Resentful Reliance: Why Myanmar and North Korea pursue different strategies to limit Chinese influence

In a recent article in Contemporary Security Policy, Jonathan T. Chow and Leif-Eric Easley explain why, despite comparable international pariah status and heavy dependence on China, Myanmar sought diplomatic diversification through reform and opening while North Korea doubled down on pariahdom by further developing nuclear weapons and missiles.

Myanmar and North Korea were long known as Asia’s “pariah states,” internationally sanctioned and ostracized for human rights violations, authoritarian repression and, in the case of North Korea, persistent efforts to develop nuclear weapons. In 2011, however, Myanmar’s repressive ruling junta surprised many observers by making a strategic decision to reform and open, stepping aside from power and ushering in a quasi-civilian government. Meanwhile, North Korea has pressed ahead with its nuclear weapons program, hardening its pariah status.

With relatively few international partners willing to cooperate with them, Myanmar and North Korea relied heavily on China for trade, investment, diplomatic support, and military assistance. However, citizens in both countries objected to China’s growing economic and political influence. In Myanmar, concerns centered on China’s ties to ethnic armed groups fighting against the central government and the environmental and social effects of Chinese-led infrastructure projects like the Myitsone Dam. Consequently, Myanmar used liberalizing reforms to signal its willingness to adhere to international norms and attract new diplomatic partners.

North Korea relies even more heavily on China than Myanmar did, and resents Beijing’s willingness to endorse United Nations sanctions regarding its nuclear weapons and missile programs. Yet, North Korea eschewed reform and opening and instead doubled down on its pariah status by racing to advance its nuclear and missile programs before pursuing diplomatic engagement. Our research identifies three factors behind Myanmar and North Korea’s different approaches to mitigating pariahdom and reliance on China.

Not All Authoritarians are Alike

First, North Korea and junta-era Myanmar differed in how well their leaders could protect themselves from retaliation after giving up control. Myanmar’s military junta could allow liberalizing reforms and relinquish day-to-day governing responsibilities while retaining its arms and the ability to usurp power. Myanmar’s new constitution grants the military broad autonomy from the civilian government and sweeping emergency powers, as well as immunity from prosecution for actions committed under the junta.

In contrast, North Korea’s ruling Kim family exercises control through a pervasive political ideology centered on “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-un. The leader employs brutal repression and the dispensing of luxury items and social privileges to co-opt North Korean elites. There is little room for the Kims to pursue liberalization if reforms would undermine the regime’s legitimizing mythology, reduce the Kims’ monopoly on favors, and allow the emergence of rival factions that might seek to replace the regime.

Reducing Risks of Partnership with a Pariah State

Second, Myanmar and North Korea differed in their ability to credibly signal to potential diplomatic partners that liberalizing reforms are genuine and not merely tactical. Such signals are important in mitigating the reputational risks that new partners might incur in engaging a pariah state.    

In Myanmar, Nobel Peace Laureate, long-time political prisoner and pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi served as a credible signaler of the junta’s reformist intentions. Before her image was tarnished by Myanmar’s human rights violations during her current tenure in government under a power-sharing arrangement with the military, Aung San Suu Kyi’s endorsement of the junta’s reforms was vital to persuading Washington to reduce sanctions. Her endorsement reduced the political risks that US leaders faced in pursuing engagement with a pariah state. Myanmar’s military leaders understood Aung San Suu Kyi’s crucial signaling role, giving them confidence that their reforms would yield a positive response from Washington.

North Korea, by contrast, lacks credible signalers. The regime so thoroughly suppresses political opposition that virtually none exists. Defectors typically keep a low profile to avoid retaliation against their families still living in North Korea, while those who are vocal tend to be very critical of the regime. This would make it more difficult for North Korea to demonstrate to other countries that any political reforms it adopts are genuine. Meanwhile, Pyongyang’s propaganda maintains that its efforts at engagement are not recognized by the international community.

Weighing the Security Implications of Engagement

Third, Myanmar and North Korea differ in how diplomatic engagement with new partners relates to their security. Myanmar’s leaders perceived their chief security threat to emanate from the numerous ethnic armed groups around the country. Before pursuing reforms, the junta established a series of ceasefires with the majority of these groups, allowing it to concentrate force on the remaining holdouts. By the time reforms were underway, diplomatic engagement did not entail a significant security risk to Myanmar’s ruling regime.

