareness of the legal, ethical, and security concerns accompanying weapon autonomy.

In its effort, the campaign is employing tried-and-tested strategy elements successfully applied in previous humanitarian disarmament processes that resulted in the bans on blinding laser weapons, anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions. This includes public awareness-raising, the dissemination of expertise to the general public as well as to the diplomats working on the issue, and building coalitions with powerful voices in the CCW such as, for instance, the International Committee of the Red Cross. However, while these strategy elements are indeed conducive to the campaign’s goal of creating new, binding international law on weapon autonomy, others are not. 

A key problem is the campaign’s framing of the issue as one of “killer robots”. For every successful humanitarian disarmament campaign, a simple, powerful and dramatic message (like “blinding is cruel” or “landmines maim civilians”) is indispensable. By invoking pictures of the Terminator, the “killer robots” label resonates well with the public and conveys an existential threat – however, it also inevitably renders the issue futuristic and thus much less urgent. This “sci-fi-feel” stifles progress in the CCW, where ban opponents use it to declare the negotiations a premature, speculative discussion about future military technologies.

More importantly, the “killer robots” frame obscures the complex and polymorphous nature of weapon autonomy that sets the issue apart from both blinding lasers and landmines, creating several challenges. First, the variations of what “killer robots” might look like are endless. Every conceivable future tank, plane, boat, submarine, or swarm of such systems could potentially be deemed a lethal autonomous weapons system. Second, no system would even be discernible as autonomous by looking at it – in fact, whether a weapons system is remotely piloted, and thus under human control while in operation, or whether it is autonomous, that is, finding, fixing, tracking, selecting, and engaging targets without human intervention, is impossible to know from the outside. The difference will eventually be nothing but a checkbox in its software’s user interface. Third, future weapons systems will increasingly be spatially distributed, raising the tricky question, “where and when [a LAWS] begins and ends”, as Maya Brehm puts it.

Consequently, LAWS, in contrast to other weapons like blinding lasers or landmines, do not constitute a clearly definable category, or at least not one that is inclusive and exclusive. Stigmatizing LAWS is thus much harder and, in addition, complicated by the fact that some applications of weapon autonomy, for instance in terminal defense systems against incoming munitions, are protecting human life and barely raising any humanitarian concerns.

Nevertheless, the legal, ethical, and security concerns raised by campaigners are valid – but finding some common “definition of LAWS” that aims at categorically separating them from “non-LAWS” is not the way to go. Instead, to get a regulatory grasp on weapon autonomy, campaigners and the international community are challenged to collectively stipulate how future targeting processes should be designed so that the use of military force remains under human control that is meaningful, as in, not just a mindless pushing of buttons. 

It is therefore encouraging that the CCW deliberations have begun shifting from the futile search for a categorical definition of LAWS toward gauging the role of the “human element,” that is, the creation of conditions to retain meaningful human control over weapons systems. One of our suggestions to the campaign is to explicitly acknowledge this shift and adjust its messaging accordingly, away from “banning killer robots” and towards “codifying meaningful human control” as a principle requirement in international humanitarian law. The goal is to regulate when a machine and when a human is deciding what, that is, performing which function in the decision-making cycle of finding, fixing, tracking, selecting, and engaging a target. The answers undoubtedly will differ – depending on the operational context and the target (that for instance, might be an incoming missile or a human being). But while banning killer robots this way is tricky, it at least is feasible.

Elvira Rosert is a Junior Professor for International Relations at Universität Hamburg and the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy in Hamburg. Frank Sauer is a Senior Researcher at Bundeswehr University Munich. They are the authors of “How (not) to stop the killer robots: A comparative analysis of humanitarian disarmament campaign strategies”, Contemporary Security Policy, and of “Prohibiting Autonomous Weapons: Put Human Dignity First”, Global Policy 10: 3, 370-375.

Is this the end of the liberal international order?

Today, the liberal international order is in crisis with urgent attention needed if the order is to continue to be of relevance. Yet so far little action has been taken to repair or reform the order and the value of the liberal international order is increasingly questioned even from within its own ranks. The possible end of the liberal order is therefore a prospect to be taken seriously. 

The current malaise in the liberal international order is puzzling because although the order always has encountered a fair share of adversity and crisis, the order was thought to be resilient because on the one hand, it had a remarkable ability to adapt in response to crisis and change and, on the other hand, it was able to maintain stable institutional practices, which provided certainty and predictability for those living within its realm and working on its behalf. However, in the current situation, it is no longer clear exactly what the liberal order is, or should be, and those working within its institutions and on its behalf seem paralyzed and unable to undertake the necessary repair and reform.  

