Assessment of Increased Chinese Strategic Presence in Afghanistan

Humayun Hassan is an undergraduate student at National University of Sciences and technology, Pakistan.  His areas of research interests include 5th and 6th generation warfare and geopolitics of the Levant.  He can be found on Twitter @Humayun_17. 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 Increased Chinese Strategic Presence in Afghanistan

Date Originally Written:  September 15, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  December 2, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the Chinese standpoint, with regards to U.S and North Atlantic Treaty Organization member country (NATO) presence in Afghanistan and the pursuit of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Summary:  Afghanistan is important to Chinese strategic interests. To ensure stability in its autonomous region of Xinjiang, expansion of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, and counter a perceived “encirclement of China” strategy, Afghanistan holds the key for China. Therefore, China is consolidating its interests in Afghanistan through “economic diplomacy”, facilitation of peace talks, and working with other regional players.

Text:  As a part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China is establishing multiple economic passages, across Eurasia, Africa, and Southeast Asia. A total of six economic[1] corridors are designed to connect China with most of the major markets of the world. To consolidate her direct access to these markets, it is pivotal for China to maintain regional and political stability, especially in areas that directly pertain to these economic corridors. Two of these six corridors, namely CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) and China-Central Asia and West Asia economic corridors pass through the Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang. This network of railroads, energy projects, and infrastructure is meant to connect Beijing with Central and Western Asia, along with the Middle East. Xinjiang is not only one of the most impoverished and underdeveloped regions of China, but is also home to almost 10-12 million Uighurs Muslims. In the past few years, Muslims in Xinjiang have caught significant media spotlight[2], due to growing sense of discontent among the local population with the Chinese administration. While the official Chinese narrative depicts a few Uighurs groups to be supportive of terrorist activities, the opposing viewpoint highlights internment camps[3] and over-representation of police force in the region. Nevertheless, the geo-economic importance of Xinjiang is paramount, which is why China is willing to use aggressive measures to restore stability in the area.

The militant factions of the Uighur community are supported by various group operating from Afghanistan. The Turkestan Islamic Movement, which was formerly known as East Turkestan Islamic Movement, is considered to be the primary organization undermining the Chinese sovereignty in Western China. In the past, this group has primarily operated from Afghanistan, with alliances with the Afghan Taliban (Taliban) and Al-Qaeda. However, since 2015, China has another reason to be cautious of protecting its economic[4] interests in the region. The Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) chapter of the violent extremist organization the Islamic State was established that year, with an aim to create its terror network in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Apart from tacitly supporting the Uighurs militant factions, IS-K has openly threatened to attack the ongoing CPEC projects, not only inside Pakistan but also in Western China[5].

The encirclement of China strategy advocates for constant U.S military and political presence in Chinese proximity[6]. With forces in Afghanistan the United States and NATO have opened up a new pressure point for China, a country that is already coping with the U.S forces in South China Sea and Japan, on the eastern front. After almost 18-years of non-conclusive war in Afghanistan, the U.S and Afghan forces have failed subdue the Taliban[7]. As the Kabul administration is facing financial and political turmoil, the U.S is considering reducing military presence in the country, and leaving a friendly government in Afghanistan. China seems to be aware of the political vacuum that awaits Afghanistan, which is why it presents an opportunity for it to find new allies in the country and work with other stakeholders to bring in a friendly government. This government vacuum-filling may not only allow China to neutralize U.S encirclement from Afghanistan, but will also help suppress terrorist organizations operating from Afghanistan. The latest developments in lieu of U.S-Taliban talks in Doha, Qatar indicate that China is enhancing ties with the Taliban. A Taliban government in Afghanistan may be suitable for China, at least in consideration of the available options. Not only have the Taliban declared war against IS-K[8], an entity that has openly threatened to disparage Chinese interests in the region and support militants in Western China, but also remained silent on the alleged persecution of the Uighurs in Xinjiang. This war declaration may be regarded as a major milestone in the China-Taliban relations, since the late 1990s when the Taliban government in the country allowed militant groups, such as Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

For the first few years of the Afghan war, China passively supported it. However, as the United States, under the Obama administration started to hint a military withdrawal from Afghanistan, China assumed a more active role in the country. Since the initiation of BRI, Chinese exports to Afghanistan have increased significantly[9]. For the first time in modern China-Afghanistan relations, China has offered military aid to the Afghanistan. The Chinese foreign minister also expressed a desire to expand the ongoing CPEC into Afghanistan as well[10]. Another aspect that is often discredited is the natural resource potential in the country. Afghanistan incorporates some of the largest Lithium reserves, which are particularly essential for the manufacturing of most electronic products. As per the American Geological Survey, Afghanistan holds approximately $3 trillion worth of natural resources[11]. This alone makes Afghanistan an area of interest for major world powers.

