Options to Increase Arab Middle East Stability Through Economic Investment

Nathan Field is an Arabic speaker and a commentator on Middle East politics whose perspective differs from others in that it is based primarily on experience in the private sector in the Arab world, including two years as part of the management team on a U.S. one billion dollar engineering project in Saudi Arabia and five years building up and then selling a translation company called Industry Arabic.  Follow him on Twitter at @nathanrfield1 and read his other articles and expert interviews at Real World Arabic.


National Security Situation:  The unprecedented instability in the Arab Middle East consists of three major inter-related problems: the surge in disgruntled people attempting to migrate to the European Union (EU), the decades long but newly accelerating growing appeal of Islamic extremism, and the collapse of a once hopeful Arab Spring reform process.

Date Originally Written:  December 8, 2016.

Date Originally Published:  January 19, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the perspective of possible approaches to the Arab Middle East that might be taken by the incoming Trump administration.

Background:  The three aforementioned security issues are a logical symptom of the socio-economic weakness of the majority of Arab countries, with the exception of a few highly resource-endowed countries such as Qatar and the UAE that have relatively small populations.  In a ruthlessly competitive global economy, the economic pie is only large enough to provide status, purpose, and meaning to about 20% of the populations.  The other 80% of the population in countries like Egypt and Tunisia are not necessarily poor.  In fact, in many cases they may even have a university education.  But what this often means is that in practice, they are educated enough to know what is out there, yet also to sense that they have little chance of crossing into the 20%.  For this 80%, contrary to the views of many Washington D.C.-based foreign policy research organizations, elections offer little hope because they do not address the economic status quo.  This 80% is precisely the demographic that is at risk to embrace violent extremist ideologies and to seek to flee to the EU as economic migrants.

Significance:  Understanding the economic roots of the instability in the Arab Middle East is critical to formulating long-term solutions.  Traditional research into the instability in the Arab Middle East has minimized the role of economics.  In research, economics and politics are often compartmentalized and treated as two separate problems while in fact they are one and the same.

Many commentators on the Arab Middle East make the mistake of overlooking that democracy and universal human rights are at the very top of the Maslow Hierarchy of needs as matters of self-actualization and esteem.  Democracy and universal human rights can only come when there is enough of the far more important economic development so that a critical mass of the population can obtain purpose, meaning and basic status economically.  Only when that is achieved is it possible to obtain desirable democracy.

Option #1:  A significant new U.S. focus on promoting Lower Tech Entrepreneurship and Small Businesses, not Tech Startups.

Since 2011, the U.S. government has allowed the concept of entrepreneurship promotion to somehow come to exclusively mean Tech Startups.  The problem with Tech Startups is that by definition they seek to use technology to eliminate human labor.  Moreover, the types of people in countries like Egypt and Tunisia who are capable of being competitive in Tech Startups are generally from high socio-economic backgrounds.  Instead, the focus should be on promoting Lower-Tech and more labor intensive Small Businesses and Medium Businesses[1] in order provide opportunity to a greater percentage of the population.   

Risk:  The only risk is that the programs might not be effective.  Some funds may be wasted, but otherwise the consequences will be minimal on the basis that there was nothing to lose.

Gain:  If the programs succeed, they will create significant new jobs for those from the populations that need it most.  Yet even if they do not succeed 100%, they still send the message that there is hope and something to work for back home and may inspire economic migrants to return home. 

Option #2:  Increased emphasis on vocational education combined with targeted industrial development.

The dominant Arab Middle East education paradigm wrongly assumes a linear connection between the quantity of degree holders and new jobs thus economic growth has proven a disaster.  This education paradigm is only producing more disgruntled degree holders with higher expectations that are unlikely to be met.  As part of Option #2 the U.S. would strongly support the growth of vocational education combined with targeted industrial development[2].

The Philippines serves as a classic example of what is possible in targeted economic development.  The country went from having no presence in the call center industry in  1997 to being the global leader in 2012[3].  With greater vocational capabilities, Arab Middle Eastern countries will be in a better position to explore the development of new industrial activity and provide reasonable employment opportunities to the lower 80% of the population.  The Moroccan aviation industry serves as a Middle Eastern success story, showing how state-centric leadership plus strong vocation programs can lead to significant new economic status[4].   As a result of Morocco’s policy, over 50,000 very good jobs for Moroccan nationals were created.

Risk:  The biggest risk is that if Option #2 does not work then some money and effort will be wasted.

