Assessment of the Role of Small Wars within the Evolving Paradigm of Great Power Competition in a Multipolar World

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.


James P. Micciche is an Active Component U.S. Army Civil Affairs Officer with deployment and service experience in the Middle East, Africa, Afghanistan, Europe, and Indo-Pacific.  He is currently a Master’s candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.  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 Role of Small Wars within the Evolving Paradigm of Great Power Competition in a Multipolar World

Date Originally Written:  April 25, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  June 17, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is an Active Component U.S. Army Civil Affairs Officer with deployment and service experience in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and the Indo-Pacific.

Summary:  The U.S. is scaling down the Global War on Terrorism and focusing on threats posed by a revisionist China and Russia and rogue nations such as Iran. In this context, limited military operations (small wars) will be useful in transforming counterterrorism methods, which previously dominated U.S. foreign policy, into being only one facet of a synchronized whole of government response in pursuit of U.S. policy objectives in contested spaces.

Text:  Over the past decade, the global balance of power has shifted to a multipolar construct in which revisionist actors such as China and Russia attempt to expand their spheres of influence at the expense of the U.S.-led liberal order.  The ongoing rebalance has been gradual and often conducted through a myriad of activities beyond kinetic operations as Russia, China, and regional actors such as Iran have shown a capability to capitalize on and create domestic instability as a means to expand influence, gain access to key terrain and resources, and reduce western influence.  The capacity to utilize limited military operations (small wars) as part of a focused, tailored, and comprehensive whole of government approach to deter threats and expansion from revisionist powers is paramount in promoting U.S. and Western interests within the modern paradigm.  Despite the prominent role engaging in limited operations at or more importantly below the level of conflict fulfills within the context of great power competition, it is far from a proverbial silver bullet as the rebalancing of power brings new parameters and risks that U.S. policy makers must understand before engaging  in any small war. 

Since the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United States and her Western allies have enjoyed an exorbitant amount of freedom to execute limited military operations and foreign domestic interventions due to what scholars termed the unipolar moment[1].   The 1990s saw the principle of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) utilized as a guiding framework for Western engagement as liberal democracies intervened in the internal affairs of sovereign nations from Somalia to the Balkans to protect life and punish offenders[2].  Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States and many of her longtime allies began the Global War on Terror (GWOT) fundamentally changing U.S. foreign policy for the next two decades.  The GWOT gave rise to an unprecedented increase in U.S. foreign intervention as the specter of terrorism emerged in all corners of the globe and a series of Secretary of Defense-approved Execute Orders granted the DoD broad authorities to conduct counterterrorism operations worldwide.  

The extent to which global terrorism poses an existential threat to U.S. and other Western powers has been debated with valid and well-researched positions on both sides[3], but what is not debatable is that GWOT consumed vast amounts of the West’s material resources and attention — the U.S. alone has spent an estimated $5.9 Trillion since 9/11[4].  With the West focusing on countering non-state actors, revisionist nations began to build power and expand which became evident when Russia annexed Crimea and China began aggressively expanding into the South China Sea.  The 2017 National Security Strategy marked a turning point in contemporary U.S. foreign policy by codifying an end to the CT-focused strategy of the previous sixteen years and placing an emphasis on great power competition with near-peers, as the document declares in very clear language “…after being dismissed as a phenomenon of an earlier century, great power competition returned. China and Russia reassert their influence regionally and globally[5].”   

Despite recent attempts by China and Russia to close the military capabilities gap between themselves and the U.S., the U.S. maintains an advantage, specifically in the global application and projection of power[6]. To overcome this disadvantage revisionist and rogue states utilize soft balancing (utilization of international structures to disrupt and discredit U.S. hegemony) at the strategic level[7] and hybrid warfare (population-centric operations that create instability) at the tactical and operational levels[8] to expand their influence and territory through activities that avoid direct confrontation.  The utilization and application of limited military operations (small wars) combined with other elements of state power can both identify and counter the aforementioned strategies employed by contemporary Western rivals while concurrently advancing U.S. strategic objectives. Within the small war paradigm, military actors have a wide range of applications that support U.S. strategic objectives that fall into three mutually supportive activities, mil-to-mil engagement, civ-mil engagement, and resistance operations.  

Persistent mil-to-mil engagements, exercises, and training missions help establish the U.S. as a partner of choice in strategically significant nations while simultaneously building partner capabilities within or adjacent to contested regions.  The deployment of Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations elements foster resiliency within vulnerable populations, denying adversaries access to key human terrain needed to conduct hybrid operations.  Resistance operations can manifest in defensive or offensive postures either supporting a partner nation from externally provoked and supported insurrection or undermining the capacity of rival nations to exert malign influence by supporting armed and unarmed opposition to the state. Military interventions are best as only one facet of a synchronized whole of government response in which the DoD might not be the lead agency.  Furthermore, as rivals compete over contested spaces the chances for escalation and international incident grows, a threat exponentially increased by the internationalization of civil wars, placing increased risk in direct military engagements. 

In the evolving context of great power competition, U.S. assets may not always be the best funded or equipped.  They will often face bureaucratic restrictions their rivals do not and potentially be deprived of access to key individuals or institutions.  These conditions will place a premium on individual interpersonal skills and international U.S. perception, so the U.S. can maintain a comparative advantage in soft power. To facilitate that advantage the U.S. will likely need to differentiate and categorize partners on not only their geopolitical importance but also the values that they represent and the company they keep.  Specifically the U.S. will likely examine the risks of collaborating with autocratic governments whose actions have the propensity to create domestic instability and an environment conducive to hybrid warfare.  Additionally, any government with substantial human rights concerns degrades the soft power of those that the international community perceives as their partners, a perception adversary information operations can greatly amplify.

