Future Risk & Surge: Brian Christopher Darling

Editor’s Note:  This article differs from the regular format we use at Divergent Options per a request from Nate Freier of the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College.  This article has the writer imagining that they are a Special Assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Defense (SecDef).  The writer is responding to a request from the SecDef for a two page memo that defines or describes strategic and military risk and identifies national security situations that may take place from 2017 to 2027 that would require the U.S. Department of Defense to surge personnel or capability to address.  The entire call for papers can be found here.  

  Brian Christopher Darling has served in the United States Army in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Qatar.  He has master’s degrees in Liberal Studies and Public Service Leadership from Rutgers University and Thomas Edison State University, respectively.  Mr. Darling is presently employed at Joint Force Headquarters, New Jersey National Guard, where he is a paralegal.  He can be found on twitter @briancdarling and has written for NCO Journal.  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.

20 February 2017

Dear Secretary Mattis,

The Department of Defense faces a number of significant challenges in the coming decade.  Some of these situations involve familiar scenarios, some involve rising threats, and worst-case scenarios involve combinations of state and non-state actors and cyber warfare.  Not all threats to national security come from outside influencers either as the current state of the economy places the entire Department on precarious footing.  The purpose of this memorandum is to define strategic and military risk in the context of three areas that might well require a surge of United States armed forces.

It is prudent here to discuss risk assessment.  Although the previous administration sought to create more multilateral relationships and to conclude contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the current President is faced with threats from an unstable North Korea, a resurgent Russia, and continued violence by state and non-state actors in CENTCOM.  The scenarios discussed herein require major risk considerations in terms of force management risk (manpower and readiness), institutional risk (funding and logistics), and future challenges[1].

The first area where the United States may be obligated to commit additional forces is the Middle East, commonly referred to as the CENTCOM Theater.  The Overseas Contingency Operations ongoing in CENTCOM drain manpower and readiness from forces which might otherwise be employed in EUCOM, PACOM, and elsewhere, thereby emboldening adversary states in those regions.  Further, surging forces to existing contingency operation locations risks an appearance of impropriety by the United States through support of oppressive regimes with records of human rights violations[2].

By surging forces in CENTCOM, the United States demonstrates its continued commitment to stability in the region.  Modular escalation of forces also serves to deter Iranian intervention in conflicts in Iraq and Syria[3].  A surge of forces to allied countries in the area would allow for rapid response to conflict within the region, to wit: the destruction of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and ongoing conflicts with Al Qaeda and their affiliates and the Haqqani network[4], the conclusion of the first being a stated goal of the new administration.

A discussion involving the ongoing hostilities in Syria logically leads to a consideration of a rising hegemonic threat.  This second possible area of consideration is the EUCOM Theater, involving a rising Russia and a surge of forces in Eastern Europe.  By surging forces to Eastern European nations formerly associated with the Warsaw Pact, the United States risks escalating tensions with Russia.  Further, reassigning forces from the pool available to CENTCOM creates an operational risk in the Middle East and a future challenges risk in both CENTCOM and PACOM.

A surge of forces in EUCOM would demonstrate the new administration’s continued commitment to NATO[5].  The President has previously publicly questioned the value of the alliance[6]; surging forces to counter Russian territorial expansion is a visible demonstration of the United States’ continued support of the existing international order. A surge of forces in EUCOM would also deter further Russian annexation of territory previously controlled by the former Soviet Union, as it has been aggressively active in previous years[7].

The final area where a surge of forces may be necessary is in South Korea, in the PACOM Theater.  The North Korean regime has become increasingly unstable and its nuclear threat has become more volatile[8].  Surging forces to PACOM risks nuclear intervention by the unstable North Korean regime, as well as grating the Pakistanis and emboldening our Indian allies.  Perhaps most significantly, a surge might also risk aggravating the United States’ relationship with China.

Demonstrating support of our allies in PACOM continues the themes of the previous administration’s pivot to the pacific.  The President has continued to demonstrate an interest in improving America’s Pacific alliances[9].  The United States would provide a balance of power between the rising economies in the area and a hegemonic China.  A surge presence in the Pacific theater would also reassure Taiwan, which might fear Chinese aggression[10], while also balancing potential conflicts between India and Pakistan[11].

Given the current manpower of the armed forces, any of the options above present an unsustainable future challenges risk to the Department of Defense.  Consideration must also be given to the condition of the platforms available to the services; the Air Force and Navy are currently dealing with issues regarding decades-old weapons platforms[12].  Although the President has sought more cost-effective relationships with vendors[13], there is a long-term institutional risk to development and acquisitions.


