Alternative History: An Assessment of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy Azhdar Unmanned Undersea Vehicle

David R. Strachan is a naval analyst and founder of Strikepod Systems (strikepod.com), a provider of current and strategic fiction intelligence (FICINT) on global naval affairs, with an emphasis on unmanned maritime systems.  He can be found on Twitter @Strikepod.  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.


Title:  Alternative History: An Assessment of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy Azhdar Unmanned Undersea Vehicle

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article presumes that the anonymous tanker attacks of May 12, 2019, were carried out by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) using an indigenously-developed unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV), and that the United States subsequently uncovered evidence of an Iranian offensive UUV, the Azhdar. It is written from the perspective of the U.S. Intelligence Community for an audience of national security policymakers.

Date Originally Written:  August 10, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  October 28, 2019.

Summary:  U.S. intelligence has uncovered evidence that Iran has repurposed its e-Ghavasi swimmer delivery vehicle (SDV) as an offensive UUV.  This repurposing is a potentially game-changing capability for Iranian naval forces with grave implications for regional stability.

Text:  On the morning of May 12, 2019, four oil tankers anchored off the coast of the Port of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates (UAE), sustained damage from what was alleged to be limpet mines placed by Iranian divers or fast boat operatives. However, scientific intelligence obtained from a clandestine source working alongside UAE investigators suggests that the blast damage was in fact inconsistent with the use of limpet mines. The source also reports that UAE investigators reached conclusions similar to those of an unnamed Norwegian insurance company (as reported by Reuters on May 17, 2019), namely that the IRGCN was behind the attacks, that these attacks were likely carried out using “underwater drones carrying 30-50 kg (65-110 lb.) of high-grade explosives,” and that the release of such information would cause significant alarm and exacerbate regional instability[1]. Additional supporting evidence was not provided, but if confirmed, this type of attack would represent a deeply concerning development for the United States, its  allies, and a potentially game-changing breakthrough for the IRGCN. 

Despite years of crippling economic sanctions, Iran has managed to acquire a potent undersea warfare capability, including three Russian-made Kilo-class submarines, nearly two dozen Ghadir-class midget submarines, two domestically produced classes of attack submarine (Fateh and Besat), and an assortment of special operations vehicles and mines[2]. Given the IRGCN’s experience with undersea operations, including offensive mining, and the fact that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and IRGCN have historically been skilled early adopters of unmanned technologies, we anticipated that Iran would seek to acquire an unmanned undersea capability, either through illicit acquisition or indigenous manufacture. Even a crude UUV would provide a considerable asymmetric advantage to Iran and its nonstate proxies operating in the Strait of Hormuz and Bab al-Mandeb Strait. As such, U.S. collection efforts expanded in 2010 to include monitoring for indications of Iranian procurement of UUV-related technologies. 

In 2012, a report surfaced that Iran had managed to domestically produce a UUV, dubbed the Phoenix, that was capable of 18 knots while submerged[3]. Given Tehran’s history of exaggerating or outright fabricating military capabilities, the veracity of this report was questionable. We were aware, however, that Iran had been attempting to acquire commercially available UUVs by tapping into the global defense marketplace via a complex web of front companies and smuggling operations. Iran was also attempting to acquire commercial off-the-shelf components, such as accelerometers and gyroscopes (used in inertial guidance systems), marine magnetometers, electro-hydraulic pressure sensors, and undersea modems. In the months leading up to May 12, 2019, we were well aware of Iranian materiel gains, but believed that the technical and operational challenges involved in deploying an offensive UUV were too great for Iran to overcome. However, given the UAE investigation, and intelligence recently provided by a highly placed source within the Iranian naval establishment, we no longer believe this to be the case.

We are now certain that Iran has repurposed its e-Ghavasi SDV as a weaponized UUV, and that four of these vehicles were in fact used to carry out the May 12, 2019 attacks. With its ready-made hullform and operational propulsion system, Iranian engineers successfully retrofitted a crude but effective onboard inertial guidance system. Coupled with its capacity to accommodate a large multi-influence mine, the weaponized, unmanned e-Ghavasi, dubbed the Azhdar, is now a highly mobile, stealthy, and lethal mine platform.

The weaponized UUV Azhdar is 533mm in diameter, which makes it compatible with standard heavyweight torpedo tubes. In order to fit, the vehicle’s forward diving planes and rear stabilizer have been recessed into the hull and are spring loaded to deploy upon launch. The vehicle’s cargo bay is large enough to carry a 480kg seabed mine, and it is likely, given the scale of the damage, that only a fraction of its ordnance capacity was utilized in the May 12, 2019 attacks[4]. Approximately twelve units are currently in the IRGCN inventory.  Assuming current Iranian defense industrial capacity and an uninterrupted connection to illicit supply lines, we believe Iran is capable of producing two to three weaponized UUVs per month.

The Azhdar is essentially a mobile mine that can be programmed to detonate at a particular time or place, or when influenced by specific sensory inputs. It can be deployed from surface or subsurface platforms, and is extremely hard to detect and neutralize. Although relatively slow and lumbering when compared to a torpedo or encapsulated torpedo mine, it is extremely quiet and stealthy, and, given its mobility, is largely immune to mine countermeasures. Azhdar undersea deployments would be far more covert than indiscriminate mining, which would take several days of highly visible surface activity. Also, the psychological effect of targeted Azhdar attacks could enable the Iranians to effectively close the Strait of Hormuz while enjoying deniability and maintaining a vital economic lifeline for oil exports.

The Azhdar poses a unique and significant tactical challenge for the U.S. Navy, as it would likely render traditional mine countermeasures and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) tactics ineffective. In a manner consistent with Iranian torpedo tactics, we believe that Azhdars would be deployed from Ghadir-class midget submarines operating on the seabed in shallow, cluttered coastal areas where they would be effectively masked from sonar detection. But unlike a torpedo launch, which would expose the Ghadir to near-immediate counter-detection and counterattack by U.S. ASW assets, an Azhdar deployment would be extremely difficult if not impossible to detect. Once deployed, the Azhdars would proceed slowly and quietly, approaching their targets without warning and detonating on contact or from magnetic influence. The Ghadir could then rearm while surfaced or submerged using divers from an IRGCN surface vessel to facilitate the reloading process[5]. 

The Azhdar UUV is a force multiplier for the IRGCN, combining the sea denial capability of conventional offensive mine warfare with the stealth, mobility, and plausible deniability of unmanned undersea operations. It is a game-changer for Iranian seapower, with far-reaching implications for the United States and its regional interests.


Endnotes:

[1] Reuters, (2019, May 17) Exclusive: Insurer says Iran’s Guards likely to have organized tanker attacks https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-iran-oil-tankers-exclusive/exclusive-insurer-says-irans-guards-likely-to-have-organized-tanker-attacks-idUSKCN1SN1P7

[2] See Covert Shores, (2017, December 29) Iranian e-Ghavasi Human Torpedo http://www.hisutton.com/Iran_Chariot.html; Covert Shores, (2015, October 10) Demystified – new low profile Iranian SDV http://www.hisutton.com/Demystified%20-%20new%20low-profile%20Iranian%20SDV.html; Covert Shores, (2016, August 28) Nahang Class http://www.hisutton.com/Nahang%20Class.html; Office of Naval Intelligence, (2017, February) Iranian Naval Forces: A Tale of Two Navies https://www.oni.navy.mil/Portals/12/Intel%20agencies/iran/Iran%20022217SP.pdf

[3] Navy Recognition, (2012, January 24) Iran reportedly designed an unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) https://www.navyrecognition.com/index.php/news/year-2012-news/january-2012-navy-world-naval-forces-maritime-industry-technology-news/294-iran-reportedly-designed-an-unmanned-underwater-vehicle-uuv.html

[4] Covert Shores, (2017, December 29) Iranian e-Ghavasi Human Torpedo http://www.hisutton.com/Iran_Chariot.html

[5] Tasnim News Agency, (2016, January 30) Iranian Navy Forces Practice Off-Dock Torpedo Loading in Drills https://www.tasnimnews.com/en/news/2016/01/30/985644/iranian-navy-forces-practice-off-dock-torpedo-loading-in-drills

Alternative Futures / Alternative Histories / Counterfactuals Assessment Papers David R. Strachan Iran Underwater Capabilities

Alternative Future: Assessment of the Effects of the Loss of the American Lease on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti

Travis Prendergast has served in the United States Army for eight years as a Rifle Platoon Leader, Staff Officer, and Rifle Company Commander.  He currently serves as a Company Commander in U.S. Army Recruiting Command.  He has just started tweeting as @strategy_boi, where he shares fiction and non-fiction content.  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.


Title:  Alternative Future:  Assessment of the Effects of the Loss of the American Lease on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti

Date Originally Written:  August 10th, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  October 17, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a current military member who served at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti in 2018. The article is written from the point of view of a historian in the mid-2030s, examining shifts in great power competition in East Africa.

Summary:  After the United States lost its lease on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti in 2024, a series of operational and strategic challenges arose in East Africa. The departure of certain operational assets degraded America’s capability to conduct crisis response. At a strategic level, the ability of the United States to stem Chinese foreign direct investment and influence in Africa also suffered.

Text:  Looking back, it is easy to pinpoint the shift in America’s strategic position in East Africa to the 2024 decision by Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh to not allow the United States to extend its lease on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti (CLDJ). As a former commander of United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM) had once said of the then $1.2 billion worth of Djiboutian debt to China, there did indeed come a time when that money would be collected[1]. The collection came at a steep price for Djibouti, as the country was forced to hand over control of the Doraleh Container Terminal to Beijing, an outcome many had feared would be the eventual result of the Chinese debt trap[2]. However, the United States paid the steepest price of all by losing its strategic position at CLDJ, which was at the time the United States’ longest enduring military base in Africa and headquarters of the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA). Whether the loss came as a result of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) influx of money and influence into the Djiboutian government, or as a result of American foreign policy changes, is still in debate even ten years later. It is clear though that the loss of CLDJ triggered strategic and operational effects that are still being felt today.

With the loss of CLDJ, the United States’ already tenuous grasp on Africa, best illustrated by the failure of USAFRICOM to establish its headquarters on the continent itself, slipped further. First used by America in 2001 and expanded in 2007, the camp had been a hub for a variety of United States operations not just in East Africa, but in Yemen as well[3]. As the base expanded, so did its mission set, resulting in the United States basing not just special operations forces and Marines there, but also conventional Army units[4]. This expansion of the base and the operational support that Camp Lemonnier provided to the operations in Yemen and East Africa only intensified the impact of the loss of the American lease on CLDJ.

