Assessing the Development of Chinese Soft Power in Central Asia

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


James Ridley-Jones is a PhD student at King’s College London currently researching Geostrategy in Central Asia. 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:  Assessing the Development of Chinese Soft Power in Central Asia

Date Originally Written:  July 15th 2020.

Date Originally Published:  September 23, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes that Chinese Soft Power, initiative failures are indicative of wider Chinese strategic engagement failures in the Central Asian region. For the purposes of this assessment Soft Power is defined as the use of investment diplomacy and cultural engagement to build relationships and project influence below the threshold of armed conflict.

Summary:  Chinese Soft Power initiatives remain key to facilitating relations alongside Chinese investment. Although China retains good bi-lateral relations with the Central Asian states, a closer examination of Chinese initiatives demonstrates failures amongst the region’s general populations comparative to the ruling elites.

Text:  The announcement of the Belt and Road Initiative by Xi Jinping in Kazakhstan 2013 led to the required development of Chinese Soft Power within the region. The purpose of this Soft Power is to enable political security alongside economic investment. The Belt and Road Initiative encompasses economic investment and diplomatic initiatives, which, when combined, develop working partnerships and economic corridors along projected routes. The initiative has also absorbed prior programs and investments into this framework.

Chinese investment in the region allows for key infrastructure developments that might improve economic and social capacities. Diplomatic and co-operative initiatives take the form of exhibitions, student engagement and the notorious Confucius Institutes. All of these aim to engage students, businessmen and key officials in cultural engagement for the promotion of relations.

Chinese Soft Power actions are not without a downside. High levels of one-sided investment can be, and are, perceived negatively. The often debated debt-trap diplomacy employed by China, together with the use of a Chinese workforce for such projects, leaves poor public perceptions of these investments, irrespective of the benefits.

Similarly, the potential reach of Soft Power initiatives is limited within the countries that China targets. This limitation is due to population dispersal and the extent of possible population engagement. Although there have been multiple exhibitions in Tashkent for example, they only reach a small percentage of the population.

Soft power through language learning to encourage engagement is increasing, but still falls behind state languages, the lingua franca Russian, and English for both tourism and business purposes. In Almaty Kazakhstan, the Confucius Institute remains one of the few places Mandarin can be learnt, compared with English which is far more prevalent in foreign language schools.

China, however, does attract significantly more students to its Universities (2017-2018), with approximately 12,000 Kazakh students currently studying in China[1]. Comparatively there are only 1,300 Kazahk students in the United Kingdom[2] and 1,865 in the United States[3]. Although distance can be included as a factor for this decision, there are also additional Chinese grants and scholarships given to Central Asian students to encourage their attendance at Chinese Universities. This Soft Power will go on to affect the next generation of Kazakhs in the future.

The effectiveness of Chinese diplomatic initiatives is impeded in Central Asia by two main factors:

The first is the disparity between key parts of the target countries’ political and financial elite and the general population.

Although policymakers and businessmen in Central Asia benefit from Chinese initiatives and as such look to engage with China on business, such perceptions remain different to those of the general population who do not benefit in such ways. This disconnect requires a two-tier Chinese approach to inter-country relations that currently does not exist.

The second is the Uyghur problem, where current Chinese policy and actions are perceived very negatively by Central Asian populations. These differences on the Uyghur problem are illustrated in the government support given to Chinese actions, compared to feelings amongst the general populace. An indicator of this is a lack of support from specific Central Asian nations. Only the Governments of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan (the two most closed off Central Asian nations) signed a letter in support of Chinese actions, suggesting the other countries are in more turmoil over the decision[4].

The Uyghur have ethnic, cultural and religious similarities to the other Turkic ethnic groups within Central Asia, as well as there being Uyghur minorities in Central Asia. Because of such ties Chinese attitudes in Xinjiang have significant negative connotations within the Central Asian general populace. Although this might not be demonstrated at a governmental level, Sinophobia can be noted across the general population.

Both of these issues take the form of anti-Chinese protests, such as those in Almaty, to even the car bombing of the Chinese embassy in Bishkek (2016). This car bombing, it was reported, was the action of an Islamist, but it has also been suggested that it was in retaliation for the mistreatment of the Uyghur people and Sinophobia.

In 2016, land reform protests revealed underlying concerns of potential Chinese control over agriculture in Kazakhstan[5]. In 2019, there were protests at a Kyrgyzstan mine over environmental quality concerns, greatly affecting the local population[6]. This issue is likely to be compounded with additional mines given or sold to Chinese investors.

More recent protests in Almaty and Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan and in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan September 2019 suggest relations remain frayed. The Kazakhstan protests stem from a variety of reasons to do with increasing Chinese influence in the region[7]. Similarly, in Kyrgyzstan protests grew as a result of Chinese businesses side-lining existing Kyrgyz businesses in the capital[8].

All of these protests demonstrate the disconnect between Chinese investment and maintaining relations with the general populace through diplomatic initiatives.

Given the nature of the regimes in Central Asia, there is no available data on opinion polls of China, and if data was available the validity of results might also be questionable. Public protest in these countries becomes an available method of assessing public opinion, though it is limited in scope and nuance.

The increasing numbers of Central Asian students at Chinese Universities through both grants, scholarships and engagement programs, will most likely be the continued Soft Power tactic.

Although relatively ineffective currently, the Confucius Institutes will look to further develop language teaching capabilities and promote further cultural engagement.

Chinese exhibitions will most likely continue, but at a similar rate of engagement with the population, limiting their effectiveness.

Understanding and analysing Chinese Soft Power failures is important to the development of counter- Chinese strategy. Although inaction by others would allow for continued Chinese failure, these Chinese actions will eventually become successful as newer generations, specifically elites, are increasingly influenced by Chinese Soft Power initiatives, particularly through Universities.

