Options for Managing Xinjiang Uighur Ethnic Tensions

Daniel Urchick is a defense and foreign policy analyst.  Daniel tweets at @DanielUrchick.  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:  Unrest and separatist tendencies amongst the Uighur ethnic minority in Xinjiang Province, People’s Republic of China (PRC)

Date Originally Written:  March 08, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  April 27, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The article is written from the perspective of a PRC government official offering options for countering ethnic violence, separatism, and extremism amongst the Uighurs in Xinjiang. 

Background:  Turkic-speaking Muslim Uighurs comprise an estimated 42 percent of Xinjiang’s population of 19 million.  Uighur unrest was historically sporadic and easily suppressed but since 2008 Xinjiang has seen a slow, but noticeable rise in violent activity that appears to be aimed at local actors, such as the local government structure, state security forces, Han immigrants, and Uighur “collaborators,” rather than at the Chinese Central Government in Beijing.  Some Uighurs have called for total independence from the PRC due to cultural oppression.

Uighur terrorism has allegedly occurred across the PRC, including dual bombings in Yunnan Province in 2008, a bombing in Tiananmen Square in 2013, and a knife attack at Kunming Airport in Yunnan that killed 29 and injured 143 in early 2014.  In late February 2017, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) released a video of Uighur members who claimed they would shed rivers of blood in the PRC and avenge the oppressed[1].  This video marked the first time Uighur militants had officially been tied to ISIS[2].

The PRC has increasingly relied on a heavy-handed and repressive approach to security operations in Xinjiang.  The arrests and detention of protesters, even peaceful ones, are estimated to be well into the tens of thousands, with an estimated 1.8 executions occurring weekly in 2008[3].  Tens of thousands of PRC security components currently operate in Xinjiang[4].

Drivers of Uighur unrest may include being barred from 95 percent of the civil-service positions in Xinjiang[5], being forced to teach Mandarin in Uighur schools, and, until recently, anyone under 18 was prohibited from entering a mosque.  Despite efforts to placate the Uighurs with promises of foreign direct investment, increased employment opportunities, and modernization projects, the majority of these opportunities are still reserved for the Han Chinese.

Significance:  Xinjiang links the PRC to Central Asia and the greater Middle East geographically, ethnically, and religiously.  The problems of ethnic separatism and religious extremism in the Middle East and Central Asia flow into Xinjiang.  For this reason, in addition to poor administrative practices, there is a small, but growing problem with separatism and terrorism in the region.  Fear of an ISIS-like organization forming in Xinjiang, combined with a theoretical collapse of adjacent Tajikistan, has spurred the PRC into creating an entire security organization: the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Option #1:  The “Alaska” model— Reward the Uighurs with economic dividends based on exploiting Xinjiang’s resources.

Risk:  Economic dividends have historically been reserved for Han Chinese who may grow agitated with the loss of an exclusive “perk,” causing them to lash out at the local and Central Government.  Unhappy Han may direct their frustrations towards the Uighur population, who may respond to violence with greater violence, exacerbating the situation.

Gain:  Opening resource management to the Uighur population will co-opt Uighur elites and likely remove environmental concerns and wealth imbalances as a historical justification to protest resource exploitation in Xinjiang.  Option #1 places the onus of environmental degradation on the Uighur elites vice the local and Central Government.

Option #2:  The “Scotland” model— the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) maintains direct control of international and interprovincial trade, as well as military and police functions, but cultural autonomy exists in exchange for loyalty.

Risk:  This model allows the Uighur identity to grow unchecked, which may develop to a point of seeking greater separation from the rest of the PRC.  Misplaced faith in Uighur officials by the CCP could create Uighur opposition leaders in future periods of unrest and rising tensions.  The granting of such a high-level of autonomy to Xinjiang may spark calls for similar policies in other ethnic minority regions in the PRC.

Gain:  The PRC government maintains control of local security apparatus while receiving maximum economic benefit to be distributed as it sees fit.  True autonomy for the region reduces international and domestic criticism of PRC governance in the region.

Option #3:  The “Hawaii” model— Calls for the creation of an “indigenous people’s organization” to communicate with local officials about ongoing and future disputes with the government or Han population.

