Victory Over the Potomac: Alternatives to Inevitable Strategic Failure

Michael C. Davies has written three books on the Wars of 9/11 and is a progenitor of the Human Domain concept.  He currently works for an international law firm.  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. 

Editor’s Note:  This article is an entry into our 70th Anniversary Writing Contest: Options for a New U.S. National Security Act.  The author submitted this article under the contest heading of Most Disruptive.


National Security Situation:  Unless the National Security Act of 1947 is scrapped and replaced, the United States will inevitably suffer grand strategic failure.  After 16 years of repeated, overlapping, and cascading strategic failures[1], the ineptitude of the U.S. national security system has been laid bare for all to see.  These failures have allowed America’s enemies to view the National Security Act’s flaws and provided the time and space to develop effective competitive strategies against the U.S. and successfully threaten both the international order and the U.S. social contract.

Date Originally Written:  September 10, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  October 9, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the point of view of an individual who previously conducted research on the Wars of 9/11 at the U.S. National Defense University and concluded that the United States of America, as a government, a military, and a society, is currently functionally and cognitively incapable of winning a war, any war.

Background:  Because the U.S. national security system, modeled via the 1947 Act, is built for a different era, different enemies, and different mental models, it is incapable of effectively creating, executing, or resourcing strategies to match the contemporary or future strategic environment.  The deficiencies of the current system revolve around its inability to situate policy and politics as the key element in strategy, competitively match civilian and military forces with contemporary and future environments and missions, maintain strategic solvency, end organizational stovepipes, and consider local and regional politics in strategic decision-making.

Significance:  Without immediate and revolutionary reorganization, a series of ever-more consequential strategic failures is inevitable, eventually leading to grand strategic failure.

Option #1:  Revolutionary Reorganization.

The list below offers the necessary revolutionary reorganization of the national security system to negate the previously mentioned deficiencies.

  1. Command and control of the Geographic Combatant Commands (GCCs) is moved to the Department of State.  Senate-approved civilian Ambassadors are given unity of command over all civilian and military forces and policymaking processes in their area.
  2. The Department of State is reorganized around foreign policymaking at the GCCs, super-empowered Chiefs of Mission in each country[2], and functional areas of expertise[3].
  3. The Department of Defense is reorganized into mission-centric cross-functional corps[4].
  4. The intelligence community is rationalized into a smaller number of agencies and reorganized around, and made dependent on, the above structures.
  5. The National Security Council is curtailed into a presidential advisory unit, a grand strategy unit headed by the Secretary of State to align national objectives, GCC policies, civilian and military force structures, and budgets, and a red team cell.
  6. The Joint Chiefs of Staff remain, but transfer all organizational power to the GCCs and the cross-functional corps.  The Chairman remains as the President’s chief military advisor.  The heads of each military Service will retain a position as military advisors to the President and ceremonial heads of the respective Services.
  7. A second tier is added to the All-Volunteer Force to allow for rapid scaling of civilian personnel into military service as needed, negating the need for National Service and the use of contractors.  Second tier individuals undertake a fast-track boot camp, provided functional training according to skills and need, given operational ranks, and assigned to units as necessary to serve a full tour or more.

Because of the magnitude of power given to the Executive Branch by this Act, the War Powers Resolution must be redrafted into a constitutional amendment.  Congress must now approve any action, whether a Declaration of War or an Authorization for the Use of Force (AUMF), within 5 days of the beginning of combat by simple majority.  The President, the relevant GCC Ambassador, and the relevant country-team Ambassador(s) will be automatically impeached if combat continues without Congressional approval.  All majority and minority leaders of both houses and the relevant Committees will be automatically impeached if an authorizing vote is not held within the 5-day period.  Any AUMF must be re-authorized at the beginning of each new Congressional term by a super-majority of both houses.

Risk:  This reorganization will cause significant turmoil and take time to organizationally and physically relocate people, agencies, and bureaucratic processes to the new structure.  Large-scale resignations should be expected in response also.  Effective execution of policy, processes, and institutional knowledge will likely be diminished in the meantime.  Furthermore, the State Department is not currently designed to accept this structure[5], and few individuals exist who could effectively manage the role as regional policy proconsul[6].  This reorganization therefore demands significant planning, time, and care in initial execution.

Gain:  This reorganization will negate the current sources of strategic failure and align national policy, ground truth, and effective execution.  It will free the President and the Executive Branch from attempting to manage global politics on a granular level daily.  It will enable local and regional expertise to rise to the forefront and lessen the impact of ideologues and military operationalists on foreign policy.  And above all else, America will be capable of winning wars again.

Option #2:  Goldwater-Nichols for the Interagency.