As U.S. security strategy adapts and returns to a construct that places emphasis on challenges and threats from state actors the function, employment, and role of the small war will be useful to transform from a method of CT into a strategic instrument of national power that can support long-term U.S. objectives across the globe often below levels of conflict. 


Endnotes:

[1] Krauthammer, C. (1990). The Unipolar Moment. Foreign Affairs, 23-33. Retrieved from Foreign Affairs.

[2] Evans, G., & Sahnoun, M. (2002). The Responsibility to Protect. Foreign Affairs, 99-110.

[3] Brookings Institution. (2008, February 21). Have We Exaggerated the Threat of Terrorism. Retrieved from The Brookings Institution : https://www.brookings.edu/events/have-we-exaggerated-the-threat-of-terrorism/

[4] Crawford, N. C. (2018, November 14). United States Budgetary Csts of the Post-9/11 Wars Through FY2019: $5.9 Trillion Spend and Obligated. Retrieved from Watson Institute: https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2018/Crawford_Costs%20of%20War%20Estimates%20Through%20FY2019%20.pdf

[5] United States. (2017). The National Security Strategy of the United States of America. Washington D.C. : The White House.  Retrieved from: https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf

[6] Heginbotham, E. M. (2019). The U.S.-China Military Scorecard: Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power, 1996–2017. Santa Monica: Rand Corporation.

[7] Pape, R. A. (2005). Soft Balancing Against the United States. International Security, 7-45.

[8] Chives, C. S. (2017, March 22). Understanding Russian “Hybrid Warfare” and What Can Be Done About IT. Retrieved from Rand Corporation : https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/testimonies/CT400/CT468/RAND_CT468.pdf

Assessment Papers Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) Great Powers James P. Micciche Small Wars Journal Writing Contest

Options for the West to Address Russia’s Unconventional Tactics

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.


Jesse Short was enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps infantry and served in the Republic of Iraq between 2005 and 2008.  He currently works as a security contractor in the Middle East and recently finished his M.S. in Global Studies and International Relations from Northeastern University.  He can be found on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/jesse-s-4b10a312a. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  The Russian Federation’s limited forms of warfare against western states and associated influence in other regions challenges the world as it is conducted below the threshold of war.

Date Originally Written:  March 3, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  March 25, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a veteran of the infantry in both the United States Marine Corps and United States Army. The author believes in checking clear threats to western states with strong and decisive, but intelligent responses. This article is written from the point of view of western states under the threat of the ‘unconventional’ actions of the Russian Federation.  

Background:  Russia, under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, has established its foreign policy in the last ten years on interrupting and negatively influencing the stability of other states. This foreign policy has largely gone unanswered by the international community and only serves to reinforce the use of these actions by Russian actors. Georgia was the first case and Ukraine is a much more dynamic second example of this policy[1]. These two policy tests have proven to Russia, and in some sense to other states like China, that limited forms and unconventional forms of coercion, intimidation, and violence will go unchecked so long as they do not go too far with these actions. The West’s lack of imagination and adherence to one-sided western rules and laws are its glaring weakness. This weakness is being exploited relentlessly with little meaningful response.   

Significance:  Since around the time of Russia’s incursion into the Republic of Georgia in 2008, Putin has been operating unchecked around the world. Putin’s actions have been disastrous for what is an already tumultuous world order. If continued, these actions will create more direct and indirect issues in the future and increase the threat to western stability. 

Option #1:  The West influences Russia within its border.

The equal and opposite response to Russian transgressions around the world would be to attempt to spread misinformation and potentially destabilize Russian society by targeting the citizenry’s trust in Putin and his government. The aim with this approach is to distract the Russian government and intelligence services to preoccupy them with trouble within their own borders as to limit their ability to function effectively outside of their state borders. 

Risk:  While this approach is opposite to what actions most western societies are willing to take, this option can also have severely negative consequences on a political level in domestic politics in the West. While Russia can take similar actions as a semi-authoritarian state with little repercussion, the proposed actions would be a bigger issue in western democracies which are at the mercy of public opinion[2]. Russian media also has greater pull and influence within its community than western media does in the West, so Russia can shape its truth accordingly. Another large issue is that the Russian people should not be made to suffer for the actions that are mostly to be blamed on what appears to be their poorly representative government. This option could serve to galvanize polarity between Russians and western citizens unjustly if discovered. Finally, it is unlikely that western intelligence services would be given the support or be able to maintain the secrecy required to conduct these actions effectively without it being made public and having even more severe consequences once those actions were exposed[3]. 

Gain:  A misinformation campaign or the exposure to hidden truths covered up by the Russian government may have a positive effect on Russians and their relationship with / control of their government. Exposing voters to what their government is doing around the world with state funds may influence that relationship in a more positive manner. Also, if things did work out according to plan, Russia may be forced to withdraw somewhat from its politically divisive ventures in Georgia, Ukraine, Syria, and perhaps Africa and Belarus.     

Option #2:  The West responds outside of Russia.

Western states could act more aggressively in checking Russian support of small political factions and insurgencies in specific regions. The issue of Russian occupation in the Republic of Georgia and Russian material and personnel support in eastern Ukraine are the best places to start. A greater commitment to supporting the incoming regime following Ukraine’s upcoming elections and the involvement of western states in more intensive training and operations with Ukrainian forces would be a welcomed adjustment of policy[4]. The West’s turning of the other cheek that has largely followed Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for the Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples’ Republics send the wrong messages to the friends and enemies of western powers.