On the other hand, North Korea faces a dilemma wherein diplomatic diversification requires putting its claimed nuclear deterrent on the negotiating table. The Kim regime has long pursued nuclear weapons to protect against invasion and overthrow. While such capabilities somewhat reduce Pyongyang’s reliance on Beijing in terms of security, they are a major source of North Korea’s pariah status and hence increase economic dependence on China. Potential economic partners like the United States, South Korea and Japan demand that North Korea take steps toward denuclearization to earn sanctions relief, but the Kim regime believes that doing so would put its security at risk. Hence, unlike Myanmar, North Korea is caught between its security priorities and its desire to reduce reliance on China.

Escaping the Pariahdom Trap    

Our research demonstrates that overreliance on another country is not sufficient to trigger reform in pariah states. Regime type, the presence of credible signalers, and the relationship between security and diplomatic diversification all shape the costs and incentives that pariah state regimes face in determining whether or not to liberalize and open up.

Pariah states want to pursue reforms from a position of strength, whether that means ensuring protections for regime leaders after they step down, creating mechanisms to seize back power, or building a nuclear deterrent. Myanmar was able to attain a position from which to launch reforms and begin to reduce reliance on China. For the Kim regime, however, the price of shedding pariah status and attracting new diplomatic partners appears too high to risk. Hence, for the foreseeable future, North Korea will continue to depend heavily on China.

Jonathan T. Chow is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Wheaton College, Massachusetts, USA; Leif-Eric Easley is an Associate Professor in the Division of International Studies at Ewha University in Seoul, Korea. They recently published “Renegotiating pariah state partnerships: Why Myanmar and North Korea respond differently to Chinese influence,” Contemporary Security Policy, 40:4, 502-525, available here

Cyber-noir: Popular cultural influences on cybersecurity experts

In a recent article in Contemporary Security Policy, James Shires draws on film noir to discuss portrayals of cyber in popular culture.

In his testimony to the House of Representatives sub-committee on cybersecurity in 2013, Kevin Mandia, a cybersecurity CEO and former U.S. government official, emphasized that “cyber remains the one area where if there is a dead body on the ground, there is no police you call who will run to you and do the forensics and all that”. This was of course a metaphor, as there was no literal dead body in the Chinese cyber-espionage cases his company were known for. Nonetheless, he portrayed his role exactly like the start of a film noir: an absent police presence, a violent act and a dead body, and a self-reliant private investigator. Was this just a figure of speech? Or is there something else going on–something more fundamental to cybersecurity itself? 

A foundational problem in cybersecurity is drawing a clear dividing line between legitimate and malicious activity. This is difficult because cybersecurity is an environment swamped with data, where identical tools and tactics are used for different ends, and where social and economic structures linking offensive and defensive action compound technical similarities. These obstacles to distinguishing between legitimate and malicious cyber activity are well recognized by both practitioners and scholars.

In a recent article for Contemporary Security Policy, I highlight another factor that is rarely discussed but no less important: popular cultural influences on cybersecurity experts. Cybersecurity expert practices are infused with visual and textual influences from broader discourses of noir in popular culture, including dystopian science fiction, fantasy, and cyber-punk: a phenomenon I call “cyber-noir”. These influences produce cybersecurity identities that are liminal and transgressive, moving fluidly between legitimate and malicious activity. To paraphrase a neat description of film noir leads, cybersecurity experts see themselves as “seeming black and then seeming white, and being both all along”.

In the article, I examine two forms of popular cultural influences on expert practices: visual styles and naming conventions. I suggest that these influences create a morally ambiguous expert identity, which in turn perpetuates practices that blur the legitimate/malicious boundary.

First, due to its relative novelty and digital basis, many concepts and objects in cybersecurity have no obvious visual association. This gap means that, as Hall, Heath, and Coles-Kemp suggest, many techniques of cybersecurity visualization deserve further critical scrutiny. Through code images signifying illegibility and technical sophistication, and pseudo-geographic “attack maps” emphasizing constant threat, cybersecurity is portrayed as a dark and uncertain world where simulation slips easily into reality and reality into simulation. A range of threatening identities using images of noir characters, various coloured hats, and hooded hackers add to this atmosphere. These images and visual styles use noir aesthetics and palettes to convey transgression, danger and moral ambiguity. Although light and dark shades are classically associated with good and evil, in cybersecurity–as in noir–both “good” and “bad” entities occupy the same place in the visual spectrum.