In conclusion, China’s approach towards Afghanistan may be best deciphered by a paradigm shift. From a strategic limited involvement to active leadership, China has now become one of the key stakeholders in the Afghan peace process. With an apparent failure of the Afghan peace talks between the Taliban and U.S, the situation is deteriorating quickly. The Taliban, since then, have vowed to double down on militancy. From a Chinese standpoint, continuation of U.S presence in Afghanistan and the anticipated increase in violence would be the least desired outcome. China, over the years, has strategically played a balancing act between all the internal stakeholders of Afghanistan, from offering aid to the national government to hosting a Taliban delegation in Beijing. Therefore, any political settlement in the country, whether it is the creation of a new “national government” with the Taliban or a truce between the fighting forces within the country may suit the Chinese in the long-run. As the BRI initiative enters the next stage, and threats of terror activities in the Xinjiang loom, and the race to tap into Afghanistan’s natural resources intensifies, China is now in unchartered waters, where any significant development in Afghanistan will directly effects its regional political and economic interests. It seems that, in coming times, China may assume the central role in organizing new peace initiatives, ensuring that whoever comes to power in Afghanistan may not thwart China’s ambitions in the country.


Endnotes:

[1]1 Hillman, J. (2019, September 4). China’s Belt and Road Is Full Of Holes. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from https://www.csis.org/analysis/chinas-belt-and-road-full-holes

[2] Sudworth, J. (2019, July 4). China Muslims: Xinjiang schools used to separate children from families. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-48825090

[3] Shams, S. (2015, July 24). Why China’s Uighurs are joining jihadists in Afghanistan. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from https://www.dw.com/en/why-chinas-uighurs-are-joining-jihadists-in-afghanistan/a-18605630

[4] Pandey, S. (2018, September 22). China’s Surreptitious Advance in Afghanistan. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from https://thediplomat.com/2018/09/chinas-surreptitious-advance-in-afghanistan/

[5] Aamir, A. (2018, August 17). ISIS Threatens China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from https://www.chinausfocus.com/peace-security/isis-threatens-china-pakistan-economic-corridor

[6] Gunner, U. (2018, January 18). Continuity of Agenda: US Encirclement of China Continues Under Trump. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from https://www.globalresearch.ca/continuity-of-agenda-us-encirclement-of-china-continues-under-trump/5626694

[7] Wolfgang, B. Taliban now stronger than when Afghanistan war started in 2001, military experts say. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/sep/9/taliban-strongest-afghanistan-war-started-2001/

[8] Burke, J. (2019, August 19). With Kabul wedding attack, Isis aims to erode Taliban supremacy. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/19/with-kabul-wedding-attack-isis-aims-to-erode-taliban-supremacy

[9] Zia, H. (2019, February 14). A surge in China-Afghan trade. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201902/14/WS5c65346ba3106c65c34e9606.html

[10] Gul, A. (2018, November 1). China, Pakistan Seeking CPEC Extension to Afghanistan. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from, https://www.voanews.com/south-central-asia/china-pakistan-seeking-cpec-extension-afghanistan

[11] Farmer, B. (2010, June 17). Afghanistan claims mineral wealth is worth $3trillion. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/7835657/Afghanistan-claims-mineral-wealth-is-worth-3trillion.html

 

Afghanistan Assessment Papers China (People's Republic of China) Great Powers Humayun Hassan

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

Mike Sweeney is a former think tanker who lives and writes in New Jersey.  He is the author of the essays, “Could America Lose a War Well?” and “Could America Leave the Middle East by 2031?” He’s still not sure about the answer to either question.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


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

Date Originally Written:  July 22, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  October 14, 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Endnotes:

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

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

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

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

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

Options for Maintaining Counterinsurgency Capabilities in the Great Power Era

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.


Harrison Manlove is a Cadet in the U.S. Army’s Reserve Officer Training Corps at the at the University of Kansas and is currently studying History and Peace and Conflict Studies. Harrison has also written for The Strategy Bridge, where he examined Russia’s strategy in Syria and the Middle East. 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 U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) struggle with retaining an enclave of counterinsurgency (COIN) capabilities alongside a renewed focus on training and equipping for great power competition.