The immediate scramble to plan for and then re-locate the 4,000 personnel on Camp Lemonnier and their attendant functions to other locations left little time to plan for contingency operations in the Horn of Africa. Just as the United States military was completing its phased transition out of Camp Lemonnier, riots in the South Sudanese capital of Juba in 2026 threated American embassy personnel and tested USAFRICOM’s ability to respond to crises on the continent from outside the continent. With the departure of the East Africa Response Force from Camp Lemonnier, the United States could no longer provide a rapid response force as outlined in the New Normal procedures that had been in put in place in reaction to the Benghazi consulate attacks in 2012[5][6]. Instead, USAFRICOM and the Department of State had to rely on another child of the Benghazi attacks: the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (SP-MAGTF) located in Moron, Spain and Sigonella, Italy[7]. In the vast distances of the African continent, the time spent getting from Sigonella to Juba proved costly, and by the time the SP-MAGTF element secured the embassy, two American diplomats were dead. In the investigations in the months that followed, it was not lost on American legislators that a failure to maintain a foothold in East Africa had contributed to the loss of American lives and property in Juba.

Beyond the immediate operational costs of losing CLDJ, America faced a greater strategic loss in East Africa. As part of the BRI that China had been pursuing for over a decade prior to 2024, the Export-Import Bank of China had loaned Djibouti nearly $957 million as of 2018 in order to finance development projects[8]. Also under the BRI, China constructed the Djibouti International Free Trade Zone, a 3.5 billion dollar project[9]. After losing its foothold in Djibouti, the United States had little diplomatic clout to resist the continued investment of Chinese capital into East African states, furthering the debt trap situation beyond the borders of Djibouti. Furthermore, with the departure of the United States military from Djibouti, long-term American humanitarian projects in Djibouti, such as the 2019 opening of a medical clinic in the town of Ali Oune, no longer had a logistical base from which to draw support[10]. With America out of the way, any non-Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) was left in the hands of the French, Japanese, and other foreign powers present in Djibouti. America could no longer use its military to try to match, in some small way, the FDI provided by China.

Despite the American military departure from the region beginning in 2024, several of America’s allies remain to this day. Although the French Senate had previously expressed concern over Chinese influence overshadowing French influence in Djibouti, France’s defense clause remains in place and ensures that the French will remain in Djibouti even as China grows in power[11]. With piracy in the waters off the Horn of Africa no less prevalent than in the late 2010s, the Japanese anti-piracy base just outside the old Camp Lemonnier gate continues its operations. However, no amount of anti-piracy operations or promises of defense can match the sheer influx of money that China promised, and delivered, under their BRI. As the world moves toward the 2040s and the completion of the multi-decade BRI, the world is left wondering if the 21st century will be a Chinese century. With the departure of the American military from Djibouti, the answer seems to be that in Africa, it already is.


Endnotes:

[1] Browne, R. (2018, April 08). US military resumes air operations in Djibouti. Retrieved August 7, 2019, from https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/08/politics/us-air-operations-djibouti/index.html

[2] Belt and Road Initiative strikes again… Djibouti risks Chinese takeover with massive loans – US warns. (2018, September 02). Retrieved August 07, 2019, from https://www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/2018/09/02/belt-and-road-initiative-strikes-again-djibouti-risks-chinese-takeover-with-massive-loans-us-warns/

[3] Schmitt, E. (2014, May 06). U.S. Signs New Lease to Keep Strategic Military Installation in the Horn of Africa. Retrieved August 7, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/06/world/africa/us-signs-new-lease-to-keep-strategic-military-installation-in-the-horn-of-africa.html

[4] Ibid.

[5] Martin, P. (2019, March 20). East Africa Response Force deployed to Gabon. Retrieved August 07, 2019, from https://www.army.mil/article/218891/east_africa_response_force_deployed_to_gabon

[6] Schmitt, E. (2014, May 06). U.S. Signs New Lease to Keep Strategic Military Installation in the Horn of Africa. Retrieved August 07, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/06/world/africa/us-signs-new-lease-to-keep-strategic-military-installation-in-the-horn-of-africa.html

[7] Egnash, M. (2019, January 14). Legacy of Benghazi: Marine force stays ready for quick Africa deployment. Retrieved August 07, 2019, from https://www.stripes.com/news/legacy-of-benghazi-marine-force-stays-ready-for-quick-africa-deployment-1.564342

[8] Daly, J. C. (2018, April 11). Geostrategic position draws foreign powers to Djibouti. Retrieved August 07, 2019, from https://thearabweekly.com/geostrategic-position-draws-foreign-powers-djibouti

[9] Belt and Road Initiative strikes again… Djibouti risks Chinese takeover with massive loans – US warns. (2018, September 02). Retrieved August 07, 2019, from https://www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/2018/09/02/belt-and-road-initiative-strikes-again-djibouti-risks-chinese-takeover-with-massive-loans-us-warns/

[10] Nickel, S. (2019, January 31). U.S. Navy Seabees turn over Ali Oune Medical Clinic to Djiboutian officials. Retrieved August 07, 2019, from https://www.hoa.africom.mil/story/22489/u-s-navy-seabees-turn-over-ali-oune-medical-clinic-to-djiboutian-officials

[11] Griffin, C. (2018, October 28). Strategic Competition for Bases in Djibouti: TRENDS. Retrieved August 07, 2019, from http://trendsinstitution.org/strategic-competition-for-bases-in-djibouti/

Africa Alternative Futures / Alternative Histories / Counterfactuals Assessment Papers China (People's Republic of China) Djibouti Horn of Africa Travis Prendergast United States

Alternative Futures: An Assessment of the 2040 Security Environment absent Great Power Competition

Mike Sweeney is a former think tanker who lives and writes in New Jersey.  He is the author of the essays, “Could America Lose a War Well?” and “Could America Leave the Middle East by 2031?” He’s still not sure about the answer to either question.  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.


Title:  Alternative Futures: An Assessment of the 2040 Security Environment absent Great Power Competition

Date Originally Written:  July 22, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  October 14, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article presupposes that the challenges the United States will face as it approaches the mid-century mark could be quite different from the great-power conflicts with China and Russia that are now being anticipated and planned for. This article attempts to jar thinking to promote consideration of an entirely different set of threats. 

Summary:  America is likely to be ill-prepared for the security threats circa 2040. The tasks the U.S. military may be asked to perform in the face of global political instability, mass migration, and environmental degradation are likely to be both unconventional and unwanted. 

Text:  By 2040, Russia and, to a lesser extent, China are twilight powers whose strategic influence and military strength are waning. The former is mainly pre-occupied with internal stability and reform in the post-Putin era[1]. The latter has solidified its influence over the South China Sea, but the extreme costs of maintaining internal control over its domestic population and territories inhibit China from translating its resources into true global power[2]. The great-power conflict many postulated in the early twenty-first century never comes to pass. Instead, the U.S. military is forced to confront diverse but persistent low-level threats spurred on by forced migration, environmental degradation, and growing global inequality.

Several regions begin to undergo major political and social change, notably the Middle East. The region’s traditional rentier system breaks down in the face of falling oil revenue as the world belatedly transforms to a post-hydrocarbon economy. The Arab monarchies and secular authoritarian regimes begin to crumble in a second, more wide-ranging “Arab Spring[3].” While increasing the personal freedom of the region’s citizens, this second Arab Spring also enhances instability and creates a loose security environment where weapons and terrorist safe-havens are plentiful. 

Globally, there is a growing antipathy towards the world’s “have’s” among its many “have not’s.” Part of this antipathy is due to the economic insecurity in regions affected by major social and political transformation. But just as significant is the impact of environmental degradation on the livability of areas home to millions of people. By mid-century, ecological decline provokes massive refugee movements, dwarfing those seen earlier in the century[4]. As the stateless population increases substantially, the ability of Western governments to cope is severely stressed, necessitating assignation of military forces to administer refugee settlements and to interdict migrant flows. 

The increased stateless population, coupled with the turmoil brought about by political change in the Middle East and other regions, provides ample recruits for revolutionary organizations. Conservative, religious extremist groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State have been discredited due to their social backwardness and exploitative hierarchies. However, the cycle of violence swings back to new incarnations of the violent Marxism that dominated terrorism at various points during the twentieth century. In contrast to religious extremists, the Marxist revivalists embrace many nominally noble ideas like gender and racial equality, the existence of universal human rights, and place an emphasis on securing dignity for the oppressed individual. They also draw an explicit link between the existing health of the world’s stable, prosperous nations and past exploitation of both poorer regions and the world’s environment as a whole. 

These Marxist beliefs form the basis for their targeting of the United States and other mature industrial states like Japan and most European nations. Despite their ostensibly laudable goals, the new wave of Marxists are willing to employ extreme violence to achieve them. The lethality of these groups is enhanced by major advances in biotechology which create new opportunities for relatively small groups to initiate catastrophic terrorist strikes. Proliferation of directed energy weapons renders civilian aircraft of all types increasingly vulnerable from terrorist attack from the ground. 

After decades of largely ignoring the value of international organizations, U.S. efforts to resuscitate such bodies to deal with many of the transnational problems undergirding new terrorist threats are ineffective. The result is an ad hoc approach where the United States works bilaterally where it can with whomever it can to address regional migration and poverty. 

For the U.S. military, the consequences are severe. Most of the equipment purchased or developed for great-power conflict with Russia and China is ill-suited for the challenges it faces in 2040. The U.S. military’s heavy investment in robotics still yields some benefits in the realms of logistics and reconnaissance. However, the complexities of dealing with challenges like migration flows, globally distributed low-intensity conflicts, and Marxist terrorism places limits on the applicability of robotic systems to combat. 

Above all else, well-trained manpower remains at a premium. The nature of many tasks the military is asked to carry out – directly guarding American borders, providing security and humanitarian aid to refugee camps, “humanely” interdicting migration flows, conducting counter-insurgency against impoverished, sometimes displaced populations – makes securing qualified personnel difficult. Some consideration is given to establishing a standing force of paid professionals drawn from outside the United States for particularly distasteful jobs, essentially “an American Foreign Legion.” 

The specific extent to which America should go abroad to address transnational threats is a source of intense domestic debate, with a wide disparity among political groups on the issue. One school of thought argues for developing and implementing truly imposing physical and technological barriers to seal the United States off completely from the outside world. These barriers are referred to as “the Fortress America” model. Another approach favors a robust and invasive effort to interdict the sources of Marxist terrorism through a range of humanitarian and nation-building initiatives. In this model, the U.S. military becomes something of a global gendarme mated with a strong civil engineering component. A third line of thinking argues for modestly increasing the physical barriers to entry into America while conducting specific interdiction missions against groups, leaders, and weapons facilities. These raids are initially referred to as “Abbottabad on steroids,” where small units deploy from the U.S. for short periods – up to a week – to secure and clear “zones of concern” around the world. 

The intense domestic debate over the military’s role in addressing transnational threats makes long-term procurement planning difficult. Many military members grow increasingly despondent with the thankless security tasks the challenges of 2040 require. The ubiquitous coverage of most U.S. military actions through everyday technology like cell phones increases civilian debate and military dissatisfaction. Force retention reaches a crisis, as does the mental health of military personnel. Most Americans agree that administering large migrant camps or attempting to address environmental degradation abroad aren’t what they want their military to do; most also concede that given the scope of these problems by mid-century, there are few other qualified options. 