The implementation of all the recommendations from the Project for National Security Reform’s, Forging a New Shield[7], will allow for superior strategic decision-making by lessening the negative impact of organizational stovepipes.

Risk:  The maintenance of a strong President-centric system, Departmental stovepipes, and the military Services as independent entities that overlay Forging’s proposed interagency teams retains too much of the current national security system to be forcefully effective in negating the factors that have caused repeated strategic failures.  This option could be also used to give the appearance of reform without investing the time and energy to make its goals a reality.

Gain:  This reorganization can be readily adopted onto current national security structures with minimal disruption.  Demands for a ‘Goldwater-Nichols for the Interagency’ is an oft-repeated call to action, meaning that significant support for these reforms is already present.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Kapusta, P. (2015, Oct.-Dec.) The Gray Zone. Retrieved Sept. 10, 2017 from https://www.dvidshub.net/publication/issues/27727

[2] Lamb, C. and Marks, E. (2010, Dec.) Chief of Mission Authority as a Model for National Security Integration. Retrieved Sept. 10, 2017 from http://ndupress.ndu.edu/Portals/68/Documents/stratperspective/inss/StrategicPerspectives-2.pdf

[3] Marks, E. (2010, Mar.) A ‘Next Generation’ Department of State: A Proposal of the Management of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved Sept. 10, 2017 from http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/item/2010/0103/oped/op_marks.html

[4] Brimley, S. and Scharre, P. (2014, May 13) CTRL + ALT + DELETE: Resetting America’s Military. Retrieved September 10, 2017, from http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/05/13/ctrl-alt-delete

[5] Schake, K. (2012, March 1) State of Disrepair: Fixing the Culture and Practices of the State Department. Retrieved Sept. 10, 2017 from http://www.hooverpress.org/State-of-Disrepair-P561.aspx

[6] Blair, D., Neumann, R., and Olson, E., (2014, Aug. 27) Fixing Fragile States. Retrieved Sept. 10, 2017 from http://nationalinterest.org/feature/fixing-fragile-states-11125

[7] Project for National Security Reform (2008, Nov.) Forging a New Shield. Retrieved Sept. 10, 2017 from http://www.freedomsphoenix.com/Uploads/001/Media/pnsr_forging_a_new_shield_report.pdf

Contest Governing Documents Michael C. Davies Option Papers United States

Options for Constitutional Change in Afghanistan

David Benson is a Professor of Strategy and Security Studies at the United States Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies (SAASS), part of Air University in Montgomery, Alabama.  His area of focus includes online politics and international relations.  He can be found on Twitter @davidcbenson.  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 United States is attempting to broker peace in Afghanistan allowing it to remove troops, leaving behind a stable country unlikely to be used to stage transnational terror attacks.

Date Originally Written:  August 23, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  September 25, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article provides a neutral assessment of two possible courses of action available to the U.S. and Afghan Governments.

Background:  Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic, religious and linguist state.  Nicknamed “the graveyard of empires,” the disparate nature of the country has prevented both foreign empires and domestic leaders from consolidating control in the country.  The most successful domestic leaders have used Afghanistan’s rough terrain and complicated ethnography to retain independence, while playing larger states off each other to the country’s advantage.

The U.S. and its allies have been conducting military operations in Afghanistan for 16 years.  In that time, the coalition of opposition known as the Taliban has gone from control of an estimated 90% of the country, down to a small fraction, and now controls approximately 50% of the country.  At the time of the U.S.-led invasion, the Taliban was a pseudo-governmental organization capable of fielding a military that used modern tactics, but since than has devolved into a less hierarchical network, and in some ways is better thought of as a coalition of anti-government forces.  Although officially a religious organization, the Taliban has historically drawn its greatest support from among the Pashto majority in the country.  The current Afghan government is at Kabul and has supporters amongst every ethnic group, but has never controlled much territory outside of Kabul.

Following the collapse of the Taliban the U.S.-sponsored government installed a constitution which established a strong central government.  Although the constitution recognizes the various minority groups, and provides protections for minority communities, it reserves most authority for the central government.  For example, though the government recognizes 14 ethnic groups and as many as 5 language families as part of Afghanistan, it still calls for a single centrally developed educational curriculum.  The president even appoints regional governors.

Recently, U.S. President Donald Trump and some of his key advisors have raised the possibility of a negotiated solution in Afghanistan.  Such a negotiation would necessarily include the Taliban, and Taliban associated groups.  Insofar as the ongoing conflict is between the central government and those opposed to the central government, a natural accommodation could include a change in the government structure.