Date Originally Written:  May 6, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  June 27, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Harrison Manlove is a Cadet with the U.S. Army’s Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Kansas where he studies History and Peace and Conflict Studies.

Background:  The 2017 US National Security Strategy (NSS) identifies the return of great power competition as a strategic threat to U.S. interests across a variety of domains. Challenges to U.S. military and economic power are meant to “change the international order…” that the U.S. has overseen since the end of the Cold War. The NSS acknowledges the ability of near peer competitors to operate “below the threshold of open military conflict…”. In addition, the NSS identifies the need to “sustain our competence in irregular warfare…” in a long-term capacity[1]. This “competence” most certainly includes COIN, or the employment of various means of national power by a government to counter an insurgency “and address its roots causes[2].” DoD’s 2018 National Defense Strategy identifies “Long term strategic competition with China and Russia” as “the principal priorities for the Department…[3]” Both of the above mentioned documents indicate how non-state threats have slowly moved down the priority list.

Significance:  Recent decisions by U.S. President Donald Trump and the DoD to drawdown forces in a variety of conflict areas seem to reflect a desire to realign U.S. force posture to counter near-peer competitors in both Europe and Asia, and bolster conventional military capabilities. In December 2018, President Trump directed U.S. forces in Syria to withdraw, while simultaneously halving U.S. forces deployed to Afghanistan over several months as peace talks continue[4]. U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) and General Purpose Forces (GPF) U.S. forces have spent almost two decades advising and training foreign forces as a function of COIN efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and others. Last fall, U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) was directed to drawdown SOF missions on the continent over a period of three years[5]. SOF in Africa suffered a highly-publicized loss of troops in the 2017 Tongo Tongo ambush in Niger, while SOF personnel were also killed and wounded during an attack on their outpost in Somalia last year[6].

Option #1:  U.S. SOF addresses COIN threats through Direct Action.

Risk:  SOF conduct countless direct action missions, or “Short-duration strikes…”, against insurgent and terror groups in multiple countries across theaters like USAFRICOM and U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM)[7]. American deaths during these operations has proven damaging for domestic opinion on global U.S. operations, exemplified by the 2017 deaths of four American Special Forces soldiers in Niger. An uninformed public, a largely opaque DoD concerning SOF missions and their specific purpose, and U.S. military roles within those missions, has created a wider civil-military gap. This lack of clarity has brought some American lawmakers to call the Niger scenario “an endless war” where “We don’t know exactly where we’re at in the world militarily and what we’re doing[8].” These lawmaker opinions underscores concerns about the scale and cost of worldwide U.S. military involvement and its impact on SOF personnel. In addition, raids often do not solve the political or economic challenges within COIN and can become a whack-a-mole strategy for targeting an insurgency’s network.

Gain:  The GPF often take the brunt of the task involved in conducting major COIN operations. Recent moves by the U.S. Army to retool brigade combat teams from infantry roles to Stryker and armored roles is one of the clearest examples of the “pivot back to the near-peer fight[9].” SOF addressing COIN threats through direct action drastically reduces the overall need for GPF on the frontlines in COIN and frees them up to focus on the near-peer fight.  Additionally, while direct action does not address the factors driving the insurgency, it does succeed in disrupting insurgent formations and presents metrics to Washington D.C. that are more easily understood than the more esoteric quantification of “winning of hearts and minds.”  Funding for U.S. Special Operations Command was given a massive hike to cover personnel increases to maintain a reliance on SOF[10]. SOF in Africa often operate under the Section 127e authority that allows SOF to accompany partner forces on missions, staying behind at the “last position of cover and concealment.” This has been touted by USAFRICOM Commander U.S. Marine Corps General Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, as “high payoff with low risk to US forces[11].” Direct action is relatively low-cost and, under 127e, also provides SOF the ability to directly control partner forces during operations to achieve US objectives.

Option #2:  Specially trained non-SOF units address COIN threats through Security Force Assistance.

