How should we use cyber weapons?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

War as violent politics: A proposed framework for irregular and non-traditional strategies

size0David H. Ucko and Thomas A. Marks propose, in their new article, a theoretical framework that places military tasks in their proper supporting relation vis-à-vis the political and which identifies and explores the interaction of military tasks with other, non-military lines of effort.

Despite its efforts to conceptualize present challenges through concepts such as “hybrid war” and “the gray zone,” the United States remains overly reliant on the strategic utility of military force and has struggled to translate such martial abilities into political progress. Ironically, these shortcomings were also found in abundance in the U.S. effort to counter insurgency. At heart lies an understanding of war replete with theoretical barriers and unfounded presumptions, constituting an up-stream source of analytical friction with real implications for how strategy is conceived and implemented.

The foundational premise of our study of war should emphasize its political nature: war is not just political violence, but more accurately, violent politics and as such a subset of contentious politics. This placement of politics as the central engine of action, both violent and non-violent, is in line with the manner in which the American Revolution was waged by the Patriots but also Mao Tse-tung’s approach to strategy, as well as that of the Vietnamese.

Strikingly, a similarly supporting (rather than supported) function of military force is found in the so-called Gerasimov Doctrine. Though the Gerasimov Doctrine is neither doctrine nor the intellectual creation only of General Valery Vasilyevich Gerasimov, the former Russian chief of general staff, it does provide the main coherent theorization of the shadowy, gradualist approach used by Putin in the Near Abroad—in Ukraine, Georgia, Estonia, and elsewhere. In contrast, despite the West’s tireless invocation of Clausewitz, its discourse and conduct of war fall short of treating it as “a continuation of politics by other means.”

To encourage the necessary type of thinking about war, we propose a theoretical framework that places military tasks in their proper supporting relation vis-à-vis the political and which identifies and explores its interaction with other, non-military lines of effort. Such a framework can be constructed by interrogating the irregular conflicts of the past to derive a guide, or blueprint, for analysis and action.

“People’s war,” whether of the variety utilized by the American Patriots or by the Chinese and Vietnamese, all in their respective revolutions, has left a substantial body of material that has been used to operationalize a truly political strategy of warfighting. As the Chinese noted at the time in their communications with Che Guevara, the revolutionary’s construction of a new world is best achieved by a symbiosis of “kinetic” and “nonkinetic” approaches, something Che’s foco theory fatefully failed to grasp, relying instead on the use of violence to inspire spontaneous mass mobilization (and leading to Che’s death in Bolivia in 1967).

As an insurgent, Mao chastised those of “the purely military viewpoint,” those who “think the task of the Red Army … is merely to fight. They do not understand that the Chinese Red Army is an armed body for carrying out the political tasks of the revolution … Without these objectives, fighting loses its meaning and the Red Army loses the reason for its existence.”

What unites Mao’s “non-state” approach to strategy with Russia’s, or China’s, “state-based” version of the same is the blending of disparate lines of effort into a coherent whole—a political center that other efforts, to include the use of force, support. To mobilize people and resources politically, find the issues to which they will rally. Simultaneously, win over domestic allies who will back the cause on tactical issues even if they hesitate to do so strategically. Use violence only as appropriate to the situation to enable these two fundamentally political activities. Use non-violence, such as subversion, propaganda, offers of negotiations, or inducements, to coerce by other means than force; this is what Kennan meant by “political warfare.” And internationalize the struggle, making it difficult to contain or terminate within national borders.

The approach presented here offers an intellectual blueprint for the necessary type of analysis. Rather than front-load the analytical process with answers, it begins with five questions.

  1. What is the threat doing politically?
  2. How is it exploiting domestic alliances to better reach its objective?
  3. How is violence used in support of its political project?
  4. How is non-violence used?
  5. What is the role of internationalization in the struggle?