Endnotes:

[1] For an excellent discussion of four scenarios for Russia’s future, see Lynch, A. (2018, October 25). What Will Russia Be. Retrieved July 21, 2019, from https://www.the-american-interest.com/2018/10/25/what-russia-will-be/

[2] See the discussion of China’s future prospects in Beckley, M. (2018). Unrivaled: Why America Will Remain the World’s Sole Superpower. Ithaca and London: Cornel University Press.

[3] For a discussion of the rentier system and its role in maintaining authoritarian governments in the Middle East, see Muasher, M. (2018, November/December). The Next Arab Uprising. Retrieved July 21, 2019, from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/middle-east/2018-10-15/next-arab-uprising 

[4] For another possible extrapolation of the security impacts of the climate-refugee link, see Ader, M. (2019, July 2). Climate Refugees: Our Problem from Hell. Retrieved July 21, 2019, from https://wavellroom.com/2019/07/02/climate-refugees-our-problem-from-hell/

Alternative Futures / Alternative Histories / Counterfactuals Assessment Papers Great Powers Mike Sweeney

Alternative Futures: Assessment of the 2027 Afghan Opium Trade

Chris Wozniak is an independent analyst. He holds a BA in Political Economy from the University of Washington. 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.


Title:  Alternative Futures: Assessment of the 2027 Afghan Opium Trade

Date Originally Written:  July 3, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  October 3, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the point of view of a United Nations report outlining the rise Afghan heroin production and the consequences both within and beyond Afghan borders.

Summary:  A sudden exit of western troops from Afghanistan has fostered dramatic expansion of the already robust opium trade. Peace, profitability, and cynical policy calculations have led Afghan and regional players to embrace cultivation and trafficking at a cost to their licit economies, public health, and security. International players seem to think that Afghan peace on these terms is worth the corrosive influence that opium exports are carrying abroad.

Text:  In this 2027 30th anniversary edition of the World Drug Report, we have added an auxiliary booklet with an unprecedented singular focus on Afghanistan’s global impact on the drug supply chain and the threat it poses to security and development across multiple continents. This booklet covers the political landscape that allowed Afghanistan to become the world’s heroin epicenter and key players in the heroin trade. It also addresses the international response to the crisis and the global implications of the Afghan drug economy.

Five years after China’s 2022 acquisition of the port of Karachi through predatory One Belt One Road loans and a cooling in relations with Russia following the annexation of Belarus, major sea and air resupply routes to International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were closed or compromised, making sustained operations in Afghanistan logistically untenable. The subsequent departure of all ISAF troops removed a principal roadblock in peace talks with the Afghan Taliban (Taliban): withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. The resulting hastily negotiated peace deal formalized a power sharing agreement between the existing Afghan government and Taliban shadow government in exchange for renunciation of support and safe haven for transnational terrorists. In practice, a crude federalization has taken effect that leaves the Taliban politically represented in Kabul and in control of the majority of arable countryside used for poppy growth. The Western-supported government of Afghanistan largely retains control of urban centers and major highways needed for processing and export. This delicate equilibrium is largely sustained due to recognition that uninterrupted Afghan opium production is in the interest of both Afghans and international stakeholders and any violence would negatively impact profitability.

Within Afghanistan, an influential lobby shaping the political environment that has had a hand in the opium trade for decades is the transport mafia. Afghanistan has historically been a crossroads of trade and transport interests have long exploited opportunities for profit. The modern transport mafia became robust beginning in 1965 following the Afghan Transit Trade Agreement (ATTA). The agreement allowed the duty free trade of goods from Pakistan into Afghanistan, leading to smuggling of the same goods back across the border for illicit profit. Soviet-Afghan war transport mafia activities included cross-border smuggling of arms to the mujahideen and smuggling of opium on the return journey. Post 9/11, theft of American supplies shipped via Karachi and destined for Afghanistan was another common scheme[1]. The influence of transport mafia interests in Afghanistan is profound in the political and developmental arenas as well. Popular support of the Taliban in the 1990s was largely attributable to the Taliban elimination of highway bandits, making transport much more predictable. Following the improvement in conditions, the profitability of opium smuggling by transport interests proved too popular for even the Taliban’s ban on poppy cultivation and opium. Following the 2001 arrival of American and ISAF personnel, transportation interests continued to grow alongside poppy cultivation, and in 2017 cultivation reached an all-time high of approximately 420,000 hectares – seventy-five percent of the global total[2]. Yields have continued to improve in the years since as Afghans have repaired irrigation infrastructure all over the south and east of the country. Reconstruction of qanats destroyed in the Soviet-Afghan war when they were utilized as tunnels for covert mujahideen movement has been especially important to year-over-year poppy yield increases. Many of the improvements were enabled by international donations until media coverage revealed poppy farmers to be the chief beneficiaries. Subsequent donor fatigue has depressed additional rounds of Afghan development funding, making improvements in health care and education unlikely. With few alternatives, most Afghans are now completely dependent on either poppy cultivation or the transport enterprise for their livelihoods.

Regional players surrounding Afghanistan all reap unique rewards by allowing opium trade to continue. Pakistan has doubled down on the idea of “strategic depth” in any conflict with India that is afforded to them by a friendly Afghan power structure. Allowing the proliferation of poppy farming in Taliban-controlled districts and refining labs throughout the Hindu Kush has benefited Pakistan by restoring a major proxy force that is now self-sustaining. Moreover, extraction of rents from producers and traffickers by Pakistani military and intelligence factions supports asymmetric operations against India in the disputed Kashmir region. Iran has been exploiting the European heroin epidemic by extracting concessions from European stakeholders in nuclear talks in exchange for closure of their border with Afghanistan, thereby closing a major trafficking highway to Europe. Iran’s border closure has had the unforeseen consequence of driving the flow of narcotics north into the Central Asian states and the Russian Federation. Subsequently, Russia has made heroin trafficking into Europe their latest asymmetric effort to disrupt European cohesion, with reports that tacit support of the Russian Mafia by the state has expanded the volume of the Moscow trafficking hub from one third of all heroin being trafficked to Europe to two thirds today[3]. As for the United States, the domestic political atmosphere continues to reward an exit from Afghan affairs despite the diplomatic and security costs incurred abroad. For all of these actors, inaction or an embrace of Afghan heroin is a devil’s bargain. In Pakistan, the drug economy has further hollowed out the licit economy, risking the stability of a nuclear state and calling into question the security of its nuclear materials. For Russia and Central Asian States, drug use has skyrocketed and Russia’s population has been particularly hard hit by a corresponding rise in HIV/AIDS, tripling from an estimated one million citizens in 2016 to just over three million in 2025[4].

Peace in Afghanistan has been achieved at the cost of the public health, security, and economies of nations across the Eurasian landmass. Moreover, it is a peace sustained by a tenuous illicit economy and cynical policy calculations that steadily erode the licit economies of neighboring nations and transit states. Without multinational cooperation to address the corrosive fallout of Afghan heroin exports, the international community will continue to feel the negative effects for years to come.


Endnotes:

[1] Looted U.S. Army Gear For Sale in Pakistan,
Chris Brummitt – http://www.nbcnews.com/id/39542359/ns/world_news-south_and_central_asia/t/looted-us-army-gear-sale-pakistan/#.XR0AcZNKgb0

[2] World Drug Report 2018 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.18.XI.9).

[3] Crimintern: How the Kremlin Uses Russia’s Criminal Networks in Europe,
Mark Galeotti – https://www.ecfr.eu/publications/summary/crimintern_how_the_kremlin_uses_russias_criminal_networks_in_europe

[4] Russia At Aids Epidemic Tipping Point As Hiv Cases Pass 1 Million – Official,
Andrew Osborn – https://www.reuters.com/article/russia-aids/russia-at-aids-epidemic-tipping-point-as-hiv-cases-pass-1-million-official-idUSL2N1551S7

Afghanistan Alternative Futures / Alternative Histories / Counterfactuals Assessment Papers Chris Wozniak Drug Trade

Alternative Futures: Assessment of the Afghanistan Bureau 2001-2021

Michael Barr is a military historian and Director of Ronin Research, which specializes in high stress performance improvement.  He has 47 years’ experience in close quarter control and combat and is also the Director of the Jiki Ryu Aikijujutsu Association.  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.


Title:  Assessment of the Afghanistan Bureau 2001-2021

Date Originally Written:  May 30, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  September 23, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This assessment paper provides an alternative history and therefore an alternative future to U.S. actions in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks.  This paper is written from the point of view of a staff officer providing an overview of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan from 2001-2021 to an incoming political appointee in the Department of Defense.

Summary:  Despite conventional force cries for large troop footprints in Afghanistan following the ousting of the Afghan Taliban in late 2001, the U.S. chose a different route.  The combined interagency efforts of U.S. Special Operations Forces, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Department of State have enabled minimization (not defeat) of threats to U.S. interests in Afghanistan thus enabling the U.S. military to remain prepared for large scale threats posed by Russia and China.

Text:  The initial response to the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda elements in Afghanistan after 9/11 involved U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The CIA restored old ties with Afghan tribal leaders in the Northern Alliance. Backed by U.S. air power, the operation toppled the Taliban within two months and leveled the playing field allowing for the aspirations of various tribal leaders. 

With these initial operations complete, conventional force proponents argued for a text book counterinsurgency operation using a series of forward operating bases to project force and prop up a weak central government in Kabul. Asymmetric proponents argued for a return to influence and shaping operations and a strategy of stabilization and deterrence. No matter how noble the objective or heroic the effort, the U.S. would not achieve a political victory through a massive intervention that would have a large foreign footprint that even our Afghan allies did not favor. In Afghanistan, the U.S. had something to lose but nothing to gain in the conventional sense. Stability was the objective and that would be better achieved by helping the Afghans fight their own war rather than U.S. troops fight it for them. The more the U.S. efforts were unseen, the better. Instead of fighting a pointless counterinsurgency, a pragmatic strategy of forging relationships necessary to keeping Islamists from developing any significant power base in Afghanistan was pursued. 

The Afghanistan Bureau (AFBU) was created as part of U.S. Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT), to follow a strategy of realistic, attainable goals, and restricted rules of engagement, with operations calibrated to the Afghan political, cultural, physical, and mental landscapes. AFBU allowed strategy to be custom-tailored to the reality on the ground. As a result AFBU has created stability through an often tedious and contentious negotiation of tribal interests with a minimum use of force. AFBU is primarily an intelligence and influence / shaping organization that makes suggestions and entreaties to various tribal elements. Within AFBU is the Afghan Operations Group (AOG) which includes both FID (foreign internal defense) and UW (unconventional warfare) elements:

  • 100 long term advisors from CIA, SOF, and the Department of State are embedded at the tribal leadership level.
  • A fluctuating number of specialists rotate through AOG based on tribal requests and advisor observations. These specialists have included military trainers, civil affairs, engineers, teachers, medical and even civilian specialist in blacksmithing and agriculture.
  • Sufficient procurement and logistics elements to both support the AFBU and train their partners in the Afghan military.
  • AOG forces: A light, strong, mobile force of 2000 men that continually rotates its presence living and purchasing from the various tribes. This rotation creates a pragmatic symbiotic relationship. Various force components have been temporarily added. An active drone force is maintained. Support Force provides intelligence to AFBU, solidifies tribal relations, acts as a deterrent, and makes periodic strikes to reduce opposition build ups. Terrorists may never be eliminated but AOG keeps them minimized. In this way AOG imitates the Israeli response to terrorism threats. 
  • A clandestine force works from within tribal support areas to collect human intelligence and reduce the need for intervention.