[1]  Gates, R. (2010). Quadrennial defense review. Washington, DC.

[2]  Dorsey, James. (2017 January 18). “Qatar’s Backtrack On Labor Rights And Cooperation With Russia Reflects New World Order”. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/qatari-backtracking-on-labour-rights-and-cooperation_us_587c5ef5e4b077a19d180f56

[3]  Bar’el, Zvi. (2017, Feb 11). “In Iraq, the U.S. Invests, ISIS Loses and Iran Gains”.  Retrieved from http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/iraq/.premium-1.770944

[4]  Lamothe, D. (2017 February 9). “Top U.S. commander in Afghanistan opens door to a ‘few thousand’ more troops deploying there”. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2017/02/09/top-u-s-commander-in-afghanistan-opens-door-to-a-few-thousand-more-troops-deploying-there/

[5]  Smith-Spark, L., and A. Shubert. (2017, January). “Poland welcomes thousands of US troops in NATO show of force”.  Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/14/europe/poland-us-troops-nato-welcome/

[6]  Gordon, M.R. (2017, January 15). “Trump Criticizes NATO and Hopes for ‘Good Deals’ With Russia”. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/15/world/europe/donald-trump-nato.html?_r=0

[7]  Dews, F. (2014, March 19). “NATO Secretary-General: Russia’s Annexation of Crimea is illegal and illegitimate”.  Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brookings-now/2014/03/19/nato-secretary-general-russias-annexation-of-crimea-is-illegal-and-illegitimate/

[8]  BBC News. (2017, February 12). “North Korea ballistic missile test sparks condemnation” Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-38950733

[9]  Reuters.  (2017, February 11). “Trump and Japan’s Abe take a swing at golf diplomacy”.  Retrieved from http://www.cnbc.com/2017/02/11/trump-and-japans-abe-take-a-swing-at-golf-diplomacy.html

[10]  Graham-Harrison, E. (2017, February 4). “Islands on the frontline of a new global flashpoint: China v Japan”.  Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/05/china-v-japan-new-global-flashpoint-senkaku-islands-ishigaki

[11]  IANS. (2017, February 12). “Pakistan sounds alarm over ‘nuclearisation’ of Indian Ocean by India”. Retrieved from http://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/pakistan-sounds-alarm-over-nuclearisation-of-indian-ocean-by-india/story-Hdp49Lb4wpsPHYhbjs8A1M.html

[12]  Serbu, J. (2017 February 8).  “Military readiness problems can’t be fixed overnight, Defense chiefs warn”.  Retrieved from http://federalnewsradio.com/defense/2017/02/military-readiness-problems-cant-fixed-overnight-defense-chiefs-warn/

[13]  Cohen, Z. (2017 February 4). “After Trump attack, Lockheed Martin slashes F-35 cost”. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/03/politics/f-35-lockheed-martin-cost-reduction/





Divergent Options on Blogs of War / Covert Contact Podcast


On February 12, 2017, Divergent Options’ Founder Phil Walter appeared on the Blogs of War / Covert Contact podcast where for 25 minutes he discussed the origins and intent behind Divergent Options.

You can listen to the podcast on the Covert Contact webpage or click play below.

Future Risk & Surge: Chris Townsend

Editor’s Note:  This article differs from the regular format we use at Divergent Options per a request from Nate Freier of the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College.  This article has the writer imagining that they are a Special Assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Defense (SecDef).  The writer is responding to a request from the SecDef for a two page memo that defines or describes strategic and military risk and identifies national security situations that may take place from 2017 to 2027 that would require the U.S. Department of Defense to surge personnel or capability to address.  The entire call for papers can be found here.

Chris Townsend is an active duty U.S. Army officer with 20 years of service.  He is a Middle East and North Africa Foreign Area Officer.  He can be found on Twitter @FAO_Chris and has written for the Journal of Defense Resources ManagementSmall Wars JournalArmchair General, and the Strategy Bridge.  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.