My recent article uses insights from the resilience-thinking literature supplemented with insights from the literature on social theory and ontological security, to understand why the necessary repair and reform of the liberal international order is not taking place.

The article develops a conceptual framework which links resilience and ontological security in order to better understand what makes an entity resilient and why agents only sometimes undertake the necessary action for maintaining its resilience. The framework may help us to better understand the very complex issues that face us today and can make us better prepared to meet the risks and challenges that clearly are facing the liberal international order. 

The conceptual framework allows me to trace the finer nuances in the present crisis, revealing that the liberal international order is currently being pummeled by three separate crises located in each of its constitutive elements–a crisis of leadership is challenging its traditional power patterns; a crisis of democracy is challenging its traditional principles and a crisis of multilateralism is challenging its traditional institutional patterns.

The three crises each go to the very essence of what we understand the liberal international order to be and they make it near impossible to maintain a stable identity, a strong narrative and reinforcing practices with detrimental effects on the ontological security of those we would normally expect to undertake the necessary reform and repair of the order. The three crises interact with each other in ways that further deepen liberal order’s crisis. As a result, the resilience of the liberal international order is in a bad–and currently–deteriorating condition. 

It is noteworthy that where previous crises primarily have been caused by externally generated pressure and contestation–which certainly is still a factor–the current three crises seem to be internally generated. Especially, the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House and the emergence of populist politics, which have broken the post-war cross-party consensus on the value of the liberal international order, has added to the intensity of all three crises with significant implications for the liberal order’s ability to remain fit for its traditional purpose.

Although each of the three crises are well-documented in the expanding literature on the crisis in the liberal order, they have not so far been brought together within one analytical framework. The article brings all three crises to the forefront and demonstrates how each of the crises affect the liberal international order in detrimental ways. 

The article has both a theoretical and an empirical contribution. Theoretically, the article adds to resilience-thinking by adding an agent-level theoretical perspective as well as an ideal-type conceptualization of the social structure of entities within which resilience is forged. The article shows a plausible link between the resilience of the entity and the ontological security of the agents acting on its behalf.

Empirically, the article adds to our understanding of the current crisis of the liberal international order by identifying the three separate crises and placing them with each of the three constitutive elements of the liberal order and by demonstrating how each of the  crises affect both the resilience of liberal order as an entity and the ontological security of those “real people” who act on its behalf and are subject to its policies.

Unfortunately, the link between resilience and ontological security shows that although the liberal international order is in desperate need of repair and reform–those who should undertake necessary repairs and reforms lack ontological security and are not therefore able to invoke their agency to do so. As a result there is a significant danger that the liberal international order is indeed coming to an end. 

Trine Flockhart is Professor of International Relations at the University of Southern Denmark. She is the author of “Is this the end? Resilience, ontological security, and the crisis of the liberal international order”, Contemporary Security Policy, which is available here.

Why Australia remains a close ally despite Donald Trump

In a new article, Mark Beeson and Alan Bloomfield show that it takes more than Donald Trump to upset American-Australian security relations. The alliance with the United States is deeply ingrained and institutionalized in Australian strategic culture.

To say that Donald Trump has had a big impact on international politics would be putting it mildly. Whether by design or accident his administration has managed to overturn many taken-for-granted verities of the international order that Trump’s predecessors fashioned after World War II. Even the future of pivotal Western institutions, such as NATO, is uncertain. Friends and foes alike are therefore reconsidering their relationships with Washington.

And yet for all the uncertainty and anxiety Trump’s unpredictable and ‘transactional’ approach to policy-making has created, some relationships and institutions are surprisingly durable. Our article focuses on Australia, but its findings suggest that while what we call the ‘Trump Effect’ has had a major impact on some of the more theatrical aspects of international politics, underneath the colour and movement some institutionally embedded alliance relationships are very resistant to change. 

We find that grand strategy is one policy area that is hard to change. Canadians may be highly offended by some of Trump’s antics, for example, but they do not consider the United States to be an enemy and the border will almost certainly remain undefended. Likewise, the deeply institutionalised intelligence sharing arrangements that distinguish the ‘Anglosphere’ nations – the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – also look likely to remain operative. 

Australia provides a compelling illustration of just how entrenched grand-strategic ‘truths’ can become. We argue that despite the fact the Trump Effect negatively impacts on Australia’s interests, it is highly unlikely that Canberra would distance itself significantly from Washington in the foreseeable future; indeed, it is unlikely Australian policy-makers would even consider doing so given how deeply they have been socialised to view the relationship as ‘indispensable.’