Risk:  Global military engagement may be spreading U.S. forces too thinly if a near-pear conflict were to breakout. Since the 9/11 attacks, a focus on COIN and counterterrorism has resulted in U.S. deployments to 40% of the world’s countries[12]. The U.S. Army’s 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) deployed to Afghanistan in early 2018 to train and advise Afghan forces. Insider attacks by Afghan Taliban insurgents posing as members of the Afghan military have taken a toll on that deployment and highlight the potential dangers of a continued U.S. military presence there[13]. In mid-2018, the 2nd SFAB was established and is also slated for deployment to Afghanistan in 2019. SFABs could pull troops and resources from DoD’s ability to train and prepare for near-peer threats. DoD personnel involved in arms transfer, security assistance, and short-term military-to-military engagement programs are meager within the context of broader defense spending, but might offer an area for DoD to repurpose personnel and funding to critical capability gaps like artificial intelligence (AI) and cyber warfare.

Gain:  While military force is often the preferred method in COIN, an emphasis on non-kinetic means for DoD could provide better results at a much lower cost. The defense budget for fiscal year (FY) 2017 brought major reforms to security assistance authorities and organizations, a problem that had previously plagued those initiatives. Security assistance programs allow small teams of DoD personnel to train partner forces in basic military tactics and provide weapons training[14]. DoD spending as part of the foreign assistance budget totaled out to $6.4 billion spent worldwide in FY 2018, which includes these programs. Total spending for the foreign assistance budget in FY 2018 was $17.6 billion[15]. In comparison, the war in Afghanistan alone cost $45 billion in 2018, a little under half the $100 billion spent every year during the war’s height between 2010-2012[16]. DoD training with partner militaries is relatively inexpensive when compared with other DoD programs and deployments, and “builds relationships with friendly foreign forces, improves interoperability with and indirectly contributes to building the capability of key allies through exposure to United States tactics, techniques, and procedures…[17]” Capacity-building conducted by specially trained units could better enhance opportunities for partner forces to provide security in COIN conflict environments. The Army’s SFAB model appears to be a comprehensive training force, standing in contrast to the ad hoc approach used throughout Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. This option could alleviate pressure on SOF to manage similar missions on a global scale that would continue to strain overworked equipment and personnel.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendations:  None.


Endnotes:

1. “National Security Strategy of the United States of America.” The White House. December 2017. Accessed May 2, 2019. https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf.

2. United States. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. Washington, D.C.: Joint Chiefs of Staff, April 2019. 54.

3. “Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy.” January 19, 2018. May 2, 2019. https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf.

4. Gibbons-Neff, Thomas, and Mujib Mashal. “U.S. to Withdraw About 7,000 Troops From Afghanistan, Officials Say.” The New York Times. December 21, 2018. Accessed May 2, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/20/us/politics/afghanistan-troop-withdrawal.html.

5. Browne, Ryan. “US to Reduce Number of Troops in Africa.” CNN. November 15, 2018. Accessed May 2, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/15/politics/us-reduce-troops-africa/index.html.

6. Sonne, Paul. “U.S. Service Member Killed, Four Others Wounded in Somalia Attack.” The Washington Post. June 08, 2018. Accessed May 2, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-special-operations-soldier-killed-four-service-members-wounded-in-somalia-attack/2018/06/08/39265cda-6b5f-11e8-bbc5-dc9f3634fa0a_story.html

7. . United States. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. Washington, D.C.: Joint Chiefs of Staff, April 2019. 66.

8. Callimachi, Rukmini, Helene Cooper, Alan Blinder, and Thomas Gibbons-Neff. “‘An Endless War’: Why 4 U.S. Soldiers Died in a Remote …” The New York Times. February 20, 2018. Accessed May 2, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/02/17/world/africa/niger-ambush-american-soldiers.html.

9. South, Todd. “New in 2019: From Tanks to Strykers, Major Brigade Combat Team Conversions Are Coming This Year.” Army Times. January 02, 2019. Accessed May 2, 2019. https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2019/01/02/new-in-2019-from-tanks-to-strykers-major-brigade-combat-team-conversions-are-coming-this-year/.

10. South, Todd. “Special Operations Command Asks for More Troops, Biggest Budget Yet.” Military Times. February 27, 2018. Accessed May 2, 2019. https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-army/2018/02/23/special-operations-command-asks-for-more-troops-biggest-budget-yet/.

11. Morgan, Wesley. “Behind the Secret U.S. War in Africa.” POLITICO. July 02, 2018. Accessed May 2, 2019. https://www.politico.com/story/2018/07/02/secret-war-africa-pentagon-664005.