16 February 2017

MEMORANDUM FOR: Secretary of Defense

SUBJECT: Strategic and Military Risk

1.  DEFINING RISK:  Risk is any uncertainty that could complicate military operations or limit strategic options in responding to threats to U.S. interests.  Risks to strategic and military response can be categorized into three areas:  Operational, Institutional, and Global.

a.  Operational risk represents potential threats to military options and includes the presence of near-peer adversaries capable of area denial and the creation of threats across multiple domains simultaneously; weapons of mass destruction; adversarial Cyber, Space, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance capabilities; and the potential for simultaneous multiple-theater, multiple-phase conflict.

b.  Institutional risk includes the forces, funding, and acquisition uncertainties and inefficiencies.  These affect the size, training, equipping, readiness, and resilience of the fighting force and the ability to project power in response to dispersed threats while defending the homeland and assisting civil authorities.

c.  Global risk represents the uncertainties introduced by climate, politics, and societal factors.  Complications introduced from changes to climate or natural disasters, competition for resources, challenges to sovereignty, cultural friction, and global, criminal—independent or state-aligned—actors all present risks that must be mitigated and used to inform planning.

2.  THREAT SCENARIOS:  The greatest threat to the United States response capability is a simultaneous, multiple-theater, multiple-phase, multiple-domain conflict compounded with a homeland defense requirement in an era of dwindling resources and forced reductions in manning and equipping in a global political environment where the U.S. has reduced basing, access, and overflight options due to lapsed efforts in relationship maintenance, coupled with a lack of partner capacity and poorly defined political and strategic end states.

a.  The most likely scenario for the next ten years is for America to continue its military involvement in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan as Iran seeks to increase its influence through the continued proliferation of the Iranian Threat Network and meddling in regional politics.  As the conflicts resolve, there will be significant requirements for the U.S. to train and equip security forces to maintain the fragile stability in these countries.  Periphery conflicts like Egypt in Libya, Turkey in Northern Syria and Iraq, and Saudi Arabia in Yemen will strain resources as the U.S. continues to support partners with equipment and training.  Counterterrorism efforts will continue to require attention and resources around the globe and here at home.

b.  The most dangerous scenario is state-on-state aggression that either through treaty or interest requires U.S. engagement in addition to the ongoing security missions around the globe.  Potential conflicts include Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, Iranian-Saudi War, Chinese seizure of Taiwan and surrounding waters, clashes between India and Pakistan, and North Korean attacks on South Korea or Japan.  Any such conflict would expose the inability of the U.S. military to truly project power in multiple theaters while protecting the homeland.

c.  The most disruptive scenario would be a full-scale, multiple-domain attack on the homeland while forces are deployed into multiple theaters.  Potential adversaries have demonstrated the capability to disrupt internet, power, and communication systems in addition to the ability to shoot down satellites.  Significant network outages would create chaos in civilian arenas and significantly challenge military planning.  Space capabilities of new satellites deployed by potential adversaries could threaten lateral physical or cyber attacks against our satellites creating long-term disruption.  The U.S. could find itself unable to address threats from distant adversaries that have developed capabilities that increase stand-off distances and preclude insertion of forces without significant risk.  Other belligerents would likely seize on U.S. preoccupation by launching efforts to resolve regional disputes.

3.  SURGE REQUIREMENTS:  In every scenario the U.S. would be required to surge forces in response to aggression or instability.

a.  U.S. Forces must be capable of surging forces into two separate theaters while maintaining ongoing security requirements at home and abroad.  Current manning, arming, and equipping forecasts are insufficient for this kind of conflict, straining the ability to respond, reducing the margin of error, and increasing the costs.  Potential conflicts with near-peer adversaries would be longer wars with higher casualties that embolden those that threaten our interests while undermining the confidence of allies and partners.

b.  The priority now must be to shift current security and training responsibilities to partner nations with U.S. support.  Domain owners must refocus on basic proficiency in their respective domain: air, land, sea, cyber, space.  Efforts to establish relationships between domain owners that allow for quickly assembled Joint Task Forces to effectively operate are vital to addressing potential threats.  The risks from multi-domain battle and anti-access/area denial must be addressed through focused strategic planning for ways to defeat these threats and develop our own capabilities in these areas.

c.  While global risk can only be understood and used to inform planning, operational and institutional risk can be managed by military and civilian leaders.  Legislative and doctrinal efforts must define the institutional and operational risk tolerance thresholds and match those assessments with funding and programs to mitigate residual risk.  Without a rebalance away from ongoing security requirements, and a refocus on core domain competencies absent the uncertainty of sequestration, the U.S. will find itself challenged in the most likely scenarios and sorely outmatched in the most dangerous and disruptive ones.

4.  POC for this memorandum is Christopher P. Townsend, MAJ, SC.

Future Risk & Surge: Nathan Wike

Editor’s Note:  This article differs from the regular format we use at Divergent Options per a request from Nate Freier of the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College.  This article has the writer imagining that they are a Special Assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Defense (SecDef).  The writer is responding to a request from the SecDef for a two page memo that defines or describes strategic and military risk and identifies national security situations that may take place from 2017 to 2027 that would require the U.S. Department of Defense to surge personnel or capability to address.  The entire call for papers can be found here.  