This rigid thinking may surprise observers unfamiliar with Australian grand-strategic discourse. Australia enjoys unique natural defensive advantages given it shares no land borders with other states and its distance from potentially threatening great powers. It is also very wealthy: Australia’s 25 million people live in the 14th largest economy in the world (and their taxes pay for the 13th largest defense budget). Objectively, Australia seems especially secure. Consequently, the pervasive sense of anxiety that has pervaded Australian strategic planning for a century now takes some explaining. 

In Australia’s case, relative isolation from the Anglo great powers has always been seen as a source of vulnerability and insecurity. This made more sense a century ago: for example, on the eve of World War I the enormous continent was inhabited by only 4 million people. But as noted just above, Australia is a powerful state in its own right now. So why, even though the impact of the Trump Effect is clearly negative, are Australian policy-makers seemingly unable to even begin thinking about distancing themselves from the source of these disturbances? 

We found that it required a major external shock in World War II to bring about the first significant grand-strategic change in Australia’s history, the shift of allegiance from Britain to the US. In other words, only the credible threat of invasion by a hostile great power, Japan, which was conquering – and savagely exploiting – most of Asia, proved a sufficiently compelling ‘critical juncture’ to cause substantial change.

Another less-radical but still significant grand-strategic shift occurred around 1970 when Australians believed that they had been abandoned by London, and that Washington’s commitment to Asia had weakened substantially. This second shock was sufficient to cause a critical juncture leading to the dethronement of ‘forward defence’ doctrine and the rise of ‘continental defence’ logic. But Canberra’s commitment to the US alliance hardly wavered. 

We find the Trump Effect comes nowhere close to delivering the same sort of exogenous shocks; consequently, we advise observers to expect ‘no change’ in Australia’s grand strategy. Accordingly, we submit that to account for the way policy-making elites in different countries calculate their different national interests, scholars must consider the role that their distinctive strategic cultures play in shaping policy outcomes.

In Australia’s case, it is not just sense of inherent vulnerability that accounts for the surprising durability of its alliance relationship with the US. What makes Australia’s ties to the US relatively impervious even to the Trump Effect, we suggest, is the way the bilateral relationship has been institutionalised over the decades – in treaties (most notably ANZUS), at the executive level but also at lower-bureaucratic levels, through multiple avenues of ‘Track 2’ diplomacy, etc. – which goes a long way to explaining why, over 70 years of public opinion surveys, support for the alliance averages in the high-70s percent and has never fallen below 63 percent.

Indeed, it is striking that policy-makers from both major political parties almost never criticise the alliance; only after leaving office do (a very few) retired senior politicians rediscover their critical, independent faculties. By this stage, of course, it’s too late to make much difference.

It is also worth noting that the rise of China as a regional economic powerhouse and strategic rival has reinforced rather than undermined the centrality of ANZUS. Given its economic importance to Australia, no one talks openly about ‘containing’ China; but Australia is about to spend a lot money on re-armament to ensure it can play its customary role in supporting Washington’s strategic ambitions, including (by implication) those directed against Beijing. Indeed, the idea that Australia might bandwagon with a rising China is virtually unthinkable, and those who dare to suggest Australia should work hard to upgrade its relationship with China run the real risk of being publicly pilloried.

In short, Australia’s supportive, strategically-dependent role is deeply ingrained and institutionalised as part of its distinctive strategic culture; and it is likely to withstand even the mercurially-disruptive presence of Mr Trump too.

Mark Beeson and Alan Bloomfield work at the University of Western Australia. They recently published “The Trump effect downunder: U.S. allies, Australian strategic culture, and the politics of path dependence”, Contemporary Security Policy, Advance online publication, 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Failure of Institutional Binding in NATO-Russia Relations

krickovicNATO and Russia have failed to develop institutionalized relations that would bind each side to predictable patterns of behavior. As a result, Europe is now locked in a dangerous spiral of security competition. In order to avoid conflict in the future both sides need to find new ways to make institutional binding work.

The security situation in Europe has dramatically deteriorated since Russia’s seizure of Crimea in March 2014. Russia and the West now find themselves locked in a dangerous spiral of security competition. In June 2016, NATO held its largest military maneuvers in Europe since the end of the Cold War, deploying over 30 thousand troops in a simulated defence against a Russian invasion. The looming “Russian threat” will be the main theme of the upcoming NATO summit in July.