Gain:  The programs work.  Yet they still “gain” even if they do not work.  Spending new money to prop up some of these programs is still a huge gain, because it at least sends the message that there is something new in the works.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Field, N. (2016, May 19). Not Just Tech: Entrepreneurship in the Middle East. Retrieved January 10, 2017, from https://timep.org/commentary/not-just-tech-entrepreneurship-in-the-middle-east/

[2]  Field, N. (2016, July 11). Stop Sending So Many Young People to University. Retrieved January 10, 2017, from http://www.al-fanarmedia.org/2016/07/stop-sending-so-many-young-people-to-university/

[3]  Lee, D. (2015, February 1). The Philippines has become the call-center capital of the world. Retrieved January 10, 2017, from http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-philippines-economy-20150202-story.html

[4]  Larmandieu, V. (2015, February 12). Morocco’s aviation industry spreads its wings. Retrieved January 10, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/12/africa/morocco-aviation-industry-spreads-wings/

Syria Options: U.S. Grand Strategy

Mark Safranski is a Senior Analyst for Wikistrat, LLC.  His writing on strategy and national security have appeared in Small Wars Journal, Pragati, War on the Rocks  as well as in recent books like Warlords, inc., Blood Sacrifices:Violent Non-State Actors and Dark Magico-Religious Activities and The Clausewitz Roundtable.  He is the founder and publisher of zenpundit.com.


National Security Situation:  The Syrian Civil War.

Date Originally Written:  December 23, 2016.

Date Originally Published:  January 16, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  An analyst considering U.S.  national interest in terms of grand strategy.

Background:  Aleppo has fallen and with it the last shreds of credibility of President Obama’s policy on Syria.  None of Obama’s policy goals for Syria since the Arab Spring revolt were achieved.  In Syria, the Assad regime has crushed western-backed opposition fighters with direct Russian and Iranian military ground support; the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) still controls swaths of Syrian territory[1] and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally Turkey has conspired with Iran and Russia to exclude the U.S. and UN[2] from Syrian settlement talks.

Significance:  While Syria itself is of little strategic value to the U.S. beyond secondary implications for Israeli security, the utter failure of the Obama administration has brought U.S. diplomatic prestige to a nadir reminiscent of the Iranian hostage crisis or the fall of Saigon.  Worse, defeat in Syria occurred in a broader context of successful Russian aggression in Ukraine, uncontested Russian meddling in an U.S. presidential election, and perceptions of U.S. strategic concessions to Tehran in the Iran nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA[3]).  Should the next administration want to accomplish more than Obama, it is vital that they  1) address Syria within the context of increased Russian-U.S. competition and 2) seize the initiative in restoring the influence of U.S. leadership with substantive and symbolic policy changes in regard to Syria and Russia.

Option #1:  Salvage Syria primarily in terms of a comprehensive re-ordering of U.S.-Russian relations to reduce threats to international stability from inter- and intra- state conflict.  Henry Kissinger’s concept of “linkage[4]” should be revived as a guiding principle rather than treating all points of international conflict or cooperation with Moscow as unrelated and occupying separate boxes.  Russian misbehavior needs to be met with appropriate countermeasures.  If U.S.  diplomats are assaulted by Federal Security Service (FSB) thugs, Russian diplomats in the U.S. are restricted to their embassies.  If U.S.  elections are hacked, Russia’s large number of intelligence officers under diplomatic cover in the U.S. are promptly expelled.  If “little green men” appear in friendly states, the U.S. instigates tough banking, economic or security aid pressure on Moscow.  Likewise, instead of trading public insults, the U.S. under Option #1 should negotiate frankly over Russian concerns and be prepared to build on points of cooperation and make concessions on a reciprocal basis.  If the U.S. could strike deals with Brezhnev we can do so with Putin.

Risk:  The U.S. begins from a position of weakness in regional conflicts, having little direct leverage over events on the ground in Syria or eastern Ukraine, which is why U.S. policy must shift to focus on systemic and strategic levels.  U.S. bureaucratic and political stakeholders have simultaneously pursued incompatible goals (i.e. overthrow Assad, stop ISIS, keep Syria intact, support rebels, fight terrorism, non-intervention) and will strongly resist a genuine strategy that forces choices.  Demonstrations of political will may be required by the new administration to convince partners and adversaries now skeptical of U.S. resolve or capability.

Gain:  Russian-U.S. relations could eventually shift to a “new detente” that replaces a high level of friction and peripheral aggression to if not friendly, at least business-like engagement.  Regional conflicts and attendant humanitarian crises could be moderated or settled in a stable diplomatic framework.  Progress on issues of mutual security concern such as Islamist terrorism could be made.  Trust in U.S. leadership could be regained.

Option #2:  A second strategy would be to address Syria narrowly with the objective of a settlement that cuts U.S. losses and attempts to return to as much of the status quo ante as possible – a weak state governed by Assad with minimal ability to threaten neighbors, guarantees for minorities, no ISIS or Islamist terror group in control of territory, and a removal of foreign military forces.