Nathan Wike is an officer in the U.S. Army and a member of the Military Writer’s Guild.  The opinions expressed are his alone, and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.  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. 

13 February 2017


SUBJECT:  The Ability to Surge Personnel in Response to Contingencies

INTRODUCTION:  The Secretary of Defense recently requested a series of position papers that describe national security situations that may take place from 2017 to 2027 that would require the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to surge personnel or capability. This is a critical step in considering the potential threats to U.S. national interests that may arise within the next decade. However, it rests upon a key assumption: that the DoD is capable of surging personnel to respond to a contingency. This topic directly relates to all four components of risk, outlined on page 90 of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review. This memorandum discusses the means by which the DoD can surge personnel to rapidly expand the joint force in response to a contingency, and the potential risks.

BACKGROUND:  Since the 1970s, the U.S. military has relied upon the all-volunteer force (AVF) to fill its ranks. This force is unquestionably one of the most professional and capable militaries in all of history. The AVF has met every challenge with distinction, and is a credit to the nation. However, the AVF may not be enough to ensure victory against a peer or near-peer competitor in a conflict where vital U.S. interests are at stake. History reveals that in every major war, where the U.S. has faced an existential threat (e.g. the American Civil War, WWI, WWII), more than volunteers were required to achieve victory.

An unfortunate side effect of the AVF is that the methods and skills for utilizing the various means of surging military personnel have atrophied, or completely passed from the lexicon. These means equate to methods of conscription, which are inherently unpopular in any society. However, they are crucial in a major contingency.

DISCUSSION:  A well-conceived and tested system of surging personnel is a strategic capability that serves U.S. national interests. It provides assurance that the DoD can rapidly grow the joint force with the most qualified personnel available. This in turn serves as a deterrent to conflict. The options may be politically and socially difficult to implement, or even to contemplate. But losing a war would be even more so.

There are four primary methods through which the DoD may surge personnel. They may be applied in any sequence, or concurrently with one another. All are governed by the United States Code (USC). These four methods are: involuntary extension, ready reserve mobilization, enhanced recruitment strategies, and military selective service. Each method has various pros and cons that must be assessed prior to implementation.

Involuntary extension, colloquially known as “stop-loss,” is the fastest way to surge military personnel. This method retains a service-member beyond their initial end of term of service (ETS) date and up to their contractually agreed end of active obligated service (EAOS). Involuntary extension, which generally affects junior officers and enlisted personnel, is governed by Title 10, USC, Section 12305(a). This option has LOW operational and institutional risk, as it provides an immediate pool of trained personnel who are already assigned to units, and it has been used throughout the various operations throughout the 21st century. However it entails MODERATE force management risk, especially as is relates to morale and recruitment, and it is not sustainable over time.

Ready reserve mobilization affords the ability to recall service-members to active or reserve component service within 400 days of their ETS. This method affects a broad range of personnel from all ranks and occupational specialties. Ready reserve mobilization is governed by Title 10, USC, Section 12301(a). It has LOW operational risk, since affected personnel are not too far removed from military service, are generally of higher ranks and experience, and may quickly be re-integrated into units. This method has HIGH force management and institutional risk. It has been utilized within the last decade, but only for a minute percentage of personnel, and though all personnel assigned to the ready reserve are legally required to meet certain standards, in practice there are virtually no incentives to comply.

Enhanced recruitment strategies are the means by which the various recruitment apparatuses of the DoD can induce new personnel to volunteer for military service. This method primarily affects initial entry personnel, though it may extend to lateral entry personnel for select occupational specialties. This method has MODERATE operational risk, as it requires compromises in standards, and personnel arrive at units lacking valuable experience. It has MODERATE force management and institutional risk, as it preserves the spirit of the AVF, and the DoD can manage this method within existing structures, provided additional financial and material resources can be made available.

Military selective service, colloquially known as the draft, allows the DoD to draw upon the entire (male) population to meet personnel requirements, for all specialties. This is the most strategically significant option, by far. Military selective service is governed by Title 50, USC, Chapter 49. However it has HIGH risk across all categories. It has not been used since 1973, excludes eligible females, and the DoD no longer has the apparatuses or plans in place to monitor, induct, and assimilate the potentially vast numbers of eligible personnel.

