Armies should be self-aware when using historical lessons

CSP_Blog_16_08_Eric Sangar (Small)Military strategy is often informed by lessons from the past. Which lessons armies pick up and use, however, depends on organizational filters. Due to organizational layering, armies may collect contradictory lessons leading to incoherent policy.

The study of success and failure in past wars has been closely intertwined with the emergence of strategic thought. Prominent strategic thinkers, such as Machiavelli, Clausewitz, or Liddle Hart, have relied on history of past campaigns to analyze and improve warfare in the present. And during the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there have been lengthy debates on which lessons from the past have been neglected, and which have been applied wrongly.

However, so far there have been no systematic attempts to theorize how armies learn from their historical experience. In my article “The Pitfalls of Learning from Historical Experience”, I propose a pioneering theoretical argument to explain why the British Army discussed historical lessons for the Afghanistan mission (ISAF) in a contradictory way.

Why contradictory? Using research papers written by staff officers as well as doctrinal pamphlets, I observe two strands of historical experience that dominated the internal debate on lessons for the Afghanistan mission: the Anglo-Afghan Wars of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the colonial counterinsurgency campaigns conducted after 1945, including Malaya. However, this debate is characterized by a significant difficulty: due to fundamental differences in their nature, the two strands of lessons cannot be integrated into operational strategy without losing coherence.

The lessons from the Anglo-Afghan Wars are about the assumption that the Afghan society is so different that any military approach needs to be tailored to the local Afghan context. For instance, the Land Warfare Centre’s pamphlet presenting lessons from the Anglo-Afghan Wars states:

The Afghans are a proud and independent people who resent foreign interference and especially foreign militaries that they construe as occupation forces. They have always resisted external forces and attempts to change traditional ways; […] there is room for reintegration and possibly reconciliation but only when the use of force against insurgents has applied enough pressure on the insurgent/tribesman that his options are limited enough to make him want to move from one side to the other.

By contrast, the suggested lessons from the post-1945 campaigns assume that there is a set of universally applicable principles that, if implemented coherently, are a central condition of success. In the words of an officer,

not only are the principles contained in British COIN doctrine relevant to modern COIN operations they are also applicable to a wide range of conflict situations, from peacekeeping to general war.

This contradiction – between the adaptation to the perceived specificity of the Afghan context and the adherence to a universal set of principles – has also had implications for coherent operational decision-making. For the initial deployment of British forces to Helmand province in the Summer of 2006, the British Army had prepared an integrated civil-military plan influenced by many of the principles that were formalized in the aftermath of the Malaya campaign. However, operational commanders decided to deviate from this plan only few weeks after their arrival. This can be explained by a perception of a historically violent Afghan society, where the Taliban insurgency could only be stopped through the determinate use of force.

Why do these apparently rather incompatible sets of lessons coexist in British military thought and practice? It is important to understand the stages of internal evolution of military organizations, which determine what kind of lessons are selected and transmitted at specific points of time. I introduce the concept of ‘layered organizational culture’. This expression relates to the idea that existing sets of ideas and organizational routines will determine how a military organization processes new experiences.

As organizational culture changes, so will the ways in which experience is handled. However, earlier layers of organizational culture continue to interact with more recent ones. This can lead to the sub-optimal co-existence of inherently incompatible lessons. When contemporary military organizations study experience from different stages of their historical experience, it often results in recommendations that are perceived to be legitimate although they are taken from greatly diverging contexts of organizational needs and perceptions.

The history of the British Army’s efforts to learn from its colonial experience illustrates this argument well: during the Victorian era, although the bulk of the British Army was deployed in permanent garrisons all over the Empire, a systematic evaluation and transmission of lessons gleaned from colonial operations did not happen. Experience was compartmentalized within locally deployed regiments, and there were no attempts to build a universally applicable doctrine. Internal debates across the army dealt almost exclusively with strategy and tactics for interstate warfare on the European continent.

The perhaps only ‘universal’ lesson transmitted from colonial operations was that every context was unique, and that local commanders had to show initiative in order to tailor strategy to local requirements. As a result, the defeat during the First Anglo-Afghan War was attributed to the specificity of the local context, that is the xenophobic and warlike nature of Afghan society, and adaptation to this ‘alien’ context was the main lesson transmitted within organizational memory.

Organizational culture regarding the use of colonial experience changed after 1945. This was a result of changes in the Army’s force posture. The strategic reserve forces that were rapidly shipped from one colonial uprising to the next did not have the time to develop that sense of local awareness that was perceived to be necessary for success. Instead, from the Malaya campaign onwards, doctrinal thinkers started to look for principles that could be easily taught and applied across diverging contexts. But this new layer of organizational culture interacted with the one rooted in the Victorian Army. As a result, ground commanders continued to enjoy a tremendous amount of autonomy with regards to the interpretation and implementation of the ‘classical’ principles of British counterinsurgency doctrine.

What lessons can be gleaned from the use of lessons by the British Army in the context of the ISAF mission? It would be neither realistic nor helpful to abandon the study of historical experience altogether. But doctrinal thinkers should be more aware that experiences transmitted from the past are ‘filtered’ through the lens of specific configurations of organizational culture that were dominant at the time when an experience was made. This would require working more closely with military historians and sociologists, who can help to answer why specific observations and recommendations have been recorded from past campaigns. History may indeed become a toolbox – but one that can stimulate increased organizational self-awareness and help to avoid the pitfalls of learning from the past.

Eric Sangar is a FNRS Research Fellow at the Tocqueville Chair in Security Policy of the University of Namur, Belgium. He is the author of “The Pitfalls of Learning from Historical Experience: The British Army’s Debate on Useful Lessons for the War in Afghanistan”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming. It is available here. He is currently analyzing the influence of collective memory on uses of history in the realms of media discourses on armed conflict, foreign-policy making, and military strategy.