The Alliance is expected to formally announce the rotational deployment of four multinational brigades to the Baltic republics and Poland – a move that the Russian side sees as a violation of earlier promises by NATO that the Alliance would not base its forces in these countries. Russia is responding by ramping up military exercises and deployments on NATO’s borders. Close encounters between NATO and Russian units are happening with increased frequency, presenting the danger of unplanned incidents that could spark a larger armed conflict between the two sides.

NATO and Russia have been unable to develop institutionalized relations that would integrate Russia into the larger European security architecture and prevent security competition from emerging. Liberal International Relations scholars argue that states can protect their security without threatening other states by forming binding institutional relationships. These relationships commit them to predictable patterns of behaviour, reducing the threat that they would normally pose to one another in an anarchical international environment. Institutional binding also helps solve the problem of relative gains, i.e. states’ concerns about how the gains from cooperation are distributed between them. Because they are secure about each other’s intentions, states locked into binding security arrangements are free to cooperate on security and other issues without having to worry about how the distribution of these gains affects the balance of power between them.

An examination of the two most contentious issues in their relationship – NATO enlargement and Missile Defence – demonstrates why binding failed to develop between Russia and NATO. Russia put forward proposals on both issues that would prevent NATO from taking actions that would threaten its security. Russia looked to develop an institutionalized voice within NATO that would force NATO to acknowledge its concerns about expansion. In order to guarantee that NATO’s missile defence system would not undermine its nuclear deterrent, Russia proposed the development of a joint NATO-Russia system and the adoption of a legally-binding international treaty that would forbid NATO countries form targeting Russia’s strategic nuclear forces.

NATO refused to accept these proposals for fear that this would embolden Russian revisionism and compromise the integrity of the alliance. For its part, Russia was unwilling to accept restraints on its own behavior, such as greater transparency in its military and security affairs or ceding some control over security issues to joint Russia-NATO institutions, which would have addressed NATO’s concerns about Russia’s intentions.

Ultimately, neither side was able to make the concessions needed to make binding work because they feared that this would empower the other side and thereby threaten their security. NATO moved forward with enlargement and missile defence, despite Russia’s objections. Russia looked to counter these policies, by pursuing a more bellicose foreign policy towards Georgia and Ukraine and by developing aggressive countermeasures against missile defence. These moves have exacerbated tensions to the point where some observers believe that we are now in a new Cold War.

The problem is not that binding institutions have failed Russia and NATO, but rather that they have never had the chance to work. Russia and NATO find themselves facing a “Catch-22”: they need binding arrangements to overcome the relative gains problems that inhibit security cooperation, yet, their initial concerns about relative gains prevent them from establishing these arrangements in the first place. The real challenge is thus to find ways to assuage these initial concerns about relative gains so that functional binding arrangements can be established.

Up until now, the two sides have tried to establish binding arrangements through one-off solutions. While these solutions promise to put an immediate end to security competition, they also require both parties to submit to comprehensive constraints on their freedom of action – something that is unacceptable to them because of their concerns about relative gains.

Less formal and institutionalized binding arrangements may better serve the interest of peace and security in Europe. Both sides could commit themselves to the creation of a buffer zone of neutral states between Russia and NATO countries that would include Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Such an agreement could be structured so that it not only guarantees these states’ neutrality but also obligates Russia and the West to take joint responsibility for their economic development. In this way, these states could be a bridge, rather than an object of contention, between Russia and the West.

On missile defence, NATO could agree to share sensitive data with the Russian side about the technical parameters of the missile defence system and allow Russian monitors to have access to its missile defence sites. Both sides could also agree to limits on the number of missile interceptors that each can deploy. In this way, Russia would be assured that the system is not directed against it without compromising the system’s effectiveness against missile threats from third parties.

Such piecemeal arrangements will not put an immediate end to security competition. But they will help Russia and NATO to gradually build a higher level of trust, which will allow them to develop more comprehensive binding arrangements in the future. Previous efforts at institutional binding failed because both sides did not appreciate the continued significance of relative gains and overestimated the ability of formal institutions to overcome the initial impediments to binding. In order to make binding work in the future, NATO and Russian leaders must acknowledge these hard realities and find ways to craft binding arrangements that address them.

Andrej Krickovic is an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, Higher School of Economics, Moscow. He is the author of “When Ties Do Not Bind: The Failure of Institutional Binding in NATO Russia Relations”, Contemporary Security Policy 37(2), pp. 175-199. It is available here.