Second, naming conventions are infused with popular culture, through direct references and quotations and in their style, sound and visual aspect.  Many company names and analysis tools in cybersecurity evoke a popular culture crossover between noir, science fiction, fantasy and cyber punk. Vulnerabilities receive names that could be straight from dystopian fiction, like “Heartbleed,” “Spectre,” “Meltdown,” and “Rowhammer”, while others highlight a darker aesthetic, such as “Black Lambert” and “Eternal Blue”. Although these are clearly strategic decisions, they also shape the identity of the individuals who work in these organizations and the organizations themselves. Consequently, names with popular cultural influences and associations not only enliven the working day for cybersecurity experts, but constitute the moral orientation of their world.

In 2017, British youth Marcus Hutchins became well-known among cybersecurity experts, following his portrayal as the person who singlehandedly stopped the devastating WannaCry virus that affected the UK’s National Health Service. However, Hutchins’ fame enabled other cybersecurity experts and U.S. law enforcement to follow a trail of domain names, malware names, and handles on hacker forums, including “ghosthosting,” “hackblack,” “blackshades,” and “blackhole,” to the creation of an illegal banking virus named Kronos. Hutchins was arrested months after his public appearance and sentenced to time served in July 2019 for his role in distributing this virus. Hutchins’ case is an extreme example of the relationship between noir aesthetics and transgressive practices. As his story illustrates starkly, many cybersecurity expert identities are constituted in such a way that practices like hacking back, undercover intelligence collection and participation in “grey” or “black” hacking forums seem to be a normal, even necessary, set of activities.

The article concludes that the fragile distinction between legitimate and malicious activity in cybersecurity expert discourses is not merely a question of technological similarities, exacerbated by particular economic and institutional structures. Instead, experts themselves perpetuate uncertainty over what is legitimate and malicious in cybersecurity. Their adoption of popular culture adds to the explicit obstacles confronting cybersecurity experts, suggesting that the task of separating legitimate and malicious is much more challenging than commonly thought. Consequently, the deepest difficulty in maintaining the legitimate/malicious binary–and therefore constructing a stable foundation for cybersecurity itself–is not the range of technological, social, and economic pressures explicitly recognized by cybersecurity experts, but their implicit embrace of cyber-noir.

James Shires is an Assistant Professor at the Institute for Security and Global Affairs, University of Leiden. He is the author of “Cyber-noir: Cybersecurity and popular culture”, Contemporary Security Policy, Advance Online Publication,  available here.

Call for the 2021 Special Issue

CSP CoverContemporary Security Policy is seeking proposals for a special issue to be published in 2021 (volume 42). The special issue should address a topic within the aims and scope of the journal. CSP has an impact factor of 1.574, which ranks the journal #33 out of 91 in the category International Relations.

One of the oldest peer reviewed journals in international conflict and security, CSP promotes theoretically-based research on policy problems of armed conflict, intervention and conflict resolution. Since it first appeared in 1980, CSP has established its unique place as a meeting ground for research at the nexus of theory and policy. Major fields of concern include:

  • War and armed conflict
  • Peacekeeping
  • Conflict resolution
  • Arms control and disarmament
  • Defense policy
  • Strategic culture
  • International institutions

CSP is committed to a broad range of intellectual perspectives. Articles promote new analytical approaches, iconoclastic interpretations and previously overlooked perspectives. Its pages encourage novel contributions and outlooks, not particular methodologies or policy goals. Its geographical scope is worldwide and includes security challenges in Europe, Africa, the Middle-East and Asia. Authors are encouraged to examine established priorities in innovative ways and to apply traditional methods to new problems.