Preventing Nuclear Disaster in South Asia: The role of the United States

CSP_Blog_16_03_YusufKirkThe current trends in the South Asian nuclear rivalry are likely to make the U.S. crisis management role more challenging in any future crisis iterations, with no guarantee of success, but it is crucial that the U.S. remain engaged and try to prevent escalation.

When terrorists from Pakistan killed seven soldiers at the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot in January, the world held its breath, hoping that the incident would not trigger yet another India-Pakistan crisis. The fear wasn’t far-fetched. Since India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons in 1998, these bitter South Asian rivals have experienced one limited war and at least two major near-war crises. Fortunately, none of these crises escalated, in large part because of proactive U.S. crisis diplomacy that helped calm tensions.

There is no other scenario that gives greater urgency to conflict prevention than the possibility of nuclear war. Unsettlingly, U.S. policymakers remain quite uncertain about how future India-Pakistan crises may play out, and what America’s role in them might be. Standard theories of crisis diplomacy do not provide much insight. This isn’t surprising, since third-party involvement in nuclearized crises between non-superpowers is a post-Cold War phenomenon—seen only in the India-Pakistan rivalry so far—and crisis dynamics in such a scenario remain rather vaguely understood. Though recent literature on nuclear South Asia acknowledges the U.S. role in crisis management, most analyses focus on Indian and Pakistani strategies and behaviors, reflecting bilateral deterrence models derived from the Cold War superpowers.

A few analysts—including Bhumitra Chakma—have detailed America’s diplomatic interventions in recent India-Pakistan crises to claim that it prevented escalation (Chakma calls it “deterrence diplomacy”). Yet while the three-way crisis dynamic has been observed, it has not been systematically analyzed according to available theoretical frameworks. We need to understand not just what the U.S. did in these crises, but why and how a trilateral dynamic might be at work, and what this implies for future crises.

Timothy Crawford’s pivotal deterrence theory—hitherto applied only to conventional, non-nuclearized contexts—offers a framework for analyzing efforts by third parties to avert war between rivals. The theory explains how a powerful third party (or “pivot”) can prevent war by making the rivals uncertain about how it would respond to a war between them. Moreover, the theory explains, non-superpower rivals will naturally seek to avoid alienating the more powerful pivot state and thus isolating themselves in a crisis, and this enables the pivot to employ diplomatic tools that deescalate the crisis and prevent war.

The U.S. has involved itself as a crisis manager in nuclear South Asia without hesitation. While the modalities of its pivotal deterrence have shifted within and across the crises—generally coming down harder on Pakistan, but also serving clear notice to India that military action risked international isolation and possibly uncontrollable escalation—its interventions have consistently sought to deescalate crises as swiftly as possible.

CSP_Blog_16_03-Flags_of_India_and_PakistanIn the 1999 limited war at Kargil, where a mix of Pakistani regular forces and jihadi proxies had captured parts of disputed Kashmir under Indian control, the U.S. directly threatened Pakistan with isolation unless it withdrew unilaterally. In the 10-month military standoff in 2001-02, and during the crisis that followed the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, the U.S. forced Pakistan to acknowledge the flow of terrorists from its soil into India and to take action against some of these actors. It used Pakistani acquiesce, momentary as it was, to placate India. In 2001-02, it also reproved a recalcitrant India that refused to demobilize its forces by issuing travel advisories that advised U.S. citizens to avoid India, risking investor panic.

In all of these crises, neither India nor Pakistan was apt to escalate to general war without assured U.S. support (or, at least, acquiescence). Both sides sought to avoid isolation, and modified their statements and behaviors when confronted with the prospect—in ways that cannot be attributed to bilateral nuclear deterrence alone.

Even if bilateral nuclear deterrence exerts an underlying influence on Indian and Pakistani crisis behaviors—as it surely must—then trilateral pivotal deterrence should be understood as shaping their specific behaviors in these crises, and ultimately delivering the crisis outcomes: war limitation in 1999 and war avoidance in 2001-02 and 2008. The reasons why must be better understood by policymakers seeking to answer the million-dollar question: should, and can, the U.S. continue to play the pivot in future India-Pakistan crises?

Admittedly, repeated U.S. involvement could create a moral hazard problem that incentivizes India and Pakistan to turn incidents into crises—with the express goal of eliciting favorable diplomatic intervention. On balance, though, we believe that American disengagement would be a worse response to future crises, given the stakes involved and the uncertainty of how India and Pakistan would act in the absence of Washington’s now-anticipated pivotal deterrence. But the future success of a pivotal deterrence policy won’t be automatic. The U.S.-Pakistan relationship remains difficult, and Pakistan may no longer see the U.S. as an even-handed broker. For its part, India too is dissatisfied with the U.S. inability to compel Pakistan to put a permanent end to anti-India terrorism, despite promises, and has signaled an ability to take swift, limited military action to punish Pakistan before the U.S. can step into a future crisis.

Given these and other worrisome developments since the last major crisis in 2008, the future of America’s pivotal deterrence in nuclear South Asia may depend less on “isolation avoidance” and more on the other peace-causing mechanism that Crawford proposed, “the uncertainty effect.” That is, the U.S. should find ways, through pivotal deterrence, to reinforce bilateral deterrence: even more assertively leading India and Pakistan to fear escalation’s consequences, and not only the diplomatic fallout.

Moeed Yusuf, director of South Asia programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., is writing a book on U.S. crisis management in India-Pakistan nuclear crises. Jason Kirk is associate professor of political science at Elon University in North Carolina. They are the authors of “Keeping an Eye on South Asia Skies: America’s Pivotal Deterrence in Nuclearized India-Pakistan Crises”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming. It is available here.

Something Must Be Done, But What? On Humanitarian Interventions

CSP_Blog_16_04_AbeWhen confronted by shocking images of gross human rights violations, massacres and massive flows of refugees, many people may shout: ‘something must be done!’ Unfortunately, such tragic images are, on a daily basis, coming out of Syria and northern Iraq where the Islamic State reigns, and many other places all over the world. Moreover, thanks to the development of inexpensive communicative devices, such tragic images are spread worldwide at a historically unprecedented speed.