Risk:  While preferential to the current situation, Option #2 could be perceived as a U.S. retreat due to dropping longstanding unrealistic policy goals (i.e. regime change, Syria becoming a liberal democracy) in return for real increases in regional security and stability.  Domestic opposition in the U.S. from neoconservative and liberal interventionists is apt to be fierce.  The effort may fail and Syria could see a large-scale military build-up of Russian and Iranian military forces, threatening Israel.

Gain:  A diplomatic end to the conflict in Syria would have multiple benefits, not least for Syrian civilians who bear the brunt of the costs of civil war.  Preventing permanent state failure in Syria would be a strategic win against the spread of ISIS and similar radical Islamist Sunni terror groups.  The flow of refugees to Europe would markedly decline and those abroad in states like Turkey or Jordan could begin to return to Syria.  Finally, Syria would not become a major military outpost for Russia or Iran.

Other Comments:  It is most important that the new administration not begin by leaping into any particular foreign policy problem, including Syria, but start with a grand strategic end of improving U.S. global position and capacity, which in turn increases U.S. ability to uphold a stable, rules-based, international order. 

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Euan McKirdy and Angela Dewan, “Reports: ISIS retakes ancient Syrian city of Palmyra”, CNN, December 12, 2016.  http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/12/middleeast/palmyra-syria-isis-russia/index.html

[2]  Ben Hubbard and David E. Sanger, “Russia, Iran and Turkey Meet for Syria Talks, Excluding U.S.” New York Times, December 20 2016.  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/20/world/middleeast/russia-iran-and-turkey-meet-for-syria-talks-excluding-us.html

[3]  United States Department of State, “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” January 17, 2016.  https://www.state.gov/e/eb/tfs/spi/iran/jcpoa/ 

[4] Makinda, S. M., “The Role of Linkage Diplomacy in US‐Soviet Relations,” December, 1987.  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8497.1987.tb00148.x/abstract

 

Syria Options: Refugee Preparation & Resettlement

Chelsea Daymon is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in the Department of Communication and is a Presidential Fellow in the Transcultural Conflict and Violence Initiative (TCV) at Georgia State University.  She is also the Executive Producer of The Loopcast, a weekly show that focuses on issues facing national security, international affairs, and information security.  She holds an M.A. in Near and Middle Eastern studies from University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), an honorary M.A. from Cambridge University (UK), and a B.A. in Oriental Studies from Cambridge University (UK).  She can be found on Twitter @cldaymon.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.  


National Security Situation:  The Syrian refugee crisis.

Date Originally Written:  December 18, 2016.

Date Originally Published:  January 12, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Author is an active security researcher and academic.

Background:  The Syrian Civil War has devastated millions of lives, families, and the infrastructure of the country.  The world has witnessed countless atrocities, death, destruction, and a refugee crisis of mammoth proportions.  As of December 4, 2016, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates over 4.8 million Syrians have sought refuge outside of the country[1].  When considering the horrendous reports coming out of Aleppo on December 13, 2016, deliberating on strategies for when peace returns to the country may seem ridiculous[2].  Yet, there will be a time when the conflict ends and some will want to return home. Those who arrive will find a country in complete devastation where, more than likely, their previous occupational skills will not be required until reconstruction is complete.

Significance:  Historically, civil wars coupled with insurgencies have created an unfavorable mix when considering resettlement.  Syria’s porous borders allow transnational actors, who are not members of the local populace, the ability to easily enter and leave while organizing and committing attacks, adding to already unstable conditions[3].  Additionally, individuals returning to a region recently involved in a bloody conflict will arrive with deep emotional scars in need of healing.  Finally, a country with a potential lack of options can likewise produce unrest and discontent in its population.  Syria will benefit in the long-run and stability in the region will improve if Syrian citizens and the international community form a reconstruction plan that breeds healing, stability, and security.

Option 1:  Education and training should be provided to refugees, promoting skill development in engineering, security, urban development, governance, healthcare (this should include not only physical health but mental health services to deal with traumatic stress), and education, which are all fields necessary to revitalize, sustain, heal, and cultivate a country’s future.  As UNICEF notes, “education has crucial linkages to a society’s social, economic and political spheres” not only for children but adults as well[4].  This education and training should be conducted in nations that offer first-class educational systems, providing quality teaching and imparting sound skill advancements to refugees.

Risk:  The risks of Option #1 are economic and uncertain.  Countries must allocate funds to enable such training, which could prove burdensome.  However, the international community could work together to facilitate this. On the other hand, the future of Syria could rest in the hands of the Assad regime, or an even worse dictator, meaning that the international community would be sending highly skilled individuals to an adversarial government, presenting both a security risk and a humanitarian conundrum.