Chinese Soft Power failure is a lack of ability to connect with the wider population beyond the national elites. Critically, Chinese Soft Power failure indicates a lack of cohesive strategy incorporating both investment and diplomacy.


Endnotes:

[1] Uatkhanov, Y. Kazakh Students Also Seek Education in the East – Edge : Kazakhstan. Edge : Kazakhstan. Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://www.edgekz.com/kazakh-students-also-seek-education-in-the-east.

[2] Shayakhmetova, Z. (2019). Kazakh students seek degrees in best UK universities – The Astana Times. The Astana Times. Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://astanatimes.com/2019/12/kazakh-students-seek-degrees-in-best-uk-universities.

[3] Kazakhstan – Education. Export.gov. (2019). Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://www.export.gov/apex/article2?id=Kazakhstan-Education.

[4] Putz, C. (2019).Which Countries Are For or Against China’s Xinjiang Policies?. Thediplomat.com. Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://thediplomat.com/2019/07/which-countries-are-for-or-against-chinas-xinjiang-policies.

[5] Why Kazakhstan’s protests are unusual. BBC News. (2016). Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-36163103.

[6] Putz, C. (2019). Tensions Flare at Kyrgyz Gold Mine. Thediplomat.com. Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://thediplomat.com/2019/08/tensions-flare-at-kyrgyz-gold-mine.

[7] Dozens detained in Kazakhstan at anti-China protests. reuters.com. (2019). Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-kazakhstan-china-protests-detentions/dozens-detained-in-kazakhstan-at-anti-china-protests-idUSKBN1W60CS.

[8] Kruglov, A. (2019). Sinophobia simmers across Central Asia. Asia Times. Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://asiatimes.com/2019/11/sinophobia-simmers-across-central-asia.

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Assessment Papers Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) Central Asia China (People's Republic of China) Coercive Diplomacy Diplomacy James Ridley-Jones

Assessing the Dependency of U.S. Below Threshold Competition on Department of State Modernization

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Matthew F. Smith is an active duty officer in the United States Army. He can be found on Twitter @Matt_F_Smith. The views expressed in this paper represent the personal views of the author and are not necessarily the views of the Department of Defense or of the Department of the Army.  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:  Assessing the Dependency of U.S. Below Threshold Competition on Department of State Modernization

Date Originally Written:  June 12, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  August 5, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The article is written from the point of view of the United States. The author is interested in the strengths and limitations of resourcing the U.S. Executive Branch Departments and Agencies primarily responsible for executing foreign policy strategies below the threshold of armed conflict.

Summary:   U.S. policymakers are deciding how to compete with the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) and counteract their objectives. Given fiscal realities, the opportunity exists to rebalance current militaristic policy tendencies and force institutional reforms. The U.S. Department of State, due to its largely below-threshold mandate, is a good target for modernization so it can better lead foreign policy efforts through diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance.

Text:  Over the last decade, American foreign policy has focused increasingly on competition with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Regardless of the various administrations’ policies, the central strategic aim has been how the United States can best compete with China while remaining below the threshold of armed conflict. The PRC’s central strategic aim is to undermine current U.S. alliances and other historically U.S. lead global institutions[1]. Given the $2.5 trillion in federal spending in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic and an economic recession, a fiscally conscience U.S. government is likely to exist moving forward[2]. As a result, future foreign policy decisions will focus on the smart application of strategic tools that are gauged not merely by measures of performance but also by the financial effectiveness in achieving the desired outcome. For the U.S. to maintain the fundamental ability to compete below the threshold of armed conflict, the State Department, whose mission is to “lead America’s foreign policy through diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance”; requires equipping through bipartisan commitment of resources to compete in the current environment[3]. Understanding that near-term competition will likely remain below the threshold of large scale combat operations, and U.S. strategy aims to promote a range of acceptable options short of armed conflict, the resourcing of such efforts is a fundamental issue.

Just as the U.S. military is resourced to innovate and adapt in response to emerging military threats, undertaking the institutional reform necessary for the State Department to have the capability to lead an integrated approach to promote U.S. strategic interests is of vital importance. An environment that is competitive but not combative requires the State Department to be capable of frustrating Chinese interests in areas that cooperation is not possible while seizing fleeting moments of opportunity for mutually beneficial agreements. Without a properly resourced and organized State Department, opportunities to frustrate China will be lost altogether or be handled in such a manner that its potential benefit will be greatly diminished. The Indo-Pacific region is vital to U.S. objectives because of its continuing economic opportunities, and yet, to fully reap the benefits of those opportunities, the United States, China, and the other countries that are impacted by regional competition must work together to communally benefit whenever possible. Competing with China requires the U.S. to advance its position by smartly leveraging all instruments of national power that enable the current strategic approach.

Policymakers can ask themselves how the U.S. can be expected to compete below the threshold of armed conflict without adequately resourcing the primary agency responsible for executing the policies in that environment. The Department of Defense requested $705.4 billion for FY21; and while defense spending on military capability is an important component of a deterrence strategy, it only inadvertently promotes the U.S. capability to compete below the threshold of armed conflict[4]. The State Department requested $40.8 billion for FY21, which is an $11.7 billion, or 22-percent decrease from the 2020 enacted level[5]. In the face of reports calling for the State Department to modernize, the U.S., as is evident in the proposed budget, is prioritizing military capability for deterrence at the expense of investing in deterrence through greater diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance efforts[6]. Ignoring the reality of State Department capability will lead to U.S. policy missteps and encourage China to expand their focus beyond military development and increase investing in other strategic sectors[7]. These sectors, which include the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, are effective in increasing the political clout the PRC can wield in forming new alliances and dependencies while degrading the U.S. position in the region.