Risk:  The creation of the indigenous people’s organization could result in a legitimate alternative authority to the Central Government in Beijing, which, in turn, could eventually organize the Uighur population to formally challenge PRC government authority.  This organization may create avenues for Uighurs who support violent extremism to move into positions of authority.

Gain:  This indigenous people’s organization places an administrative barrier between the local government and Uighur population’s criticism and frustrations.  Both the Central Government and local government can use this organization as a scapegoat when tensions flair, while staffing it with vetted personnel. 

Option #4:  The “Australian” model— Special privileges are granted to minorities, such as no birth restrictions, tax exemptions, and assured education.

Risk:  Special privileges conferred to the Uighurs risk increasing resentment among the Han population towards the Uighurs, leading to increased hostility and even greater inter-ethnic violence.  Even more worrisome, the Han populace in Xinjiang, and around the PRC, may become resentful of the Central Government for withholding highly coveted privileges.

Gain:  Removing restrictions that apply to the rest of the country promotes a sense of exceptionalism in the Uighur population, encouraging loyalty to the PRC.  Assured education encourages educated Uighurs to become local elites and support the Central Government that supported them.

Option #5:  The “West Bank” model— Government promotion of cultural and Islamic tourism to Xinjiang Province.

Risk:  Exposes a larger portion of the PRC populace to Islam, increasing the potential for conversion to a religion that believes in an authority other than the Central Government in Beijing.  Islamic tourists to Xinjiang could bring ideas about Islam and its role in society and government that the PRC government views as destabilizing, further increasing tensions.

Gain:  Uighurs are potentially exposed to more moderate Islamic ideas on a wider scale, rather than radical Islamist ideas that proliferate under or due to government suppression.

Other Comments:  The models presented above can be found with greater detail in Dru Gladney’s 2003 paper “Responses to Chinese Rule in Xinjiang: Patterns of Cooperation and Opposition,” published in the Mongolian Journal of International Affairs (http://www.mongoliajol.info/index.php/MJIA/article/viewFile/122/123).

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Katie Hunt and Matt Rivers. “Xinjiang violence: Does China have a terror problem?,” CNN, December 02, 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/02/asia/china-xinjiang-uyghurs/

[2]  Ryan Pickrell. “ISIS Vows To ‘Shed Blood Like Rivers’ In First Threat Against China,” Daily Caller, March 1, 2017. Retrieved from: http://dailycaller.com/2017/03/01/isis-vows-to-shed-blood-like-rivers-in-first-threat-against-china/

[3]  Drew Gladney. “Responses to Chinese Rule in Xinjiang: Patterns of Cooperation and Opposition,” The Mongolian Journal of International Affairs. Retrieved from: http://www.mongoliajol.info/index.php/MJIA/article/viewFile/122/123

[4]  “Xinjiang deploys over 10,000 armed police in latest show of force after terror attacks,” South China Morning Post, February 28, 2017. Retrieved from: http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2074711/china-stages-another-huge-show-force-xinjiang-wake

[5]  Preeti Bhattacharji. “Uighurs and China’s Xinjiang Region,” Council on Foreign Relations, May 29, 2012. Retrieved from: http://www.cfr.org/china/uighurs-chinas-xinjiang-region/p16870

China (People's Republic of China) Daniel Urchick Minority Populations Option Papers Uighur

70th Anniversary Writing Contest: Options for a New U.S. National Security Act

NSA1947Truman

Background:

On July 26, 1947, U.S. President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 into law.  The National Security Act of 1947 mandated a major reorganization of the foreign policy and military establishments of the U.S. Government.  The act created many of the institutions that Presidents found useful when formulating and implementing foreign policy, including the National Security Council[1].  As July 26, 2017, marks the 70th anniversary of the signing of this historic document Divergent Options is holding a writing contest.

Contest:

Using our options paper template, in 1,000 words or less, provide your options for how the National Security Act of 1947, or portions thereof, could be re-written to address better the threats, challenges, and opportunities the U.S. faces in the ever-changing national security environment.

Timelines:

Divergent Options will accept entries for 70 days beginning on July 26 and ending on October 4th, 2017.

Awards:

Divergent Options’ Strategic Advisory Board will review all entries and award First Place ($100), Second Place ($50) and Third Place (Divergent Options Coffee Mug) in each of the following award categories:

1.  Best Overall Option Paper

2.  Option Paper Most Able to be Implemented

3.  Most Disruptive Option Paper

All submissions, regardless of whether they win an award or not, will be published.