Gain:  The gains would be multifaceted.  Firstly, there is the potential for a positive outcome for a country that has undergone complete devastation.  These skills would enable progress towards creating infrastructure, rebuilding the country, maintaining security, the promotion of individual well-being, as well as educating the next generation of Syrians.  In time, this would foster economic growth.

During the Cold War, Pakistani military personnel obtained training and education in the United States (U.S.), which encouraged favorable collaboration and views of the West during a pivotal time in a battle against Communism[5].  Similarly, providing education to Syrian refugees, particularly in Western countries, could advance positive sentiments and potential cooperation between a new Syrian government and Western nations.  These are crucial elements needed for U.S. and international interests, as well as security in a region which has proven unstable.

Option 2:  Provide greater opportunities for Syrian refugees to seek asylum in stable nations, especially the U.S.

Risk:  The risk of Option #2 is security-related as some fear a scenario whereby a Syrian refugee commits or facilitates an act of violence in the country in which they obtain asylum.  However, when considering the U.S. vetting process for refugees, including multiple interviews, biometric security checks by the intelligence community, medical checks, and cultural orientation, all of which take on average 24 months to undergo; the likelihood of security issues arising from refugees diminishes[6].  However, there is always the possibility of some risk, as with all national security decisions.

Gain:  The gains of Option #2 would be receiving individuals from a country which had a decent education system before the war, with a 95% literacy rate for 15-24-year-olds and compulsory education to the age of 15[7].   If granted asylum in the U.S., Syrian refugees would foster a continuity of diversity which breeds economic growth and is a foundation of American values.  Despite the controversy surrounding the issue, the Manhattan Institute found that both low-skilled and high-skilled immigrants added to increases in U.S. economic growth[8].  Finally, welcoming refugees into the U.S. could advance U.S. strategic interests with the European Union by providing a display of goodwill to countries already inundated with refugees themselves.  Furthermore, it could offer leverage with regional negotiators in regards to the future of Syria[9].

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None


Endnotes:

[1]  Syrian Emergency. (2016, December 4). Retrieved from http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php#_ga=1.176014178.178231959.1481466649

[2]  Shaheen, K. (2016, December 13). Children trapped in building under attack in Aleppo , doctor tells UN. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/13/red-cross-urgent-plea-to-save-civilians-aleppo-syria and Cumming-Bruce, N. & Barnard, A. (2016, December 13). ‘A complete meltdown of humanity’: Civilians die in fight for eastern Aleppo. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/13/world/middleeast/syria-aleppo-civilians.html

[3]  Staniland, P. (2005-06) Defeating Transnational Insurgencies: The best offense is a good fence. The Washington Quarterly. Winter, 29(1), pp.21-40.

[4]  UNICEF, Education and peacebuilding. (2012, August 2). Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/education/bege_65480.html

[5]  Moyar, M. (2016). Aid for Elites: Building Partner Nations and Ending Poverty Through Human Capital. Cambridge University Press.

[6]  Pope, A. (2015, November 20). Infographic: The screening process for refugee entry into the United States. The White House Blog. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/11/20/infographic-screening-process-refugee-entry-united-states and Altman, A. (2015, November 17). This is how the Syrian refugee screening process works. Time. Retrieved from http://time.com/4116619/syrian-refugees-screening-process/

[7]  Global Education Cluster (2015, March 16). Retrieved from http://educationcluster.net/syria-4-years/ and Education System Syria. Ep nuffic, The organization for Internationalization in Education. Retrieved from https://www.epnuffic.nl/en/publications/find-a-publication/education-system-syria.pdf

[8]  Furchtgott-Roth, D. (2014) Does immigration increase economic growth? Economic Policies for the 21st Century, No.2. Retriever from http://www.manhattan-institute.org/pdf/e21_02.pdf

[9]  Long, K. (2015, December 16). Why America could ― and should ― admit more Syrian refugees. The Century Foundation. Retrieved from https://tcf.org/content/report/why-america-could-and-should-admit-more-syrian-refugees/

Egyptian Syriana: A Gulf-Funded Russian Roulette

Murad A. Al-Asqalani is an open-source intelligence analyst based in Cairo, Egypt.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  Political opportunity for the current Egyptian administration in the war in Syria.

Date Originally Written:  December 11, 2016.

Date Originally Published:  January 9, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The article is written from the point of view of the As’Sissi administration (TAA) of Government of Egypt (GoE) towards the war in Syria.