These questions, if used for careful interrogation of threat strategy, correct many of the cognitive shortcomings of present-day analysis and policy. Rather than detach military and security affairs from their political purpose, they force close consideration of their intimate relation. Rather than bifurcate artificially state and non-state uses of force, they anticipate a blending of styles and of modes of violence to achieve a political effect. Rather than let the use of violence, or of terrorism, eclipse the broader strategy at play, they compel a comprehensive analysis of wide-ranging lines of effort and their interaction. It is through careful engagement with these questions, and the construction of an effective counter-strategy, that we do better in the challenge at hand.

The approach serves to map both irregular strategy and operational art, whether violent or non-violent, by either state or non-state actors. Though the framework does not seek to comment specifically on traditional warfare, its treatment of irregular or non-traditional warfare informs, through its emphasis on politics and legitimacy, nearly all expressions of physical coercion. In effect, the manner of analyzing violence presented in this article opens a door to sorely needed theoretical insights into the nature of contention across the standard spectrums and dichotomies. By so doing, it also guides the construction of an effective response to the ambiguous threats of the 21st century.

David H. Ucko is an Associate Professor at the College of International Security Affairs (CISA) of the National Defense University (NDU). Thomas A. Marks is Distinguished Professor and the MG Edward Lansdale Chair of Irregular Warfighting Strategy at the College of International Security Affairs (CISA) of the National Defense University (NDU). They are authors of “Violence in context: Mapping the strategies and operational art of irregular warfare”, Contemporary Security Policy, 39(2), pp. 206-233. It is available here.

Alliance Entrapment and the Foreign Policy of Donald Trump

lanoszkaIn a new article in Contemporary Security Policy, Alexander Lanoszka provides a new conceptual framework to study how allies can entrap the United States in their conflicts. He argues that the Trump administration is actually attuned to those entrapment risks.

When Donald J. Trump became U.S. President in January 2017, many observers feared that he would abandon U.S. deterrence and defense measures in Europe in favor of rapprochement with Russia. After all, during his campaign he strongly criticized fellow members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as having suckered the United States into shouldering their defense burdens and even bearing the risk of their foreign policies. Yet almost one year into office the Trump administration has seen Montenegro join NATO, signaled strong support to Poland, contemplated selling lethal arms to Ukraine, and even approved of Georgia’s stance in its territorial disputes with Russia.

Foreign policy experts might be forgiven for thinking that Trump plays fast and loose with the so-called alliance dilemma. This alliance dilemma arises when a defender calibrates its security commitments to its ally. If the ally is confident that the defender will rescue it, then that ally might take undesirable risks. The defender thus worries of entrapment—that is, of being dragged into unwanted wars. However, if that ally doubts that it can truly rely on its defender in a future crisis, then it fears abandonment. Whereas Trump generated abandonment fears as presidential candidate, his actions as president might be seen as being blind to entrapment risks.

Are they really so blind, though? In a new Contemporary Security Policy article, I argue that international relations scholars have postulated different accounts of what shapes entrapment risks, often advancing theoretically incomplete arguments and contradictory policy prescriptions when taken together. Moreover, scholars often have overlooked how an underlying conflict makes both alliance formation and war more likely, making it empirically difficult to tease out an underlying entrapment risk from confounding factors. Leaders might even discount entrapment risks in pursuing their international strategies.

Four factors allegedly drive entrapment risks. One is institutional: by giving carte blanche to an ally, the defender emboldens that ally to adopt a risky foreign policy that raises the likelihood of water. Another is systemic: the number of major powers in the international system (i.e. system polarity) and whether attacking is easier than defending. If attack is easy and at least three great powers exist, then entrapment is likely because the defender will see the ally as necessary for maintaining a favorable balance of power. The third factor is reputation. An ally might believe that it will receive the support of a defender eager to preserve its commitments just for the sake of appearing reliable.

The final factor is transnational ideological. In the case of NATO, the alliance evolved from securing members against the Soviet threat to defending liberal democratic values. Accordingly, states that appeal to those values can maximize their likelihood in gaining support from that alliance, especially if they can also leverage elite networks.