Risk:  The risks that are ever-present with a stronger approach to Russian interventionist tactics are mainly geared at avoiding a larger conflict. The reason behind Russia’s low-intensity application of force and influence is to scare the faint-hearted away[5]. It is working. No state wants a war. War with Russia would not end well for any party that is involved. While war is unlikely, it is still a possibility that needs to be considered when additional states become involved in these limited conflicts. Again, politics must be factored into the commitment of force with warfighters, financial support, or materiel support. Democratic leaders are going to be hesitant to become involved in small wars with no strategy to back them up. Afghanistan and Iraq have already done enough damage to western powers with their lack of direction and their continued drain on resources to no end. 

Gain:  Showing aggressive states that their divisive actions will be met with a sure and solid response is the best thing that could happen for international stability in the coming years. The negligence the world community has shown to an overaggressive Russia and China in recent years has set a very dangerous precedent.  

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] United States Congress: Commission on Security Cooperation in Europe. (2018). Russia’s Occupation of Georgia and the Erosion of the International Order: Hearing before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, One Hundred Fifteenth Congress, Second Session, July 17, 2018.

[2] Zakem, V., Saunders, P., Hashimova, U., & Frier, P. (2017). Mapping Russian Media Network: Media’s Role in Russian Foreign Policy and Decision-Making (No. DRM-2017-U-015367-1Rev). Arlington, Virginia: CNA Analysis and Solutions. 

[3] Reichmann, D. (2017). “CIA boss Mike Pompeo says ‘leaker worship’ compromising American intelligence”. Global News. Retrieved from https://globalnews.ca/news/3554008/mike-pompeo-leakers-us-intelligence/

[4] Deychakiwsky, O. (2018). “Analysis: U.S. Assistance to Ukraine”. U.S. Ukraine Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.usukraine.org/analysis-u-s-assistance-ukraine/

[5] Khramchikhin, A. (2018). “Rethinking the Danger of Escalation: The Russia-NATO Military Balance”. Carnegie Endowment of International Peace. Retrieved from https://carnegieendowment.org/2018/01/25/rethinking-danger-of-escalation-russia-nato-military-balance-pub-75346.    

Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) Jesse Short Option Papers Russia Small Wars Journal Writing Contest

An Assessment of North Atlantic Treaty Organization Cyber Strategy and Cyber Challenges

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 North Atlantic Treaty Organization Cyber Strategy and Cyber Challenges

Date Originally Written:  December 5, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  January 14, 2019.

Summary:  Cyber capabilities are changing the character of warfare.  Nations procure and develop cyber capabilities aimed at committing espionage, subversion, and compromising the integrity of information.  The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has evolved to meet these modern challenges by consistently implementing new policies, creating governing structures, and providing education to member-states.

Text:  In 2002, leaders from various nations met in Prague to discuss security challenges at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit.  Agenda items included enhancing capabilities to more appropriately respond to terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, to consider the pending memberships of several Eastern European nations, and for the first time in NATO history, a pledge to strengthen cyber defenses.  Since 2002, NATO has updated its cyber policies to more accurately reflect the challenges of a world that is almost exclusively and continuously engaged in hybrid warfare. 

As NATO is a defensive organization, its primary focus is collective defense, crisis management, and cooperative security.  Early cyber policy was devoted exclusively to better network defense, but resources were limited; strategic partnerships had not yet been developed; and structured frameworks for policy applications did not exist.  When Russian Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks temporarily disrupted Estonian banking and business sectors in 2007, the idea of collective defense was brought to fruition.  Later, in 2008, another wave of vigorous and effective Russian DDoS attacks precluded an eventual kinetic military invasion of Georgia.  This onslaught of cyber warfare, arguably the first demonstration of cyber power used in conjunction with military force, prompted NATO to revisit cyber defense planning[1].  Today, several departments are devoted to the strategic and tactical governance of cybersecurity and policy. 

NATO’s North Atlantic Council (NAC) provides high-level political oversight on all policy developments and implementation[2].  Under the NAC rests the Cyber Defence Committee which, although subordinate to the NAC, leads most cyber policy decision-making.  At the tactical level, NATO introduced Cyber Rapid Reaction teams (CRRT) in 2012 which are responsible for cyber defense at all NATO sites[3].  The CRRTs are the first to respond to any cyber attack.  The Cyber Defence Management Board (CDMB), formerly known as the Defence Policy and Planning Committee (Cyber Defence), maintains responsibility for coordinating cyber defense activities among NATO’s civil and military bodies[4].  The CDMB also serves as the most senior advisory board to the NAC.  Additionally, the NATO Consultation, Control, and Command Board serves as the main authority and consultative body regarding all technical aspects and implementation of cyber defense[5]. 

In 2008 at the Bucharest Summit, NATO adopted its first political body of literature concerning cyber defense policy which primarily affirmed member nations’ shared responsibility to develop and defend its networks while adhering to international law[6].  Later, in 2010, the NAC was tasked with developing a more comprehensive cyber defense strategy which eventually led to an updated Policy on Cyber Defense in 2011 to reflect the rapidly evolving threat of cyber attacks[7].  NATO would continue to evolve in the following years.  In 2014, NATO began establishing working partnerships with industry leaders in cybersecurity, the European Union, and the European Defense Agency[8].  When NATO defense leaders met again at the Warsaw Summit in 2016, the Alliance agreed to name cyberspace as a domain of warfare in which NATO’s full spectrum of defensive capabilities do apply[9]. 