Significance:  Afghanistan was the base of operation for the terrorist organization al-Qa’ida, and where the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States were planned.  The importance of the September 11th attacks in the U.S. and international consciousness cannot be overstated.  The perceived threat of international terrorism is so great that if Afghanistan is not stable enough to prevent transnational terror attacks from originating there, regional and global powers will be constantly tempted to return.  Afghanistan is also a potential arena for competition between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan.  India seeks an ally that can divide Pakistan’s attention away from India and the Jammu and Kashmir, while Pakistan wants to avoid encirclement.

Option #1:  Do not change the constitution of Afghanistan which would continue to centralize authority with the government in Kabul.

Risk:  The conflict never ends.  The Afghan constitution provides for a far more centralized government than any western democracy, and yet Afghanistan is more heterogeneous than any of those countries.  Ongoing populist revolts against elite leadership personified by Brexit in the United Kingdom and the election of President Trump demonstrate the desire for local control even in stable democracies.  Combined with Afghanistan’s nearly 40 year history of war, such desires for local control that are currently replicated across the globe could easily perpetuate violence in the country.  Imagine the local popular outrage in the U.S. when Barack Obama and Donald Trump were elected if the President also appointed the governors of every state, and dictated the curriculum in every school.

A second-order risk is heightened tension between India and Pakistan.  So long as Afghanistan is internally fractured, it is a source of conflict between India and Pakistan.  If Pakistan is able and willing to continue to foment the Taliban to thwart India’s outreach into the country, then this raises the possibility of escalation between the two nuclear countries.

Gain:  Afghanistan externally looks more like other states, at least on paper.  The Taliban and other terror groups are in violation of local and international law, and there is a place in Kabul for the U.S. and others to press their claims.  The advantage of the constitution as it now stands is that there is a single point of institutional control.  If the president controls the governors, and the governors control their provinces, then Afghanistan is a more easily manageable problem internationally, if not domestically.

Option #2:  Change the constitution of Afghanistan decentralizing some governing authority.

Risk:  Once the Afghan constitution is on the table for negotiation, then there is no telling what might happen.  The entire country could be carved up into essentially independent territories, with the national state of Afghanistan dissolving into a diplomatic fiction.  Although this would essentially replicate de jure what is de facto true on the ground, it could legitimize actors and outcomes that are extremely deleterious for international peace.  At worst, it might allow bad actors legal protection to develop power bases in regions of the country they control without any legal recourse for other countries.

Gain:  A negotiated solution with the Taliban is much more likely to succeed.  Some Taliban members may not give up their arms in exchange for more autonomy, and perhaps even a legal seat at the table, but not all people fighting for the Taliban are “true believers.”  The incentives for people who just want more local control, or official recognition of the control they already exercise, change with a constitution that cedes control from the central government.  Ideally the constitution would replicate to some degree the internal autonomy with external unity created in the 20th under the monarchy.

Other Comments:  War, even civil war, is always a political problem.  As such, a political solution may be more practical than a military one.  While changes can be applied to force structure, rules of engagement and strategy, until all involved are willing and able to change the politics of the situation, failure is imminent.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

None.

Afghanistan David Benson Governing Documents Option Papers United States

U.S. Options for Basing Forces to Deter North Korea

Mark Loncar is retired from the United States Air Force and is a graduate of the Defense Intelligence College, now called National Intelligence University.  He served in South Korea for 23 months.  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. faces a growing existential Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) threat from North Korea’s nuclear weapons development program.

Date Originally Written: August 1, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  September 18, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the point of view of a U.S. foreign policy advisor.

Background:  North Korea recently tested another ballistic missile, the second major test in a month, as part of a nuclear weapons program that, if brought to fruition, could threaten the U.S.  Policymakers in the U.S. are understandably reticent because of the serious threat that North Korea may respond with aggressive military action against South Korea and bring the U.S. into another Korean conflict.

The U.S. security commitment to its South Korea ally has not been in doubt since the Korean War started in 1950.  However, the positioning of U.S. forces in South Korea has been debated, and over the years, the number of U.S. troops has decreased from the mid-30 thousands before the North Korean nuclear program started in the 1990s to around 28,000 today.  Amid the present North Korean nuclear challenge, it is time to reexamine the utility of keeping U.S. forces in South Korea.

Significance:  The Korean peninsula is no longer the center of gravity in any hostilities between North Korea and the U.S. as North Korea’s ICBM capability, according to media reports, could reach Honolulu, Anchorage, and Seattle.  U.S. policy must adapt to this drastic expansion of the threat in order to end the impasse that characterizes U.S. dealings with the North Korean ICBM challenge.  In expanding his nuclear capability to ICBMs, North Korean President Kim Jong-un has turned what was a Korean peninsula-centric issue into more of an eyeball-to-eyeball existential threat to the U.S..