CONCLUSION:  The risk to future challenges is currently HIGH, given that none of the aforementioned options are currently planned for, let alone regularly tested in the context of a major contingency operation. Reduction in risk can only come through a comprehensive review of the DoD’s processes to surge personnel, according to the USC. The options of involuntary extension, ready reserve mobilization, enhanced recruitment strategies, and military selective service must be incorporated into DoD strategic planning, then operationalized as part of exercises, and in practice for select cases. The ability to rapidly surge personnel is a strategic capability that must be preserved and modernized in order to safeguard U.S. interests from 2017 to 2027 and beyond.

Options for Mexico with the Trump Administration

Vincent Dueñas is a recent graduate of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, a U.S. Army Major, and an Associate Member of the Military Writers Guild.  This Mexico vignette was first written to fulfill a requirement in his degree program.  The views reflected are his own and do not represent the opinion of the United States Government or any of its agencies.  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:  Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto faces a potentially combative relationship with the United States (U.S.), anemic economic growth, and increasing security concerns from Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs).

Date Originally Written:  December 21, 2016.

Date Originally Published:  February 9, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the perspective of the National Security Advisor for Mexican President Peña Nieto, who is offering options for Mexico, in light of incomplete domestic reforms and emergent challenges from the U.S.

Background:  President Peña Nieto’s “Pacto por México” was an agreement aimed at unifying the country’s three major parties in strengthening the Mexican state, improving political and economic democratization, and expanding social rights.  This agreement resulted in the successful enactment of constitutional reforms, but implementation has stalled due to opposition and unfavorable global conditions[1][2].  President Peña Nieto won the presidency as a member of the historically powerful, centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).  His election revived the PRI’s control after a 12-year tenure under the right of center National Action Party (PAN).  The PAN and the left of center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) have recently undermined the implementation of the President’s reforms for their own political gain prior to the 2018 election.

Significance:  Current U.S. overtures calling for the funding of a border wall by Mexico and the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) pose a significant challenge to Mexico’s economic and national security dynamics.  This dramatic shift in relationship with the U.S., Mexico’s largest trading partner, may detrimentally impact Mexico and create a dangerous security issue.  Although we have a large capable military, our forces are committed to fighting TCOs and we are not prepared to engage in a direct conflict with the U.S.  As a nation, Mexico has actively sought to participate fully in the global liberal world order and a failure to counterbalance U.S. overtures threatens to destabilize our economy and amplify the worsening TCO problem.

Option #1:  Continue the “Pacto por México” and engage in limited unilateral diplomatic confrontation with the U.S.

Risk:  The risk in continuing the “Pacto por México” rests mainly in the inability for the country to implement these reforms at this critical juncture.  President Peña Nieto’s legacy will be incomplete as the PAN and PRD sabotage the progress on reforms in order to gain political advantage.  In responding reactively to the U.S., President Peña Nieto risks being seen as weak and our government will continue to lose legitimacy.  Progress in combating TCOs will continue to fall short as necessary judicial reforms will fail to materialize.

Gain:  The greatest gain from this approach would be the preservation of the status quo, drawing the least ire from the U.S.  It would minimize potential economic blowback and allow maximum possibility for favorable concessions from the U.S. during any renegotiation over NAFTA.  Additionally, it provides the most assured means of avoiding repercussions against vital security cooperation and assistance funding and collaboration with the U.S. military and its security agencies.

Option #2:  Get out in front of the U.S.’ overtures and reframe the challenge of the U.S. through a new PRI-led domestic campaign of “Dialogues” that would represent the next phase of “Pacto por Mexico” and reinvigorate public support for the reforms.  Acknowledging that the “Pacto” has faced difficulties, Mexican society can be rallied together by the PRI through a communications campaign that frames Mexico as a parent-like figure to the U.S., who is suffering from drugs and self-destructive behavior.  This campaign can connect directly with Mexican citizens’ familial inclinations through a perspective that describes a parent who is caring for a fellow family member with understanding.  Simultaneously, a provisional dialogue with TCOs should be initiated to seek a reduction in violence on the basis of pride and the threat that U.S. actions pose to Mexican society writ large.  Lastly, we should initiate and lead a multilateral hemispheric effort to economically and diplomatically counterbalance the U.S. by reinvigorating the concept of the Free Trade Agreement for the Americas.

Risk:  The risks are many, but the dialogue with TCOs poses the greatest risk, as the perception of government collusion with criminals could become a scandal that could undo the party.  The suspension of remittances and security cooperation and assistance funding, such as the Mérida Initiative, would be extremely costly.  This approach would also signal a clear departure from a collaborative approach with the U.S. and commit Mexico to dependency exclusively on other markets, such as China and the countries in Latin America, which historically have not looked favorably towards Mexico.