Despite major policy developments and resource advancements, NATO still faces several challenges in cyberspace.  Some obstacles are unavoidable and specific to the Internet of Things, which generally refers to a network of devices, vehicles, and home appliances that contain electronics, software, actuators, and connectivity which allows these things to connect, interact and exchange data.  First, the problem of misattribution is likely. Attribution is the process of linking a group, nation, or state actor to a specific cyber attack[10].  Actors take unique precautions to remain anonymous in their efforts, which creates ambiguities and headaches for the response teams investigating a particular cyber attack’s origin.  Incorrectly designating a responsible party may cause unnecessary tension or conflict. 

Second, as with any computer system or network, cyber defenses are only as strong as its weakest link.  On average, NATO defends against 500 attempted cyber attacks each month[11].  Ultimately, the top priority is management and security of Alliance-owned security infrastructure.  However, because NATO is a collection of member states with varying cyber capabilities and resources, security is not linear.  As such, each member nation is responsible for the safety and security of their own networks.  NATO does not provide security capabilities or resources for its members, but it does prioritize education, training, wargaming, and information-sharing[12].

To the east of NATO, Russia’s aggressive and tenacious approach to gaining influence in Eastern Europe and beyond has frustrated the Alliance and its strategic partners.  As demonstrated in Estonia and Georgia, Russia’s cyber power is as equally frustrating, as Russia views cyber warfare as a component of a larger information war to control the flow and perception of information and distract, degrade, or confuse opponents[13].  U.S. Army General Curtis Scaparroti sees Russia using cyber capabilities to operate under the legal and policy thresholds that define war. 

A perplexing forethought is the potential invocation of NATO Article 5 after a particularly crippling cyber attack on a member nation.  Article 5 bounds all Alliance members to the collective defense principle, stating that an attack on one member nation is an attack on the Alliance[14].  The invocation of Article 5 has only occurred one time in NATO history following the September 11 terror attacks in the United States[15].  The idea of proportional retaliation often arises in cyber warfare debates.  A retaliatory response from NATO is also complicated by potential misattribution.

Looking ahead, appears that NATO is moving towards an active cyber defense approach.  Active defense is a relatively new strategy that is a set of measures designed to engage, seek out, and proactively combat threats[16].  Active defense does have significant legal implications as it transcends the boundaries between legal operations and “hacking back.”  Regardless, in 2018 NATO leadership agreed upon the creation and implementation of a Cyber Command Centre that would be granted the operational authority to draw upon the cyber capabilities of its members, such as the United States and Great Britain[17].  Cyber Deterrence, as opposed to strictly defense, is attractive because it has relatively low barriers to entry and would allow the Alliance to seek out and neutralize threats or even to counter Russian information warfare campaigns.  The Command Centre is scheduled to be fully operational by 2023, so NATO still has a few years to hammer out specific details concerning the thin line between cyber defense and offense. 

The future of cyber warfare is uncertain and highly unpredictable.  Some experts argue that real cyber war will never happen, like German professor Thomas Rid, while others consider a true act of cyber war will be one that results in the direct loss of human life[18].  Like other nations grappling with cyber policy decision-making, NATO leadership will need to form a consensus on the applicability of Article 5, what precisely constitutes a serious cyber attack, and if the Alliance is willing to engage in offensive cyber operations.  Despite these future considerations, the Alliance has developed a comprehensive cyber strategy that is devoted to maintaining confidentiality, integrity, and accessibility of sensitive information. 


Endnotes:

[1] Smith, David J., Atlantic Council: Russian Cyber Strategy and the War Against Georgia, 17 January 2014, retrived from http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/natosource/russian-cyber-policy-and-the-war-against-georgia; and White, Sarah P., Modern War Institute: Understanding Cyber Warfare: Lessons From the Russia-Georgia War, 20 March 2018, retrieved from https://mwi.usma.edu/understanding-cyberwarfare-lessons-russia-georgia-war/

[2] North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Cyber defence, 16 July 2018, retrieved from https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_78170.htm

[3] North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Cyber defence, 16 July 2018, retrieved from https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_78170.htm

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Cyber defence, 16 July 2018, retrieved from https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_78170.htm

[8] Ibid; and NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Center for Excellence, History, last updated 3 November 2015, https://ccdcoe.org/history.html

[9] North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Cyber defence, 16 July 2018, retrieved from https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_78170.htm

[10] Symantec, The Cyber Security Whodunnit: Challenges in Attribution of Targeted Attacks, 3 October 2018, retrieved from https://www.symantec.com/blogs/expert-perspectives/cyber-security-whodunnit-challenges-attribution-targeted-attacks

[11] Soesanto, S., Defense One: In Cyberspace, Governments Don’t Know How to Count, 27 September 2018, retrieved from: https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2018/09/cyberspace-governments-dont-know-how-count/151629/; and North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Cyber defence, last modified 18 February 2018, retrieved from https://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pdf_2018_02/20180213_1802-factsheet-cyber-defence-en.pdf

[12] North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Cyber defence, last modified 18 February 2018, retrieved from https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_78170.htm

[13] U.S. Department of Defense, “NATO moves to combant Russian hybrid warfare,” 29 September 2018, retrieved from https://dod.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1649146/nato-moves-to-combat-russian-hybrid-warfare/

[14] North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Collective defence – article 5, 12 June 2018, retrieved from https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_110496.htm

[15] Ibid.