Option #1:  U.S. forces remain positioned in South Korea.

Risk:  U.S. policy options concerning the North Korean nuclear program will continue to be limited due to the risk of war to South Korea.  The presence of U.S. forces in South Korea preserves the status quo, but does not move the U.S. closer to a solution to the North Korean nuclear challenge.  Having U.S. forces in South Korea also complicates U.S. – South Korea relations and gives South Korea leverage in how the U.S. should respond to the North Korean nuclear issue, further constraining U.S. freedom of movement to respond to North Korea.

Gain:  The presence of U.S. forces in South Korea signals U.S. resolve in the Korean Conflict through a sharing of risk with South Korean allies.  This option maintains a U.S. capability to respond quickly and forcibly to North Korean conventional incursions and other hostile actions against South Korea.

Option #2:  U.S. forces redeploy from South Korea to present cleaner options for dealing with North Korean nuclear weapons threat.  The policy would relocate U.S. forces from South Korea to Japan and other countries and bases in the region.  A continued U.S. military presence near the Korean peninsula will help to reassure South Korea and Japan that the long-time security commitments will abide.  The redeployment would also represent a continuation of major U.S. conventional capability in the area to counter any North Korean conventional aggression.

Risk:  Perception of outright appeasement by U.S. allies.  How could the U.S. proceed with redeployment of forces from South Korea without communicating to friends and adversaries that it would be engaging in all-out appeasement of the North Korean regime and surrendering important U.S. and allied interests in Northern Asia to the People’s Republic of China (PRC)?

Gain:  The removal of U.S. forces from South Korea would be a major inducement for North Korea to scrap its nuclear weapons program or for the PRC to pressure it to do so.  Indeed, North Korea’s paranoia concerning U.S. – South Korea intentions toward its regime could be significantly pacified by moving U.S. forces off the Korean peninsula.  At the same time, the stakes would be raised for Kim Jong-un and his PRC benefactors to change behavior on terms attractive to all parties—agreeing to a peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and a reduced threat of war on the peninsula.

Second, removing the threat to U.S. forces on the peninsula would present less cumbersome options for the U.S. with respect to the North Korean nuclear weapons challenge, especially concerns about war on the Korean peninsula.  The U.S. would also be less constrained in deciding to preempt or respond directly to North Korean nuclear aggression.  This is the real capability of such a redeploying U.S. forces from South Korea.  North Korea and the PRC would be on notice that if North Korea continued its nuclear weapons ICBM development after a redeployment of U.S. forces off the Korean peninsula, the regime’s action may be met with the gravest of responses.

Third, this option would deny North Korea a pretext for attacking South Korea should the U.S. strike Kim Jong-un’s nuclear facilities.  Such a U.S. strike on North Korean nuclear facilities would come only after a U.S. redeployment from the peninsula and the North Korean regime’s obstinate refusal to scrap its nuclear weapons program.  In this security construct, any North Korean attack below the 38th parallel in retaliation for a U.S. strike on North Korean nuclear facilities would likely elicit the immediate destruction of the North Korean state.

Other Comments:  An opportunity is in reach to have a return to the status quo without a Korean peninsula-centric relationship.  This relationship would be more North Korea-South Korea focused, with the U.S. and the PRC overseeing the relationship.  The U.S. would no longer be in the middle of the mix with its own forces physically present in South Korea.  It may not be the best the U.S. could hope for – that would be a democratic government in North Korea if not an eventual unification of North and South Korea.  However, a U.S. redeployment to incentivize peninsula denuclearization and present cleaner options concerning North Korea’s nuclear weapons program may be a more viable alternative than accepting and having to deter a North Korean global ICBM capability, or to fight another war on the Korean peninsula.  In the end, by removing U.S. forces from South Korea, friend and foe should understand that if North Korea refuses to scrap its nuclear weapons capability, it will be the North Korean regime alone against the overwhelming power of the U.S..


Endnotes:

None.

China (People's Republic of China) Mark Loncar North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) Option Papers South Korea (Republic of Korea) United States Weapons of Mass Destruction

Options for U.S. National Guard Defense of Cyberspace

Jeffrey Alston is a member of the United States Army National Guard and a graduate of the United States Army War College.  He can be found on Twitter @jeffreymalston.  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 United States has not organized its battlespace to defend against cyberattacks.  Cyberattacks are growing in scale and scope and threaten surprise and loss of initiative at the strategic, operational and tactical levels.  Shortfalls in the nation’s cybersecurity workforce and lack of division of labor amongst defenders exacerbates these shortfalls.