Despite public claims, Afghanistan is not a nation state but a tribal society with tribal interests. Even the urban elite are really a tribe. Cash and other assets which can be measured and accounted for, are capable of accommodating many tribal needs. Limited cash and assets help solidify existing relations with tribal leaders. Refusal to provide assets, threats by other leaders, the presence of AOG forces, and loss of prestige has proven an effective mix in maintaining the peace. There is a constant battle among interested parties to supplant opium income, but the broad mix of assets available to AFBU has served as a greater inducement than illicit income. 

AFBU’s strategy leverages the fact that the parties do not like or get along with each other. AFBU’s small but effective presence and its outsider position allows it to orchestrate adversaries more as a referee. This relationship works to U.S. benefit and against U.S. enemies. AFBU is not creating Jeffersonian liberals but selectively supporting dependable leaders who can create stability and minimize Islamist capability. Sometime this means winning over factions of the Taliban. This winning over has been controversial, but a 51% reduction in extremism is sometimes better than nothing at all. Every tribal leader affiliated with AFBU is one less enemy and it allows us to monitor and influence their behavior.

AFBU has succeeded because of:

  • Sufficient funding and bipartisan Congressional support.
  • General public support or at least no vocal opposition.
  • Clear, pragmatic policy objectives.
  • Restraint imposed by the force size and the acceptance that there are limits to U.S. influence.
  • Emphasis on assembling tools in innovative ways which are applied with sufficient foresight and duration to achieve lasting effect while avoiding major combat operations.
  • High priority on intelligence.  

AFBU has converted some opposition tribes, neutralized others to ineffectiveness, and isolated most resistance to the Waziristan region. Pakistan’s ambiguous blind eye support of the Taliban, although still operative, has been muted by AFBU operations. AFBU has been able to provide long term stability for the past 20 years at a minimum investment of money, materiel, and manpower. AFBU has established a template for an overall influencing and shaping strategy which provides a structure for projecting power with a minimum of intrusion and risk. By calibrating to local concerns, similar strategies have been successful in Syria. Venezuela, Central America, Cuba, the Philippines, and even larger states like Ukraine. These small operations have allowed more resources to go to conventional near peer preparation while creating a matrix of support and influence in areas distant from the United States. 

In conclusion, AFBU has provided outsized results for its limited investment, while providing a first option for achieving U.S. objectives without large expenditures of personnel, material, and political support. The model has proven an excellent counter to gray zone conflicts related to Russia, China, and Iran.


Endnotes:

None.

Afghanistan Alternative Futures / Alternative Histories / Counterfactuals Assessment Papers Michael Barr United States

Counterfactual: Assessment of Risks to the American Reunification Referendum by the Confederate States of America’s Counterinsurgency Campaign in Cuba

This article is published as part of the Small Wars Journal and Divergent Options Writing Contest which runs from March 1, 2019 to May 31, 2019.  More information about the writing contest can be found here.


Hal Wilson lives in the United Kingdom, where he works in the aerospace industry. A member of the Military Writers Guild, Hal uses narrative to explore future conflict.  He has been published by the Small Wars Journal, and has written finalist entries for fiction contests with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, and the Atlantic Council’s Art of the Future Project.  Hal graduated with first-class honours in War Studies and History from King’s College, London, and is studying an MA on the First World War.  He tweets at @HalWilson_.  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. 


Title:  Assessment of Risks to the American Reunification Referendum by the Confederate States of America’s Counterinsurgency Campaign in Cuba

Date Originally Written:  March 6, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  June 13, 2019. 

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article presumes the Battle of Gettysburg resulted in a Confederate victory in the U.S. Civil War. Now, in the counterfactual year 1965, the Confederate States of America (CSA) are pursuing a counterinsurgency campaign in their conquered island colony of Cuba. The United States of America (USA) are meanwhile on the cusp of reunifying with the CSA through an historic referendum, but must prevent an escalation in Cuba that could derail the reunification process.  The audience for this Assessment Paper is the National Security Advisor to the President of the USA.

Summary:  The historic opportunity of the American Reunification Referendum (ARR) is directly challenged by the ongoing CSA counterinsurgency campaign in Cuba. Unless the USA applies diplomatic pressure to the CSA to achieve CSA-de-escalation in Cuba, the ARR is at risk.

Text:  The ARR, which was delayed this year due to CSA intransigence over Cuba, represents the culmination of a literal generation of effort. Decades of trans-American outreach have overcome cultural obstacles and built positive relations between the USA and the CSA. Following the 1963 Gettysburg Presidential Summit two years ago, commemorating 100 years since General Robert E. Lee’s narrow victory, Presidents Barnes and Nixon redoubled long-established policies of cross-border cooperation. These policies included a transnational committee to oversee the final dismantling of the former Mason-Dixon Demilitarised Zone. The underlying drivers of this trend – including robust cross-border trade and persistent financial crisis within the CSA – are unlikely to change. However, the CSA’s violent counterinsurgency in Cuba may provoke third-party intervention and thereby derail the ARR.

Cuba remains an emotionally charged topic within the CSA, reflecting as it does the ‘high-water-mark of the Confederacy’: the victorious Spanish War of 1898, which saw Spanish Caribbean possessions ceded to Richmond. We assess that CSA determination over Cuba is nevertheless fragile. Proposals for increased trans-American trade liberalisation could be used to entice short-term, de-escalatory moves from the CSA. Likewise, discrete offers to use our good offices for bilateral mediation could lessen tension while earning mutual goodwill. We also possess a remarkable asset in the shape of personal friendship between Presidents Barnes and Nixon, which may expedite top-down progress.

Our efforts will also benefit from the growing human cost of the CSA’s occupation. Last month’s destruction of two battalions of the 113th Florida Light Infantry near Holguin underlined the increasingly formidable abilities of the Cuban revolutionaries. Our efforts on Cuba should avoid antagonise the rebels, who have aligned around increasing desires for autonomy from Richmond. Notably, in an effort to enhance their credibility in any negotiated peace, the rebels have eliminated extremists from their own ranks such as the rogue Argentine, Che Guevara, who advocated the radical ideas of an obscure Russian writer, V.I. Lenin. Our efforts on Cuba should also not directly assist the rebels: should USA activity result in the death of even a single CSA serviceman, the ARR will be permanently compromised. 

By leveraging support from the Deutsches Kaiserreich, which offers German military and financial aid for preferential oil contracts in the Gulf of Mexico, Richmond has sustained military pressure against the Cuban rebels. In particular, the CSA’s Cuban Command (CUBACOM) numbers over 100,000 personnel and, following last month’s visit to Richmond by Kronprinz Maximilian von Thunn, boasts the latest ‘Gotha’ jet-bomber models. The USA faces no direct military threat from these developments. Indeed, CUBACOM represents a CSA military ‘best effort’, achieved only by hollowing-out mainland formations. 

While London remains focused on combating Islamist terrorism against the British Raj, organised and conducted from the German client-state of Afghanistan, London has demonstrated mounting displeasure over CSA conduct in Cuba. Last week’s wayward airstrike by CSA jets, for example, killed twenty Cuban civilians and drew further condemnation from the British Empire. The revived Wilberforce Act, first used by the British Empire to strong-arm the cessation of CSA slave-trading in 1880, once again prevents the carriage of CSA goods on British or Imperial merchant marine. Combined with wider sanctions, the British Empire has driven growing inflation within the CSA, not least by forcing Richmond to take the CSA Dollar off the gold standard. Recent evidence of illicit British support to Cuban rebels underlines London’s willingness to punish a perceived German client, and we assess a mounting risk of military escalation by the British Empire against the CSA.

Direct British intervention over Cuba would fatally compromise the likelihood of a successful ARR. USA public opinion will not tolerate overt support for CSA dominion over Cuba, and any direct conflict with London risks repeating our loss in the War of 1812. Conversely, our failure to offer tangible aid would poison CSA goodwill on the ARR. As such, any British military escalation should be forestalled by inducing a CSA climb-down.  

CSA persistence with their ‘small’ war likely demands that the USA exerts diplomatic pressure against Richmond. This is for the preservation of Cuban life and the USA’s interests: namely, to avert the risk of British military escalation against the CSA, and thereby assure a successful ARR.  

Our diplomatic pressure against the CSA would likely result in the establishment of a Cuban ‘Home Rule’ model, as pioneered by the British Empire in Ireland at the start of this century. Increased Cuban civil rights will undercut the revolutionary casus belli, and diminish the violence which offers the British Empire a pretext to intervene. Simultaneously, the CSA will be able to claim a victory by retaining its Cuban possessions – and the door can be reopened to a successfully completed ARR. 

Alternative Futures / Alternative Histories / Counterfactuals Assessment Papers Hal Wilson Small Wars Journal Writing Contest United States

Alternative Futures: United Kingdom Options in Venezuela

Hal Wilson is a member of the Military Writers Guild, and uses narrative to explore future conflict.  His finalist fiction contest entries have been published by the leading national security journal War on the Rocks, as well as the Atlantic Council’s Art of the Future Project.  His fiction has also been published by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command and the Australian Army Logistics Training Centre.  Hal graduated with first-class honours in War Studies and History from King’s College, London, and is studying an MA on the First World War. He tweets at @HalWilson_.  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:  In an alternative future, the United States and Brazil will intervene imminently in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The United Kingdom (UK) faces being pulled into the crisis. 

Date Originally Written:  February 2, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  February 11, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the point of view of the UK National Security Adviser personally briefing 10, Downing Street on potential courses of action.

Background:  The Venezuelan state has collapsed, leaving the country in the grip of growing civil strife.  The recent death of Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro in last month’s crash of a Cessna Citation – registration number YV2030, frequently used by the Maduro family[1] – failed to leave a clear successor.  As such, the ‘Bolivarian’ armed forces, affiliated militias (‘colectivos’) and even government-aligned criminal networks (‘pranes[2]’) are clashing for control of the socialist regime.

Mounting violence has seen the abduction-and-murder of opposition leader Juan Guaidó by regime intelligence on February 29, 2019[3], followed by last week’s shoot-down of a Puerto Rico Air National Guard C-130J, tail registration 64-0008. C-130J / 64-0008 was supporting in Operation DELIVER COMFORT – the ongoing U.S. effort to airdrop aid over Venezuela. UK Permanent Joint Headquarters in Northwood now confirms that, late yesterday evening, the Bolivarian Navy of Venezuela (BNV) attacked the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Agrippa.

Agrippa, a maritime support ship, was in-region to conduct Atlantic Patrol Tasking North – the UK’s standing patrol to support Caribbean Commonwealth partners and British Overseas Territories (BOTs). While departing Grenada for Monserrat, a single anti-ship missile (AShM) was fired against Agrippa, which successfully destroyed the missile with its Phalanx Close-In-Weapons-System. The BNV patrol boat – most likely Constitución-class, ironically built in the UK during the 1970s[4]  – withdrew immediately after firing.