However, cries for ‘something must be done’ will soon be followed by the question: ‘but what?’. One key consideration is the legitimisation of intervention by the international community. Foreign intervention breaches of the principles of sovereign integrity and non-use of force, both of which are stipulated in the Charter of the United Nations. Whilst action can be legitimised by UN Security Council authorisation, often agreement in New York is difficult to achieve.

By questions of legitimacy do not end with UN authorisation. Foreign military intervention may bring about casualties among local civilians and soldiers of intervening states, even it was mandated to bring a conflict to a close. So we may experience a situation in which proponents of intervention use lethal force and, at the same time, voices calling for troops to be withdrawn from battle will become louder.

This question has been repeatedly posed since the end of the Cold War. One of the first instances was the war in Bosnia (broadly speaking, the former Yugoslavia). In this case, international action was strongly urged as it was stated: “Shame in Our Time, in Bosnia” (The New York Times, 21 May 1992). As the intervention continued, nevertheless, other voices were increasingly raised, warning about the dangers of becoming deeply involved. After all, Western governments were subjected to public criticism for failing to stop the war and, at the same time, for dragging their public into a foreign war.

Former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind described this difficulty by stating that:

‘something must be done’ may not be sustained if involvement in a bitter conflict in a country in which no vital national interests are at stake results in casualties. The clamour for action can turn, almost overnight, into an equally vigorous clamour to ‘bring our boys home’.

Why do such ‘dilemmas’ appear, even when action is required genuinely for humanitarian reasons? Supposedly, this is because we are living in a world where information and normative concerns are globalised, but the political system remains unchanged. The traditional international system has been established with the rule of non-intervention and the principle of non-use of armed forces to make inter-state relations more stable. Meanwhile, information recognises no territorial borders and in domestic politics its unrestricted flow has created an agenda too inhumane to ignore. This gap between a geographically-constrained world and a globally spreading world generates dilemmas for state decision makers.

In my article I analyse this dilemma in the case of Bosnian intervention and I discuss the consequences it had for NATO. These questions remain, however, critically important today. The intervention of the international community in Libya in 2011, for example, was very much inspired by the idea that ‘something must be done’ to protect civilians against the Gaddafi regime. On the other hand, the international community has been reluctant to further provide support to Libya after the NATO missions were done.

Yuki Abe is an Associate Professor at Kumamoto University, Japan. He is the author of “Norm dilemmas and international organizational development: humanitarian intervention in the crisis of Bosnia and the reorganization of North Atlantic Treaty Organization”, Contemporary Security Policy, Vol.37, No.1, pp.62-88. It is available here.

The precarious China-Russia partnership erodes security in East Asia

CSP_Blog_16_06_BaevThe real progress in building partnership is far weaker than Moscow and Beijing try to demonstrate, but this is worrisome news for their East Asian neighbors.

With the explosion of the Ukraine crisis in spring 2014, Russia made a determined effort to upgrade its strategic partnership with China and achieved instant success. Large-scale economic contracts were signed in a matter of a few months, and the military parades in Moscow and Beijing in respectively May and September 2015, in which the two leaders stood shoulder to shoulder, were supposed to show the readiness of two world powers to combine their military might. In fact, however, the partnership has encountered serious setbacks and as of spring 2016, is significantly off-track.

It is the economic content of bi-lateral cooperation that has registered the most obvious decline. The volume of trade, which the officials promised to double in just a few years, actually contracted in 2015 by about a third comparing with 2014. The economic crisis in Russia and the sharp decline in purchasing power were the main reasons for this setback, and there are no reasons to expect an improvement in 2016 or in the years to come. The dramatic drop of oil prices in 2015 has not only devalued the much-trumpeted “400 billion dollars” gas contract signed in May 2014. It has also destroyed the economic foundation of the partnership because the development of “green fields” in East Siberia and construction of pipelines to China has become entirely cost-inefficient.

President Vladimir Putin and President Xi Jinping have tried to downplay this weakening of economic ties by emphasizing their perfect rapport. But in fact this “beautiful friendship” is also far from sincere. Putin understands perfectly well the desire to strengthen personal power but the struggle against corruption, which is Xi Jinping’s method of choice in asserting his control, is for him a perilous path. Xi Jinping approves Putin’s boldness in challenging the US “hegemony” but is highly suspicious about his inability to ensure a smooth transition of power, which in China is a firm rule of the political game. The cultural gap between the elites in two states remains vast, and this guarantees the profound lack of trust between the leadership.

Beijing has no reasons to worry about this derailed partnership, but Moscow – engaged in a dangerous and costly confrontation with the West – most certainly has plenty of worries. Attending the September parade in Beijing, Putin quite possibly understood the need to prove Russia’s value as a strategic partner to the mighty neighbor. The effectively executed intervention in Syria was one way to do it, and Xi Jinping was probably impressed with this boldness in projecting power. Yet in the six months since September that impression has gradually paled as the limits of Russian reach have become clear and the risks have accumulated. Fundamentally, China is not interested in Russia’s attempts at manipulating conflicts in the Middle East. After all, its core interests are in ensuring the stable flow of oil, which is not necessarily what Moscow wants to see.

Russia cannot interfere with China’s expansion in Central Asia in the framework of the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative, and has very little to offer in terms of networks or influence in Africa or Latin America. The only region where it can do something that would be useful for China is, by default, the East Asia. Moscow may feel compelled to abandon its position of benevolent neutrality in various maritime disputes there and provide unambiguous support for China’s stance, which could make a difference in Beijing’s eyes.

Russia may be reluctant to execute such a political maneuver in the South China Sea as it would ruin its relations with Vietnam – an old ally and one of the few states that remain positively inclined toward Russia. It would have fewer if any reservations in coming to China’s side in the East China Sea disputes, where Japan is the key party. Russia has its own territorial issues with Japan and the recently demonstrated readiness to escalate tensions by staging high-level official visits to the South Kuril Islands may be an indication of the possibility to support China in the next round of quarrels about the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands.

