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.