It remains unclear why the Agrippa was attacked. Even despite recent aggressiveness by the BNV towards U.S. shipping[5], this represents a grave escalation.

Significance:  Without a leadership figure in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, the Agrippa incident and the loss of 64-0008 to a Man-Portable-Air-Defence-System (MANPADS) demonstrate a probable loss of control over state arsenals. Despite limited professionalism among the armed forces[6], the availability of such sophisticated weapon-systems is a major threat to regional stability. The risk of proliferation of MANPADS on the black-market is a particular concern.

Uproar over the loss of 64-0008 has also made intervention all but certain: repeated[7] warnings[8] to avert an intervention in Venezuela have lost weight in Washington and Brasilia[9]. U.S. enthusiasm in particular is buoyed in direct proportion to the likely share of effort which will be borne by Brazilian troops[10].

Although the UK faces no direct risk, Commonwealth partners and already-vulnerable BOTs stand to suffer if the violence continues to spill-over. A regional Notice to Mariners has been issued, complementing last week’s Notice to Airmen after the loss of 64-0008. The resultant increase of shipping insurance is further disrupting vital supply chains to isolated BOTs such as Monserrat. The UK is obliged to protect these territories.

Option #1:  The UK provides aerial support to the probable U.S.-Brazilian joint humanitarian intervention.

Risk:  Between Brazilian forces and the U.S. Global Response Force[11], the Venezuelan military will be rapidly overrun[12]. It is illustrative to note the Venezuelan Air Force is grounded by flight-safety issues[13] and defections[14] – to the point where DELIVER COMFORT remains unchallenged by any Venezuelan military aircraft.

The primary challenge will be the U.S./Brazilian occupation of major urban centres such as Caracas or Maracaibo. These cities include neighbourhoods dominated by loyalists to the socialist regime, and will pose considerable counter-insurgency challenges. Improvised explosive devices have already been employed by the opposition[15] and it can only be assumed regime loyalists will use similar techniques following an invasion.

UK sealift capacity is largely tied down supporting EXERCISE SAIF SAIREEA 6 in Oman. This conveniently precludes the prospect of large-scale UK ground contribution in Venezuela. The Royal Air Force (RAF) can nevertheless offer FGR4 Typhoons and Voyager aerial tankers to stage out of Puerto Rico, drawing on experience in long-range deployments[16].

Gain:  The UK will win favour in Washington while avoiding the more substantial risks of a ground deployment. By helping to crush the vying armed groups within Venezuela, Caribbean BOTs and Commonwealth partners will be reassured of ongoing UK support to their security.

Option #2:  The UK coordinates the acquisition or sabotage of Venezuelan MANPADS & AShM systems.

Risk:  By targeting sophisticated weapon-systems, we can not only neutralise a key threat to our U.S. & Brazilian allies, but also the main source of disruption to regional Commonwealth partners and BOTs. Bribery or staged purchases can be used to render these weapons harmless, or to have them delivered to UK hands for safekeeping. A similar activity was pursued by the Secret Intelligence Service during the 1982 Falklands War, targeting stocks of the ‘Exocet’ AShM[17].

This route, however, cannot guarantee complete success – especially where MANPADS may be held by regime loyalists, for instance. The risk to UK contacts inside Venezuela will be severe, besides the public-relations risk of UK taxpayer money being used in the illicit trade of arms. As a covert activity, it will also fail to publicly reassure local Commonwealth partners and the BOTs of a diminishing threat.

Gain:  This averts the expense of a full RAF deployment, while delivering results which can speed the U.S./Brazilian occupation of Venezuela – and ultimately assuring improved Caribbean stability. By not directly involving ourselves in the invasion, we also avoid inadvertent attacks against Russian mercenary forces in-country[18], or Russian civilians engaged in arms deliveries to the regime[19].

Option #3:  The UK enhances Royal Navy (RN) patrols in the Caribbean.

Risk:  The RN is currently thinly stretched. Besides ongoing North Atlantic Treaty Organization deployments and ships based at Bahrain, significant resources are tied up in the HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH Maritime Task Group to Singapore. A Type 45 Destroyer, HMS Dido, can nevertheless be made available. With a significant anti-missile capability[20], Dido can intercept any further AShM attacks and better protect local shipping than the Agrippa.

This will, however, fail to address the wider issue of MANPADS proliferation within Venezuela itself. The presence of a single additional air-defence warship will also do little to assist the U.S./Brazilian invasion: Washington may perceive the deployment as a token gesture.

Gain:  This option again averts the potential costs of an RAF engagement in the upcoming invasion of Venezuela, while offering highly visible reassurance to Caribbean Commonwealth partners and BOTs. Shipping insurance may be induced to return to pre-crisis levels, alleviating local supply chain disruptions.

Other comments:  The Venezuelan crisis poses an increasing destabilization risk to already-vulnerable BOTs and Commonwealth friends in the Caribbean. We must take action to assure their safety and prosperity.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Bellingcat, (2018, Dec 22)Identifying Aircraft in the Comina Operation in Venezuela https://www.bellingcat.com/news/americas/2018/12/22/identifying-aircraft-in-the-canaima-operation-in-venezuela/

[2] Centre for Strategic & International Studies, (2019, Jan 23) The Struggle for Control of Occupied Venezuela https://www.csis.org/analysis/struggle-control-occupied-venezuela

[3] The New York Times, (2019, Jan 13) Venezuela Opposition Leader is Arrested After Proposing to Take Power https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/13/world/americas/venezeula-juan-guaido-arrest.html

[4] Hazegray.org, (2001, Oct 26) World Navies Today: Venezuela
https://www.hazegray.org/worldnav/americas/venez.htm

[5] Navaltoday.com, (2018, Dec 25) Venezuelan Navy stops ExxonMobil ship in Guyana Dispute
https://navaltoday.com/2018/12/25/venezuelan-navy-stops-exxonmob%E2%80%8Eil-ship-in-guyana-dispute/

[6] Bellingcat, (2018, May 13) “We are going to surrender! Stop shooting!”: Reconstructing Oscar Perez’s Last Hours
https://www.bellingcat.com/news/americas/2018/05/13/we-are-going-to-surrender-stop-shooting-reconstructing-oscar-perezs-last-hours/

[7] Foreign Affairs, (2017, Nov 8) What Would a U.S. Intervention in Venezuela Look Like?
https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/venezuela/2017-11-08/what-would-us-intervention-venezuela-look

[8] TIME, (2019, Jan 31) I Commanded the U.S. Military in South America. Deploying Soldiers to Venezuela Would Only Make Things Worse
http://time.com/5516698/nicolas-maduro-juan-guaido-venezuela-trump-military/

[9] The Guardian, (2018, Dec 14) Rightwing Venezuelan exiles hope Bolsonaro will help rid them of Maduro
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/13/brazil-bolsonaro-maduro-venezuela-dissidents-rightwing

[10] Twitter, (2019. Feb 2)
https://twitter.com/saveriovivas/status/1091733430151364610

[11] RAND, (2016) Enabling the Global Response Force, Access Strategies for the 82nd Airborne Division https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1161.html

[12] Military Review: The Professional Journal of the US Army, (January 2019) Venezuela, A ‘Black Swan’ Hot Spot
https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Journals/Military-Review/English-Edition-Archives/Jan-Feb-2019/Delgado-Venezuela/

[13] The Aviationist,(2012, Nov 28) Photo shows pilots ejecting from their jet moments before it crashed into the ground https://theaviationist.com/2012/11/28/k8-crash/

[14] Daily Sabah, (2019, Feb 2) Venezuela air force general defects in rebellion against President Maduro https://www.dailysabah.com/americas/2019/02/02/venezuela-air-force-general-defects-in-rebellion-against-president-maduro

[15] Bellingcat, (2017, Sept 2) The Bombs of Caracas
https://www.bellingcat.com/news/americas/2017/09/02/the-bombs-of-caracas/

[16] Forces Network, (2016, Sept 29) RAF Typhoons Head to Far East Amid Heightened Tensions https://www.forces.net/services/raf/raf-typhoons-head-far-east-amid-heightened-tensions

[17] The Telegraph (2002, Mar 13) How France helped us win Falklands War, by John Nott https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1387576/How-France-helped-us-win-Falklands-war-by-John-Nott.html

[18] The Guardian (2019, Jan 13) Russian mercenaries reportedly in Venezuela to protect Maduro https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/25/venezuela-maduro-russia-private-security-contractors

[19] TASS, (2018, Apr 4) Kalashnikov plant in Venezuela to start production in 2019 http://tass.com/defense/997625

[20] Savetheroyalnavy.com (2015, Sep 28) UK and NATO navies take further small steps in developing ballistic missile defence
https://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/uk-and-nato-navies-take-further-small-steps-in-developing-ballistic-missile-defence/

 

Alternative Futures / Alternative Histories / Counterfactuals Brazil Option Papers United Kingdom Venezuela

Alternative Futures: Argentina Attempts a Second Annexation of the Falkland Islands

Hal Wilson lives in the United Kingdom, where he works in the aerospace industry. A member of the Military Writers Guild, Hal uses narrative to explore future conflict.  He has been published by the Small Wars Journal, and has written finalist entries for fiction contests with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, and the Atlantic Council’s Art of the Future Project.  Hal graduated with first-class honours in War Studies and History from King’s College, London, and is studying an MA on the First World War.  He tweets at @HalWilson_.  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:  In an alternative future, the Republic of Argentina is attempting a second annexation of the Falkland Islands in the year 2030.

Date Originally Written:  August 27, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  October 15, 2018.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the point of view of the United Kingdom’s (UK) National Security Adviser personally briefing 10, Downing Street on potential responses to Argentina’s action.

Background:  Inconceivable even only two decades ago, we now have positive confirmation that Argentine naval and military forces are conducting long-range precision fire against RAF MOUNT PLEASANT, the Royal Air Force station in the Falkland Islands.

Anglo-Argentine relations have long soured against their high-point around 2017, when favourable Argentine politics dovetailed with our joint operations to rescue the missing Argentine submarine ARA SAN JUAN[1].  These favourable politics were quickly reversed by domestic Argentine authoritarianism of a sort unseen since Argentina’s so-called ‘Dirty War’ of the mid-1970s to mid-1980s.  This authoritarianism built amid economic slowdown in Argentina and overwhelming Venezuelan refugee inflows escaping the totalitarian rule of Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro[2].  This refugee influx has only worsened after the 2025 collapse of the Maduro regime and ongoing Venezuelan Civil War, which has also left Argentina as the largest Chinese creditor in Latin America[3].

UK institutional bandwidth remains highly constrained with the fallout of the Russian attack against the Baltic nations in 2028[4].  As such, we have again been surprised by the Argentine leadership’s depth of feeling – and risk-tolerance – in this bid to offset domestic discord with foreign adventure.  We assess this annexation is at least partly driven by the need to service increasingly onerous Chinese debts with Falkland oil revenues[5].  Finally, British Forces Falkland Islands (BFFI) stands at token levels.  Initially justified by Anglo-Argentine détente, this was sustained even while historic Argentine military weaknesses[6] were resolved through years of Chinese financing.