Some critics argue that Georgia tailored its institutions to extract U.S. and NATO support in the years leading up to the August 2008 war with Russia. Indeed, those critics contend that Georgian leaders came to believe that alliance support was forthcoming even though their country failed in its application for the Membership Action Plan (MAP) earlier that same year. Their confidence made Georgian leaders more aggressive towards Russia than what was rationally justifiable, thereby creating the danger for that local conflict to spiral out of control.

These four accounts are compelling, but they do not square with other observations about international politics and even imply contradictory policy prescriptions. States can use institutional mechanisms—such as treaty precision and conditionality—to attenuate entrapment risks. Yet systemic drivers leave states powerless to formulate policies that would minimize entrapment risks. Moreover, defenders also wish to have reputations for not being reckless with their alliance commitments.

Arguments emphasizing transnational ideological networks need to explain why a pro-ally lobby should succeed in influencing the foreign policy of a defender over other competing interests. Indeed, in the Georgian case, such arguments need to explain why Georgia succeeded in eliciting support from the United States, Poland, and the Baltic countries but not from Western European allies. They also need to explain why Georgia still felt emboldened to behave aggressively towards Russia despite its rejected MAP application. Perhaps Georgian leaders like then President Mikheil Saakashvili were prone to misperceptions, hot-headedness, and other decision-making biases that would have raised the likelihood of war even in the absence of NATO.

What do these observations mean for comprehending Trump’s policy towards Europe and Russia? One take-away is that the Trump administration is not only attuned to entrapment risks, but even accepts them so as to place further pressure on Russia. By having allies become stronger vis-à-vis Russia, the Trump administration may believe that it is enhancing deterrence.

Indeed, many of the accounts of entrapment described above overlook a basic analytical issue—that is, conflict drives both alliance formation and the war. More conflict means a great acceptance of alliance entanglements and higher likelihood of war breaking out. The Trump administration may not want war with Russia, but it nevertheless believes that peace is best achieved through strength.

Alexander Lanoszka is lecturer in the Department of International Politics at City, University of London. His new Contemporary Security Policy article may be accessed here. For more on his research, please visit his website at www.alexlanoszka.com. You may also follow him on Twitter.

The Counterproductive Consequences of America’s Vicarious Wars

PIC 1In seeking to confront various security threats while simultaneously evading associated military and political costs, America has come to rely on the vicarious warfighting approaches of delegation, danger-proofing and darkness. Thomas Waldman shows in a new CSP journal article that the results are not promising. Security is not a commodity that can be bought on the cheap.

Following the failed military campaigns of the 2000s, America has not shied away from military intervention but has instead settled upon a low-level, limited, and persistent mode of fighting which I term ‘vicarious warfare.’

The concept covers a diverse range of military approaches that come together in different combinations in different contexts. It is broadly characterised by the outsourcing of military missions to proxy actors, the use of force in ways that minimizes the danger to American personnel and assets, and the conduct of covert and special operations in the shadows.

These methods are held together by decision-makers’ belief that wars can be fought economically, at arm’s length, and in discrete, limited and controllable ways, while at the same time evading various risks and restraints. In a recent article, I argue that the rationales underpinning the prosecution of vicarious warfare are deeply flawed. The attractions of such methods are clear, but the benefits are outweighed by longer-term harmful effects.

U.S.-led Operation Inherent Resolve has arguably been fought as an archetypal vicarious war and, in late 2017, has largely succeeded in removing Islamic State from its major strongholds in Iraq and Syria. Welcome news of course, but at what cost for the future?

In Syria, American-backed groups find themselves in confrontation with regional powers and new political realties make future ethnic strife between Kurds and Arabs likely. In Iraq, the way the operation to retake Mosul was conducted means “there is a real risk that this battle will form one more chapter in a seemingly endless cycle of devastating conflict.”