China’s is certainly far more cautious than Russia in projecting military power for political purposes, but it monitors Russian experiments with great interest. The price for these experiments might appear prohibitively high as economic sanctions add to the decline of industrial production and set Russia on the rack of de-modernization. What makes this balance sheet less convincing is the fact that Russian economy had entered into the phase of protracted stagnation before the introduction of sanctions and the fall of oil prices. The political turn to the extensive use of military instruments was therefore aimed at launching a “patriotic” mobilization that would negate the impact of economic downturn.

Had China’s economy continued on the trajectory of strong growth, no need in such risky experiments would have emerged for its leadership. The phenomenon of China’s uninterrupted growth might, however, arrive to an end, and the spasms in its stock market might be a symptom of deeper troubles. In the unfamiliar and disturbing situation of an economic crisis, Beijing may very well take a leaf out of Putin’s book on wielding military instruments for boosting domestic support. Moscow then will be only too happy to provide support for its mighty neighbor and thus escape from the position of the main challenger of the international order.

Until recently, East Asian states, and first of all Japan, worried about the possibility of an alliance between Russia and China as the two rising powers. Now they have more reasons to worry about the maverick behavior of declining Russia and wavering China. Both have failed to build a solid economic foundation for their partnership but may find it opportune to back one another in using military power as an effective instrument of revisionist policy.

Pavel K. Baev is is a Research Director and Professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) in Norway. He is the author of “Russia’s pivot to China goes astray: the impact on the Asia-Pacific security architecture”, Contemporary Security Policy, Vol.37, No.1, pp.89-110. It is available via Open Access here.

Rising Bipolarity in the South China Sea

CSP_Blog_2016_05_Burgess_02Despite soft-balancing by the United States and its pivot to Asia, China is likely to continue its expansionist policies in the South China Sea.

The first four years of the US rebalance to Asia have witnessed increased US diplomatic, economic and military efforts, the strengthening of alliances and partnerships, and increased engagement with China. The rebalance and engagement with China have had episodically curbed Beijing’s behavior in the South China Sea followed by new waves of Chinese expansion.

US diplomacy, including statements by President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, as well as support for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Code of Conduct, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and a moratorium on construction have occasionally caused China to take “one step back” and make conciliatory gestures. But Beijing took “two steps forward” in 2013 and 2015 with accelerated outpost construction and militarization. This can be seen as a counter to the rebalance and as part of a strategy to change the status quo in the South China Sea.

Beijing has shown that it will surge, stop, and surge in its expanding construction activities. It will continue to issue warnings to military aircraft and ships from the United States and its partners from “intruding” into newly claimed territory.

The United States is currently counting on soft balancing. It employs multilateral diplomacy through ASEAN and a coalition with the Philippines, Japan, Vietnam and others to eventually bring China to negotiate a binding Code of Conduct and resolve the growing dispute. Soft balancing, backed by security cooperation and US military power, appears to be the optimal strategy in the short to medium term, given the weakness of allied and partner security forces.

Increased security cooperation, with joint exercises with Southeast Asian nations and Japan, Australia and India as well as the equipping and training of Southeast Asian security forces, is demonstrating growing resolve in the face of assertive actions by China’s security forces. Continuing cruises by the US Navy and overflight by US naval and air force planes are providing military backing to soft balancing. It is a signals to China and reassures allies and partners, which are trying to defend their exclusive economic zones.

As the cornerstone of the rebalance, the Trans-Pacific Partnership will increase US influence in the region and strengthen ties with Malaysia and Vietnam and eventually other states. Increased multilateral trade will enable these states to stand up to China and efforts at economic blackmail. The increasing free flow of goods and investment will encourage US companies to become more involved in the region and will increase US interests in the region. The invitation to China to join provides an incentive for cooperation on the South China Sea issue.

The trajectory of China’s behavior will determine if the soft balancing approach will be successful. Until recently, defensive realists have been correct in explaining China’s behavior and gauging its intentions. China had been driven both by the need to defend growing national security and economic interests, evidenced by the leadership’s statements on the South China Sea and incremental expansionist policy.

If China remains motivated mainly by defense of its interests, the reputational costs being imposed against expansion will eventually cause a recalculation of Beijing’s strategy. Soft-balancing by the United States and its partners would stand a good chance of working. A ruling in favor of the Philippines in the UNCLOS case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the International Court of Justice would add ammunition to the soft balancing strategy.

In recent years, however, the offensive realist perspective on China’s behavior and intentions has gained currency. If China is indeed assertively trying to change the status quo in the South China Sea, it will be more difficult for soft balancing to influence Beijing’s behavior. However, it is too early to definitively conclude that China has gone over to the offensive. President Xi Jin Ping may be using expansion in the South China Sea as a way of demonstrating his power as a leader. Alternatively, the economic slowdown in China combined with the US rebalance may cause the leadership to rethink the strategy. Also, the New Silk Road strategy of infrastructure investment may cause Beijing to become more cooperative with the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.

The constructivist perspective, which points to the leadership’s self-conceptualization as succeeding Imperial China in the Asian domain and as part of its strategic culture and appeals to Chinese nationalism, provides further insight into Beijing’s behavior and intentions. On the one hand, China’s strategic culture also includes confidence that patience will eventually bring rewards and that dominance will come sooner or later.

On the other hand, Xi appears to be offensively asserting China’s growing power and moving towards dominance before he is due to step down in 2023. He is also appealing to Chinese nationalism in forging ahead in the South China Sea. Nationalism is strong in China. It may lead to unintended escalation and other negative consequences in the South China Sea as well as the East China Sea against Japan.