Significance:  With our focus on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Eastern Flank, BFFI is under-strength and at risk of being cut-off.  RAF MOUNT PLEASANT constitutes the lynchpin of our position on the Falkland Islands; its neutralisation will leave our forces vulnerable to a follow-on amphibious assault.  The Argentine goal will be to damage or seize the airbase to cut off our ‘air-bridge’ of rapid reinforcement and present the annexation as a fait accompli.

Option #1:  Assemble a Task Group at once to defend, or retake, the Islands.

Risk:  This option is not without risk; we cannot expect a repeat of 1982.  Geography is against us in every sense, with 3,000 miles of ocean separating us from the islands.  Moreover, the Argentine Navy now operates a large inventory of ex-Chinese drone-submarines capable of operating farther north than their forbears could reach in 1982.  Safe anchorage at Ascension Island is not guaranteed.

Unlike 1982, our fleet is also not concentrated for rapid reaction into the South Atlantic.  Whereas the nucleus of the previous Task Group was concentrated at Gibraltar for Exercise SPRING TRAIN 82, our carriers and major surface escorts are dispersed to Singapore (HMS PRINCE OF WALES) and the North Sea (HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH).  Redeploying these assets to the South Atlantic will take time, and compromise our obligations to NATO among others; we must hope our allies can meet these shortfalls.

We nevertheless have the advantage that the Argentine military, despite their investments, suffer from limited amphibious and airlift capabilities.  These will limit their scope to capture and garrison the Islands, should BFFI be overrun.  Effective targeting of these assets will be key to crippling the Argentine position.

Gain:  Britain can decisively restore the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, should we succeed. There is a high risk of casualties, including the loss of high-value warships, although we will deter future threats.

Option #2:  Pursue non-kinetic operations against the Argentine mainland.

Risk:  Cyber operations against targets in Argentina itself, coupled with targeted influence operations on social media, may destabilise the Argentine leadership.  Expanded operational scope could also incur meaningful economic difficulties; even simply revoking shipping insurance from leading British firms[7] might disrupt vital exports from the fragile Argentine economy.  We must nevertheless beware the public relations impact of too broad a target set.

We must also calibrate these operations for the greatest and quickest effect possible, as the BFFI garrison will not survive indefinitely.  The garrison’s most effective component includes a pair of Typhoon F2 fighters, reduced from the historic complement of four.  While some of our oldest airframes, they can match the second-hand Chinese models operating with the Argentine Air Force. But their effectiveness is not assured amid precision-fire threats to the MOUNT PLEASANT runway.

Gain:  Non-kinetic operations against the Argentine mainland might provoke the collapse of the Argentine leadership, while avoiding the risk of sending a full Task Group into the South Atlantic.  This may shorten the conflict and prevent a larger British casualty list.

Option #3:  Appeal to the United Nations (UN) for a return to the previously existing state of affairs.

Risk:  The United States, Canada and Australia will certainly support an appeal in the General Assembly.  However, our French and German counterparts have failed to support us on national security issues at the UN in the past[8].  The Chinese will also exert great influence among their client states to protect their creditor.

We cannot expect a resolution in our favour, but even a successful outcome may see our conduct thereafter bound by UN guidance.  The Argentine leadership likely shall not observe any rulings, and simply use the time spent to defeat the BFFI then consolidate their position on the Islands.

Gain:  A successful appeal through the UN will frame global perception as one of legality against Chinese-driven opportunism.  It will also leverage diplomatic legitimacy and economic tools in our favour, with potential for appeal among the Argentine domestic opposition, for a longer struggle.

Other Comments:  The Falkland Islanders have repeatedly affirmed their status as fellow Britons.  We must not fail them.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Savetheroyalnavy.org (2017, Nov. 29) Reflecting on the sad loss of the ARA San Juan https://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/reflecting-on-the-sad-loss-of-argentine-submarine-ara-san-juan/ (Accessed 29.08.18)

[2] Phillips, D. (2018, Aug. 6) Brazil: judge shuts border to Venezuelan migrants fleeting hunger and hardship https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/06/brazil-shuts-border-venezuelan-migrants (Accessed 28.08.18)

[3] Wheatley, J. (2018, Jun. 5) Argentina woos China in hunt for support package
https://www.ft.com/content/2e0cf612-68b0-11e8-b6eb-4acfcfb08c11 (Accessed 28.08.18)

[4] Shlapak, D. & Johnson, M. (2016) Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1253.html (Accessed 28.08.18)

[5] Yeomans, John. (2016, Jan 11.) Rockhopper shares bounce after Falkland oil discovery  https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/oilandgas/12092516/Rockhopper-shares-bounce-after-Falkland-oil-well-discovery.html (Accessed 28.08.18)

[6] Wilson, H. (2016, Feb. 17) Whence the threat? Lessons from Argentina’s Air-Naval Arsenal in 2015 http://cimsec.org/21667-2/21667 (Accessed 28.08.18)

[7] The Telegraph (2012, Jun. 19) Britain stops Russian ship carrying attack helicopters for Syria https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9339933/Britain-stops-Russian-ship-carrying-attack-helicopters-for-Syria.html (Accessed 28.08.18)

[8] Harding, A. (2018, Aug. 27) Chagos Islands dispute: UK ‘threatened’ Mauritius.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-45300739 (Accessed 29.08.18)

Alternative Futures / Alternative Histories / Counterfactuals Argentina Falkland Islands Hal Wilson Option Papers

Alternative Futures: Options for the Deployment of Iraqi Peacekeepers

Mr. Jason Hansa is a retired U.S. Army officer that served in Germany, Korea, and CONUS, with two deployments each in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.  He currently works as a military contractor at the U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command on Fort Lee, Virginia.  He can be found on Twitter @HauptmannHansa.  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:  In an alternative future, the Government of Iraq in 2020 considers deploying its troops as United Nations (UN) Peacekeepers.

Date Originally Written:  June 1, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  August 6, 2018.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the point of view of the Iraqi Defense Minister writing a personal options paper for the Iraqi Prime Minister, circa 2020.  This point of view assumes the Muslim Rohinga minority in Myanmar are still persecuted and an international coalition is forming to help them[1].

Background:  Our nation has been at war for nearly twenty years, thirty if our invasion of Kuwait is included.  Our military, thanks to training with the U.S. and a long war against the Islamic State (IS), is strong and has an experienced Noncommissioned Officer Corps.  Our population votes.  Our women can drive.  We are more moderate than many Islamic nations, and yet, when the people of the world look to the Middle East, they see our nation only for our troubles.  It is nearly impossible to entice foreign investment when the only image potential investors have of us is one of war.  Moreover, the international spotlight often overlooks our nation entirely.  The ongoing rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia continues to divide the world, the Palestinians continue their fights with Israel, and Egypt seems to implode every three years.  Our neighbors scare away as much investment as our own beleaguered history.

Significance:  If we are to bring our nation back into the spotlight, we must find a way to attract the world’s attention.  We must find a way to demonstrate our ability to peacefully step up and stand on the world stage.  Failure will keep our economy stagnant.

Option #1:  Iraq asks to participate in UN peacekeeping missions.

Risk:  This is a low-risk option demonstrating the strength of our military by helping others.  Dispatching troops to join UN Peacekeeping operations is a solution that will bring about some short-term media notice, but probably very little else.  Many small nations participate in UN Peacekeeping simply as a way to earn money and help bankroll their own militaries.  There is no formalized training system for Peacekeepers, nations are left to send what units they choose.  Our battle-tested battalions will serve alongside whatever troops the UN can scrounge up[2].

Gain:  Our military hadn’t conducted operations outside of Iraq since our war with Iran in the 1980’s and the 1973 October War against Israel.  Deployments with the UN will allow our forces to practice rotational deployment schedules.  It is not an easy thing, sending troops and equipment outside of our borders, and moving them in conjunction with the UN will allow us time to practice and learn without a heavy media glare.

Option #2:  Iraqi forces join other nations and conduct humanitarian operations in Myanmar.

Risk:  With no prior practice of deployments, we stand the chance of making major mistakes while in the world’s eye.  While we could swallow some pride and ask long-time allies for advice—especially our friends in Indonesia and India—neither country has a long history of overseas deployments.  We would be best served asking new friends with deployment experience, such as the South Koreans, for help, a solution that is both diplomatically palatable and socially acceptable.  Finally, we would have to assure our religious leaders and population that our military is not becoming mercenaries to serve, bleed, and die at the behest of western nations.

Gain:  Participating in a humanitarian effort, especially if we were seen working with the consultation of a friend such as India, would be recognized as a major step towards participation on the global stage.  For our population, assisting fellow brothers in Islam like the Rohinga would be a source of pride in our nation and our military.

Option #3:  Iraqi forces work alongside European nations and conduct rotational operations in the Baltics.

Risk:  This is a high-risk for high-gains solution.  First, we have always maintained a cautious friendship with Russia, as they are a major source of our military’s weapons and arms.  Aligning with Europe and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nations against them will probably close that door for decades.  Second, our people would question why we are sending our nation’s forces to faraway lands, and spending treasure (and possible lives) to fix a problem that does not concern us.  Finally, our deployment inexperience will most hurt us during this option: unlike peacekeeping operations, our forces must deploy fully ready for war.

Gain:  If we are to ask nations to invest in our country, we must stand ready to invest in the safety of theirs.  Putting our forces in the Baltics will present our nation in a favorable light to the people and businessmen of small but relatively wealthy nations.  While we lack deployment experience, we will have the entire logistical backbone and experience of NATO to draw upon to ensure our forces move in an organized fashion.  Finally, the forces NATO assembles and trains in the Baltics are among their very best.  Training alongside these forces is a cost-effective way to ensure our battle-hardened troops maintain their edge[3].

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Smith, N. and Krol, C. (2017, September 19). Who are the Rohingya Muslims? The stateless minority fleeing violence in Burma. Retrieved 14 June 2018 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/rohingya-muslims/

[2] Schafer, B. (2016, August 3). United Nations Peacekeeping Flaws and Abuses: The U.S. Must Demand Reform. Retrieved 14 June 2018 https://www.heritage.org/report/united-nations-peacekeeping-flaws-and-abuses-the-us-must-demand-reform [3] McNamara, E. (NATO Magazine, 2016). Securing the Nordic-Baltic region. Retrieved 14 June 2018. https://www.nato.int/docu/review/2016/also-in-2016/security-baltic-defense-nato/EN/index.htm 

[3] McNamara, E. (NATO Magazine, 2016). Securing the Nordic-Baltic region. Retrieved 14 June 2018. https://www.nato.int/docu/review/2016/also-in-2016/security-baltic-defense-nato/EN/index.htm

Alternative Futures / Alternative Histories / Counterfactuals Iraq Jason Hansa Option Papers Peace Missions

Divergent Trajectories for U.S. Military Power

Jeff Becker is a consultant in the U.S. Joint Staff J-7, Joint Concepts Division and writes extensively on military futures and joint force development, including the 2016 edition of the Joint Operating Environment:  The Joint Force in a Contested and Disordered World. He can be found at LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffrey-becker-10926a8 or at Jeffrey.james.becker@gmail.com.  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:  Divergent trajectories for U.S. military power.