Date Originally Written:  July 23, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  September 4, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This paper is written from a perspective of a U.S. Army field grade officer with maneuver battalion command experience who is a senior service college graduate.  The officer has also been a practitioner of delivery of Information Technology (IT) services and cybersecurity for his organization for over 15 years and in the IT industry for nearly 20 years.

Background:  At the height of the Cold War, the United States, and the North American (NA) continent, organized for defense against nuclear attack.  A series of radar early warning lines and control stations were erected and arrayed across the northern reaches of the continent to warn of nuclear attack.  This system of electronic sentries were controlled and monitored through a series of air defense centers.  The actual air defense fell to a number of key air bases across the U.S. ready to intercept and defeat bombers from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics entering the NA airspace.  The system was comprehensive, arrayed in-depth, and redundant[1].  Today, with threats posed by sophisticated cyber actors who directly challenge numerous United States interests, no equivalent warning structure exists.  Only high level, broad outlines of responsibility exist[2].  Existing national capabilities, while not trivial, are not enough to provide assurances to U.S. states as these national capabilities may require a cyber event of national significance to occur before they are committed to address a state’s cyber defense needs.  Worse, national entities may notify a state after a breach has occurred or a network is believed to be compromised.  The situation is not sustainable.

Significance:  Today, the vast Cold War NA airspace has its analog in undefended space and gray area networks where the cyber threats propagate, unfettered from active security measures[3].  While the capabilities of the myriad of companies and firms that make up the critical infrastructure and key resource sectors have considerable cybersecurity resources and skill, there are just as many that have next to nothing.  Many companies and firms cannot afford cyber capability or worse are simply unaware of the threats they face.  Between all of these entities the common terrain consists of the numerous networks, private and public, that interconnect or expose all of these actors.  With its Title 32 authorities in U.S. law, the National Guard is well positioned to take a key role in the unique spot interface between private industry – especially critical infrastructure – in that it can play a key role in this gray space.

There is a unique role for the National Guard cyber forces in gray space of the internet.  The National Guard could provide a key defensive capability in two different ways.

Option #1:  The National Guard’s Defensive Cyberspace Operations-Element (DCO-E), not part of the Department of Defense Cyber Mission Force, fulfills an active role providing depth in their states’ networks, both public and private.  These elements, structured as full-time assets, can cooperatively work to negotiate the placement of sensors and honeypots in key locations in the network and representative sectors in their states.  Data from these sensors and honey pots, optimized to only detect high-threat or active indicators of compromise, would be aggregated in security operations centers manned primarily by the DCO-Es but with state government and Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources (CIKR) participation.  These security operations centers provide valuable intelligence, analytics, cyber threat intelligence to all and act to provide depth in cybersecurity.  These units watch for only the most sophisticated threats and allow for the CIKR private industry entities to concentrate their resources on internal operations.  Surveilling gray space networks provides another layer of protection and builds a shared understanding of adversary threats, traffic, exploitation attempts returning initiative to CIKR and preventing surprise in cyberspace.

Risk:  The National Guard cannot be expected to intercept every threat that is potentially targeted at a state entity.  Negative perceptions of “mini-National Security Agencies (NSAs)” within each state could raise suspicions and privacy concerns jeopardizing the potential of these assets.  Duplicate efforts by all stakeholders threaten to spoil an available capability rather than integrating it into a whole of government approach.

Gain:  Externally, this option builds the network of cyber threat intelligence and unifies efforts within the particular DCO-E’s state.  Depth is created for all stakeholders.  Internally, allowing National Guard DCO-Es to focus in the manner in this option provides specific direction, equipping options, and training for their teams.

Option #2:  The National Guard’s DCO-Es offer general support functions within their respective states for their Adjutants General, Governors, Department of Homeland Security Advisors, etc.  These elements are tasked on an as-needed basis to perform cybersecurity vulnerability assessments of critical infrastructure when requested or when directed by state leadership.  Assessments and follow-on recommendations are delivered to the supported entity for the purpose of increasing their cybersecurity posture.  The DCO-Es fulfill a valuable role especially for those entities that lack a dedicated cybersecurity capability or remain unaware of the threats they face.  In this way, the DCO-Es may prevent a breach of a lessor defended entity as the entry point for larger scale attacks or much larger chain-reaction or cascading disruptions of a particular industry.

Risk:  Given the hundreds and potentially thousands of private industry CIKR entities within any particular state, this option risks futility in that there is no guarantee the assessments are performed on the entities at the greatest risk.  These assessments are a cybersecurity improvement for the state overall, however, given the vast numbers of industry actors this option is equivalent to trying to boil the ocean.