12.   Savall, Stephanie, “This Map Shows Where in the World the U.S. Military Is Combatting Terrorism.” Smithsonian.com. January 01, 2019. Accessed May 2, 2019. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/map-shows-places-world-where-us-military-operates-180970997/.

13.   LaPorta, James. “U.S. Soldier Killed in Afghanistan Was Highest Enlisted Soldier Supporting Army’s New Adviser Brigade.” Newsweek. October 04, 2018. Accessed May 3, 2019. https://www.newsweek.com/afghanistan-soldier-killed-attack-us-1104697.

14.  Elliot, Adriane. “U.S. Security Assistance Soldiers, Nigerian Army Partner to Combat Terrorism.” Army Values. December 13, 2017. Accessed May 3, 2019. https://www.army.mil/article/198066/us_security_assistance_soldiers_nigerian_army_partner_to_combat_terrorism.

15.   “ForeignAssistance.gov.” Foreignassistance.gov. May 3, 2019. https://foreignassistance.gov/explore.

16.   Pennington, Matthew. “Pentagon Says War in Afghanistan Costs Taxpayers $45 Billion per Year.” PBS. February 06, 2018. Accessed May 3, 2019. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/pentagon-says-afghan-war-costs-taxpayers-45-billion-per-year

17.  “Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 President’s Budget Security Cooperation Consolidated Budget Display.” Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller). February 16, 2018. Accessed May 3, 2019. https://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/Documents/defbudget/fy2019/Security_Cooperation_Budget_Display_OUSDC.pdf.

Great Powers Harrison Manlove Option Papers Small Wars Journal Writing Contest Strategy United States

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

Great Power Interaction: United States Options Towards Iran

Phillip J. Giampapa is a personnel security assistant contracted with United States Customs and Border Protection.  Prior to that, Phillip was a civil affairs specialist with the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and is currently an Officer Candidate in the Washington, D.C. Army National Guard.  Phillip has operational experience in Afghanistan and Qatar, as well as familiarity with the Levant and Gulf Countries.  He can be found on Twitter at @phillipgiampapa.  The views expressed in this article do not represent the views or policies of his employer, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the United States 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.  


National Security Situation:  United States’ interactions with Iran under the Trump Administration.

Date Originally Written:  June 6th, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  August 7, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the point of view of a United States policymaker advising the Trump Administrations on possible options towards Iran.

Background:  In the Middle East, the Trump Administration has signaled its preference to strengthen relationships with the Sunni Gulf states by way of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.  By strengthening relationships with the Sunni Gulf states, as well as announcing an arms deal with Saudi Arabia, the United States appears willing to continue isolating Iran.  This has the potential to exacerbate tensions with Iran, which if one views it through an international relations theory lens, Iran will attempt to counteract actual or perceived Saudi (read: Sunni) influence gains to maintain balance in the region, as well as prevent loss of Iranian influence.

Iran has a variety of proxies, as well branches of its armed services serving in countries throughout the Middle East.  This is illustrated through the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, as well as deployment of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Syria and Yemen.  This does not include the activities of the IRGC in other countries that include Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan[1].  Iran’s military adventurism throughout the Middle East serves to advance the foreign policy agenda of its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei[1].  Put succinctly, the foreign policy agenda of the Supreme Leader is the expansion of Iranian (read: Shia) influence throughout the Middle East to serve as an ideological counterweight against the expansion of Saudi/Wahhabi ideology.

Recently, on May 20, 2017, Iran held a presidential election.  The incumbent, President Hassan Rouhani, won re-election by receiving 57% of the vote[2].  Mr. Rouhani is seen as a reformer in Iran, and he is expected to attempt most of his proposed reforms now that he is in his second term.  How many reforms will actually take place is anyone’s guess, as is the influence Mr. Rouhani will have on IGRC policy, but it will be a factor that should be considered when considering the United States’ approach to great power interactions.

Significance:  The Middle East will continue to be a region that perplexes United States policymakers.  United States’ Allies will continue to be confused as to policy direction in the Middle East until more fidelity is provided from Washington.  Iranian meddling will continue in sovereign nations until it is addressed, whether diplomatically or militarily.  Furthermore, Iranian meddling in the region, and interference in the affairs of sovereign nations, will continue to destabilize the Middle East and exacerbate tensions in areas where conflict is occurring, such as Syria and Yemen.  A complete withdrawal of the United States’ presence in the region would likely create a stronger vacuum potentially filled by an adversary.  As such, the United States must choose the option that will provide the strongest amount of leverage and be amicable to all parties involved in the decision.