In 2023, it is likely that Xi Jin Ping’s successor will continue the policy of expansion in the South China Sea. By that time, China may have been able to resolve its domestic problems and shifted to a consumer-driven economy. This could put it into a position where it is able to make international concessions. China also will strive to draw closer diplomatically, economically and militarily to ASEAN states. However, if China’s economy declines, the leadership could either focus inward and make concessions on the South China Sea or less likely stir up nationalist sentiments and initiate a diversionary conflict.

Stephen Burgess is a Professor at the Department of International Security Studies of the Air War College at the Maxwell Air Force Base in the United States. He is the author of “Rising Bipolarity in the South China Sea”, Contemporary Security Policy, Vol.37, No.1, pp.111-143. It is available here.

Prepare for the Coming Multi-Order World

CSP_Blog_16_02_FlockhartThe international system is changing on a scale that is bigger than the end of the Cold War.

The international system is changing, while our institutions seem to be challenged by a long succession of crises. Policy makers have expressed the feelings that ‘the world is spinning out of control’ and that ‘order is collapsing’ and that we appear to be returning to a multipolar system.

A return to a multipolar system is, however, an overly simplistic reading of the current situation. Rather what appears on the horizon is a completely different international system, which is composed of different international orders rather than by different powerful sovereign states. The coming multi-order world will be characterized by very different dynamics and order-making practices. The current liberal order will continue to exist, but its global reach will be a thing of the past and it will be joined by other ‘orders’ based on different ideas and identities. Liberal order-making practices and values will no longer be universally shared.

The uncertainty about the apparent systemic change in the making is not surprising. Systemic change is a rare occurrence, which has only happened three times in the last 200 years – in 1815 after the Napoleonic wars, in the protracted and bloody process of collapsing order between 1914-1945 and finally in 1989 with the end of the Cold War. Moreover, systemic change is complex and likely to be a long process of subtle changes, whose significance may only be visible retrospectively. The question is therefore how we know if the international system is changing, and if it is changing, what kind of international system lies ahead?

Despite the rarity, complexity and subtlety of change in the international system, indicators of systemic change are all too apparent. They include shifting power, the appearance of new and re-emerging actors on the international scene, and challenges to established practices and ideas, all of which are expressed in the many ongoing crises facing decision-makers.

In addition, strategic foresight analyses point to changes in demographics, individual empowerment, technology and access to technology, resources, economics and the environment. These changes are likely to place increased demands on the institutional capacity and political structures of the current international order. Together these two forms of change add up to a murky picture of compounding complexity and add to the feelings of ‘collapsing order’.

To better understand the significance of the multi-order world, it is useful to compare this system with the three alternative arguments in the academic and policy literature on the kind of new international system in the making.

The first position is the most prevalent. Proponents argue that what lies ahead is a multipolar world in which several great powers will compete and use traditional balance of power politics to balance each other and to advance their own interests. It is anticipated that the international system will revert back to a past system of multipolarity much akin to what was in place during the 19th century. This position assumes continued primacy of the United States, although balancing may either be an active form primarily against China or it may be offshore with a retrenched America focusing on domestic American issues.

The second position is favored by liberal internationalists such as Hillary Clinton and John Ikenberry. Proponents argue that what lies ahead is a multi-partner world. This is essentially a continuation of the existing system in which the United States will attempt to maintain its leadership position. At the same time, it will enter into partnerships with new actors, which they assume can be coopted into a reformed version of the existing order. This position assumes a continued high level of American engagement in global affairs in partnership with allies and other stakeholders in the global order.

The third position emphasizes that the new international system will not only be characterized by a diffusion of power, but will also be characterized by diversity of ideas. The position argues that what lies ahead is a multi-culture world. The challenge will be to reach global consensus on collective security challenges whilst accepting diversity in domestic and regional affairs. The expectation is a new form of international system, which is de-centered and lacking any overall shared values and practices. The position of the United States will be to remain the leader of liberal states and to strengthen the core and the magnetism of the existing liberal order.

Although each of the three positions point to a plausible future, they do not fully capture what lies ahead. Rather, it is necessary to look more closely at the constituent elements of international orders and how the condition of order is constituted through different practices and resting on particular identities. By uncovering the different elements of international orders, it is possible to see how the three previous historical processes of systemic change have played out in very different ways on each occasion. Moreover, by focusing on the elements making up the current international order, it is revealed that the current changes taking place are deeper and perhaps more far-reaching than previous systemic change. The likely coming international system is a new form composed of several ‘international orders’ nested within an overall international system.

The challenge in a multi-order world will be to forge new forms of relationships between diverse actors. This requires convergence involving complex power relations, different partnerships and reformed institutions that are able to reach across dividing lines to forge cooperation between different cultures with different domestic governance structures. The coming multi-order world will be radically different and the changes that are currently taking place are every bit as far reaching as previous systemic changes. Given that it is likely to end 200 years of the expansion of the liberal order, the coming systemic change is likely to be experienced by the West as deeply unsettling.

Trine Flockhart is Professor of International Relations at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom. She is the author of “The Coming Multi-Order World”, Contemporary Security Policy, Vol.37, No.1, 2016, pp.3-30. It is available via OpenAccess here.

Un(wo)manned Aerial Vehicles: How UAVs Influence Masculinity In The Conflict Arena

CSP_Blog_16_01_KunashakaranAs a result of the introduction of drones (or UAVs), there have been numerous studies on the moral and ethical uses of an asymmetrical warfare, a war where one side is vastly superior to the other. However, not much research has been done into the intrinsic effects of these technologies.

How do they affect soldiers? How do they transform the role of gender in the society? Are they really the “silver bullet” that policymakers have been looking for: a machine that keeps troops far away from the ugliness of war? Or do they in fact bring the conflict zone closer than ever before?

Albert Camus once said that “there are causes worth dying for, but none worth killing for”. With the technological advancements of drones and the continuous distancing of troops from the warzone, the question is not so much of what militaries would kill for, but rather how they could potentially suffer from the kill.

Talking about masculinity and militaries can get rather tense. And a full article on it seems to simply suck all the air out of the room. However, with the technological advancements that push soldiers further and further away from the battlezone, we need to give more thought to such abstract ideas.