Gain:  These efforts help fill in the considerable gap that exists in the cybersecurity of CIKR entities in the state.  The value of the assessments may be multiplied through communication of the results of these assessments and vulnerabilities at state and national level industry specific associations and conferences etc.  DCO-Es can gradually collect information on trends in these industries and attempt to use that information for the benefit of all such as through developing knowledge bases and publishing state specific trends.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Winkler, D. F. (1997). SEARCHING THE SKIES: THE LEGACY OF THE UNITED STATES COLD WAR DEFENSE RADAR PROGRAM(USA, Headquarters Air Combatant Command).

[2]  Federal Government Resources. (n.d.). Retrieved July 22, 2017, from https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/marketing/Cybersecurity/2013march21_cyberroleschart.authcheckdam.pdf

[3]  Brenner, J. (2014, October 24). Nations everywhere are exploiting the lack of cybersecurity. Retrieved July 21, 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/joel-brenner-nations-everywhere-are-exploiting-the-lack-of-cybersecurity

 

 

 

Cyberspace Jeffrey Alston Non-Full-Time Military Forces (Guard, Reserve, etc) Option Papers United States

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

United States’ Options to North Korea Missile Development

Mike Dyer is a research assistant at a Washington-based international policy think tank.  He can be found on twitter @mikeysdyer.  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’ Options in response to North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile developments.

Date Originally Written:  July 22, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  July 31, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the point of view of a senior defense/foreign policy advisor to the Trump Administration.

Background:  After decades of development, for the first time in the history of the Korean conflict, North Korea is nearing the capability to hold U.S. population centers on the continental United States at risk with a small nuclear weapon[1].  Nearing this inflection point requires a reexamination of U.S. policy vis-a-vis Northeast Asia.

Significance:  If North Korea’s Kim regime believes it has an effective deterrent against the United States, it may become emboldened to pursue more provocative and dangerous polices.  Such brinkmanship could lead to disaster.  This new fact threatens U.S. extended deterrence commitments to both Japan and South Korea (Republic of Korea (ROK)), depending on the Trump Administration’s policy response.  The Kim regime, while rational, is certainly volatile, and engages in behaviors well outside of international norms.

Option #1:  The United States accepts the reality of North Korea as a nuclear power while maintaining demands for denuclearization.  This option may require adjustments to U.S. defense posture, namely the reintroduction of tactical nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula or the expansion of the ballistic missile defense programs.

Risk:  First, the most salient risk the United States would face is relying on deterrence against a regime for which it lacks an acute understanding.  Relying on deterrence to keep the peace on the Korean peninsula is risky because the Kim regime derives power and legitimacy from propping up the United States and others as an aggressive enemy.

Second, even if the United States does nothing, the Kim regime would still be incentivized to provoke the United States and the ROK if only for domestic reasons.

Third, as previously mentioned, North Korea could work to weaken U.S. extended deterrence commitments by credibly threatening the U.S. homeland.  The United States could work to reduce this risk by demonstrating the effectiveness of its missile defense shield.

Gain:  This option does not risk conflict in the near to medium terms, thus it continues to “kick the can down the road.”  This policy trades tactical and operational risk for increased strategic risk over the long-term.  Otherwise, this option gains nothing.

Option #2:  The United States conducts a pre-emptive strike on North Korea’s known nuclear and ballistic missile sites.

Risk:  First, this option risks large-scale retaliation against the ROK and Japan and the U.S. forces stationed there.  There is a significant chance a military strike would miss known or hidden weapons sites or leave North Korea with the capability to deliver a conventional counter strike[2].

Second, a military strike on North Korean nuclear sites is likely to cause an environmental and humanitarian disaster to some degree.  This could result in unnecessary civilian loss of life, increased pan-Korean nationalism at the expense of the U.S.-ROK alliance, and generally loss of support for U.S. leadership/presence in the region.  The illicit transfer of unaccounted for nuclear materiel could also result.

Gain:  If a strike were successful, the Kim regime would effectively be disarmed.  Such a blow to North Korea could lead to a coup against the Kim regime or to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) intervening to stabilize the situation.

Option #3:  The United States increases economic sanctions on the regime to either bring North Korea to the negotiating table or cause the regime to collapse.  This option is not possible without increased support from the PRC a because of its importance to the North Korean economy.

Risk:  First, sanctions need years to take full effect.  During this time, North Korea’s capabilities could grow and the regime would have opportunity to degrade the situation in its favor.

Second, it is unknown what the Kim regime would do if faced with collapse and loss of power.  Some North Korean interlocutors have made the point that North Korea did not build its nuclear weapons only to watch them go unused as the regime collapses.

Third, the regime values security, prestige, and power over a growing economy, it has effective control over its people and they are discouraged from speaking out against the regime even in private.