Option #1:  Maintain the status quo – the United States continues to strengthen Sunni states and isolate Iran.  Through maintaining the status quo, the United States will signal to its allies and partners in the Middle East that they will continue to enjoy their relationship with the United States as it exists in current form.  President Trump’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia signals this intent through proposed arms sales, announcing the establishment of a center to combat extremism, and the use of negative language towards Iran.

Risk:  The risk inherent in pursuing Option #1 is that the window of opportunity on having a moderate, reform-minded person as President of Iran will eventually close.  Through isolating Iran, it is likely they will not be keen on attempting to make overtures to the United States to reconsider the relationship between the two countries.  Since the United States is not going to pursue a relationship with Iran, other countries will seek to do so.  The risk of missed economic opportunities with an Iran that is an emerging market also has the possibility of closing the window for the United States to be involved in another area where it can exert its influence to change Iranian behavior.

Gain:  Through maintaining the status quo that exists in the Middle East, the United States can be sure that pending any diplomatic, political, or international incidents, it can maintain its presence there.  The United States can continue to nurture the preexisting relationships and attempt to maintain the upper hand in its interactions with Iran.  The United States will also remain the dominant player in the great power interactions with other countries in the Middle East.

Option #2:  The United States strengthens its relationship with Iran through moderate reformers and building relationships with moderates in Sunni states to provide shared interests and commonalities.  Given the propensity of nation-states to expand their power and influence, whether through political or military means, it is likely inevitable that conflict between Iran and the Sunni states will take place in the near future.  If a relationship can be built with moderates in the Iranian government as well as Sunni states, it is possible that commonalities will overlap and reduce tensions between the different powers.

Risk:  The risk exists that neither rival will want to have the United States attempting to influence matters that may be viewed as neighborly business.  The possibility also exists that neither nation would want to build a relationship with the other, likely originating from the religious leaders of Iran or Saudi Arabia.  Finally, the worst-case scenario would be that any type of relationship-building would be undercut through actions from independent and/or non-state actors (i.e. terrorist groups, minority religious leaders, familial rivals from ruling families).  These undercutting actions would destroy trust in the process and likely devolve into reprisals from both sides towards the other.

Gain:  Through interacting with Iran, the United States and other powers can establish relationships which could eventually allow the opportunity to address grievances towards existing policies that serve to inflame tensions.  It is also likely that by having a partner in Iran, instability in the Middle East can be addressed in a more effective manner than is currently being done right now.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] REPORT: Destructive role of Irans Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the Middle East. (2017, March). Retrieved June 06, 2017, from http://www.eu-iraq.org/index.php/press-releases/item/851-report-destructive-role-of-iran’s-islamic-revolutionary-guard-corps-irgc-in-the-middle-east

[2] Erdbrink, T. (2017, May 20). Rouhani Wins Re-election in Iran by a Wide Margin. Retrieved June 06, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/20/world/middleeast/iran-election-hassan-rouhani.html?_r=0

Great Powers Iran Option Papers Phillip J. Giampapa United States

Call for Papers: Options or Assessments for Great Power Interaction

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Summary:

Divergent Options is calling for papers assessing or discussing options that Great Powers, Nations, Organizations, Groups, or Individuals have regarding Great Powers.  While there are different definitions or theories behind what a Great Power is, Divergent Options is not wedded to any one of them.

Please limit your article to 1,000 words and write using our  Options Paper or Assessment Paper templates which are designed for ease of use by both writers and readers alike.

Please send your article to submissions@divergentoptions.org by August 4, 2017.

If you are not interested in writing on this topic we still welcome individual articles on virtually any national security situation an author is passionate about.  Please do not let our call for papers cause you to hesitate to send us your idea.  We look forward to hearing from you!

A Few Questions From Twitter Followers & Elsewhere to Inspire Potential Writers:

What countries are Great Powers and why?

Which Great Powers are on becoming more powerful and why?  Which Great Powers are declining and why?

What role should Great Powers or one specific Great Power have in the world?

On what issues should Great Powers attempt to lead the world?

How can nations band together to protect their interests from a Great Power?

How can nations work with a Great Power to pursue their interests?

What is more important to a Great Power, individuals, administrative behavior, or the constraints of the international system?

What are options for Great Power cooperation on counterterrorism / stability / peacekeeping / counterinsurgency in the age of “America First?”

Call For Papers Great Powers