Submission Procedures:

A.  Review our options paper template.

B.  Send your 1,000 words or less to submissions@divergentoptions.org between July 26 and October 4th, 2017 and note which award category you wish to be considered for.

References:

–  National Security Act of 1947

–  National Intelligence Council Global Trends Report


Endnotes:

[1]  Milestones 1945-1952, National Security Act of 1947. (n.d.). Retrieved April 23, 2017, from https://history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/national-security-act

Contest Option Papers Phil Walter United States

Options to Evolve U.S. Law Enforcement and Public Safety Training

The Viking Cop has served in a law enforcement capacity with multiple organizations within the U.S. Executive Branch.  He can be found on Twitter @TheVikingCop.  The views reflected are his own and do not represent the opinion of any government entities.  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 evolution of Law Enforcement and Public Safety (LE/PS) Training within the U.S.

Date Originally Written:  April 7, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  April 24, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Author is a graduate of both University and Federal LE/PS training.  Author has two years of sworn and unsworn law enforcement experience.  Author believes a reform of LE/PS training led by institutes of higher learning such as colleges and universities is necessary to meet evolving LE/PS challenges.

Background:  Over the past twenty years the U.S. has seen a major shift in public opinion and media coverage of LE/PS operations.  As a result of this shift, there have been ad hoc changes in LE/PS training on various topics to address a lack of specialized training.  But because LE/PS basic training and advanced training is conducted and designed at a local level, the added training can vary from city to city and state to state.  A look at the basic training of LE/PS is important in the context of how LE/PS organizations are preparing to respond to contemporary changes in U.S. culture and the massive scale of resources and time it takes to train a LE/PS Officer[1].

Current LE/PS basic training varies from state to state with varying hours, types of training, and style of training conducted[2].  This mix of training hours, types, and styles produces a varying level of LE/PS Officer upon graduation.  A LE/PS Officer in one state could lack hundreds of hours of training compared to their peer the next state over when beginning their initial field training.

Significance:  The Bureau of Justice Statistics observed in 2008 that there were sixty-one thousand new LE/PS Officers hired in the United States[3].  Due to the nature of attrition, retirement, and LE/PS budgets, this hiring is only expected to increase over the coming years as a younger generation replaces the “Widening Hole in the Bucket” that is staffing levels in departments nationwide[4].

Option #1:  Establish a system of National Law Enforcement Colleges within university systems throughout the U.S. that not only train and certify LE/PS Officers but that do this as part of a wider degree-granting program.  Option #1 is similar to in-depth and standardized training of LE/PS personnel that countries such as Germany and Sweden have developed.

Risk:  With a rising average number of LE/PS recruits in the U.S. each year, sixty-one thousand hired in 2008[4], a series of colleges would have to have enough capacity to handle one hundred to two hundred thousand trainees across the country at varying years of study if a multiple year degree program is established.  Option #1 could also be viewed as a “Federalization” of LE/PS since the undertaking would inevitably involve the Federal Government for funding and certification.  It has also been noted, albeit with limited research, that university-educated LE/PS Officers experience higher levels of frustration and lower levels of overall job satisfaction[5].

Gain:  Option #1 would increase the minimum education of LE/PS Officers allowing them to be educated in various social science fields that the university systems already employ subject matter experts in.  Option #1 could also offset certain costs of training LE/PS Officers as the program could be run as a self-pay system as any other university program or limited scholarship program such as the U.S. Military Reserve Officer Training Corps program.

Option #2:  Developing and implementing a national standard for basic law enforcement training to be met by currently existing training academies.

Risk:  This would increase the cost of LE/PS training to states that have below minimum standards.  If an extended length of training is chosen it would cause a bottleneck in training new LE/PS Officers that agencies are in need of immediately to boost low staffing numbers.  A national set of minimum standards could lead to simply a change in what is taught during basic training instead of an actual increase in training provided as academies may be inclined to abandon non-mandated training to shorten program time.

Gain:  Concerns with the lack of certain types of training, such as social services and crisis intervention, would be resolved as mandatory training hours could be set for these topics.  LE/PS Officers operating on an inter-agency level (City to County or across State Lines) would have been trained initially to the same set of standards and would be able to better cooperate.