Gain:  If successful, sanctions have the potential to accomplish U.S. objectives without risking conflict.  Given the Kim regime’s hierarchy of values however, this option is unlikely to work.

Option #4:  The United States and the ROK negotiate a peace treaty with North Korea.  This option accepts the reality of North Korea’s newfound nuclear capability and gives up on past demands for complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of the North’s nuclear program prior to peace negotiations.

Risk:  First, for a durable peace to exist between the United States and North Korea, both sides would have to reach a mutually acceptable political solution, this may mean both North Korea and the ROK giving up on their objectives for reunification—something both states are unwilling to do.  Durable peace would also require security for all concerned and trust that does not currently exist.

Second, negotiating peace without denuclearization would weaken the nuclear nonproliferation regime and cause allies to lose faith in United States’ security commitments.  This option could result in greater nuclear proliferation across Northeast Asia.

Gain:  The gain is limited by the risk of failure, but a peaceful Korean peninsula would benefit regional security and ease the burden on U.S. defense commitments.

Option #5:  The United States undermines the Kim regime by encouraging the flow of information into and out of North Korea.  The United States works with the PRC and ROK to encourage the further development of independent (black) markets in North Korea at the expense of regime control on civil life.

Risk:  First, this policy would require years to fully carry out, allowing North Korea to expand its weapons program in the meantime.

Second, this policy may just raise the quality of life of the North Korean people and expand the regime’s tax base while not convincing the people to push-back against the regime.

Third, as previously mentioned, destabilizing the regime raises the risks of conflict.

Gain:  If successful, this policy could chance the character and policies of the North Korean regime, ultimately leading to peace and reconciliation.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Ackerman, S., & Jacobs, B. (2017). US commander not confident North Korea will refrain from nuclear assault. the Guardian. Retrieved 22 July 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/26/north-korea-nuclear-attack-south-korea-us-navy

[2]  Your Bibliography: Peters, R. (2017). A New Approach to Eliminating North Korean Weapons of Mass Destruction Is Needed. Washington: The U.S. Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins SAIS. Retrieved from http://www.38north.org/wp-content/uploads/pdf/NKIP-Peters-WMDE-062017.pdf  Also see, Bennett, B. (2013). Preparing for the Possibility of a North Korean Collapse. Rand Corporation.

China (People's Republic of China) Mike Dyer North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) Nuclear Issues Option Papers South Korea (Republic of Korea)

People’s Republic of China Options Toward North Korea

Paul Butchard is a graduate student in the Department of War Studies at Kings College London in the United Kingdom, where he is pursuing his master’s degree in Intelligence and International Security.  He also holds a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Politics.  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:  Options for the foreign policy of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) toward North Korea (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or DPRK).

Date Originally Written:  July, 15, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  July 24, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the perspective of foreign policy advisor to the PRC government.

Background:  Since January 2016, the DPRK has conducted two nuclear weapons tests and ten missile tests.  Such actions, coupled with increasingly bombastic rhetoric, displays a more aggressive posture for the DPRK than previous years[1].

Significance:  For the PRC, their relationship with the DPRK is a regional policy issue and a central element of PRC-United States relations.  President Xi Jinping is forging an outgoing, “Striving for Achievement” foreign policy for the PRC[2].  Simultaneously, the PRC has displayed more public disapproval of Pyongyang’s destabilising behaviour than previous years[3].  The course of action the PRC adopts towards the DPRK will play a major role in the relationship between Beijing and Washington in years to come, influencing events globally.

Option #1:  The PRC maintains/increases military, economic and diplomatic aid to the DPRK.  This option sees the PRC continuing or building upon its current course of action, providing vast military and economic aid and diplomatic protection to bring the DPRK’s behaviour in line with the PRC’s wishes.

Risk:  The PRC risks appeasing the DPRK, encouraging it to continue along its current path, one that is increasingly casting the PRC as a suzerain unable to rein in a vassal state, to the casual observer.  The DPRK would view such action as capitulation and an acknowledgment by Beijing that Pyongyang cannot be penalised for actions and policies even when they harm the PRC’s interests[4].  The DPRK is conscious of its strategic importance to Beijing and able to take PRC aid without granting concessions.  The PRC risks escalating confrontation with the United States if the latter perceives the PRC as unwilling to act or enabling the DPRK’s current destabilising behaviour, a possibility given recent remarks by President Trump[5].

Gain:  This option enables the PRC to sustain the DPRK regime, avoiding a humanitarian crisis on its border because of regime collapse, maintaining the tense but peaceful status quo.  The PRC avoids being labelled a United States puppet as the DPRK has previously implied[6].  United States’ sanctions related to the DPRK have so far been limited to private companies and individuals, not the PRC government[7].  This option thus avoids igniting military, diplomatic or economic confrontations with the United States.