Date Originally Written:  May 30, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  July 23, 2018.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a military futurist supporting the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff J7 which is responsible for the six functions of joint force development: Doctrine, Education, Concept Development & Experimentation, Training, Exercises and Lessons Learned.  The author is a classical realist and believes strongly in the importance of husbanding U.S. strategic power and avoiding wasting conflicts around the world, while simultaneously believing in the judicious use of the U.S. military to protect its interests and support and defend a favorable world order. 

Background:  Today U.S. understanding of the long-term trajectory of its power is at a crossroads, with two divergent and highly consequential potential futures as options[1].  Each future is plausible.  Each future has widely different implications for the kind of Joint Force that the U.S. will need.

Significance:  New national security and national defense strategies direct a recapitalization of the Joint Force after nearly two decades of war.  Clarifying which future is more probable and the force modernization implications that flow from each can help to illuminate what the U.S. and its military can reasonably aspire to and achieve in the future[2].  Basing force design on sound assumptions about the relative trajectory of U.S. power – particularly economic power, but also other intangibles such as scientific innovation or social cohesion – is central to well-defined Joint Force roles and missions and the requisite concepts and capabilities it will need in the future

Articulating two distinct visions for the possible trajectory of American power, and then consistently anchoring force design choices on the expected one, will ensure the future armed forces can be an effective part of future national strategy. 

Option #1:  The consensus future understands the U.S. to remain as the single most powerful state on the world stage.  In this view, the economic and military potential of the U.S. remains relatively constant – or at the very worst – only sees a slight decline relative to other countries over the next two decades.  In such a world, the U.S. and its Joint Force, though generally superior, will be increasingly challenged and the Joint Force is forced to adapt as its power relative to others undergoes a slow erosion.  Such a world emphasizes the need to address great powers, in a period of “long term strategic competition between nations[3].”  Competition is multi-faceted, but nations generally avoid the overt use military force and pursue regional opportunities to challenge U.S. interests and objectives – particularly within their regions – in indirect and subversive ways.    

Risk:  In a world in which U.S. power is perceived as too formidable to confront directly, state rivals may prioritize indirect, proxy, and hybrid approaches as well as new forms of cyber and information confrontation that avoid open clashes with the Joint Force.  This places the Joint Force in a dilemma, as the large nuclear and conventional forces required to keep conflict contained are likely unsuitable to these indirect coercive challenges.  Option #1 would leave the U.S. more vulnerable to threats arising from persistent disorder, substate violent conflict, political subversion, influence operations, and novel and unexpected asymmetric military developments that avoid confronting the U.S. military directly.   

Gain:  Joint Force development activities in this world will be able to take advantage of greater freedom of action – including a large and capable alliance system and ability to operate through and from global commons – to deter and impose costs on competitors and adversaries.  The U.S. may have the strategic and military margins to direct more resources and effort as a “systems administrator” for the global commons.  In this role the U.S. would use military power to secure maritime global trade, open and uninhibited use of space, and thus, continue to support and defend an open world order largely favorable to U.S. against even great power competitors.

Option #2:  In this alternative future, relative U.S. economic and technological decline translate into significant strategic and military challenges more rapidly than many expect.  This world is plausible.  A particularly striking assessment in the U.K.’s Global Strategic Trends describes a 2045 People’s Republic of China (PRC) with an economy more than double that of the United States ($62.9 trillion versus $30.7 trillion) and noting that even today, the PRC military may already be “close to matching that of the U.S., perhaps exceeding it in some areas.”  A CSBA study notes that the trajectory of PRC growth means that it “poses a far greater economic challenge to the United States than did Soviet Russia, Imperial Japan, or Nazi Germany[4].”  In this world, great powers are able to translate this growing relative power into more expansive and often hostile national objectives.  

Risk:  The military consequences of a world in which the U.S. possesses one-fourth the population and one half the economy of the PRC would be profound.  Here, the U.S. is the “smaller superpower” and the PRC translates demographic potential and economic and technological prowess into more expansive strategic goals and potentially overmatches the Joint Force in a number of important capability areas.   In such a world, other competitive and openly aggressive adversaries may also pursue military spheres of influence and make regional and local arrangements incompatible with a free and open international order.  Adversaries may be able to project power globally with advanced expeditionary forces, but also through new space, information, cyber weapons, and long-range precision strike systems.  Combined, these may force the U.S. to invest more in homeland defense at the expense of our own global power projection capabilities.

Gain:  Joint force development efforts in this world are forced to be agile enough to confront aggressive and powerful adversaries in asymmetric, unexpected, and flexible ways.  Counterintuitively, in such a world it may be easier for the U.S. military to counter aggressive adversary moves.  In a world of powerful defensive capabilities in which projecting power through dense and connected defensive complexes is extremely difficult, the U.S. could optimize the Joint Force to construct defensive systems and perimeters around Allies and Partners.  The U.S. can also invest in strategic mobile defenses in-depth to raise the risk and cost of adversary initiatives around the world. 

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  These alternative futures are derived from “challenged assumption #1 in a Joint Staff J7 study, Challenged Assumptions and Potential Groupthink (April 2018), p. 9.

[2]  See, Joint Operating Environment 2035 (July 2016), p. 50-51

[3]   Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy (January 2018), p. 2.

[4]   Andrew Krepinevich, Preserving the Balance: A U.S. Eurasia Defense Strategy, CSIS (2017), p. 40

Alternative Futures / Alternative Histories / Counterfactuals Capacity / Capability Enhancement Economic Factors Jeff Becker Option Papers United States

An Assessment of the Likely Roles of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Systems in the Near Future

Ali Crawford has an M.A. from the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce where she focused on diplomacy, intelligence, cyber policy, and cyber warfare.  She tweets at @ali_craw.  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.


Title:  An Assessment of the Likely Roles of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Systems in the Near Future

Date Originally Written:  May 25, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  July 16, 2018.

Summary:  While the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) continues to experiment with Artificial Intelligence (AI) as part of its Third Offset Strategy, questions regarding levels of human participation, ethics, and legality remain.  Though a battlefield in the future will likely see autonomous decision-making technology as a norm, the transition between modern applications of artificial intelligence and potential applications will focus on incorporating human-machine teaming into existing frameworks.

Text:   In an essay titled Centaur Warfighting: The False Choice of Humans vs. Automation, author Paul Scharre concludes that the best warfighting systems will combine human and machine intelligence to create hybrid cognitive architectures that leverage the advantages of each[1].  There are three potential partnerships.  The first potential partnership pegs humans as essential operators, meaning AI cannot operate without its human counterpart.  The second potential partnership tasks humans as the moral agents who make value-based decisions which prevent or promote the use of AI in combat situations.  Finally, the third potential partnership, in which humans are fail-safes, give more operational authority to AI systems.  The human operator only interferes if the system malfunctions or fails.  Artificial intelligence, specifically autonomous weapons systems, are controversial technologies that have the capacity to greatly improve human efficiency while reducing potential human burdens.  But before the Department of Defense embraces intelligent weapons systems or programs with full autonomy, more human-machine partnerships to test to viability, legality, and ethical implications of artificial intelligence will likely occur.

To better understand why artificial intelligence is controversial, it is necessary to distinguish between the arguments for and against using AI with operational autonomy.  In 2015, prominent artificial intelligence experts, including Steven Hawking and Elon Musk, penned an open letter in which the potential benefits for AI are highlighted, but are not necessarily outweighed by the short-term questions of ethics and the applicability of law[2].  A system with an intelligent, decision-making brain does carry significant consequences.  What if the system targets civilians?  How does international law apply to a machine?  Will an intelligent machine respond to commands?  These are questions with which military and ethical theorists grapple.

For a more practical thought problem, consider the Moral Machine project from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology[3].  You, the judge, are presented with two dilemmas involving intelligent, self-driving cars.  The car encounters break failure and must decide what to do next.  If the car continues straight, it will strike and kill x number of men, women, children, elderly, or animals.  If the car does not swerve, it will crash into a barrier causing immediate deaths of the passengers who are also x number of men or women, children, or elderly.  Although you are the judge in Moral Machine, the simulation is indicative of ethical and moral dilemmas that may arise when employing artificial intelligence in, say, combat.  In these scenarios, the ethical theorist takes issue with the machine having the decision-making capacity to place value on human life, and to potentially make irreversible and damaging decisions.

Assuming autonomous weapons systems do have a place in the future of military operations, what would prelude them?  Realistically, human-machine teaming would be introduced before a fully-autonomous machine.  What exactly is human-machine teaming and why is it important when discussing the future of artificial intelligence?  To gain and maintain superiority in operational domains, both past and present, the United States has ensured that its conventional deterrents are powerful enough to dissuade great powers from going to war with the United States[4].  Thus, an offset strategy focuses on gaining advantages against enemy powers and capabilities.  Historically, the First Offset occurred in the early 1950s upon the introduction of tactical nuclear weapons.  The Second Offset manifested a little later, in the 1970s, with the implementation of precision-guided weapons after the Soviet Union gained nuclear parity with the United States[5].  The Third Offset, a relatively modern strategy, generally focuses on maintaining technological superiority among the world’s great powers.

Human-machine teaming is part of the Department of Defense’s Third Offset strategy, as is deep learning systems and cyber weaponry[6].  Machine learning systems relieve humans from a breadth of burdening tasks or augment operations to decrease potential risks to the lives of human fighters.  For example, in 2017 the DoD began working with an intelligent system called “Project Maven,” which uses deep learning technology to identify objects of interest from drone surveillance footage[7].  Terabytes of footage are collected each day from surveillance drones.  Human analysts spend significant amounts of time sifting through this data to identify objects of interest, and then they begin their analytical processes[8].  Project Maven’s deep-learning algorithm allows human analysts to spend more time practicing their craft to produce intelligence products and less time processing information.  Despite Google’s recent departure from the program, Project Maven will continue to operate[9].  Former Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work established the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team in early 2017 to work on Project Maven.  In the announcement, Work described artificial intelligence as necessary for strategic deterrence, noting “the [DoD] must integrate artificial intelligence and machine learning more effectively across operations to maintain advantages over increasingly capable adversaries and competitors[10].”

This article collectively refers to human-machine teaming as processes in which humans interact in some capacity with artificial intelligence.  However, human-machine teaming can transcend multiple technological fields and is not limited to just prerequisites of autonomous weaponry[11].  Human-robot teaming may begin to appear as in the immediate future given developments in robotics.  Boston Dynamics, a premier engineering and robotics company, is well-known for its videos of human- and animal-like robots completing everyday tasks.  Imagine a machine like BigDog working alongside human soldiers or rescue workers or even navigating inaccessible terrain[12].  These robots are not fully autonomous, yet the unique partnership between human and robot offers a new set of opportunities and challenges[13].

