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.


[1] (2017, Nov. 29) Reflecting on the sad loss of the ARA San Juan (Accessed 29.08.18)

[2] Phillips, D. (2018, Aug. 6) Brazil: judge shuts border to Venezuelan migrants fleeting hunger and hardship (Accessed 28.08.18)

[3] Wheatley, J. (2018, Jun. 5) Argentina woos China in hunt for support package (Accessed 28.08.18)

[4] Shlapak, D. & Johnson, M. (2016) Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank (Accessed 28.08.18)

[5] Yeomans, John. (2016, Jan 11.) Rockhopper shares bounce after Falkland oil discovery (Accessed 28.08.18)

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

[7] The Telegraph (2012, Jun. 19) Britain stops Russian ship carrying attack helicopters for Syria (Accessed 28.08.18)

[8] Harding, A. (2018, Aug. 27) Chagos Islands dispute: UK ‘threatened’ Mauritius. (Accessed 29.08.18)

Alternative Futures 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.


[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

[2] Schafer, B. (2016, August 3). United Nations Peacekeeping Flaws and Abuses: The U.S. Must Demand Reform. Retrieved 14 June 2018 [3] McNamara, E. (NATO Magazine, 2016). Securing the Nordic-Baltic region. Retrieved 14 June 2018. 

[3] McNamara, E. (NATO Magazine, 2016). Securing the Nordic-Baltic region. Retrieved 14 June 2018.

Alternative Futures 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 or at  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.


[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 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.


[1] Paul Scharre, Temp. Int’l & Comp. L.J., “Centaur Warfighting: The False Choice of Humans vs. Automation,” 2016,

[2] Daniel Dewey, Stuart Russell, Max Tegmark, “Research Priorities for Robust and Beneficial Artificial Intelligence,” 2015,

[3] Moral Machine,

[4] Cheryl Pellerin, Department of Defense, Defense Media Activity, “Work: Human-Machine Teaming Represents Defense Technology Future,” 8 November 2015,

[5] Ibid.

[6] Katie Lange, DoDLive, “3rd Offset Strategy 101: What It Is, What the Tech Focuses Are,” 30 March 2016,; and Mackenzie Eaglen, RealClearDefense, “What is the Third Offset Strategy?,” 15 February 2016,

[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,

[8] Tajha Chappellet-Lanier, “Pentagon’s Project Maven responds to criticism: ‘There will be those who will partner with us’” 1 May 2018,

[9] Tom Simonite, Wired, “Pentagon Will Expand AI Project Prompting Protests at Google,” 29 May 2018,

[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,

[11] Maj. Gen. Mick Ryan, Defense One, “How to Plan for the Coming Era of Human-Machine Teaming,” 25 April 2018,

[12] Boston Dynamic Big Dog Overview, March, 2010,

[13] Richard Priday, Wired, “What’s really going on in those Bostom Dynamics robot videos?,” 18 February 2018,

Ali Crawford Alternative Futures 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.


[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

[2] Ibid.

[3] Kramer, M. (2017, January 1). The Soviet Roots of Meddling in U.S. Politics. PONARS Eurasia. Retrieved from

[4] Ibid.

[5] Bergmann, M. & Kenney, C. (2017, June 6). War by Other Means. Center for American Progress. Retrieved from

[6] The World Bank. (2016). World Development Indicators. Retrieved from

[7] Transparency International. (2017). “Russia.” Corruption Perceptions Index 2017. Brussels. Retrieved from

[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

[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

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

Alternative Futures Assessment Papers Russia Sarah Martin