Option #2:  The PRC decreases/ceases military, economic and diplomatic aid to the DPRK.  This option sees the PRC ‘sanction’ the DPRK by reducing or halting military, economic or diplomatic aid to alter its behaviour to suit PRC preferences.

Risk:  This option risks the collapse of the DPRK regime due to the PRC being its main economic trading partner.  The PRC also risks economic self-harm due to the vast natural resources it imports from the DPRK[8].  The collapse of the DPRK brings unparalleled security concerns for the PRC from uncontrolled nuclear materials and mass immigration to the potential of a United States ally on its border.

Gain:  By reducing aid the PRC would be acting against the DPRK’s unpredictable actions, potentially slowing its development of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), increasing its international standing, a cornerstone of President Xi’s foreign policy.  Such action would be seen favourably by the Trump administration increasing the likelihood of favourable trade deals or relative acquiescence to PRC actions in the South China Sea.

Option #3:  Regime change.  This option would see the PRC pursue regime change within the DPRK by means of supporting a coup d’état or palace coup of some description rather than overt military action of its own.

Risk:  The DPRK government and society revolves fully around the Kim dynasty, the removal of the deity that is Kim Jong Un and the Kim lineage risks the total collapse of the state.  There is no clear successor to Kim due to the autocratic nature of the DPRK and any successor would likely be considered a PRC puppet and usurper.  Subsequent destabilisation would result in the aforementioned humanitarian and security crisis’ posing a grave national security threat to the PRC.  Such action would be logistically and strategically difficult to accomplish, requiring multiple sections of the DPRK military and governmental apparatus being coordinated by a vast human intelligence network operated by the PRC.  As such, and due to pervasive North Korean surveillance even of its elites, a coup risks discovery long before execution.  United States and South Korean forces may see any attempt at regime change as an opportunity to launch their own military offensive or as evidence of PRC expansionism and a threat to the South.

Gain:  Replacing Kim Jong Un could lead to increased stability for the PRC’s regional development objectives.  The PRC could avoid total DPRK state collapse due to external pressure and avert the potential national security threats to the PRC mainland.  This option also raises the possibility of enhancing United States-PRC relations, buying the PRC the aforementioned political capital.  A new DPRK regime, allied with the PRC, that tempers its actions toward the United States, also raises the possibility of the removal of the United States’ Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defence system from South Korea, which the PRC views as a national security threat.  This option also presents the potential for the reduction of United States troop numbers in South Korea due to increased stability and a reduced threat from the DPRK.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Council on Foreign Relations, (2017) North Korea Crisis. Retrieved July 13, 2017 from https://www.cfr.org/global/global-conflict-tracker/p32137#!/conflict/north-korea-crisis

[2] Yan, X. (2014). From Keeping a Low Profile to Striving for Achievement. The Chinese Journal of International Politics,7(2), 153-184.

[3] Perlez, J. (2017, February 24). China and North Korea Reveal Sudden, and Deep, Cracks in Their Friendship. Retrieved July 14, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/24/world/asia/china-north-korea-relations-kim-jong-un.html

[4] Pei, M. (2017, March 14). North Korea: What Is China Thinking? Retrieved July 14, 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/03/china-north-korea-kim-jong-un-nuclear-beijing-pyongyang-thaad/519348/

[5] Weaver, M., Haas, B., & McCurry, J. (2017, April 03). Trump says US will act alone on North Korea if China fails to help. Retrieved July 14, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/apr/02/donald-trump-north-korea-china

[6] Sang-hun, C. (2017, February 23). North Korea Accuses China of ‘Mean Behavior’ After It Tightens Sanctions. Retrieved July 14, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/world/asia/north-korea-china.html

[7] Aleem, Z. (2017, June 29). Why Trump just slapped new sanctions on Chinese banks. Retrieved July 14, 2017, from https://www.vox.com/world/2017/6/29/15894844/trump-sanctions-china-north-korea-bank

[8] Perlez, J., & Huang, Y. (2017, April 13). China Says Its Trade With North Korea Has Increased. Retrieved July 14, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/13/world/asia/china-north-korea-trade-coal-nuclear.html 

[9] Reuters. (2017, February 28). China reacts with anger, threats after South Korean missile defense decision. Retrieved July 15, 2017, from http://www.reuters.com/article/us-southkorea-usa-thaad-china-idUSKBN16709W

China (People's Republic of China) Leadership Change North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) Option Papers Paul Butchard South Korea (Republic of Korea) United States