The current United States strategic approach to the PRC reaffirms many of the incorporative strategic approaches described in the 2017 National Security Strategy, 2018 National Defense Strategy, 2019 Department of State Strategy, and the 2019 Department of Defense Indo-Pacific Strategy Report[8]. Specifically, the current U.S. strategic documents accept China as a major power in its own right and describe many unconstrained approaches that will foster cooperation and competition wherever possible while not allowing rivalry to degrade the entire relationship. While these documents allude to a networked approach for competing with China in some areas while cooperating in others, the fiscal allocation of resources and the demonstration that when under stress, the liberal virtues championed in these strategies are easily sacrificed, make clear that execution of the supporting policies is an issue. To compete with China, policymakers can consider sufficiently budgeting the resources required for the State Department to increase its capability to promote U.S. strategic interests across the many non-military domains[9].

The State Department, as the primary agency that coordinates diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance efforts, is critical in a competitive environment that falls below the threshold of armed conflict. The United States cannot effectively or efficiently compete with China while using inflexible and un-adaptive organizational structures that are ill-equipped to deliver relevant solutions[10]. Just as the U.S. military has been equipped to conduct modernization efforts, the Department of State requires the same focus of resourcing for their modernization efforts to successfully outcompete China. Without adequate funding, the State Department will not reform into a more agile institution that can deliver the strategic objectives in a manner reflective of the current period of great power competition[11]. The undervaluing of non-military strategic tools and agencies such as the State Department, over time, will make the military option the most preferred deterrence and engagement method for shaping foreign affairs. The United States’ costly global military presence as a result of the war on terror and extended campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have only reinforced this militaristic reality and are an impetus for assessing foreign policy approaches to foster more competitive practices below the threshold of armed conflict.


Endnotes:

[1] Araya, D. (2019, October 20). China’s Grand Strategy. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielaraya/2019/01/14/chinas-grand-strategy/#27ce4ef61f18

[2] Swagel, P. (2020, April 24). CBO’s Current Projections of Output, Employment, and Interest Rates and a Preliminary Look at Federal Deficits for 2020 and 2021. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.cbo.gov/publication/56335

[3] United States Department of State. (2019, May 13). Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.state.gov/about/about-the-u-s-department-of-state

[4] Department of Defense 2021 Budget Request. 2020, Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BUDGET-2021-BUD/pdf/BUDGET-2021-BUD-9.pdf

[5] Department of State and Other International Programs 2021 Budget Request. 2020, Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BUDGET-2021-BUD/pdf/BUDGET-2021-BUD-18.pdf

[6] United States Government Accountability Office. (2019, March). Integrated Action Plan Could Enhance Efforts to Reduce Persistent Overseas Foreign Service Vacancies. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/697281.pdf

[7] Ju, S. F. (2018, March 6). China’s diplomacy budget doubles under Xi Jinping. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.ft.com/content/2c750f94-2123-11e8-a895-1ba1f72c2c11

[8] United States Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China. (2020, May 20). Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/U.S.-Strategic-Approach-to-The-Peoples-Republic-of-China-Report-5.20.20.pdf

[9] Congressional Budget Justification: Department of State Diplomatic Engagement. (2020, March). Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/FY21-CBJ-Appendix-1-FINAL-for-GPA-Mar-26-2020.pdf

[10] Daalder, I., & Lindsay, J. (2001, March 1). How to Revitalize a Dysfunctional State Department. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/gs_20170927_dos__usaid_listening_report_2017.pdf

[11] Office of Inspector General. (2019, November). Review of the Department of State’s Organizational Reform Effort. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.stateoig.gov/system/files/aud-mero-20-09.pdf

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Budgets and Resources China (People's Republic of China) Diplomacy Matthew F. Smith Option Papers United States

Assessing the Relationship Between the United States and Saudi Arabia –An Unethical Partnership with Multiple Purposes?

Matthias Wasinger is an Austrian Army officer. He can be found on LinkedIn. The views contained in this article are the author’s alone and do not represent the views of the Austrian Armed Forces, the Austrian Ministry of Defense, or the Austrian Government.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization or any group.


Title:  Assessing the Relationship Between the United States and Saudi Arabia –An Unethical Partnership with Multiple Purposes?

Date Originally Written:  June 1, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  August 3, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is an active General Staff Officer. Following Charles de Gaulle’s quote that nations do not have friends, but interests, he believes in the dominance of political realism over ethical considerations when it comes to vital national interests. This assessment is written from the author’s point of view on how economic considerations dominate U.S. foreign policy.

Summary:  “The end is the outcome or the effect, and if a prince wins and maintains a state, the means will always be judged honorable.” Niccolò Machiavelli described in this way the discrepancy between ethics, politics, and policy. The U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, illustrates the differences between its words that proclaim it as the lighthouse of liberty and democracy, and how it acts when torn between ethics, ambition, and necessity.

Text:  The Iranian attack on a Saudi Arabian oil production facility in September 2019 was, so far, the peak of continuously growing hostilities between these two regional powers. Besides official protests from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), the U.S. condemned Iranian aggression. Although U.S. President Donald Trump finally refused to take retaliatory measures against Iran, this attack led to a remarkable deployment of U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia. Why does the U.S., the self-proclaimed lighthouse of liberty and democracy, feels so affiliated with a Kingdom that is repeatedly condemned for human rights violations?

A nation’s purpose is to ensure a society’s existence. In this regard, nations develop strategies, consisting of ends, ways, and means, facilitating a desired end state. In the National Security Strategy (NSS), the U.S. defines the desired end state “America First,” facilitated by the four goals[1]. Although the NSS clearly outlines the U.S.’ unique national capacities, it emphasizes the importance of partnerships and alliances[2]. One of the U.S.’s critical partners is the KSA. The fact that the KSA’s Wahabi monarchy is a country restricting religious freedom, denying gender equality, and promoting the Sharia founding religious schools in that spirit around worldwide makes the partnership appear at least strange[3]. At first glance, the characteristic is not congruent with the idea of “the American Way of Life.” Might it be “Bismarck-ian strategic thinking[4],” the idea of maintaining an ally instead of destroying or even gaining an enemy[5], ties the U.S. to KSA?