Background:  In 1958, Egypt and Syria formed the first Arab alliance in the region.  Although the United Arab Republic was short-lived, and despite its demise in 1961, political and security relationships between the two countries have continued.  The armies of both countries launched a surprise attack against Israel in 1973 to reclaim the Sinai and Golan Heights, which were occupied after a pre-emptive war launched by Israel in 1967.  However, after the unilateral decision by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to make peace with Israel, Syrian President Hafiz Al-Assad pursued a policy of sustained agitation propaganda against the Sadat and the Mubarak administrations.  This policy was maintained by his son and successor, current Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, then it was followed by a policy of encouraging public opinion subversion through agent provocateurs peddling pro-Syria narratives in Egyptian state media, after the Egyptian uprising of 2011.  On several occasions, Egyptian Intelligence Community officials claimed that several Egyptian Islamist terrorists received support from Syrian and Iranian intelligence services to carry out attacks against Egyptian officials and interests.

Following years of political instability, former Army Field Marshal As’Sissi rose to the helm of power in Egypt, leading an administration that seeks to project ‘soft power’ in the near-abroad.  The war in Syria offers TAA an opportunity to redraw the map of regional alliances and to maneuver around several national security threats that currently have no viable solutions.  These threats include tracking battle-hardened Jihadis returning from Syria, a fragile national economy reliant on tourism, Suez Canal revenues to secure foreign currency, and Iranian aggression.

In the wake of the Egyptian atypical coup of 2013, the GoE turned to Gulf countries for economic aid packages, and turned to Putin’s Russia for military cooperation.  The GoE also strengthened its political and military cooperation with the French government, which openly opposes the Assad regime in Syria.  After the bombing of a Russian commercial airliner over the Sinai by operatives of the so-called Islamic State (IS), and after disagreements with Gulf countries regarding a final solution in Syria, as well as the war in Yemen, TAA supported two conflicting draft resolutions in the security council, and declared its support for a ‘Syrian national army’ (SNA).  TAA stated that SNA was best suited to stabilize war-torn Syria.  TAA envisions SNA as a replacement for the now-defunct and disgraced Syrian Arab Army (SAA) with the SNA being a melting pot to assimilate all ethnicities and all emergent armed groups in Syria after a process of national reconciliation.

Many observers translated this position as ‘support for Assad,’ which perhaps may prove to be wrong.  In other words, since the Government of Syria (GoS) has been undermined by Russian and Iranian meddling, the SAA is in disarray after huge losses coupled with nationwide defection and desertion, and since the social fabric of Syria as a nation-state was torn along ethnic and religious fault lines, TAA is not betting on the survival of Assad per se, but is rather trying to sell a model for nation building.

Significance:  TAA is interested in maintaining a secular GoS, improving security cooperation, maintaining a fragile alliance with Russia, and in engineering a political rapprochement with Iran.  It is also interested in protecting certain Egyptian economic interests, mainly tourism and Suez Canal revenues, as well as newly discovered, deepwater natural gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea.  Given these parameters, the options available to TAA are:

Option #1:  Support a ‘Syrian National Army’

Risk:  By declaring support to an SNA, TAA risks economic divestment by Saudi Arabia, the stigma of supporting Assad and SAA (both accused of committing war crimes), and the ethical predicament of siding with foreign troops and foreign religious militias – Russian special operations forces, Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hezbollah, Shiite mercenaries, etc – deployed against the Syrian people.

Gain:  By proposing the SNA narrative, TAA aims to save the failed model of a secular Arab republic in Syria, and to improve cooperation with its security services.  It offers the parties most invested in the conflict, namely Russia and Iran, an exit strategy to stop supporting Assad after the war ends.  In return, it expects a share in post-war reconstruction and military rebuilding contracts, wishes to strengthen its position with Russia, and hopes to use Iranian ambitions for regional hegemony to counter political and economic pressures from Saudi Arabia.  It is also interested in inclusion in any future plans for developing and operating natural gas pipelines, deepwater natural gas fields in the Mediterranean, as well as regional natural gas production and collection hubs.  Blocking access of Gulf countries to a Mediterranean port ensures that tankers will continue to sail through the Suez Canal to ship oil and liquified natural gas (LNG) to Europe.

Option #2:  Support the ‘Syrian Revolution’

Risk:  The ‘Syrian Revolution’ narrative, in which opposition forces fight to topple GoS, is no longer relevant after the dimensions of the proxy war in Syria were revealed.  By supporting this narrative, TAA will undermine itself, and delegitimize its rise to power.  It will upset Russia while siding with Gulf countries against Iran in an almost-lost proxy war.  TAA will also risk becoming a supporter of terrorism, after most of the so-called revolutionary factions in Syria have demonstrated to be mostly Sunni Islamist extremists.  It will risk impact to its economic interests, such as tourism and Suez Canal revenues, as well as investments in the energy sector.  It will risk direct involvement in the conflict, should Gulf countries decide to intervene militarily.  It should be noted that former President Muhammad Morsi’s reference to a possible Egyptian military intervention in Syria was one of the main triggers of the 2013 atypical coup against him, and his Qatar and Turkey-backed Muslim Brotherhood government.