The Evolution of Technology and The Role of Women

Today’s women are beginning to lead in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In institutions that are considered “manly”, women are beginning to play a leading role. And with the introduction of technology, neither mere brute strength nor physical prowess are deciding factors of what makes an ideal combatant.

When studying the changing dynamics of a conflict zone, gender is increasingly a key consideration.CSP_Blog_16_01_Kunashakaran_wecandoit

With the increasing use of UAVs, and similar distancing technologies that seek to protect troops, it is also time we talked about how women play a role with the technologies that dominate the conflict arena.

Back in the 20th century, World War II had a strong influence on women and the workforce. During this period, fields that were usually reserved for men suddenly saw a previously untapped demographic. An example are the very iconic “Rosie The Riveter” posters. This thrust helped to change the futur
e of the world, and of women in the workforce.

More recently, the US Army has begun to open up previously “men-only” positions to women. But do current deeply-entrenched norms and values in a rather male-dominated society give way that easily? Does the continuous chase for the ultimate killing machine transform traditional masculinity?

The Latent Psychological Effects of Combatant Technology

When writing my article on the influence of UAVs on gender dynamics, it made me think of how we approach the very tricky subject of humanity. Studying the various effects that arise with the increasing distancing of the warzone, I observed that sometimes hardest part is to reconcile the conflict going on “within”.

A stark finding were the significant levels of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that drone operators suffer from, even when far away from the warzone. This seems counter-intuitive to introducing a technology that “protects” combatants. It is precisely for this reasons that we need to further delve into these latent psychological effects.

PTSD seems to be caused by the incredibly complex juxtaposition of having to constantly switch between a combatant mind-set and then stepping out of the airbase to go home interacting with family or everyday society. This constant psychological switch takes a toll of previously unobserved magnitude on the individual.

Critical Policy Considerations for the Future

This is why, more so than soldiers on the ground, structural policies need to address a vast number of psychological, emotional and social factors. It also begs the question of when we are going to consider the aspect of human fallibility in the design of technologies?

Every day we hear more about robots and cyborgs taking over aspects of daily lives of humans. A rather (seemingly) un-gendered entity encroaches upon humanity and sufficient focus needs to be placed on policies that address this changing dimension. And in the fields of security and the military, advancements in technology keep the battlefield far away from home, with the ease of eliminating an individual resting on an operator’s fingertips.

With the future of warfare teetering on the edge of humanity, the increase of distancing technology in the conflict zone could potentially give individuals a more cavalier attitude towards conflict, resulting in ideas that violence is a need, rather than a last resort. After all, it is a clean war. And human lives are simply collateral damage.

A key consideration for policymakers should be to be a little more introspective, rather than to go out guns blazing and causing irreparable damage to humanity.

Sumita Kunashakaran is currently based in Singapore and is an Associate Consultant at Strategic Moves Pte Ltd and an External Consultant at Asia Aviation Services Pte Ltd. She is the author of “Un(wo)manned aerial vehicles: an assessment of how unmanned aerial vehicles influence masculinity in the conflict arena”, Contemporary Security Policy, Vol.37, No.1, 2016, pp.31-61 which she completed during her Masters in International Relations at The University of Edinburgh. Access here

Defense Industries in Asia and the Technonationalist Impulse

CSP_Blog_15_03_BitzingerNation-states around the world have many reasons to produce armaments. Traditionally, the strongest motivation has been classically realist and security-oriented: the need to provide for a secure source of military materiel necessary to deter threats and to defend one’s national territory. Possessing or attempting to possess strong domestic arms industries, capable of designing, developing, and manufacturing advanced weapons systems, is viewed by many countries as an essential element of this strategy.

Consequently, autarky, or self-sufficiency in arms acquisition, can be a critical national security objective. At the same time, however, such autarky traditionally had quite limited military motivations, i.e., national defense. Increasingly, however, many nations – and particularly those in Asia – have come to view indigenous arms production from a much broader perspective. The idea that autarky in armaments serves larger, more ambitious national interest: it is about securing and advancing a nation’s geopolitical status in a regional or global system.

This so-called technonationalist approach to armaments production has become endemic to Asia. It is critical to understand why and how this trait has so strongly influenced regional defense industrialization and arms manufacturing. It is also important to always keep the “technonationalist impulse” in mind when addressing how Asian nations deal with problems and failures when it comes to indigenous armaments production. And why, despite whatever setbacks they may encounter, maintaining and expanding their national defense industrial bases remains a high priority.

Technonationalism (a word first coined by Robert Reich in the 1980s) is more than just a “security of supply” issue or a fancier word to describe protectionist economic and developmental policies. Technonationalism in armaments production is particularly apropos for states aspiring to great power status. As Richard Samuels has noted, a nation-state cannot expect to be taken seriously unless it possesses a modern military, i.e. “rich nation/strong army.”

At the same time, an aspiring great power’s armed forces may not be credible if it relies on other nations for the bulk of its weaponry. To extend Samuels’ “rich nation/strong army” analogy further, therefore, great nations have great arms industries. This line of reasoning has been particularly ubiquitous when it comes to Asian armaments production. Most large countries in the region – China, India, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia – have all attempted to create indigenous defense industries and to engage in ambitious arms-manufacturing programs in order to buttress their regional great-power ambitions.

Military technonationalism may have its roots in national security and economics, but it goes beyond that. It is about status. About a nation’s place in the international hierarchy of great powers. This is the appeal and power of military technonationalism, at least as it applies to indigenous armaments production. When the national security and economic arguments buttressing domestic weapons manufacturing fail, many nations still persist in pursuing autarky (and sometimes even “double down” in their commitments).

But technonationalism is more than an objective or a set of goals. It is also a plan of action. The technonationalist model contains its own strategy for achieving autarky in armaments production, one that, paradoxically, involves the exploitation of imported technologies in order to eventually realize self-sufficiency. This process usually entails the course of moving from learning to innovating, of going from imitating technology to owning and advancing technology.