Other Comments:  While the lack of certain academic topics in LE/PS training does exist as a current problem, it must also be understood that in a human-services profession such as LE/PS, that informal training through actual field experience is still the most significant way that adults learn in challenging situations[6].  No amount of academic or basic training will replace the need for actual field experience by the trainee to become competent as a LE/PS Officer.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Stanislas, P. (2014). Introduction: police education and training in context. In P. Stanislas (Ed.), International perspectives on police education and training (pp. 1-20). London: Routledge.

[2]  Reaves, B. (2016). Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) – State and Local Law Enforcement Training Academies, 2013Bjs.gov. Retrieved 7 March 2017, from http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=5684

[3]  Reaves, B. (2012). Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) – Hiring and Retention of State and Local Law Enforcement Officers, 2008 – Statistical TablesBjs.gov. Retrieved 7 March 2017, from http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=4514

[4]  Wilson, J., Dalton, E., Scheer, C., & Grammich, C. (2017). Police Recruitment and Retention for the New Millennium (1st ed.). Santa Monica: RAND Corporation. Retrieved from http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG959.pdf

[5]  Stanislas, P. (2014). The challenges and dilemmas facing university-based police education in Britain. In P. Stanislas (Ed.), International perspectives on police education and training (pp. 57-71). London: Routledge.

[6]  Giovengo, R. (2016). Training law enforcement officers (1st ed.). CRC Press.

Education Law Enforcement & Public Safety Option Papers The Viking Cop Training United States

Islamic State Options: Pivot towards Australia

Phillip Etches is a fourth-year undergraduate student in the Australian National University’s International Security and Middle-Eastern Studies program where he focuses on networked non-state threats.  He can be found on Twitter @CN_Hack.  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:  Possible shift in Islamic State’s (IS) operational focus towards Southeast Asia and the threat to Australian citizens.

Date Originally Written:  February 22, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  April 20, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This options paper is written from the perspective of an individual with command seniority within IS, or influence over the strategic-level policymaking of that organisation.

Background:  The overall goal must be the demonstration that IS remains a viable enterprise, whether as a landholding caliphate or a check on the Western threat to the Ummah.  Prior to Western intervention, a “balanced” strategy involved fighting for territory within “near enemy” spaces such as Iraq and Syria while also operating in as many “far enemy” spaces as possible.  Doing so allowed IS to show that it could establish a new caliphate while simultaneously using kinetic and information operations directed at Western Europe, Southeast Asia, and North America to demonstrate to believing people that IS was capable of projecting beyond its immediate territory.

Significance:  IS is at an inflection point where it must alter the balance of its strategy towards a new far enemy, and show that it retains the initiative by beginning to target Australian citizens and interests more aggressively.  Doing so will show that IS can still function despite territorial losses, that it retains the initiative, and inspire hope in those whose confidence has been shaken by IS setbacks in Iraq and Syria.  This pivot to Australia is vital if IS is to retain its control over its perception and reality.

Option #1:  Continue attempting to inspire remote or unaffiliated persons to conduct attacks by way of broadly targeted messaging or manipulation of social/familial ties between IS personnel and individuals in the country.

Risk:  The principal risk of the present course is a lack of impact and credibility.  The persons who have thus far answered IS’s call have been portrayed as alone, insufficiently lethal, or of compromised standards and morals[1].  This portrayal has allowed the Australian government and media to characterize operations in Australia as the products of mental illness or juvenile delinquency, lessening the kinetic and psychological effects of our operations.  Additionally, operational risk comes from institutions and legislation involved in Australia’s internal security, forcing willing persons to mount small, unsophisticated attacks only.  As such, broad messaging will therefore continue inspiring small attacks, but will not generate the psychological effect we desire.

Gain:  The main gain of Option #1 is the higher likelihood of successful – if small – attacks which will show that IS can operate without restrictions on time or location.  A secondary gain is the increased certainty which comes from following a proven course.  While the current approach does little to change the overall strategic situation, it will avoid provoking a change in behaviour on the part of the Australian internal security establishment, lowering the risk of creating unforeseen future operational challenges.

Option #2:  Targeting Australians in Southeast Asia via IS personnel displacing from Iraq and Syria or via cooperation with pre-existing networks in the region.