The most problematic sphere of the U.S. – Saudi relationship is linked to the goal (1) “Protect the American People, the Homeland, and the American Way of Life.” The majority of the terrorists responsible for 9/11 came from KSA. Rumors about financial support to terror organizations never silenced. Osama Bin-Laden even lived in the Wahabi Kingdom[6]. All of that is contradictory to the idea of the NSS. What are the U.S.’ benefits from this partnership?

U.S. National Security Strategy Goals

(1) Protect the American People, the Homeland, and the American Way of Life:

The benefit of the U.S. – Saudi Arabian relationship is at least questionable. The possible infliction of the Wahabi Kingdom in terror attacks even had a severe impact on this relationship[7]. In consequence, Saudi Arabia promotes its efforts on counter-terrorism operations since 9/11[8].

Additionally, promoting the Sharia, political assassination[9], and beheadings as death-penalty hardly correlates with the American Way of Life. However, economic prosperity, facilitated by ties to the Middle East, is a precondition for protecting the American way of life.

(2) Promote American Prosperity:

The U.S. and KSA have close economic ties, based on oil, reciprocal investments, and weapon sales. Most of the Saudi Arabian economic key leaders studied in the U.S. and are, therefore, eager to maintain close connections[10]. Saudi Arabia possesses the second-largest oil reserves (the U.S. is the 10th largest[11]) worldwide after Venezuela. When it comes to dealing arms, the Wahabi leadership negotiated a 110 billion dollars treaty with follow-on investments within the next ten years, worth 350 billion dollars[12].

Saudi Arabia is mentioned once in the NSS. Although just in a regional context, it is mentioned – like Egypt – as an area of interest to modernize its economy. U.S. military presence is very often an expression of national interest. Within KSA, there are five U.S. Air Force bases[13], hosting military capability packages to survey the essential sea lines of communication from the Arab Gulf along the Yemeni coast, the Bab El Mandeb through the Suez channel, the lifeline for U.S. oil imports from the Arab world[14]. The U.S. military’s force posture is in line with the national interests, according to the NSS.

(3) Preserve Peace through Strength:

It is an inherent part of the U.S.’ strategic understanding to ensure its national security by a deterrent military force such as the one based in the KSA. Strategic partnerships and the U.S. Navy keep conflicts out of the continental U.S. Consequently, the U.S. military is focused on out-of-area and expeditionary warfare. During the Second World War, the U.S. has proven its unique capabilities to conduct amphibious operations, accomplishing the landings in Italy, the Pacific, and on the Normandy’s shores. Nevertheless, the price-tag in soldiers’ lives was extraordinarily high[15]. It is unlikely that a nation would be willing to suffer such losses again in the 21st century, a period of reluctance to bear heavy losses[16].

It appears logical to establish and maintain strategic partnerships – regardless of ideological distances/differences – to avoid the necessity to conduct amphibious operations again. In consequence, worldwide partnerships are a reasonable approach for permanent pre-positioning of forces and, in a follow-on phase, to be used as assembly as well as staging areas for large scale combat operations. It is an interesting detail that in the KSA the U.S.’ military areas of interest overlap with its economic ones. Partnerships and deterrent armed forces require, like the American way of life, economic prosperity to finance national interests.

(4) Advance American Influence:

Partnerships and alliances are crucial for the U.S.[17] They are the tools for advancing American influence. Besides the fact that these partnerships and alliances enable a strong force posture towards upcoming or recent adversaries, they immensely support end (2) American prosperity. The inclusion of eastern European states in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) (reducing Russian influence, primarily economically[18]) is a remarkable example of forcefully advancing the U.S.’ influence, followed by pushing for a more significant military commitment of European NATO members (overtaking the [financial] burden of deterring Russia to free forces[19]), pre-deploying forces to South Korea, and maintaining the partnership with Japan (containing China’s expansionism[20]). In the vein, the KSA is an economical source of strength for the U.S. and a potential staging area to maintain an appropriate force flow for military operations in the Middle East.

Economic prosperity, goal (2), is the critical requirement within the U.S. NSS. Consequently, it dictates necessities for the political level, regardless of the ideological differences and ethical considerations. Niccolò Machiavelli described an eternal rule: “The end is the outcome or the effect, and if a prince wins and maintains a state, the means will always be judged honorable[21].”


Endnotes:

[1] National Security Strategy of the United States of America: NSS (2017), II-VI.

[2] Ibid., 1.

[3] Fatimah Alyas, “US-Saudi Arabia Relations: Relations Between the Two Countries, Long Bound by Common Interests in Oil and Security, Have Strained over What Some Analysts See as a More Assertive Saudi Foreign Policy”, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/us-saudi-arabia-relations (accessed October 1, 2019).

[4] Geoffrey Parker, The Cambridge Illustrated History of Warfare: The Triumph of the West/ Edited by Geoffrey Parker, Rev. and updated ed., Cambridge illustrated Histories (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 236.

[5] Peter Paret, Gordon A. Craig and Felix Gilbert, Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age/ Edited by Peter Paret with Gordon A. Craig and Felix Gilbert (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986), 293-295.

[6] Fatimah Alyas, “US-Saudi Arabia Relations”.

[7] Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations (2018), 18-19.

[8] Saudi Arabia and Counterterrorism (2019), passim.