Gain:  By supporting the ‘Syrian Revolution’ narrative, TAA stands to secure more Saudi and perhaps Qatari direct investments and petroleum aid packages.

Other Comments:  TAA’s regional calculus involves Israel, Turkey, and Qatar. Israel’s red line is supplying Hezbollah with advanced weapons, and it maintains a fruitful security cooperation with GoE tackling the IS insurgency in the Sinai.  Therefore, TAA limits Egyptian arms sales to GoS to light weapons and ammunition.  TAA is currently engaged in a media war against Qatar and Turkey for their pan Islamic aspirations, which TAA considers a threat to Egyptian sovereignty.

Recommendation:  None.

Endnotes:

None.

Syria Options: Russian Naval Activity in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea

Captain Robert N. Hein is a career Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy.  He previously commanded the USS Gettysburg (CG-64) and the USS Nitze (DDG-94).  He can be found on Twitter @the_sailor_dog.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.  


National Security Situation:  A resurgent Russia is operating extensively in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea in support of Syria, undermining U.S. efforts to protect the people of Aleppo, and U.S. efforts against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Date Originally Written:  December 9, 2016.

Date Originally Published:  January 5, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Bob Hein, a career Naval Officer, believes a resurgent Russia may be at a tipping point in its ability to continue operations on a global scale.  However, Russia’s current actions continue to affect world order.  His views in no way reflect those of the U.S. government, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Navy.  He also likes to play blackjack, smoke cigars, and drink scotch.

Background:  In a show of strategic nostalgia, and in an attempt to reassert itself on the global stage, Russia has stationed its fleet, to include the carrier Kuznetsov, in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.  The Kuznetsov is present under the auspices of supporting a faltering Syrian Regime, while thwarting U.S. efforts against both ISIS and U.S. support to anti-Assad forces.  Russia has turned the Eastern Mediterranean Sea into “a dangerous place[1].”

Significance:  If we are indeed in a return to great power competition, then a resurgent Russia operating off the coast of Syria, at best, undermines U.S. influence from the Eastern Mediterranean Sea through the Middle East, to include key maritime choke points such as the Suez Canal and the Strait of Gibraltar.  At worst Russia’s activities at sea provide an opportunity for a miscalculation that could lead to war.

Option #1:  The U.S. Navy provides a force to serve in the Mediterranean Sea as a credible deterrent to Russian expansionism.  Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the  U.S. maintained a credible deterrent force in the Mediterranean Sea.  In addition to large numbers of ground forces based in Germany, the U.S. Navy provided a near continuous Aircraft Carrier Strike Group (CSG) presence.  That presence deterred Soviet aggression through its ability to deny the Soviets their objectives, and if necessary, provide a level of punishment that would make Soviet expansionism futile.  This strategy resulted in an undeniable victory for the U.S. in the Cold War.

Risk:  The risk is medium for Option #1 as it is primarily resource driven, both in hardware and dollars.  The U.S. Navy of the Cold War consisted of almost 600 ships and one major threat.  In the decades since, more threats have emerged in addition to a resurgent Russia.  These emerging threats include a rising China, a nuclear North Korea, a volatile Iran, and violent extremist organizations that have swept across the Middle East and North Africa.  Placing a CSG in the Mediterranean Sea would require either moving ships away from other priority missions such as strikes on ISIS or an aggressive build rate of ships which could not be supported by either current industrial capacity or the current U.S. Navy budget.  There is also an increased risk of miscalculation.  Russia is not the Soviet Union and memories of the Soviet fall will continue to ferment for the foreseeable future.

Gain:  Medium.  If Option #1 is successfully undertaken, the results would be a reassurance of our allies globally, an affirmation of U.S. global power and influence, and the ability to influence events in Syria that fully support U.S. interest and intent.

Option #2:  Ignore the Russians.  Like a high school baseball all-star seeking out prior glory, the Russians are mortgaging their future to bring back the glory days.  The deployment of their carrier the Kuznetzov did little more than gain derision as it steamed trailing a thick black cloud across to the Mediterranean Sea[2].  The Kuznetzov ultimately did little more than demonstrate the ailing Russian fleet and the two aircraft crashes[3] did little to demonstrate Russian ability to project power from the sea.  Furthermore, Russia is draining its reserve fund to fund government operations to include its military expansionism.  Additionally, Russia has been bleeding economically due to Western sanctions and the low-cost of oil[4].  Once Russia’s reserve fund runs out their options are limited.  Russia can choose to either operate and stop modernization their military, or modernize their military and stop operating.  History has shown that Russia will attempt to keep operating and slow its rate of modernization and this will push maintenance costs up.  Russia’s last foray into deploying vessels on the cheap resulted in the loss of a ballistic missile submarine Kursk.