Gain:  This would increase Mexico’s leverage against the U.S. by spearheading a hemispheric economic block.  A deliberate campaign of domestic and international action could consolidate the PRI’s authority within the country as the leader that will protect Mexican citizens from hostile U.S. intentions and lead a hemispheric coalition to confront discordant U.S. policies.  Riding the hopefulness of the Colombian peace process, a successful truce with TCOs could bring about an era of peace and stability that would allow judicial reforms to be implemented, which could eventually tackle corruption.  President Peña Nieto can garner attention, legitimacy, and credibility by speaking objectively and unemotionally as a counterbalance to the U.S. approach.  This could also pay out in dividends as other regions of the world may begin to look to Mexico as a primary partner in the hemisphere.

Other Comments:  The U.S.’ redefinition of its role as guarantor of the international post-World War 2 order provides the opportunity for other states to become more authoritative in international affairs.  China, for example, has begun challenging the U.S.’ will to engage in a military confrontation in the South China Sea.  Brazil, Canada, Colombia and Mexico are the hemisphere’s most sizeable economic and military powers after the U.S.  Brazil is experiencing political upheaval and is incapable of significant international action.  Canada is too close of an ally to the U.S. and most likely would be unwilling to challenge them directly.  Colombia is undergoing a peace process and is also a major ally of the U.S., which reduces their willingness to challenge the U.S. directly.  Mexico therefore stands as the only country with the ability and freedom to assert itself against the U.S. in the hemisphere.

Recommendation:  None.


[1]  Sada, Andres. “Explainer: What is the Pacto por Mexico?” Americas Society/Council of the Americas. March 11,2013. Retrieved January 26, 2017, from http://www.as-coa.org/articles/explainer-what-pacto-por-méxico.

[2]  U.S. Congressional Research Service. Mexico: Background and U.S. Relations (CRS-2016-FDT-0759; December 5, 2016), by Clare Ribando Seelke. Text in ProQuest Congressional Research Digital Collection. Retrieved January 26, 2017.

U.S. Options for Israel: Accept or Reject Settlement Activities

Brian Christopher Darling has served in the United States Army in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Qatar.  He has master’s degrees in Liberal Studies and Public Service Leadership from Rutgers University and Thomas Edison State University, respectively.  Mr. Darling is presently employed at Joint Force Headquarters, New Jersey National Guard, where he is a paralegal.  He can be found on twitter @briancdarling and has written for NCO Journal.  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 United Nations (UN) Security Council adopted Resolution 2334 on December 23rd, 2016.  In addition to demanding the Palestinian leadership take steps to end violence, this resolution called for an end to the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

Date Originally Written:  January 26, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  February 6, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Author is a member of the U.S. military.  Author believes that U.S. involvement in Israeli politics should be limited.  The U.S. and Israel have traditionally enjoyed a strong, informal alliance.  Despite the ongoing friction between the Jewish State and its Arab neighbors and the UN, there is no benefit to the U.S. to inject itself into the situation.  The author’s MA studies focused on war and politics in the Middle East and Asia and the importance of intergovernmental networking to maintain the current global balance of power.

Background:  On December 23, 2016, the UN adopted Security Council Resolution 2334.  The adoption of this resolution, and the abstention from the vote by the U.S., involves a number of operational environment variables, to include regional and global relationships, economics, information, technology, and military capabilities.

Significance:  The abstention by the U.S. during the vote broke with long-standing policy regarding support for Israel, but was in keeping with the Obama administration’s actions towards the Jewish State.  Under Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israeli politics have moved further to the right, making a two-state solution less feasible.

Option #1:  The incoming administration could reaffirm U.S. support for Israel, continuing to disregard the settlement activities that led to the adoption of the resolution.

Risk:  By continuing to accept Israeli settlement of occupied territory, the U.S. would further alienate itself from the international community, returning to the unilateral international relations policies of the Bush administration.  Option #1 would have an adverse effect on U.S. attempts at coalition building to pursue its interests in the Middle East.  The U.S. needs the support of the international community and of intergovernmental organizations like the UN, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank in order to facilitate the resolution of ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and in the Middle East.

Gain:  Under Option #1, the U.S. would, in Israel, maintain an ally in the Middle East, and demonstrate strength in the face of its adversaries.  The informal U.S.-Israeli alliance is beneficial to the U.S., as Israel is considered the only democracy in the Middle East, and economic ties between the two states run deep.  After reaffirming U.S. support for Israel, the U.S. could use this reaffirmation as leverage with Israel to request further assistance in the resolution of other conflicts in the Middle East, to include those ongoing in Syria and Iraq.