[9] Ian Black, “Jamal Khashoggi Obituary: Saudi Arabian Journalist Who Fell Foul of His Country’s Ruling Dynasty After Moving Abroad so He Could Criticise It More Freely,” The Guardian, October 19, 2018, Saudi Arabian journalist who fell foul of his country’s ruling dynasty after moving abroad so he could criticize it more freely.

[10] Fatimah Alyas, “US-Saudi Arabia Relations”.

[11] Howard J. Shatz, US International Economic Strategy in a Turbulent World (2016), 35.

[12] Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations, 21-22.

[13] MilitaryBases.com, “U.S. Military Bases in Saudi Arabia,”, https://militarybases.com/overseas/saudi-arabia/ (accessed October 1, 2019).

[14] Jean-Paul Rodrigue, “International Oil Transportation: Petroleum Remains a Strategic Resource in the Global Economy Underlining the Challenges of Producing and Transporting Oil,”, https://transportgeography.org/?page_id=6757 (accessed October 1, 2019).

[15] Klaus Roch, Viribus Unitis – Analyse Von Operationen: Ausgewählte Seminararbeiten Des 20. Generalstabslehrganges, Militärwissenschaftliches Journal der Landesverteidigingsakademie 2015, Band 16 (Wien: Republik Österreich, Bundesministerium für Landesverteidigung und Sport, 2015), 108-110.

[16] Martin van Creveld, Pussycats: Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West and What Can Be Done About It, First edition (Mevasseret Zion, Israel: DLVC Enterprises, 2016), 224-229.

[17] National Security Strategy of the United States of America, 26.

[18] Ibid., 38.

[19] Posture Statement US EUCOM (2019), 3-5.

[20] National Security Strategy of the United States of America, 47.

[21] Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, 2nd ed. (Chicago, Ill., London: University of Chicago Press, 1998), XVIII.

 

Allies & Partners Assessment Papers Diplomacy Matthias Wasinger Saudi Arabia (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) United States

Alternative Future: An Assessment of U.S. Re-Engagement with Hungary in 2035

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Civil Affairs Association and Divergent Options Writing Contest which took place from April 7, 2020 to July 7, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Rocco P. Santurri III is an independent Financial Representative and Security Consultant.  He also serves as a Civil Affairs Officer in the U.S. Army Reserves. He recently completed an assignment with the Office of Defense Cooperation at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, Hungary.  While there, he conducted polling throughout the country to capture populace sentiment on a host of national and international issues. He also conducted strategic communications initiatives through the U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Section. He can be found on LinkedIn.com at www.linkedin.com/in/RoccoPSanturri3Divergent 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 U.S. Re-Engagement with Hungary in 2035

Date Originally Written:  May 2, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  July 20, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a current U.S. Army Reservist. He believes in a pragmatic U.S. approach to relations with Hungary that takes into consideration the cultural, psychological, and behavioral attributes of the Hungarian human domain and their corresponding political viewpoints.

Summary:  In 2020, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban refused to relinquish his COVID-19 emergency powers[1]. Following this, relations with the West soured and Hungary was expelled from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Since Orban’s death, key figures in the Hungarian government have signaled their interest in resuming relations with NATO. This situation represents an opportunity for the U.S. to re-establish relations with Hungary.

Text:  As the U.S. prepares for strategic level talks with the Government of Hungary, Washington’s strategy of re-engagement is under intense scrutiny. Most political pundits assumed the U.S. would adopt a fresh approach in the chaotic post-Orban era, as the memories of well-documented policy failures are still fresh. However, a review of the U.S. platform reveals a strong similarity to previous policies, perhaps owing to institutional inertia within the Department of State. While the U.S. approach can rightfully retain some familiar core elements from the past, it can also consider the Hungarian human domain in its policy calculation. A critical error of U.S. policy toward Hungary in the 2010s was a failure to understand the cultural, psychological, and behavioral attributes of the populace.  The projection of American attributes on Hungary set the conditions for misguided U.S. strategy and messaging that ignored populace sentiment.  This projection was compounded on a regional scale in Romania and Bulgaria, which also resulted in disappointing returns on the American diplomatic and financial investment. Examining what led to the current situation is critical, as it reveals how these failures led to a break in relations for over 15 years. Perhaps more importantly, an objective examination of the past also leads to a path forward.

Engagement between Hungary and the U.S. began in earnest following the breakup of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and culminated in Hungary joining NATO in 1997[2].  NATO was eager to capitalize on their Cold War victory by bringing former Warsaw Pact countries into the fold. It is difficult to fault the aggressiveness of NATO in seeking to exploit a cataclysmic paradigm shift in East-West relations.  But without a solid understanding of the psyche of these new-to-NATO countries, it was inevitable that relations would be problematic in the long-run. Hungary’s history spawned belief systems within the human domain that run counter to core NATO principles.

The “Golden Age” for Hungary began in the mid-1800s and represented the height of Hungarian power and prestige. Though imperfect, this era saw the upward mobility of a large segment of the population[3]. This Golden Age came to a crashing halt with defeat in World War I. Hungary lost 70% of her territory and 13 million citizens as part of the Treaty of Trianon[4]. Graffiti demonizing this treaty exists throughout the country today and serves as a painful reminder of what most Hungarians see as a crime committed against their country.  The monarchy, a symbol of national pride for Hungarians, abruptly ended. World War II brought more pain and suffering to the Hungarian psyche.  Again, a poor choice in allies by Hungary, and another bitter Hungarian defeat. The post-war years of 1956-1988 consisted of a strong political figure (albeit a Kremlin puppet) dominating the political scene[5].  Free and fair elections, an independent judiciary, and freedom of the press were brutally co-opted or suppressed by the state security apparatus.