[16] Davis, D., Symantec: Navigating The Risky Terrain of Active Cyber Defense, 29 May 2018, retrieved from https://www.symantec.com/blogs/expert-perspectives/navigating-risky-terrain-active-cyber-defense

[17] Emmott, R., Reuters: NATO Cyber Command to be fully operational in 2023, 16 October 2018, retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nato-cyber/nato-cyber-command-to-be-fully-operational-in-2023-idUSKCN1MQ1Z9

[18] North Atlantic Treaty Organization, “Cyber War Will Not Take Place”: Dr Thomas Rid presents his book at NATO Headquarters,” 7 May 2013, retrieved from https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/news_100906.htm

 

Ali Crawford Assessment Papers Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) Cyberspace North Atlantic Treaty Organization Strategy

Options for Countering the Rise of Chinese Private Military Contractors

Anthony Patrick is a graduate of Georgia State University and an Officer in the United States Marine Corps.  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:  Future threats to United States (U.S.) interests abroad from Chinese Private Military Contractors.

Date Originally Written:  November, 26, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  December 24, 2018.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a United States Marine Corps Officer and currently attending The Basic School. 

Background:  Over the last six months, the media has been flooded with stories and articles about the possibility of a trade war between the U.S and the People Republic of China (PRC). These talks have mainly focused around specific trade policies such as intellectual property rights and the trade balance between the two nations. These tensions have risen from the PRC’s growing economic influence around the world. While many problems persist between the U.S and the PRC due to the latter’s rise, one issue that is not frequently discussed is the growing use of Private Military Contractors (PMCs) by the PRC. As Chinese companies have moved operations further abroad, they require protection for those investments. While the current number of Chinese PMCs is not large, it has been growing at a worrying rate, which could challenge U.S interests abroad[1]. 

Significance:  Many countries have utilized PMCs in foreign operations. The most significant international incidents involving PMCs mainly come from those based in the U.S and the Russian Federation. However, many other countries with interests abroad have increasingly started to utilize PMCs. One of the most significant examples has been the growing use of Chinese PMC’s. These PMCs pose a very unique set of threats to U.S national security interest abroad[2]. First, like most PMC’s, Chinese contractors come mainly from the Peoples Liberation Army and policing forces. This means that the PMCs have a significant amount of military training. Secondly, the legal relationship between the PMC’s and the PRC is different than in most other countries. Since the PRC is an authoritarian country, the government can leverage multiple forms of coercion to force PMC’s into a certain course of action, giving the government a somewhat deniable capability to control foreign soil. Lastly, the Chinese can use PMC’s as a means to push their desired political endstate on foreign countries. With the U.S still being ahead of the PRC militarily, and with both states having nuclear capabilities, conventional conflict is highly unlikely. One way for the Chinese to employ forces to counter U.S. interests abroad is through the use of PMC’s, similar to what Russia has done in Syria[3]. With this in mind, the U.S will need a proactive response that will address this problem both in the short and long term.  

Option #1:  Increase the Department of Defense’s (DoD) focus on training to counter irregular/asymmetric warfare to address the threat posed by PRC PMCs. 

Risk:  The new National Defense Strategy (NDS) focuses on many aspects of the future conventional battlefield like increasing the size of the U.S Navy, cyber operations, and cutting edge weapons platforms[4]. By focusing more of the DoD’s resources on training to counter irregular / asymmetric warfare, the military will not be able to accomplish the goals in the NDS. This option could also lead to a new generation of military members who are more adept at skills necessary for smaller operations, and put the U.S at a leadership disadvantage if a war were to break out between the U.S and a near peer competitor. 

Gain:  Another major conventional war is highly unlikely. Most U.S. near peer competitors are weaker militarily or have second strike nuclear capabilities. Future conflicts will most likely require the U.S. to counter irregular / asymmetric warfare methodologies, which PRC PMCs may utilize.  By focusing DoD resources in this area, the U.S would gain the ability to counter these types of warfare, no matter who employs them. In addition to being better able to conduct operations similar to Afghanistan, the U.S. would also have the tools to address threats posed by PRC PMCs.  Emphasizing this type of warfare would also give U.S actions more international legitimacy as it would be employing recognized state assets and not trying to counter a PRC PMC with a U.S. PMC. 

Option #2:  The U.S. pursues an international treaty governing the use of PMC’s worldwide.  

Risk:   Diplomatic efforts take time, and are subject to many forms of bureaucratic blockage depending on what level the negations are occurring. Option #2 would also be challenging to have an all-inclusive treaty that would cover every nation a PMC comes from or every country from which an employee of these firms might hail. Also, by signing a binding treaty, the U.S would limit its options in foreign conflict zones or in areas where Chinese PMC’s are operating or where the U.S. wants to use a PMC instead of the military.

Gain:  A binding international treaty would help solve most of the problems caused by PMC’s globally and set the stage for how PRC PMC’s act as they proliferate globally[5]. By making the first move in treaty negotiations, the U.S can set the agenda for what topics will be covered. The U.S can build off of the framework set by the Montreux document, which sets a non-binding list of good practices for PMCs[6]. By using the offices of the United Nations Working Group on PMCs the U.S would be able to quickly pull together a coalition of like minded countries which could drive the larger negotiation process. Lastly, Option #2 would help solve existing problems with PMC’s operating on behalf of other countries, like the Russian Federation. 