Risk:  High.  If the U.S. were to ignore the Russians and miscalculate their ability to operate in an austere environment then the U.S. runs the risk of demonstrating an inability to operate on the global stage.   U.S. inaction and miscalculation will solidify that Russia has the influence and ability they claim thus bolstering Russian credibility globally.  The political risk is high and the risk to the people of Syria is high.

Gain:  High.  Similar to holding on 17 in blackjack and waiting for the dealer to bust, the U.S. takes minimal risk while Russia busts.  The U.S., with minimal effort and minimal cost, watches while Russia overextends itself, wipes out its cash reserves, and struggles to maintain its ability to even minimally influence its neighbors.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  British warship docks in Israel amid rising tensions in Mediterranean Audrey Horowitz-Eric Cortellessa-Nina Lamparski-Elie Leshem-Avi Issacharoff-JTA Ahren-Ralf ISERMANN-Times staff-Cathryn Prince-Rich Tenorio-Rebecca Stoil-Nicholas Riccardi-Steve North-Sue Surkes – http://www.timesofisrael.com/british-warship-docks-in-israel-at-time-of-rising-tensions-in-mediterranean/

[2]  Farmer, B. (2016)  Belching smoke through the Channel, Russian aircraft carrier so unreliable it sails with its own breakdown tug. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/21/russian-carrier-plagued-by-technical-problems/

[3]  Lockie A. (2016)  Russia has just given up on trying to launch strikes from its rickety aircraft carrier – http://www.businessinsider.com/russia-gave-up-airstrikes-kuznetsov-aircraft-carrier-2016-12

[4]  Readhead, H. (2016). Russia is rapidly running out of cash. http://metro.co.uk/2016/09/08/russia-could-run-out-of-money-by-the-end-of-this-year-economists-predict-6115802/

Call for Papers: Options in the South China Sea

1a-political-map

Image from Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)

Summary:

Divergent Options is calling for papers related to national security situations in the South China Sea.

Prospective authors can address any national security situation related to the South China Sea large or small.

Please write using our article template.

Please send your article to submissions@divergentoptions.org by February 10, 2017.

If you are not interested in writing on this topic we still welcome individual articles on virtually any national security situation an author is passionate about.  Please do not let our call for papers cause you to hesitate to send us your idea.  We look forward to hearing from you!

More Information:

The Lowy Institute states that “The South China Sea is a critical commercial gateway for a significant portion of the world’s merchant shipping, and hence is an important economic and strategic sub-region of the Indo-Pacific. It is also the site of several complex territorial disputes that have been the cause of conflict and tension within the region and throughout the Indo-Pacific[1].”

Countries bordering the South China Sea include Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.  Other countries such as the United States and Russia also have interests in the South China Sea.  Business Insider has a great article that may inspire potential authors titled “Tensions in the South China Sea explained in 18 maps” which can be accessed here or downloaded in a PDF here.

Update as of January 8, 2017:

Select articles from the “Options in the South China Sea” call for papers will be republished by the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC).  We are pleased that CIMSEC sought to have a relationship with Divergent Options and we are excited to give our writers the opportunity to reach the CIMSEC audience!

A Few Questions to Inspire Authors:

What options does any country bordering the South China Sea have to address a national security situation related to another country bordering the South China Sea?

What military or non-military capabilities need to be developed by any country bordering the South China Sea to address a national security situation related to another country bordering the South China Sea?

What options does the Philippines have to balance its relationship with China as a dominant economic power with its relationship with the United States as a dominant security partner?

What options are available to address friction caused by China’s Maritime Militia?

What options are available to maintain regional fishing rights in the South China Sea?

What non-military options does the United States have that can be used to overcome Anti-Access / Area Denial threats within the South China Sea?

What options does China have to further establish their Nine-Dash Line territorial claim?

What options does U.S. President Elect Donald Trump have to pursue U.S. interests in the South China Sea[2]?

What options does China have to pursue its interests when Donald Trump becomes the U.S. President[2]?

What options does Iran have in pursuing its interests in within the South China Sea[3]?


Endnotes:

[1]  South China Sea. (n.d.). Retrieved December 23, 2016, from https://www.lowyinstitute.org/issues/south-china-sea

[2]  Cox, T. (2016, June 7). Trump – China’s preferred President? Retrieved December 27, 2016, from http://www.china-cooperative.com/single-post/2016/06/08/Trump-Chinas-preferred-President

[3]  Butch, T. (2016, September 20). China and Iran expand all-around relations. Retrieved December 27, 2016, from http://www.china-cooperative.com/single-post/2016/09/20/China-and-Iran-Expand-All-Around-Relations

Syria Options: Safe Zone

Carlo Valle has served in United States Marine Corps and the United States Army.  A graduate of History at Concordia University (Montreal) he is presently pursuing a Masters in Geopolitics and International Relations at the Catholic University of Paris.  He can be found on Twitter @cvalle0625.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


National Security Situation:  Civil war, humanitarian, and international crisis in Syria.