At the same time, technonationalism in armaments production is not easy, and for most countries it has been a hard row to hoe. The challenge to Asian arms industries is meeting the growing demand for self-sufficiency in arms acquisition, i.e., autarky in production, as well as the rapidly increasing technological requirements of next-generation weapons systems. In other words, can Asian defense factories develop and produce the types of advanced weaponry that their militaries increasingly clamor for? And do so under domestic political and economic conditions that demand increasing self-reliance in production, from initial design all the way to final manufacturing?

It is important to understand, therefore, how this “technonationalist impulse” has not only driven defense industrialization in Asia, but also how technonationalism has also provided a model for development (i.e., with the ultimate objective of autarky).

My journal article explores at greater length the paradoxically symbiotic relationship between technonationalism and “technoglobalism,” and the critical role that foreign technologies have played in process of defense-industrial indigenization. It discusses whether the technonationalist model is a viable or sustainable approach, in terms of economics and (especially) military innovation. It concludes that, despite the disincentives surrounding indigenous armaments production – in terms of the high cost of autarky and the dubious military gains that tend to accrue – most Asian states will not abandon their defense industries or the goal of achieving autarky. That is due mainly (and increasingly) to the driving force of military technonationalism.

Richard A. Bitzinger is a Senior Fellow and Coordinator of the Military Transformations Program at the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore. He is the author of “Defense Industries in Asia and the Technonationalist Impulse”, Contemporary Security Policy, Vol.36, No.3, 2015, pp.453–472. Access here.

Selling Schelling Short: Reputations and American Coercive Diplomacy after Syria

CSP_Blog_15_02_JohnMittonphoto2Do reputations matter in international politics? This fundamental question figured prominently in debates regarding the appropriate American response to Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Syria in August 2013, in which 1,400 civilians were killed.

Having previously issued a ‘red-line’ against the use of chemical weapons in Syria, many prominent journalists and policy-makers argued that the Obama administration had to respond to the attacks with military strikes or suffer consequences with respect to American credibility. This position was informed, largely, by a research tradition made famous by Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling: maintaining credibility requires following through on threats and commitments so as to establish a reputation for resolve.

Contrary to such ‘conventional wisdom’, however, many academics actually argued against the threat of airstrikes noting that traditional concerns about reputation are overblown. Citing new research, they claimed that credibility is a function of the current balance of capabilities and interests and not of past behavior. As such, backing down in Syria was the right policy option. There would be no consequences for American credibility in future crises.

In the end, the Obama administration continued to make the case for air strikes against Syrian government targets. As a result of this threat, the Assad regime backed down and the US was able to secure a disarmament deal. The Syrian government agreed to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention and dismantle and destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles. The debate between Schelling’s concern for reputation and the ‘new consensus’ pushed by his critics remains central, however, to discussions regarding American credibility and coercive diplomacy.

What are the parameters of this debate? Prominent anti-reputation theorists, such as Daryl Press, Jonathan Mercer and Ted Hopf, all discuss (and dismiss) the theory offered by Schelling. According to these authors, Schelling argued that behavior anywhere mattered everywhere – that credibility was exclusively a function of one’s reputation for action/resolve in previous crises, even if said crises occurred against different opponents in different places all over the globe. This position is logically flawed and empirically inaccurate, they argue, and has led to disastrous foreign policy outcomes in which leaders fight wars or conduct military strikes solely to maintain their reputation.

What these authors miss, however, is that Schelling’s arguments were considerably more nuanced. First, Schelling also recognized that fighting solely to maintain one’s reputation was foolish. As he writes: “That preserving face – maintaining others’ expectations about one’s own behavior – can be worth some cost and risk does not mean that in every instance it is worth the cost or risk of that occasion.” In other words, the decision to follow through with threats or commitments must also consider the circumstances of the coercive encounter in question.

Second, many of Schelling’s arguments on the importance of past behavior are primarily concerned with the Soviet-American Cold War rivalry. They are not definitive statements regarding his theory of reputation in all circumstances. In the context of ‘pure bargaining’, reputation constitutes one of the manipulable aspects of the encounter, and is therefore related to the tactics by which an outcome (concession) can be ‘won’ by one or the other party. Maintaining a reputation is important so that the commitment of one’s reputation in a particular encounter is effective.

So do reputations matter? A detailed re-engagement with Schelling’s seminal work suggests that the answer is a qualified yes. First, reputations are likely to matter the greater the link and connection between one round of bargaining and the next (a situation Schelling describes as ‘continuous negotiations’). This includes situations of ‘enduring rivalry’ (long-standing enmity between two states and the expectation of future conflict) as well as ‘protracted crisis’ (in which a strategic sequence of interaction/negotiation plays out between two parties over time).

Second, and more generally, the extent to which crises approximate one another along a variety of dimensions (opponents, power balances, issue areas, geographical region etc.) can serve to either augment or diminish the relative importance of reputation in any particular case. Again, not as definitive or determinative but rather complementary and/or additive components of credibility.

Ultimately, a reputation for resolve is not a magic bullet. Balanced debate as to when and where it should be protected must focus on the merits and dynamics of the particular situation, not on recourse to either/or positions related to a ‘conventional wisdom’ or a ‘new consensus’. This conclusion has broad implications for US foreign policy, including relations with Iran (in particular the continuing implementation of the nuclear deal), Russia (with respect to both Eastern Europe and the Middle East), China (in a variety of contexts and potential flash points) and North Korea (in dealing with Pyongyang’s nuclear program).

Maintaining a reputation for resolve will be important but should not be chased at all costs. Parsing the fine-grained dynamics with respect to each crisis or confrontation in a chain of negotiations is admittedly complex, leaving room for reasonable disagreements as to when, in a particular instance, specific reputational considerations are in play. Yet entirely dismissing reputation in the context of international crises is dangerous. Committing one’s reputation, as Schelling argued, remains an important component of a nation’s bargaining strategy. We must remember, in other words, that reputation can be an ingredient for peace, and not merely a pretense for war.