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Swaine, M. D., & Arduino, A. (2018, May 08). The Rise of China’s Private Security (Rep.). Retrieved November 26, 2018, from Carnegie Endowment For International Peace website: https://carnegieendowment.org/2018/05/08/rise-of-china-s-private-security-companies-event-6886

[2] Erickson, A., & Collins, G. (2012, February 21). Enter China’s Security Firms. Retrieved November 26, 2018, from https://thediplomat.com/2012/02/enter-chinas-security-firms/3/

[3] United States., Department of Defense, (n.d.). Summary of the 2018 National Defense strategy of the United States of America: Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Edge (pp. 1-14).

[4] Gibbons-neff, T. (2018, May 24). How a 4-Hour Battle Between Russian Mercenaries and U.S. Commandos Unfolded in Syria. Retrieved November 25, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/24/world/middleeast/american-commandos-russian-mercenaries-syria.html

[5] Guardians of the Belt and Road. (2018, August 16). Retrieved November 26, 2018, from https://www.merics.org/en/china-monitor/guardians-of-belt-and-road

[6] Switzerland, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Directorate of International Law. (2008, September 17). The Montreux Document. Retrieved November 26, 2018, from https://www.icrc.org/en/doc/assets/files/other/icrc_002_0996.pdf

Anthony Patrick Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) China (People's Republic of China) Irregular Forces Non-Government Entities Option Papers

U.S. Options for Responding to Sharp Power Threats

Anthony Patrick is a student at Georgia State University where he majors in political science and conducts research on Sharp Power.  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:  Threats to U.S. and allied nations by sharp power actions (defined below).

Date Originally Written:  June 16, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  July 30, 2018.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is an undergraduate student of defense policies and an Officer Candidate in the United States Marine Corps.  This article is written with the base assumption that foreign actions against the U.S political system is a top national security challenge and a continuing threat.

Background:  Recent U.S. news cycles have been dominated by the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the U.S political system.  Other allied nations such as the United Kingdom, France, Australia, and New Zealand have also recently dealt with foreign political influence campaigns[1].  While historically nations have projected power either through military might (hard power) or cultural influence (soft power), rising authoritarian actors like the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Russia, Iran, and North Korea are resulting to a hybrid mix of classical power projection through emerging technologies with revisionist intent in the international system known as sharp power[2].  Sharp power is more direct than soft power, not as physically destructive as hard power, and does not cause enough damage to justify a military response like Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. 

Sharp power actions are normally covert in nature allowing the perpetrator plausible deniability.  Given the combined military and economic power of western democracies, sharp power is the preferred method for disruptive actions against the international order by authoritarian powers.  The effectiveness of sharp power is amplified by the open nature of democratic societies, especially in the information age[3].  Other examples of sharp power attacks include the North Korean hacking of Sony Pictures, the Iranian hacking of a dam in New York, PRC surveillance of Chinese students in foreign classrooms[4], and Russian actions in Ukraine and Moldova[5]. 

Significance:  The effects of sharp power actions can be very dangerous for western democracies.  One effect is a decrease in democratic legitimacy in an elected government.  When the citizens question if it was themselves or foreign actors who helped elect a government, that government is hamstrung due to a lack of legitimacy.  This lack of legitimacy can create new divisions or heighten polarization in the targeted countries.  Foreign actors can use the internet as a guise, pretend to be domestic actors, and push extreme ideas in communities, creating the potential for conflict.  This series of effects has already happened in U.S communities, where Russian actors have organized a protest and the counter protest[6].  These new divisions can also heighten political infighting, diverting political resources from international problems to deal with issues in the domestic sphere.  This heightened political infighting can give these revisionist actors the breathing room they need to expand their influence.  The increasing prevalence of these effects is a direct threat to U.S national security, chipping away at the government’s freedom of action and diverting resources to the domestic sphere away from international problems. 

Option #1:  Adopt military operational planning methodologies like Effects Based Operations (EBO) and Systematic Operational Design (SOD) at the interagency level to organize a response to adversary sharp power actions.

Risk:  The U.S also has the largest pool of soft power in the world and reverting to sharp power actions would hurt that important U.S resource[7].  Also, since these adversary countries are not as open, targeting would be a difficult task, and actions against the wrong group could be used as a rallying cry in the adversary country.  This rallying cry would give these adversaries a greater mandate to continue their actions against western democracies.  Lastly, successful sharp power actions against authoritarian countries could lead to more destructive domestic instability, harming allies in the region and disrupting global trading networks[8].

Gain:  By utilizing sharp power methodologies, the U.S would be able to strike back at opposing countries and deter further actions against the U.S.  The U.S has a large pool of resources to pull from in the interagency, and only needs a methodology to guide those resources.  Military style operational planning like EBO and SOD contain important theoretical constructs like System of System Analysis, Center of Gravity, and the constant reviewing of new information[9][10].  This planning style fits well for sharp power actions since it allows the government to create an operational plan for directed international political actions.  The U.S government can pull from the wealth of knowledge within the Department of Defense on how to combine these various frameworks to achieve sharp power action given their experience with designing complex operations on the joint level[11].  Successful actions would also give the U.S more leverage in negotiations with these countries on other areas and would divert their political resources from international actions 

Option #2:  Congress passes a Goldwater-Nichols-like Act to create a horizontal organization within the interagency, to address sharp power threats[12].