Special Issue Information

Special issue proposals should contain (in one PDF document):

  • A short discussion of the rationale and contribution of the special issue (3 pages max). Please also state why the topic falls within the aims and scope of the journal and why the proposal would be of interest to a large audience.
  • Contact details, institutional affiliation, one paragraph biography of the special issue co-editors, and three recent publications of each of the co-editors. Feel free to include a link to the personal website of the co-editors. Do not submit full CVs.
  • A list of confirmed articles and authors. Please include for each article (a) the title; (b) 150 word abstract; (c) a very short statement how the article contributes to the special issue and why it needs to be included; (d) a one paragraph author biography; and (e) three recent publications of the author(s).
  • The current state of the special issue. Please describe the background (e.g. previous workshops and conferences) and the timeframe towards the submission deadline.

The special issue will consist of a substantive introduction and 6-7 articles. The introduction should stand on itself. It should serve as a state-of-the-art article and be a reference point for all the other articles in the special issue. It is recommended that special issue proposals include 9-10 articles. All articles will be sent by the journal for peer-review on an individual basis. It is unlikely that all articles will eventually make the cut.

Most articles in CSP are around 8,000-9,000 words (including notes and references). However, manuscripts up to 11,000 words are accepted, for example when they include multiple case studies or use mixed methods. Total word limits will be discussed in case of acceptance.

Please submit your application (one PDF file) to csp@nullmaastrichtuniversity.nl. The deadline for the special issue proposal is 15 November 2019. The decision will be announced soon afterwards. The decision by the editor is final. All articles, including the introduction, will have to be submitted by 15 March 2020.

The Afghanistan model for Somali peace negotiations

Mohamed Haji Ingiriis makes a case for peace talks with Al-Shabaab in Somalia on the model of the ongoing negotiations with the Taliban. This blog post builds on an earlier article published in Contemporary Security Policy.

The ongoing talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan held in Doha and Moscow have generated some enthusiasm in Somalia, as many Somalis demand similar talks with Harakaat Al-Shabaab Al-Mujaahiduun (Al-Shabaab).

Al-Shabaab, Somalia’s Taliban, has evidently heard of the growing demands from the Somali public for United States to have direct negotiations with the insurgent movement, like the regime in Kabul. Thus far, nonetheless, there is no statement from the insurgency movement. Al-Shabaab’s silence can be interpreted both as an acceptance or a rejection of any talks. 

For many years, Al-Shabaab has insisted on not talking to the Western-backed ‘puppet’ regimes in Mogadishu. Yet privately some elements within the Al-Shabaab leadership contacted and told the current president of the regime in Mogadishu that they would be ready to talk to him.

Indeed, Al-Shabaab negotiated successfully in the past with some African governments like South Africa in 2010 for safety and security issues around the World Cup (see Stig Jarle Hansen’s, Al-Shabaab in Somalia: The History and Ideology of a Militant Islamist Group, 2013). This is an indication that Al-Shabaab is open to negotiations, apparently when that benefit their politics.

The Legitimacy and Strategy

The strategy of Al-Shabaab is to gain a bigger bargain from the United States or other international community involving Somalia. For the calculative Al-Shabaab leadership, talking to the big powers is much more beneficial than talking to a dysfunctional failed state in Somalia.

In many ways, Al-Shabaab is similar to the Taliban, which has long refused to sit and negotiate with the regime in Kabul but accepted only negotiating with the United States, because – like Al-Shabaab leadership – the Taliban leadership see the Western-backed Afghan entity as a ‘puppet regime’.

Negotiations for talks with insurgency groups like Al-Shabaab or Taliban start with a tit-for-tat questions of legitimacy: who should talk to who, what, when and why. But the end goal is a political settlement to create peace among war-torn societies like Somalia and Afghanistan.

If one can draw a lesson from the Taliban manoeuvres, Al-Shabaab will at last come to the table with the regime in Mogadishu. In the third round of the negotiations between the regime in Kabul and the Taliban, the Afghan leadership came to the table, not as an official state government, but more or less as an observer entity.

A New American Approach?

In Somalia, the United States can certainly play the role of Russia is currently playing in Afghanistan. Historically, Washington has a history of violent engagement with Somalia in the 1990s, not much less than the Moscow’s violent engagement with Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The United States can now change the course by taking another route. It needs to engage with all Somali stakeholders including Al-Shabaab, regardless of their political or religious position. In this way, the United States can change the bad image held by many Somalis that Washington works against Somali interests both past and present times.