Option #2:  The U.S. accepts UN Security Council Resolution 2334, affirming that Israel has no legal basis for its ongoing settlement activity.

Risk:  The U.S. risks losing Israeli support, in the Jewish State and domestically.  Further, the abstention of the U.S. from the 2334 vote and the continued unfavorable treatment of Israel by the UN threaten to further delegitimize the UN in the eyes of the American people.

Gain:  Accepting UN 2334 without any further activity would demonstrate the U.S.’ commitment to operating as an integral part of the liberal international system.  Having abstained from the vote, the U.S. appears to support the UN.  However, in the eyes of U.S. citizens, the vote itself further discredited the UN and garnered public support for the Jewish State.  Further, regardless of UN involvement, the economic relationship between the U.S. and Israel would likely continue, regardless of the U.S. stance on the resolution.  If the U.S. does nothing, maintaining the policy of noninvolvement or abstention, Israel will remain strong, and will continue to maintain a military hedge against Iran and its proxies.

Other Comments:  Israel continues to deal with unfavorable perceptions in the UN due to its settlement activity, and with periodic harassment from a rogue’s gallery of terrorist organizations.  The only real threat to Israel comes not from Palestine, but from Iran and its proxies.  The military capability of the Jewish state keeps the Iranians at bay, and it is widely assumed that Israel has its own nuclear deterrent capability.  If the U.S. does nothing regarding the UN resolution, Israel will remain strong, and will continue to maintain a military edge against Iran and its proxies.

Although the U.S. was the first nation to recognize the Jewish State, Israel no longer needs the U.S. in order to support its activities.  The U.S. abstention from the Security Council vote demonstrates U.S. commitment to the liberal international order and to the rule of law as Israeli settlement activity is founded on claims of legitimacy that are dubious at best.  At the bottom line, the ultimate interest of the U.S. and of Israel is not the continued legitimacy of the UN, but the continued existence of their respective sovereignty, in the current climate of global politics, the U.S. and Israel will remain relevant long after the UN.

Recommendation:  None.



Israel Options: Continue Expansion or Recognize Palestine

Adam Yefet is pursuing a Master’s degree in International of Affairs at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, based in Washington D.C.  He can be found on Twitter at @yefet4USA.  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:  Israel-Palestinian Conflict.

Date Originally Written:  January 13, 2016.

Date Originally Published:  February 2, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Author is pursuing a Master’s degree in International Affairs at George Washington University and has written on Middle East affairs for Gulf State Analytics.  He writes as an international observer.

Background:  On December 23, 2016 the United Nations (UN) passed a non-binding resolution censuring Israel for activities in the Palestinian Territories, occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War.  The United States’ abstention on UN Security Council Resolution 2334 demonstrated the rift between the current U.S. and Israeli administrations.  While the Obama administration has been a useful political foil for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, Obama’s policies allowed Netanyahu to hold back from the most egregious moves supported by his cabinet.  Netanyahu may have difficulty balancing his policy and his coalition with an ideologically friendlier U.S. administration

The Palestinian Territories are governed by the relatively secular group Fatah in the West Bank and Islamist group Hamas in Gaza.  Several attempts by the two parties to unify and collaborate in the last decade have failed.  In the meantime, Hamas in Gaza has engaged in three significant conflicts with Israel.  There are few signs of hope for united Palestinian leadership.  Israel maintains tight control over whom and what can enter and exit the territories.  There is a continued cycle of Palestinian terror attacks and Israeli reprisals.

The expansion of Israeli settlements into West Bank territory, considered to be part of the biblical Jewish state, seeks to annex the land permanently to Israel and interfere with the creation of a Palestinian state.  The settlement enterprise has yielded limited results in terms of changing the demographic landscape to prevent a two-state solution but it has incurred a high cost to Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians and the international community at large[1].

Meanwhile, the Arab world’s focus has shifted from Israel to the Saudi-Iran conflict.  The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (API) parameters, reaffirmed in 2016, provide significant diplomatic incentives for Israeli action but Israeli leadership has largely ignored it.  Palestinian leadership rejected peace deals in the 1990s and 2000s.  Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalitions since 2009 have included key ministers publicly opposed to a two-state solution[2].

Significance:  Peace between Israel and Palestine, and Palestinian statehood, is a multigenerational goal for the international community.  However, the two sides have not found their way to a peace agreement for many reasons, any of which is most important depending on who you ask.  The conflict is deadly for Palestinians and Israelis and has the potential to escalate the Middle East into war or reshape the regional order with a peace deal.  The options analyzed here are along the lines of those presented by significant figures in Israeli politics.