PIC 2But how can we account for the emergence of vicarious warfare? Looking back to the early 2000s, influential voices such as General Sir Rupert Smith suggested that we had entered into an age of “war amongst the people” – timeless irregular conflicts involving non-state actors and influenced by an ever-present mass media. Many American security elites thought it advisable to steer clear of such messy conflicts, especially following the bloody debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet, contrary to informed and sober analysis, politicians continued to believe that America was assailed by various menacing threats and risks – such as those posed by radical Jihadists and other rogue actors – that had to be confronted with force. But how to do this without being dragged into yet more debilitating irregular wars?

Evolving methods appeared to offer a way to essentially flip Smith’s logic and fight “war without the people” – to prevent serious security incidents, while keeping the necessary measures economically affordable, socially acceptable, legally permissible, and politically viable. Responsibility could be delegated to those designed to take considerable risks (special forces), those about whom the public is little concerned (private contractors, proxies), or those with the ability to sweep risk under the carpet (CIA).

This is the essence of vicarious warfare, and I suggest that it can usefully be understood as comprising three “Ds”: delegation, danger-proofing and darkness. Briefly considering each in turn, it is possible to see how vicarious methods lead to consistently and cumulatively counterproductive outcomes.

Delegation

The notion that proxy actors might serve as effective force multipliers while concealing the true costs of war appears persuasive. However, the empirical record is less positive and most rigorous studies profoundly sceptical. Rushed programs to build state security forces, sacrificing quality and sustainability for immediate effect, have resulted in “hollow” forces plagued by corruption, divisions and operational deficiencies. Support to irregular militias has been typified by short-term gains balanced by long-term harm: most groups have been associated with a lack of control, radicalization, and abuses. Similarly, incidents involving private contractors have generated baleful consequences leading scholars to conclude that the benefits of outsourcing “are either specious or fleeting, and its costs are massive and manifest.”

Danger-proofing

Driven by increased political interference in decisions that are usually the responsibility of commanders, America fights so as to minimize harm to American personnel. Yet, there are reasons to believe that excessive protection undermines operations and even increases the risk of casualties. Airpower and stand-off weapons such as armed drones and cruise missiles – extreme forms of danger-proofing, offering protection through distance – have rained death on America’s enemies. Yet, insurgent organizations “exhibit a biological reconstitution capacity” because the underlying causes of their regeneration remain unaddressed. The costs of unremitting drone warfare outweigh whatever tactical gains they deliver.

Darkness

Covert action, special forces, and rapidly emerging offensive cyber warfare capabilities seemingly allow elites to attain objectives while evading difficult political questions. Yet, such approaches have contributed to major “blowback” and led to embarrassing political crises. Special forces have provided support to local forces, enabling impressive battlefield victories. Yet, focusing on “kinetic” operations has distracted attention from addressing critical underlying issues. Attempts to remove terrorist leaders through “decapitation” strikes have failed to defeat targeted groups, and may have contributed to their longer term lethality.

Operation Iraqi FreedomThe three “Ds” are all adopted for their attraction as low-cost, tactically effective approaches to deal with pressing challenges. Superficially, these approaches are not entirely without merit. Rather, it is the way they have come to drive policy that leads to counterproductive outcomes. They distract decision-makers from addressing vital political dynamics, encourage militarised approaches which exacerbate complex problems, and drag America into unintended commitments.

Perhaps more concerning is the deeper self-harm being inflicted on the American polity. The normalization of the persistent use of military force, the expansion of under-scrutinized executive authority and, the rise of xenophobic populism are perhaps just indications of worse things to come.

The record of the Trump administration’s first year in office suggests the central dimensions of vicarious warfare look set to persist. Trump’s loosening of rules governing the use of force by commanders and the marginalization of the State Department may usher in an era of unprecedented militarization, while the costs borne by civilians – directly through bombings, raids, and abuses, or indirectly through protracted conflict and psychological trauma – cumulatively fosters discontent and continued resistance.

Thomas Waldman in lecturer in security studies at Macquarie University. He has published widely on war, military strategy and contemporary conflict. His Twitter handle is @tom_waldman and his work can be followed on Academia.com. He is author of “Vicarious Warfare: The Counterproductive Consequences of Contemporary American Military Practice”, available here.

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.

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.

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.