Fast forward to the rapid fire events of the fall of the USSR.  Suddenly the order of the USSR-inspired political environment was replaced by the disorder and chaos of a forced democratic transformation. Societal adjustment preceded at a glacial pace.  The uncertainty of the new order made many Hungarians long for days past.  As the years passed, the oppression of life under the USSR grew dimmer in memory, while the recollection of the order and stability of those days grew more enticing. Against this backdrop Hungarian engagement with the West began in which neither side completely understood the other.  Western consideration of Hungarian cultural, psychological, and behavioral attributes was lost amid grandiose goals of democracy, free markets and open borders, concepts it assumed were wholeheartedly accepted by the Hungarian populace.  The West perceived Hungary’s desire to join NATO as a clear repudiation of all things Soviet. This fostered a zero sum game mentality, a competition that the West felt was won by being the diametrical opposite of the USSR. Overlooked were the more practical reasons for Hungarians to seek inclusion, as well as populace sentiment.

As the years progressed, the cracks in the inherently shaky foundation of the relationship grew larger.  Enter PM Orban, chisel in hand and a finger on the pulse of the Hungarian population, to deepen the fissures.  While NATO and Brussels reprimanded PM Orban over several issues, Hungarians perceived life as better under him as the economy grew, quality of life increased, and pride was restored, while negative views on immigration remained prevalent throughout society.   With a super majority in Parliament, PM Orban was perfectly positioned to take advantage of COVID-19 to give himself dictatorial powers. Few in Hungary protested.  Strong authoritarian leadership was comfortable and familiar to Hungarians throughout their history.  While the death of PM Orban opens the door to reintegration with the West, the sentiment of the populace remains.

With this knowledge, the U.S. efforts can employ a realistic platform of engagement. Hungary will not be a model example of thriving liberalism and Jeffersonian democracy — the edges will still be rough.  Hungarian cultural, psychological, and behavioral attributes remain rooted in their history. Hungarian taste for capitalism greatly exceeds their tolerance of open borders.  “Hungary for Hungarians” remains a common refrain throughout the country. A strong leader who bends the rules by centralizing power and limiting some freedoms, but maintains order and promotes economic growth, is tolerable so long as the pendulum does not swing too far, as it did towards the end with PM Orban.

As Russia lurks nearby, a now much younger nation[6] has limited memory of the USSR. The U.S. has the opportunity to decide if an ally in the region with illiberal tendencies is better than no ally at all, for as Hungary goes, so might its like-minded neighbors Romania and Bulgaria. While this presents the U.S. with a difficult decision, the past again offers a path forward. Throughout its history the U.S. has overlooked questionable policies by an ally because they supported U.S. interests, especially during the Cold War[7]. Realpolitik amid great power competition demands it. So does the populace of a proud country of 10 million.


Endnotes:

[1] Tharoor, I. (2020, March 30). Coronavirus Kills Its First Democracy. Retrieved May 4, 2020 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/03/31/coronavirus-kills-its-first-democracy

[2] Associated Press (1997, November 17). Hungarians Vote to Join NATO. Retrieved May 5, 2020 from https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1997-nov-17-mn-54753-story.html

[3] Gero, A. (2016, May 1). The Lost Golden Age of Hungary. Retrieved May 5, 2020, from http://geroandras.hu/en/blog/2016/05/01/the-lost-golden-age-of-hungary

[4] KafkaDesk (2018, December 5). Why Is The Treaty of Trainon So Controversial? Retrieved May 5, 2020 from https://kafkadesk.org/2018/12/05/hungary-why-is-the-trianon-treaty-so-controversial

[5] Balazs, S. (2013, February 21). Knock in the Night. Refugee Press, Hillsborough, North Carolina.

[6] Velkoff, V.A. (1992, October). Aging trends: Hungary. Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology 7, 429–437. Retrieved May 5, 2020 from https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01848702

[7] Boot, M. (2018, October 19). Yes, The US Sometimes Supports Warlords and Dictators So When Should We Stop? Retrieved May 5, 2020 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2018/10/19/yes-the-u-s-sometimes-supports-warlords-and-dictators-so-when-should-we-stop

2020 - Contest: Civil Affairs Association Writing Contest Alternative Futures / Alternative Histories / Counterfactuals Assessment Papers Civil Affairs Association Diplomacy Hungary Rocco P. Santurri III United States

Assessing the Role of Career Diplomats in National Security

Damimola Olawuyi has served as a Geopolitical Analyst for SBM Intelligence. He can be found on Twitter @DAOlawuyi. Confidence MacHarry is a Security Analyst at the same firm and can be found on Twitter @MacHarryCI. 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:  Assessing the Role of Career Diplomats in National Security.

Date Originally Written:  April 30, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  June 10, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The authors believe that the relegation of career diplomats in shaping national security policy has robbed governments of vital perspectives sorely needed in great power competition.

Summary:  Career diplomats are an essential component of any national security apparatus. Their ability to understand allies and adversaries at the most basic levels means that governments are less likely to stumble down the path of armed conflict while securing the most favorable positions for themselves on the international stage. When diplomatic efforts take a back seat to those of military and security forces, the likelihood of conflict increases.

Text:  Diplomacy is one of the few professions which has remained true to its earliest history, albeit with a few marked adaptations to suit changing times. Harold Nicholson described diplomacy as “guiding international relations through negotiations, and how it manages ambassadors and envoys of these relations, and diplomatic working man or his art[1].”

The Greek style of diplomacy was founded on the abhorrence of secret pacts between leaders arising out of the distrust Greeks have for their leaders. The Greek diplomats pursued this narrative of intergovernmental relations, beginning with relations between the city-states, eventually extending to governments of non-Greek origin, most notably Persia.