Date Originally Written:  December 4, 2016.

Date Originally Published:  January 2, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Author is a former enlisted member of the United States military and a constructivist who believes that international relations are influenced by more than just power and anarchy but also by the construction of identity.  The article is written from the point of view of the U.S. towards the Syrian Civil War.

Background:  The Syrian Civil War has moved into its fifth year.  A combination of intertwined and conflicting interests has created a stalemate for all sides thus prolonging human suffering.  Attempting to break the stalemate, Russia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air forces are bombing civilian targets in rebel-controlled areas, despite claims of targeting only the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Al-Nusra-held areas.

Significance:  The conflict has sparked a mass exodus of refugees fleeing the fighting.  This mass exodus has overwhelmed neighboring countries and Europe.  To ease this refugee burden and human suffering, some have proposed establishing safe zones.

Option #1:  Establish a safe zone.  A safe zone is a de-militarized area intended to provide safety to non-combatants.

Risk:  For Syria and Russia to respect a safe zone it must protect non-combatants and remain neutral.  If Syrian opposition forces use the safe zone as a place from which to mount operations Syria and Russia could then justify attacking the safe zone [1].  If the safe zone is attacked by Syria and Russia, and U.S. and Coalition troops protecting the safe zone are killed or wounded, the U.S. risks war with Syria or Russia [2].  Additionally, if U.S. and Coalition troops discover Syrian opposition forces in the safe zone hostilities could erupt.  These hostilities could be used by ISIL or Al-Nusra to recruit new fighters and be a political embarrassment for the U.S. and the Coalition.

Establishing a safe zone will require a sizable neutral military presence that can deter attack and dissuade the Syrian opposition attempting to occupy the safe zone [3].  The military personnel protecting the safe zone must have clear rules of engagement and the overall safe zone mission will require a conditions-based arrival and exit strategy.  Just as important as establishing a safe zone is knowing when and how to extract oneself.  This goes beyond fear of media or political accusations of “being stuck in a quagmire” or “appeasement.”  Instead, the concern is based in judging whether the safe zone is becoming an obstacle to peace or worsening the situation.

Gain:  Establishing a safe zone will protect non-combatants thereby reducing the number of refugees overwhelming Syria’s Mid-East neighbors and Europe.  In the long-term, refugees that are unable to return to their homeland may destabilize the region by being unable to integrate into their host-nation’s society or by falling into the trap of radicalism[4].  Similar situations have happened in the 20th century with the Palestinian refugee crisis and Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

Option #2:  Forgoing a safe zone.

Risk:  Not establishing a safe zone runs the long-term risks of regional instability or a new wave of radicalism that could be a problem for decades.  According to Stephen Walt, the U.S. has no interests in Syria to justify any involvement[5].  However, the Syrian Civil War has brought social and economic strain upon Syria’s neighbors and Europe.  In the Middle East, U.S. regional partners could turn their backs on the U.S. if they feel that the U.S. is not acting in their interests i.e. taking actions to stem the flow of refugees.  U.S. relationships in the Middle East are already strained due to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran.  In Europe, refugee migration has ushered a wave of anti-European Union populism that questions the very international system of cooperation the U.S. has benefitted from since the end of World War II.  Were this questioning of the international system to fracture Europe, it would not be able to counter Russian aggression.

Gain:  The biggest advantage to forgoing the safe zone is the ability to keep other options open. U.S. and Coalition forces could be better used elsewhere, likely focusing on near-peer competitors such as Russia or China.  U.S. and Coalition forces could be employed in the Baltic States, or in the Pacific Rim to counter Russian aggression and China’s rise.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Joseph, E. P., & Stacey, J. A. (2016). A Safe Zone for Syria: Kerry’s Last Chance. Foreign Affairs. Accessed from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/syria/2016-10-05/safe-zone-syria

[2]  Bier, D. J. (2016). Safe Zones Won’t Save Syrians. National Interest. Accessed from http://nationalinterest.org/feature/safe-zones-wont-save-syrians-17979

[3]  Stout, M. (2015). [W]Archives: When “Safe Zones” Fail. War on the Rocks. Accessed from http://warontherocks.com/2015/07/warchives-when-safe-zones-fail/

[4]  Kristoff, N. (2016). Obama’s Worst Mistake [Op-Ed]. The New York Times. Accessed from http://nyti.ms/2aCJ54F

[5]  Walt, S. M. (2016). The Great Myth About U.S. Intervention in Syria. Foreign Policy. Accessed from http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/10/24/the-great-myth-about-u-s-intervention-in-syria-iraq-afghanistan-rwanda/