John Mitton is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada. He is the author of “Selling Schelling Short: Reputations and American Coercive Diplomacy after Syria”, Contemporary Security Policy, Vol.36, No.3, 2015, pp.408–431. Access here.

The Awakening Samurai: Interpreting Japan’s Security Policy Emancipation

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Some revolutions are neither observable at first sight nor are they of the same type. It is very easy to realize the importance of certain historical events such as the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 or the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Some historical events, or trends to be more precise, on the other hand, are subtle, but they can be just as dramatic in the long-run.

One such case revolves around the decision of the Japanese government to move from national self-defense to collective self-defense. On the face of it, the shift approved by the Japanese government in July 2014 is of little importance and merely suggests a symbolic turn of events. In reality, however, Shinzo Abe’s quest for greater Japanese defense emancipation is anything but trivial or symbolic.

This pivotal decision by the Japanese government to follow a new interpretation of Article 9 of the constitution, which prohibits the formation of an army and outlaws the use of force as a measure to resolve international conflicts, enabled Japan to extend the notion of self-defense to allies under attack and broaden its regional military outreach. With this highly controversial decision, later approved by the upper House of the Diet in September 2015, the Japanese government changed Japan’s security posture in a way that has the potential to impact regional peace and stability.

Why should we pay any attention to this development? First, Japan is currently embroiled in a rather bitter territorial conflict with China over a group of islands in the South China Sea. While China has already taken a number of highly contentious actions – including the creation or expansion of islands in order to gain control over strategic naval routes and extend China’s territorial sea – a bolder Japanese military posture may generate additional friction. Second, the US-Japan security agreements suggest that in case the situation in the region escalates there is a possibility for American involvement.

The Japanese motivation to revamp their established security posture emanates from worsening external circumstances. The rise of China, both militarily and economically, threatens to marginalize Japanese regional interest and erode Tokyo’s ability to influence the dynamics in East Asia. The fact that North Korea has defiantly pursued a military nuclear program and an advanced missile program generates considerable peril in Tokyo. And the fact that Pyongyang has also experimented with these capabilities vividly exemplifies the prospects of war and conflict across the Korean peninsula.

Lastly, since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 senior Japanese policymakers and strategic planners have openly begun referring to American decline as a major motivator in their pursuit of defense reforms. According to this line of reasoning, the US is neither capable nor willing to uphold its responsibilities in East Asia. Several leaders have also referred to the American reluctance to intervene on behalf of the Ukrainians after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 as an indication for the prospects of American support of Japan in case of a Sino-Japanese military conflict.

But if the Japanese had such compelling reasons to shift their security posture, why did they merely decided to reinterpret Article 9 of the constitution rather than discard it altogether and embark on an unrestricted arms race? The answer is that despite the eagerness of Abe’s government to address these negative external conditions, there are major domestic constraints that make such efforts extremely problematic to accomplish.

To begin with, the Japanese economy is currently unable to sustain a major effort in military procurement that can really compete with the Chinese economic and military resources. While Abe’s economic reforms, dubbed as Abenomics, were initially successful in generating growth and fiscal stability, they yielded mixed and disappointing results later on. Consequently, it became impossible to convince the Japanese public that the Japanese economy is capable of supporting Abe’s vision of Japan’s security posture.

Additionally, and very much related to the economic features of the country, Japan has lost its technological edge in favor of the Chinese. While Japanese companies were traditionally situated in the frontline of innovation, decades of economic and technological stagnation enabled China to pursue massive investments, acquisition of foreign companies and also cyber espionage to gain access to the most advanced military technology today.

Other domestic hurdles that prevented Abe from fully pursuing his defense reforms included the general public’s notion of pacifism or antimilitarism. This war or military-averse mindset resulted from the traumatic experiences of the Second World War and especially the physical destruction and the emotional duress that followed the bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The American occupation, furthermore, successfully uprooted the fascist and militaristic ideologies and institutions through peaceful education and the introduction of democracy.

During his first term as Prime Minister, between 2006 and 2007, Abe attempted to reprogram the Japanese psyche and inject more patriotic or nationalistic content into the educational system to counter the more pacific sentiments. As for the institutional settings, Abe established a National Security Council and formed an advisory committee asked to review the legal basis for revising Article 9 of the constitution given the changes in Japan’s strategic environment. While education was a long-term investment, the advisory panel provided Abe with the legal justification to reinterpret Article 9 and move towards collective self-defense. Unfortunately for him, he was forced to resign due to his failure to address Japan’s poor economic conditions.

As Abe returned to power in 2012, he essentially continued to pursue his efforts to reboot the domestic discourse and institutional setting with regards to Japan’s security posture. Convinced that external circumstances had only worsened, he resumed the work of the advisory committee and pushed implemented reforms in the education system. Yet unsupportive public opinion continued to limit his ability to fully abrogate the constraints on Japan’s use of military force. His major coalition partner, the Buddhist-based Komeito, supported his legislation during the Diet votes, yet they curbed the scope of the reforms and imposed a more incremental approach to reforming Japan’s security policy.

External developments such as North Korea’s most recent nuclear test will undoubtedly force Japan to change its approach to national defense and revamp its security posture. Yet the domestic opposition to such sweeping reforms will clearly make the process laborious. It is unclear how much longer Abe can survive in office given Japan’s economic slowdown, and how much political capital can he muster in order to complete his plans. Continued reforms in Japan’s security policy will, however, change East Asia as we know it. We need to pay closer attention to Tokyo’s policies alongside the monitoring of China’s or North Korea’s behavior in the region.

Ilai Z. Saltzman is a Schusterman visiting assistant professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, in Claremont, California. He is the author of “Growing Pains: Neoclassical Realism and Japan’s Security Policy Emancipation”, Contemporary Security Policy, Vol.36, No.3, 2015, pp.498–527. Access here.