The rise of international organizations has transformed the conduct of diplomacy between two entities into a multifaceted discipline. In its original form as relations between states, the conduct of diplomacy involved the exchange of officials in various capacities. Usually, the ambassador is the most important officer of one state’s relations to another. But, as international relations has grown over the last two centuries, diplomacy’s substance has transcended politics to include economic and socio-cultural relations, hence the entrance of consular officers and other subject matter experts amongst others. The exchange of ambassadors is not done without ceremony, and before a country accepts an ambassador, the sending country has to inform the recipient country about who is being sent. When the ambassador arrives, he or she is required to present a letter of credence to the head of state of the host country.

For relations between states to happen without friction, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 spelled out the rules of engagement. Article 27.3 states that the diplomatic bag shall not be opened or detained, while Article 27.4 states that the packages constituting the diplomatic bag must bear visible external marks of their character and may contain only diplomatic documents or articles intended for official use[2]. Given the vulnerability of communications sent by wireless, by telephone, or by correspondence through public facilities—described in the commentary on Article 27.1 and 27.2 and increasing as technology advances and leaking meets with public sympathy—States attach prime importance to the security of the diplomatic bag for reliable transmission of confidential material.

No nation survives on autarky. Diplomacy, along with economic and cultural resources, makes up the soft power of a nation[3]. The importance of diplomats in ensuring state existence cannot be overemphasized and can be seen in the role they play in both peace and war. The ability to achieve foreign policy objectives via attracting and co-opting rather than hard power or coercion means that the country is spared the costs of waging wars[4].

Career diplomats (along with intelligence officers and analysts), through long service and academic study, serve as cultural experts and assist their political leaders in understanding developments from foreign countries. Diplomats understand the ideological leanings, beliefs, and fears of allies and adversaries. Such understanding is useful in crafting appropriate responses to developments. Diplomats are best positioned to seek out countries who share the same ideals with them, making alliances for national security easy. By building relationships with their counterparts from other nations, more channels for conflict resolution between countries become apparent.

These diplomatic understandings and relationships also facilitate both sides taking advantage of opportunities for military, political, and economic cooperation. Cultural attachés can facilitate educational exchanges, military attachés can prepare for joint exercises, and trade attachés can help businesses navigate the business environment in a foreign nation. All of these efforts deepen the bonds that bind countries together and make the peaceful resolution of disagreements more beneficial for all parties.

More importantly, career diplomats help their nations understand shared security threats and ensure a more effective joint response. The work that was done by American diplomats[5] to persuade China and Russia that a nuclear-armed Iran was not in their best interest comes to mind[6]. The sanctions regime that was created forced Iran to negotiate the status of its nuclear program under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The alternative, military action against Iranian nuclear sites, had no guarantee of success and risked a wider, Middle East conflict.

Ultimately, diplomats are required in the entire spectrum of relationships between nations. In peace, they facilitate understanding and rapport between countries. In a crisis, they defuse tensions and calm fraying nerves. In war, they can negotiate terms to bring all sides to lay down their arms and win the peace. All these tasks can only be done if the political masters can be convinced that the price for peace is cheaper than the blood of brave men and women. If peace is valued, then competent civil servants positioned to represent their countries to the world and provide the platform to realize this goal.


Endnotes:

[1] Nicholson, H. (1939). Diplomacy.

[2] Denza, E. (2016, January 14). Diplomatic Law: Commentary on the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Retrieved April 16, 2020 from
https://opil.ouplaw.com/view/10.1093/law/9780198703969.001.0001/law-9780198703969-chapter-27

[3] Smith, A. (2007, October). Turning on the Dime: Diplomacy’s Role in National Security. Retrieved April 17, 2020 from
https://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep11348

[4] Nye, J. (2004). Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics.

[5] DePetris, D. (2016, August 9). Diplomacy, Not Force, Was the Best Choice With Iran. Retrieved April 22, 2020 from
https://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-skeptics/diplomacy-not-force-was-the-best-choice-iran-17292

[6] Almond, R. (2016, March 8). China and the Iran Nuclear Deal. Retrieved April 22, 2020 from
https://thediplomat.com/2016/03/china-and-the-iran-nuclear-deal

Assessment Papers Confidence MacHarry Damimola Olawuyi Diplomacy

Assessing U.S. Use of Coercive Diplomacy

Assad Raza is an Active Component U.S. Army Civil Affairs Officer with deployment experience throughout the Middle East.  He holds a M.A. in Diplomacy with a concentration in International Conflict Management from Norwich University, and is a graduate of The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation Command and General Staff Officer Course at Fort Benning, Georgia.  He can be found on Twitter @assadraza12.  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:  Assessing U.S. Use of Coercive Diplomacy

Date Originally Written:  February 23, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  March 9, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes the U.S. should only use coercive diplomacy if the situation is vital to U.S. interests, and the U.S. is prepared to go to war if necessary.

Summary:  U.S. use of coercive diplomacy has conflicting results. The 2018 missile strikes to compel the Syrian regime to stop using chemical weapons on civilians succeeded. The 2020 killing of an Iranian general to compel Iran to stop its aggression in the Middle East failed. To date, North Korea has not abandoned its nuclear program despite U.S. military threats, sanctions, and diplomatic talks.  Coercive diplomacy’s success isn’t guaranteed and it risks escalation.

Text:  Throughout history, the United States has used coercive diplomacy as a diplomatic strategy to influence adversaries’ behaviors. However, the U.S. success rate on the use of this strategy has mixed results. One example is the failed U.S. attempts to persuade the government of Iraq to cease their weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program before the 2003 invasion[3]. A more recent example is the January 2020 U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian General Qassim Soleimani that failed to compel Iran to stop its aggression in the Middle East and provoked their retaliation, which could have quickly escalated to conflict[2]. These two examples highlight the importance of understanding the motives and perceptions of the adversary that can limit the effectiveness of coercive diplomacy.