Option #1:  Israel continues the expansion of settlements in disputed areas of the West Bank.

Risk:  If Israel pursues expansion even more aggressively with the tacit, or vocal, support from the new U.S. administration, it will further alienate the international community including Israel’s few strong allies in the West and provoke further hostility from adversaries, neutral parties, and non-state political movements.

The API and its subsequent reaffirmations, as well as covert cooperation in the Syrian theater between Israel and Saudi Arabia, suggest a growing acceptance of Israel in the region and the potential for practical alliances.  Following Option #1, Israel will risk losing the geopolitical moment of opportunity to secure diplomatic, economic, and military relationships with its neighbors.

Israel expanding settlements risks undermining and antagonizing Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, which has cooperated with Israel, and empowering Hamas in Gaza, which has actively fought Israel and won concessions.  The last year has seen dozens of individual attacks by Palestinians, mainly in the occupied territories and around settlements.

Gain:  Proponents of expanding settlements maintain that the expansion of settlements is dedicated to ensuring a secure and defensible border for Israel in the face of its international threats.  It also sends a message to Palestinian leadership that time is running out to secure a Palestinian state.  Settlement expansion seeks to ensure the establishment of the state on biblical and historical lines and there is a strong domestic constituency in Israel, and non-state foreign support, for that cause.  Prime Minister Netanyahu and others in his cabinet also find domestic support for policies in defiance of the UN and U.S. policy.  With the advent of an ideologically friendlier administration in Washington D.C., Prime Minister Netanyahu may feel fresh license to continue and expand those policies.

Option #2:  Israel unilaterally recognizes a Palestinian state along 1967 lines with land swaps.

Risk:  Israel’s difficult unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was met with Hamas claiming victory and launching attacks against Fatah and against Israel.  A repeat of that scenario could plunge the conflict into disastrous war between the Palestinian groups themselves for control, and with Israel.  Unilaterally recognizing a Palestinian state without a functioning, unified partner government in Palestine could be tragic for both sides.

Option #2 risks the dissolution of the governing coalition if members opposed to a two-state solution left because Netanyahu would be breaking a key election promise that there would not be a Palestinian state on his watch, though he backtracked after the election due to U.S. pressure[3].  Without enough members of Knesset (parliament) in support, the Knesset would be dissolved and require new elections, essentially a referendum on the move.  Prime Minister Netanyahu carries substantial credibility on security issues like no other Israeli politician, but elections can be unpredictable and are a significant political risk.

Another risk is physical violence and political chaos.  Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated in 1995 by an anti-two-state solution Israeli settler upset by the progress towards a Palestinian state.

Gain:  If successful, Israel would spark a shift in the regional order in the Middle East, open relations across the Arab world, and diplomatically isolate Iran, Israel’s key adversary.  International allies would warm to Israel while seeking to support the new state.  There is a strong constituency in the Israeli security community that supports this option[4].  Palestine’s governing parties would be forced to work with the deal or deny themselves a state, a move that would result in a significant loss of diplomatic credibility and fit Israel’s claims of Palestinian intransigence.

Other Comments:  Any peace deal would require significant international financial and security support to succeed.  The withdrawal of Israeli troops from the territories and the management of security inside the territories after withdrawal would be challenging for both sides.  Non-state actors in the territories would have many opportunities to undermine peace and would quickly test both sides’ patience, but especially Israel’s.

Recommendation:  None.


[1]  Arieli, S. (2016, June 27). Look at the Figures: Israel’s Settlement Enterprise Has Failed. Retrieved January 16, 2017, from http://www.haaretz.com/wwwMobileSite/opinion/.premium-1.727398

[2]  Sharon, J. (2016, December 30). Analysis: Will The Trump Era Be Bennett’s Finest Hour? Retrieved January 16, 2017, from http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Politics-And-Diplomacy/ANALYSIS-Will-the-Trump-era-be-Bennetts-finest-hour-476964

[3]  Lubell, M. (2015, March 16). Netanyahu Says No Palestinian State As Long As He’s Prime Minister. Retrieved January 17, 2017, from http://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-election-idUSKBN0MC1I820150316

[4]  Gross, J.A. (Jan 15, 2017). Former Defense Leaders Take Aim at Bennett’s Annexation Plan. Retrieved January 22, 2017, from http://www.timesofisrael.com/former-defense-leaders-take-aim-at-bennetts-annexation-plan/