Risk:  The biggest risk to IS from this approach will be the immediate response, as the relevant network elements will be endangered by any post-operational security crackdown in the countries where they mount attacks.  In addition to likely immediate costs, Option #2 will alter the challenges faced by IS in future, particularly given that Southeast Asia is within Australia’s near abroad.  Should the Australian government be sufficiently provoked, it will use any available multilateral and unilateral means – as it has before – to prevent future operations.  Any networks known to be sympathetic to IS will also come under stronger Australian scrutiny.  As such, the principal benefit of operation against Australians outside the attention of the Australian government will likely be lost after the first satisfactory attack.

Gain:  The most obvious gain of Option #2 is that it responds to the challenges of Option #1.  Targeting Australians in Southeast Asia will address the risks of the current approach by enabling the use of competent pre-existing networks beyond the auspices of Australia-based security organizations.  Additionally, operating against Australians in Southeast Asia will enable IS to harness the fears held by many Australians about the Jihad in Southeast Asia and rekindle the anxiety they felt after the 2002 Bali Bombings.  This impact will be enhanced if notables such as Abu Bakar Bashir are able to lend their support to the attacks as they did with the original Bali Bombings.

Other Comments:  It may appear that the geographical remove between Syria and Southeast Asia, unlike that between Syria and Europe, is too great to feasibly conduct operations at a distance.  However, it should be noted that operations can and have been directed at such distances by IS, and tactics, techniques, and procedures can be devised to ensure smooth operation in the absence of direct control by Caliph Ibrahim.  Furthermore, IS has a number of brothers from Indonesia and Malaysia[2].  Their experience both at home and fighting in Syria will make them capable operatives, and with some preparation they should be able to carry out the requisite planning, targeting, and execution of operations against Australians.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Buggy, K. (2016). Under the Radar: How Might Australia Enhance Its Policies to Prevent ‘Lone Wolf’ and ‘Fixated Person’ Violent Attacks? Canberra, Australia:Australian Defence College’s Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies

[2]  Dodwell, B., Milton, D., & Rassler, D. (2016). The Caliphate’s Global Workforce: An Inside Look At The Islamic State’s Foreign Fighter Paper Trail. West Point, NY:USMA

Australia Islamic State Variants Option Papers Phillip Etches Violent Extremism

Options for U.S. Sanctions Towards Russia for Aggression in Ukraine

Michael Martinez is a graduate student at University of Maryland University College where he is currently obtaining his master’s degree in intelligence management.  He also holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Coastal Carolina University.  He can be found on Twitter @MichaelMartinez.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  U.S. economic sanctions towards Russia following its aggressive actions in Ukraine.

Date Originally Written:  March 1, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  April 17, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the standpoint of the U.S. national security community regarding future plans or movement on Russian sanctions.

Background:  In February 2014 the Olympic winter games had just concluded in Sochi.  Russia was in the midst of invading the Crimea region and portions of Eastern Ukraine.  The U.S. placed targeted economic sanctions on Russia as a reaction to its invasion.  While these sanctions have been detrimental to Russia’s economy, President Vladimir Putin is still holding portions of Eastern Ukraine and attempting to annex the Donbas region as Russian territory.  The first round of the sanctions from the U.S. were a response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, while a second round began as the ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia failed to take hold[1].  The future of Russian aggression towards Ukraine is undetermined at this time.

Significance:  In the U.S., the Trump Administration is taking a significantly more laissez-faire approach to Russia and Russian government officials, including Putin, than President Barack Obama did.  Any change in U.S. policy towards Russia will have significant impacts in Eastern Europe and on North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members – as matters of economics, trade, and territorial occupation are concerned.  A declining Russian populous and economy, being backed into a corner, can provide for dangerous consequences, especially since its military and nuclear stockpiles are quite viable.

Option #1:  The U.S. continues current economic sanctions until Russia withdrawals its forces from Crimea and the Donetsk region, including other areas of Eastern Ukraine.

Risk:  As the U.S. keeps economic pressure on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine’s sovereign territory, a new Cold War may develop as a stalemate between the U.S. and the Russian plays out.  Russia will hold on to the territory it occupies at this point in time and continue cross border skirmishes into the Donetsk region.