Risk:  Such reform would be substantial and would take a long time to implement.  The length of this process could delay any government response to both continued foreign interference and other international problems.  The congressional process is historically slow and designing the bill would also take a substantial amount of time.  Different agencies have set rules, procedures, and operating cultures, and changing those enough to allow effective interagency cooperation would also be difficult.  Option #2 would not change the defensive posture of the U.S government, thus it would not create the desired deterrent effect. 

Gain:  Streamlining the interagency process would increase the government’s ability to counter sharp power threats.  Option #2 would lead to better allocation of resources, more intelligence sharing, better allocation of authority during interagency deliberations, and provide more clarity on rules, regulations, and processes that govern interagency cooperation.  By adopting this reform, the national security council would be able to give task to a joint structure instead of a single lead agency.  This joint structure could operate like the joint command within the Department of Defense and create broad policy for interagency work[13].  By keeping a defensive posture, the U.S would also be able to protect its soft power appeal[14]. 

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendations:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Kurlantzick, J. (2017, December 13). Australia, New Zealand Face China’s Influence. Retrieved from https://www.cfr.org/expert-brief/australia-new-zealand-face-chinas-influence

[2] National Endowment for Democracy. (2017, December 5). Sharp Power: Rising Authoritarian Influence. Retrieved from https://www.ned.org/sharp-power-rising-authoritarian-influence-forum-report/

[3]  Wanless, A., & Berk, M. (2018, March 7). The Strategic Communication Ricochet: Planning Ahead for Greater Resiliency. Retrieved from https://thestrategybridge.org/the-bridge/2018/3/7/the-strategic-communication-ricochet-planning-ahead-for-greater-resiliency

[4]  Sulmeyer, M. (2018, March 22). How the U.S. Can Play Cyber-Offense. Retrieved from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/world/2018-03-22/how-us-can-play-cyber-offense

[5]  Way, L. A. (2018, May 17). Why Didn’t Putin Interfere in Armenia’s Velvet Revolution? Retrieved from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/armenia/2018-05-17/why-didnt-putin-interfere-armenias-velvet-revolution

[6]  Lucas, R. (2017, November 01). How Russia Used Facebook To Organize 2 Sets of Protesters. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2017/11/01/561427876/how-russia-used-facebook-to-organize-two-sets-of-protesters

[7]  Nye, J. S., Jr. (2018, January 24). How Sharp Power Threatens Soft Power. Retrieved from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2018-01-24/how-sharp-power-threatens-soft-power

[8]  Breen, J. G. (2017). Covert Actions and Unintended Consequences. InterAgency Journal,8(3), 106-122. Retrieved from http://thesimonscenter.org/featured-article-covert-action-and-unintended-consequences/

[9]  Strange, J., Dr., & Iron, UK Army, R., Colonel. (n.d.). Understanding Centers of Gravity and Critical Vulnerabilities(United States, Department of Defense, United States Marine Corps War College).

[10]  Vego, M. N. (2006). Effects-based operations: A critique. National Defense University, Washington D.C. Institute for National Strategic Studies.

[11]  Beutel, C. (2016, August 16). A New Plan: Using Complexity In the Modern World. Retrieved    from https://thestrategybridge.org/the-bridge/2016/8/16/a-new-plan-using-complexity-in-the-modern-world

[12]  Dahl, U.S. Army, K. R., Colonel. (2007, July 1). New Security for New Threats: The Case for Reforming the Interagency Process. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/research/new-security-for-new-threats-the-case-for-reforming-the-interagency-process/

[13]  United States, Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2018). Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning.

[14]  Nye, J. S., Jr. (summer 2004). Soft Power and American Foreign Policy. Political Science Quarterly,119(2), 255-270. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20202345

Anthony Patrick Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) Deterrence Major Regional Contingency Option Papers United States

U.S. Diplomacy Options for Security & Adaptability in Cyberspace

Matthew Reitman is a science and technology journalist.  He has a background in security policy and studied International Relations at Boston University.  He can be found on Twitter @MatthewReitman.  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:  U.S. competitors conducting national security activities in cyberspace below the threshold of war aka in the “Gray Zone.”

Date Originally Written:  April 14, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  May 18, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the point of view of the U.S. State Department towards cyberspace.

Background:  State actors and their non-state proxies operate aggressively in cyberspace, but within a gray zone that violates international norms without justifying a “kinetic” response.  Russian influence operations in the 2016 U.S. election were not an act of war, but escalated tensions dramatically[1].  North Korea used the Lazarus Group to circumvent sanctions by stealing $81 million from Bangladesh’s central bank[2].  Since a U.S.-People’s Republic of China (PRC) agreement in 2015 to curb corporate espionage, there have been 13 intrusions by groups based in the PRC against the U.S. private sector[3].  The State Department has helped to curb Islamic State of Iraq and Syria propaganda online via the Global Engagement Center[4].  The recent creation of another interagency entity, the Russia Information Group, suggests similar efforts could be effective elsewhere[5].

The State Department continues to work towards establishing behavior norms in cyberspace via multilateral channels, like the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts, and bilateral channels, but this remains a slow and tedious process.  Until those norms are codified, gray zone activities in cyberspace will continue.  The risk of attacks on Information Technology (IT) or critical infrastructure and less destructive acts will only grow as the rest of the world comes online, increasing the attack surface.