Today, there are many and multiple (internal and external) conflicts in Somalia, but the main contemporary critical conflict is the one between Al-Shabaab and the international community forces in Somalia. The regime in Mogadishu acts in this war as a rubber stamp for the United States to legitimise its operations in the form of drone attacks on the Al-Shabaab areas in southern Somalia.

The African Union Forces, funded by the Western countries, particularly the European Union, are seen by most Somalis as a mercenary forces for the United States. The AMISOM forces are doing a good job for the United States to protect Al-Shabaab from the corrupt regime in Mogadishu.

By sending drones from the air to Al-Shabaab, the United States continues to frustrate the capacity and capability of Al-Shabaab to conduct and carry out regular attacks outside Mogadishu, but Washington will hardly eliminate the capacity of Al-Shabaab to conduct usual attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere in East and Horn of Africa region.

Yet, during the course of my fieldwork research in Somalia over the last four years, many Somali elders and intellectuals in the Somali capital city of Mogadishu and elsewhere in southern Somalia would regularly express concern about the United States’s aggressive and uncompromising approach at Al-Shabaab, while negotiating with Taliban on the other hand.

“Why is the United States not positively engage with Al-Shabaab? Why is the United States constantly conducting airstrike against Al-Shabaab in Somalia, but not against the Taliban in Afghanistan?” These were some of the questions posed by local Somalis on the streets or sitting in Somalia cafes.

Recent research into the Taliban in Afghanistan revealed similarly that the Taliban is not that uniquely cruel and that compared to other 20th-century ideologies such as socialism and communism, they have killed less people and rarely been charged with genocide. This can also be applied to Al-Shabaab.

At a time Somalia celebrates more than three decades of an absence of functional governance in southern Somalia, there is no better time to directly talk to armed insurgency like Al-Shabaab posing threat to the external attempts to impose a type of suitable entity for Mogadishu.

Mohamed Haji Ingiriis is pursuing a doctoral degree at the Faculty of History, University of Oxford, the UK. He published “Building peace from the margins in Somalia: The case for political settlement with Al-Shabaab”, Contemporary Security Policy, 39(4), 2018, 512-536, available here.

Why Australia remains a close ally despite Donald Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ban Treaty and the Politics of Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot 2019-02-03 at 20.14.01

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

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

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

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

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

THAAD and Nuclear Deterrence on the Korean Peninsula

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How should we use cyber weapons?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The place of weapons in intrastate peace processes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First SSCI Impact Factor

Thrilled to announce that Contemporary Security Policy is now included in the Social Science Citation Index. Our first impact factor = 1.574, which ranks the journal #33 out of 91 in the category International Relations.

Hylke Dijktra, Editor of CSP, notes that “As we are publishing our 40th volume in 2019, this is a major recognition of four decades of scholarly work. I would like to thank all authors, reviewers and readers for the contributions they have made to the journal. This is a testament to their work.”

On this occasion with have made the most cited articles of 2016 and 2017 (those contributing to this year’s Impact Factor) available via Free Access:

#1: Wolfgang Wagner and Rosanne Anholt (2016) Resilience as the EU Global Strategy’s new leitmotif: pragmatic, problematic or promising?

#2: Maria Mälksoo (2016) From the ESS to the EU Global Strategy: external policy, internal purpose

#3: Nathalie Tocci (2016) The making of the EU Global Strategy

#4: Trine Flockhart (2016) The coming multi-order world

#5: Sven Biscop (2016) All or nothing? The EU Global Strategy and defence policy after the Brexit

#6: Mai’a Davis Cross (2016) The EU Global Strategy and diplomacy

#7: Magnus Lundgren (2016) Mediation in Syria: initiatives, strategies, and obstacles, 2011-2016

#8: Jeffrey Michaels and Heather Williams (2017) The nuclear education of Donald J. Trump

#9: Michael Carl Haas and Sophie-Charlotte Fischer (2017) The evolution of targeted killing practices: Autonomous weapons, future conflict, and the international order

#10: Florian Böller and Sebastian Werle (2016) Fencing the bear? Explaining US foreign policy towards Russian interventions

#11: Malte Brosig (2017) Rentier peacekeeping in neo-patrimonial systems: The examples of Burundi and Kenya

#12: Nadine Ansorg (2017) Security sector reform in Africa: Donor approaches versus local needs