Before fully-autonomous systems or weapons have a place in combat, human-machine teams need to be assessed as successful and sustainable.  These teams have the potential to improve human performance, reduce risks to human counterparts, and expand national power – all goals of the Third Offset Strategy.  However, there are challenges to procuring and incorporating artificial intelligence.  The DoD will need to seek out deeper relationships with technological and engineering firms, not just defense contractors.

Using humans as moral agents and fail-safes allow the problem of ethical and lawful applicability to be tested while opening the debate on future use of autonomous systems.  Autonomous weapons will likely not see combat until these challenges, coupled with ethical and lawful considerations, are thoroughly regulated and tested.


Endnotes:

[1] Paul Scharre, Temp. Int’l & Comp. L.J., “Centaur Warfighting: The False Choice of Humans vs. Automation,” 2016, https://sites.temple.edu/ticlj/files/2017/02/30.1.Scharre-TICLJ.pdf

[2] Daniel Dewey, Stuart Russell, Max Tegmark, “Research Priorities for Robust and Beneficial Artificial Intelligence,” 2015, https://futureoflife.org/data/documents/research_priorities.pdf?x20046

[3] Moral Machine, http://moralmachine.mit.edu/

[4] Cheryl Pellerin, Department of Defense, Defense Media Activity, “Work: Human-Machine Teaming Represents Defense Technology Future,” 8 November 2015, https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/628154/work-human-machine-teaming-represents-defense-technology-future/

[5] Ibid.

[6] Katie Lange, DoDLive, “3rd Offset Strategy 101: What It Is, What the Tech Focuses Are,” 30 March 2016, http://www.dodlive.mil/2016/03/30/3rd-offset-strategy-101-what-it-is-what-the-tech-focuses-are/; and Mackenzie Eaglen, RealClearDefense, “What is the Third Offset Strategy?,” 15 February 2016, https://www.realcleardefense.com/articles/2016/02/16/what_is_the_third_offset_strategy_109034.html

[7] Cheryl Pellerin, Department of Defense News, Defense Media Activity, “Project Maven to Deploy Computer Algorithims to War Zone by Year’s End,” 21 July 2017, https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1254719/project-maven-to-deploy-computer-algorithms-to-war-zone-by-years-end/

[8] Tajha Chappellet-Lanier, “Pentagon’s Project Maven responds to criticism: ‘There will be those who will partner with us’” 1 May 2018, https://www.fedscoop.com/project-maven-artificial-intelligence-google/

[9] Tom Simonite, Wired, “Pentagon Will Expand AI Project Prompting Protests at Google,” 29 May 2018, https://www.wired.com/story/googles-contentious-pentagon-project-is-likely-to-expand/

[10] Cheryl Pellerin, Department of Defense, Defense Media Activity, “Project Maven to Deploy Computer Algorithims to War Zone by Year’s End,” 21 July 2017, https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1254719/project-maven-to-deploy-computer-algorithms-to-war-zone-by-years-end/

[11] Maj. Gen. Mick Ryan, Defense One, “How to Plan for the Coming Era of Human-Machine Teaming,” 25 April 2018, https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2018/04/how-plan-coming-era-human-machine-teaming/147718/

[12] Boston Dynamic Big Dog Overview, March, 2010, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNZPRsrwumQ

[13] Richard Priday, Wired, “What’s really going on in those Bostom Dynamics robot videos?,” 18 February 2018, http://www.wired.co.uk/article/boston-dynamics-robotics-roboticist-how-to-watch

Ali Crawford Alternative Futures / Alternative Histories / Counterfactuals Artificial Intelligence & Human-Machine Teaming Capacity / Capability Enhancement United Nations

Assessment of the Security and Political Threat Posed by a “Post-Putin” Russia in 2040

Sarah Martin is a recent graduate from George Mason University, where she received her Master of Science in Conflict Analysis and Resolution.  Her thesis examined the motivations of Chechen foreign fighters in Syria fighting for the Islamic State.  She can be found on Twitter @amerikitkatoreo.  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.


Title:  Assessment of the Security and Political Threat Posed by a “Post-Putin” Russia in 2040

Date Originally Written:  June 5, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  July 9, 2018.

Summary:  In the upcoming decades, news feeds will probably continue to have a healthy stream of Russian meddling and Russian cyber attack articles.  However, a reliance on cyber attacks may be indicative of deeper issues that threaten Russia’s stability.

Text:  As Americans gear up for the midterm elections in November 2018, there have been a number of articles sounding the alarm on continuing disinformation campaigns from Russia[1].  Vulnerabilities exposed in 2016 have not been adequately addressed, and worse yet, the Kremlin is making their tools and methods more sophisticated, jumping even more steps ahead of policymakers and prosecutors[2].  However, in another 20 years, will the West be engaged in these same conversations, enmeshed in these same anxieties?

In short, yes.

In long—yes, but that might be an indicator of a much deeper problem.

Moscow has been deploying disinformation campaigns for decades, and when it knows the target population quite well, these operations can be quite successful.  Barring some kind of world-altering catastrophe, there is little doubt that Russia will stop or even slow their course.  Currently, disinformation stands as one of many tools the Russian Foreign Ministry can use to pursue its objectives.  However, there are political and economic trends within the country that might make meddling one of Russia’s only diplomatic tool.  Those trends are indicative of rather deep and dark issues that may contort the country to react in unpredictable ways, thus threatening its immediate neighbors, and spark trouble for the Transatlantic security apparatus.

Disinformation is a well-used tool in Russia’s foreign policy arsenal. Its current form is an inheritance from old Soviet tactics.  Under the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB), Service A was responsible for meddling in the West’s public discourse by muddying the waters and sowing discord between constituents, ultimately to affect their decisions at the polling booth[3].  These campaigns were known as “active measures.”  Some of America’s most popular conspiracy theories—like the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) having a role in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy—actually originated as a Service A disinformation campaign[4].  Russia has the institutional knowledge to keep the momentum rolling well into the future.

Not every campaign delivers a home run (see the French 2017 presidential elections).  However, Russia has the capability to learn, adapt, and change.  Perhaps the most appealing aspects of disinformation is its efficiency.  Cyber active measures also have the added benefit of being incredibly cost-effective.  A “regiment” of 1,000 operatives could cost as little as $300 million annually[5].

The economy is one of the trends that indicates a boggier underbelly of the Russian bear.  Russia may have to rely on its cyber capabilities, simply because it cannot afford more aggressive measures on the physical plane.

Russia, for all of its size, population and oil reserves, has no right having an economy smaller than South Korea’s[6].  Its economy is unhealthy, staggering and stagnating, showing no sign of any degree of sustained recovery.  That Russia is a petrostate is one factor for its economic weakness.  Politics—sanctions and counter-sanctions—also play a part in its weakness, though it is mostly self-inflicted.  However, each of these factors belies responsibility from the true culprit—corruption.  According to Transparency International, Russia is as corrupt as Honduras, Mexico and Kyrgyzstan[7].

Corruption in Russia isn’t simply a flaw to be identified and removed like a cancer; it is built into the very system itself[8].  Those who participate in corruption are rewarded handsomely with a seat at the political table and funds so slushie, you could find them at 7-11.  It is a corrupt system where the key players have no incentive of changing.  Everyone who plays benefits.  There has always been an element of corruption in Russia’s economy, especially during the Brezhnev years, but it only became systematic under Vladimir Putin[9].  Corruption will remain after Putin leaves the presidency, because he may leave the Kremlin, but he will never leave power.

Many Kremlin observers speculate that Putin will simply stay in politics after his final term officially ends[10].  If this does happen, taking into account that Putin is 65 years old, it is likely that he could reign for another 10-20 years.  Physically and practically then, Putinism may continue because its creator is still alive and active.  And even if Putin stepped back, the teeth of his policies are embedded so deeply within the establishment, that even with the most well-intentioned and capable executive leadership, it will take a long time to disentangle Putinism from domestic governance.

Another component of Putinism is how it approaches multilateralism.  Putinism has no ideology.  It is a methodology governed by ad hoc agreements and transactionalism.  Russia under Putinism seeks not to build coalitions or to develop friendships.  Russia under Putin is in pursuit of its former empire.  Nowhere is this pursuit more evident than with its Eurasian Economic Union.  While the European Union has its functional problems, it at least is trying to build a community of shared values. None of that exists in the EAEU[11].

Putinism, combined with a foreign policy designed to alienate potential allies and to disincentivize others from helping in times of crisis, connotes fundamental and systematic failures, that in turn, indicate weakness.  The tea leaves are muddy, but the signs for “weak” and “failing state” are starting to form, and weak states are erratic.

Weakness is what pressed Putin into Crimea and the Donbass in 2014, when the possibility of a Western-embracing Ukraine looked more probable than speculative.  Weakness is what pushed Russian troops into Georgia in 2008.  Russia had no other means of advancing their foreign policy objectives than by coercion and force.  One must wonder then what “Crimea, But Worse” might look like.

Russia will continue to use disinformation campaigns to pursue its foreign policy goals, and currently, this is one of many ways it can interact with other countries.  However, disinformation may be the only tool Moscow can afford to keep around.  This lack of other tools would indicate a rotting and faulty economic and political structure, which Russia currently has no incentive to change and may not have the ability to change after President Putin.  A sick Russia is already challenging for the world.  A failing Russia could be absolutely disastrous.


Endnotes:

[1] Rasmussen, A. F., & Chertoff, M. (2018, June 5). The West Still Isn’t Prepared to Stop Russia Meddling in Our Elections. Politico Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/06/05/russia-election-meddling-prepared-218594

[2] Ibid.

[3] Kramer, M. (2017, January 1). The Soviet Roots of Meddling in U.S. Politics. PONARS Eurasia. Retrieved from http://www.ponarseurasia.org/memo/soviet-roots-meddling-us-politics

[4] Ibid.

[5] Bergmann, M. & Kenney, C. (2017, June 6). War by Other Means. Center for American Progress. Retrieved from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/security/reports/2017/06/06/433345/war-by-other-means/

[6] The World Bank. (2016). World Development Indicators. Retrieved from https://datacatalog.worldbank.org/dataset/gdp-ranking

[7] Transparency International. (2017). “Russia.” Corruption Perceptions Index 2017. Brussels. Retrieved from https://www.transparency.org/country/RUS

[8] Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe (2017). In Brief: Corruption in Russia: An Overview. Washington, DC: Massaro, P., Newton, M. & Rousling, A. Retrieved from https://www.csce.gov/international-impact/publications/corruption-russia-overview

[9] Dawisha, K. (2015). Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? New York City.

[10] Troianovski, A. (2018, March 19). Putin’s reelection takes him one step closer to becoming Russian leader for life. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/putins-reelection-takes-him-one-step-closer-to-becoming-russian-leader-for-life/2018/03/19/880cd0a2-2af7-11e8-8dc9-3b51e028b845_story.html

[11] Chatham House. (2018). The Eurasian Economic Union Deals, Rules and the Exercise of Power. London: Dragneva, R. & Wolczuk, K.

Alternative Futures / Alternative Histories / Counterfactuals Assessment Papers Russia Sarah Martin