Significance:  The ever-growing digitally connected ecosystem presents a chimera-like set of risks and rewards for U.S. policymakers.  Protecting the free exchange of information online, let alone keeping the U.S. and its allies safe, is difficult when facing gray zone threats.  Responding with conventional tools like economic sanctions can be evaded more easily online, while “hacking back” can escalate tensions in cyberspace and further runs the risk of creating a conflict that spills offline.  Despite the challenge, diplomacy can reduce threats and deescalate tensions for the U.S. and its allies by balancing security and adaptability.  This article provides policy options for responding to and defending against a range of gray zone threats in cyberspace.

Option #1:  Establish effective compellence methods tailored to each adversary.  Option #1 seeks to combine and tailor traditional coercive diplomacy methods like indictments, sanctions, and “naming and shaming,” in tandem with aggressive counter-messaging to combat information warfare, which can be anything from debunking fake news to producing misinformation that undermines the adversary’s narrative.  A bifocal approach has shown to be more effective form of coercion[6] than one or the other.

Risk:  Depending on the severity, the combined and tailored compellence methods could turn public opinion against the U.S.  Extreme sanctions that punish civilian populations could be viewed unfavorably.  If sanctions are evaded online, escalation could increase as more aggressive responses are considered.  “Naming and shaming” could backfire if an attack is falsely attributed.  Fake bread crumbs can be left behind in code to obfuscate the true offender and make it look as though another nation is responsible.  Depending on the severity of counter-propaganda, its content could damage U.S. credibility, especially if conducted covertly.  Additionally, U.S. actions under Option #1 could undermine efforts to establish behavior norms in cyberspace.

Gain:  Combined and tailored compellence methods can isolate an adversary financially and politically while eroding domestic support.  “Naming and shaming” sends a clear message to the adversary and the world that their actions will not be tolerated, justifying any retaliation.  Sanctions can weaken an economy and cut off outside funding for political support.  Leaking unfavorable information and counter-propaganda undermines an adversary’s credibility and also erodes domestic support.  Option #1’s severity can range depending on the scenario, from amplifying the spread of accurate news and leaked documents with social botnets to deliberately spreading misinformation.  By escalating these options, the risks increase.

Option #2:  Support U.S. Allies’ cybersecurity due diligence and capacity building.  Option #2 pursues confidence-building measures in cyberspace as a means of deterrence offline, so nations with U.S. collective defense agreements have priority.  This involves fortifying allies’ IT networks and industrial control systems for critical infrastructure by taking measures to reduce vulnerabilities and improve cybersecurity incident response teams (CSIRTs).  This option is paired with foreign aid for programs that teach media literacy, “cyber hygiene,” and computer science to civilians.

Risk:  Improving allies’ defensive posture can be viewed by some nations as threatening and could escalate tensions.  Helping allies fortify their defensive capabilities could lead to some sense of assumed responsibility if those measures failed, potentially fracturing the relationship or causing the U.S. to come to their defense.  Artificial Intelligence (AI)-enhanced defense systems aren’t a silver bullet and can contribute to a false sense of security.  Any effort to defend against information warfare runs the potential of going too far by infringing freedom of speech.  Aside from diminishing public trust in the U.S., Option #2 could undermine efforts to establish behavior norms in cyberspace.

Gain:  Collectively, this strategy can strengthen U.S. Allies by contributing to their independence while bolstering their defense against a range of attacks.  Option #2 can reduce risks to U.S. networks by decreasing threats to foreign networks.  Penetration testing and threat sharing can highlight vulnerabilities in IT networks and critical infrastructure, while educating CSIRTs.  Advances in AI-enhanced cybersecurity systems can decrease response time and reduce network intrusions.  Funding computer science education trains the next generation of CSIRTs.  Cyber hygiene, or best cybersecurity practices, can make civilians less susceptible to cyber intrusions, while media literacy can counter the effects of information warfare.

Other Comments:  The U.S. Cyber Command and intelligence agencies, such as the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency, are largely responsible for U.S. government operations in cyberspace.  The U.S. State Department’s range of options may be limited, but partnering with the military and intelligence communities, as well as the private sector is crucial.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Nakashima, E. (2017, February 7) Russia’s apparent meddling in U.S. election is not an act of war, cyber expert says. Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2017/02/07/russias-apparent-meddling-in-u-s-election-is-not-an-act-of-war-cyber-expert-says

[2]  Finkle, J. (2017, March 15) “North Korean hacking group behind recent attacks on banks: Symantec.” Reuters. Retrieved from: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-cyber-northkorea-symantec

[3]  FireEye. (2016, June 20). Red Line Drawn: China Recalculates Its Use Of Cyber Espionage. Retrieved from: https://www.fireeye.com/blog/threat-research/2016/06/red-line-drawn-china-espionage.html

[4]  Warrick, J. (2017, February 3). “How a U.S. team uses Facebook, guerrilla marketing to peel off potential ISIS recruits.” Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/bait-and-flip-us-team-uses-facebook-guerrilla-marketing-to-peel-off-potential-isis-recruits/2017/02/03/431e19ba-e4e4-11e6-a547-5fb9411d332c_story.html

[5]  Mak, T. (2017, February 6). “U.S. Preps for Infowar on Russia”. The Daily Beast. Retrieved from: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/02/06/u-s-preps-for-infowar-on-russia.html

[6]  Valeriano, B., & Jensen, B. (2017, March 16). “From Arms and Influence to Data and Manipulation: What Can Thomas Schelling Tell Us About Cyber Coercion?”. Lawfare. Retrieved from: https://www.lawfareblog.com/arms-and-influence-data-and-manipulation-what-can-thomas-schelling-tell-us-about-cyber-coercion

Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) Cyberspace Diplomacy Matthew Reitman Option Papers United States