Coercive diplomacy is the use of military and non-military threats to primarily persuade an adversary to cease a specific action. Former Stanford University political professor, Alexander L. George, defined coercive diplomacy as a “defensive strategy that is employed to deal with the efforts of an adversary to change a status quo situation in his own favor, by persuading the adversary to stop what it is doing or to undo what it had done[3].” A successful example of coercive diplomacy is the 2018 U.S. missile strikes against the Syrian regime to compel them to stop chemical attacks on civilians[4].

When employing coercive diplomacy, the coercing power must have a credible threat for non-compliance. According to Alexander George, “…the military weaker side may be strongly motivated by what is at stake and refuse to back down, in effect calling the bluff of the coercing power[5].” An excellent example of this “calling of bluff” is U.S. President Barack Obama’s threats to use military action on the Syrian regime if they crossed the “red line” by using chemical weapons on civilians. Once Syria crossed this red line, in August 2013, President Obama did not follow through on his threat, thus hurting U.S. credibility[6]. Failing to respond to non-compliance can cause the coercing power to lose credibility and negatively impact how it is perceived internationally as it did not follow through on its military promises.

Additionally, coercive diplomacy can include a mixture of military and non-military threats to influence an adversary’s behavior[7]. Yet, depending on what is at stake, not every actor will respond to these combinations of threats the same. For example, to date, North Korea has not abandoned its nuclear program and ballistic missile testing from the combination of U.S. military threats, sanctions, and diplomatic talks[8]. However, North Korea’s non-compliance may be due to their perceptions of the U.S. views on their nuclear program and the low risk of U.S. military actions based on U.S history towards them over the past 25 years.

One major risk of coercive diplomacy is the difficulty in calculating the adversary’s response. As Robert Art and Patrick Cronin wrote, “… mistakes are easy to make in situations where resolve is hard to estimate. …the coercer often underestimates the targets will to resist. Consequently, the coercer has to apply larger amounts of force, but then it entered the realm of war[9].” Two examples of this type of escalation are the 1999 North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s air campaign due to Serbian non-compliance to stop their persecution of Kosovo Albanians and the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq to halt their WMD program. Hence, there are no guarantees that the use of coercive diplomacy will persuade the adversary to stop an action or, worse, the adversary’s miscalculations could escalate the situation.

As mentioned earlier, before employing coercive diplomacy, it is crucial to understand the adversary’s motivations and what is at stake for them. The January 2020 drone strike that killed the Iranian general is an example of the need for understanding motivational factors to calculate an adversary’s response. Iran’s potential loss of credibility within their own country and the region may have driven their retaliatory missile attacks at the two bases in Iraq[10]. Although there were no U.S. fatalities, with the right miscalculations, this retaliation could have escalated past coercive diplomacy to full-on war. This example reveals the risk of employing coercive diplomacy and the difficulties with calculating adversaries’ countermeasures.

In summary, the recent use of U.S. coercive diplomacy has conflicting results. For example, the 2018 missile strikes to compel the Syrian regime to stop using chemical weapons civilians achieved its objectives, but the 2020 drone strike of the Iranian general to compel Iran to stop its aggression in the Middle East did not. Iran’s retaliation demonstrates that weaker states will respond back if they believe their credibility is at stake. Also, the use of coercive diplomacy against North Korea shows the difficulty of changing an adversary’s behavior when their most vital program for survival is at stake. Moreover, coercive diplomacy is only of value if the threat is credible, and the nation is prepared to go to war if necessary. Lastly, coercive diplomacy is a risky strategy as it depends on the adversary’s motivations, and any wrong calculation can escalate the situation to full-on war, as seen with the 2003 invasion of Iraq.


Endnotes:

[1] Jervis, R. (2013). Getting to Yes with Iran: The Challenges of Coercive Diplomacy. Foreign Affairs, 92(1), 105-115. Retrieved February 17, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/41721008

[2] Missy Ryan, J. D. (2020, January 4). How Trump decided to kill a top Iranian general. Retrieved February 23, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/how-trump-decided-to-kill-a-top-iranian-general/2020/01/03/77ce3cc4-2e62-11ea-bcd4-24597950008f_story.html

[3] Levy, J. (2008). Deterrence and Coercive Diplomacy: The Contributions of Alexander George. Political Psychology, 29(4), 537-552. Retrieved February 17, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/20447143

[4] Anne Gearan, M. R. (2018, April 14). U.S. and allies warn Syria of more missile strikes if chemical attacks used again. Retrieved February 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-launches-missile-strikes-in-syria/2018/04/13/c68e89d0-3f4a-11e8-974f-aacd97698cef_story.html

[5] George, A. L. (1991). Forceful Persuasion: Coercive Diplomacy as an Alternative to War. Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press.

[6] Chollet, D., Glover, J., Greenfield, J., & Glorioso, A. (2016, July 19). Obama’s Red Line, Revisited. Retrieved February 23, 2020, from https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/07/obama-syria-foreign-policy-red-line-revisited-214059

[7] George, A. L. (1991). Forceful persuasion: Coercive Diplomacy as an Alternative to War. Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press.

[8] North Korea. (2019, August). Retrieved February 23, 2020, from https://www.nti.org/learn/countries/north-korea

[9] Cronin, P. M., & Art, R. J. (2003). United States and Coercive Diplomacy. Washington, D.C.: United States Inst. of Peace Press.

[10] Bender, B., Zanona, M., Ferris, S., O’Brien, C., Starks, T., & Forgery, Q. (2020, January 7). Iran retaliates with missile attacks on U.S. troop locations in Iraq. Retrieved February 2020, from https://www.politico.com/news/2020/01/07/iran-retaliation-iraq-base-095869

 

Assad Raza Assessment Papers Coercive Diplomacy Diplomacy

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