Gain:  If U.S. economic sanctions against Russia were to remain in place, these sanctions  and NATO pressure in the form of expanded presence is put upon the Russian government to rethink its strategy in Ukraine.  If these sanctions continue, the Ruble will sustain its downward trajectory and inflation will continue to rise, especially for consumer goods.  Economic contraction will put pressure on the Russian government to take corrective action and rethink their position to counter public opinion.  In 2015, the Russian economy contracted by 3.7%, while it shrank another 0.7% in 2016[2].

Option #2:  The U.S. lifts economic sanctions against Russia to give the Russian population economic stability in a country that heavily relies on oil and gas exports as the main driver of its economy and much of its wealth.

Risk:  Lifting sanctions may send a signal to the Russian administration that its behavior is warranted, acceptable, and falls in line with global norms.  President Putin may feel emboldened to keep moving his forces west to annex further portions of Ukraine.  Most of Eastern Ukraine could become a war zone, and humanitarian efforts would have to be implemented by the United Nations and other Non-Governmental Organizations if more grave violations of the Minsk (II) Protocol occurred.  Putin’s ultimate plan might involve gaining influence in other former Soviet satellite nations.  As such, a Ukraine-like effort may repeat itself elsewhere.  Lifting sanctions might give Putin a green light for his next conquest.

Gain:  The Russian people may take a friendlier view and role towards the U.S. and allow for more trade.  President Putin may be more open to multilateral trade negotiations.  A new trade agreement may become possible between Russia and the U.S., including countries that have been targeted by Russian aggression such as – Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic States.  A restoration and expansion of the Commonwealth of Independent States Free Trade Agreement or similar agreement, would be prudent to economic activity in the region[3].  Of note is that Ukraine is in a position where it now relies on Germany and Western European nations for imports and likely cannot stand on its own.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendations:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Baer, Daniel. (24, February 2017). Don’t forget the Russian sanctions are Russia’s fault. Foreign Policy. Retrieved March 1, 2017. http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/02/24/dont-forget-the-russia-sanctions-are-russias-fault/

[2]  Kottasova, Ivana. (26, February 2017). What would rolling back U.S. sanctions mean for Russia? CNN Money. Retrieved March 1, 2017 http://money.cnn.com/2017/02/16/news/economy/russia-sanctions-trump/index.html

[3]  “Russia Trade Agreements”. (23, June 2016). Exports.gov. Retrieved March 1, 2017 https://www.export.gov/article?id=Russia-Trade-Agreements

Economic Factors Michael Martinez Option Papers Russia Ukraine United States

U.S. Options for Regime Change in Syria

Dr. Christopher Bolan has served in Jordan, Tunisia, and Egypt and worked as a Middle East foreign policy advisor to Vice Presidents Gore and Cheney.  He presently teaches and researches national security issues at the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College.  He can be found on Twitter @DrChrisBolan.  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:  Regime change in Syria.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Author is a retired U.S. military officer whose writings and teaching focus on national security issues related to the Middle East.

Background:  Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s apparent chemical weapons attack on April 4, 2017 that killed scores of innocent civilians prompted U.S. cruise missile strikes targeting a Syrian airfield from which the attacks were launched.  U.S. President Donald Trump said these strikes were designed primarily to “prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons[1].”  While the decision to strike has been widely supported by leaders of both political parties in Washington D.C., international reaction has been predictably mixed.  Traditional U.S. allies in Europe and the Middle East have been broadly supportive, while supporters of the Assad regime including Russia and Iran have condemned the strikes as a “violation of international law[2].”

Significance:  Beyond the narrow justification of these strikes as being necessary to reinforce an eroding international norm against the use of chemical weapons, this U.S. military intervention has resurfaced questions concerning the ultimate strategy that the Trump Administration is pursuing in Syria.  Before the strikes, senior administration officials including Secretary of State (SecState) Rex Tillerson and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Halley suggested that U.S. policy would abandon even the pretense of President Barack Obama’s objective of ousting Assad from power in Damascus[3].  However, in the aftermath of the strikes, the Trump Administration signaled an apparent about-face as National Security Advisor (NSA) Herbert Raymond “H. R.” McMaster declared that U.S. policy in Syria would “simultaneously” pursue the twin goals of destroying the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and removing Assad[4].  While the fight against ISIS is making significant progress, the administration has not yet articulated a detailed strategy for pursuing the ouster of Assad.  There are two broad options available:

Option #1:  Coercive Diplomacy.  This option seeks to capitalize on the demonstration of U.S. resolve in the wake of the chemical attacks and missile strikes to push all parties to a negotiated solution that would ultimately result in the removal of Assad.  NSA McMaster and SecState Tillerson have suggested that this might indeed be the Trump Administration’s preferred course of action[5].  Additionally, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz is emblematic of this approach and has made the case that “peace is impossible with Mr. Assad in power” and also called on President Trump to lead a “broad diplomatic effort to end the country’s bloodshed[6].”

Risk:  This diplomatic approach is essentially a reprise of President Obama’s strategy to engage Russia to use its substantial influence in Damascus to coerce Assad into relinquishing his position.  Years of a failed Geneva process along these lines are a strong indication that prospects for success are minimal.  Moreover, Russia is either complicit or has been turning a blind eye to Assad’s brutal repression and flagrant attacks on civilians that undoubtedly constitute war crimes.  This blind eye poses a moral hazard to any negotiated agreement involving Moscow.  The real risks and costs for the U.S. will only manifest themselves when prospects for success are greatest.  Presently, there is simply no viable political opposition able to assume power in a deeply divided Syrian society.  As the tragic histories of Iraq and Afghanistan suggest, a strong international presence underpinned by U.S. combat forces and bolstered by U.S. intelligence and logistics support will be required to avoid the eruption of civil war until broader political reconciliation takes hold.  Finally, the reconstruction costs for Syria alone exceed $200 billion[7] – a portion of which will likely be borne by the U.S. Treasury.

Gain:  Option #1 seeks to make maximum diplomatic advantage of a limited U.S. military strike.  It requires little investment beyond organizing a broad diplomatic effort to press all parties to arrive at a negotiated solution.  It is possible that Assad’s use of chemical weapons will serve as an affront to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was a primary party along with President Obama to the agreement that removed tons of chemical weapons from Syria and avoided a U.S. military strike in 2013.  SecState Tillerson’s long experience negotiating with Russia could equip him to successfully exploit this opportunity to leverage Russian support for ousting Assad.

Option #2:  Limited Military Escalation.  Long-time advocates of deeper U.S. military engagement have been trumpeting the recent U.S. missile attacks as an opportunity to escalate a U.S. military campaign to unseat Assad.  Options here range from resurrecting an earlier Central Intelligence Agency / Department of Defense program to arm-and-equip carefully vetted Syrian opposition groups, to establishing no-fly zones or safe areas for the protection of civilians, to conducting an air campaign to destroy Assad’s air force.

Risk:  These military options have been repeatedly debated and dismissed by senior U.S. officials because of the risks inherent in these approaches.  The previous program to arm-and-equip Syrian opposition groups ended in abject failure.  A program designed to raise a force of 15,000 fighters at a cost of $500 million netted only a handful of recruits that were quickly captured by Al-Qa’ida-linked elements as soon as they crossed into Syria[8].  Former U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey noted that no-fly zones and safe areas would require the commitment of “thousands of U.S. ground troops” and would cost billions each month to maintain[9].  Finally, a military campaign taking out Assad’s air force would expose U.S. pilots to an advanced and integrated Syrian air defense system that has recently been upgraded by Russia.   Any such military campaign would almost inevitably result in Russian and Iranian casualties, risking escalation and retaliation against U.S. interests regionally and globally.

Gain:  The potential rewards for this high risk approach would be correspondingly rich if this increased military pressure ultimately yielded a negotiated resolution removing Assad from power.  The successful application of American military power would reassure U.S. allies and potentially bolster U.S. deterrence against potential adversaries including Russia, Iran, North Korea, and China.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Office of the Press Secretary, “Statement by President Trump on Syria,” Washington, DC: The White House, April 6, 2017, available from https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/04/06/statement-president-trump-syria.

[2]  Gregor Aisch, Yonette Joseph, and Anjali Singhvi, “Which Countries Support and Which Oppose the U.S. Missile Strikes in Syria,” The New York Times, April 9, 2011.

[3]  Steve Holland, “White House backs Haley, Tillerson on Syria’s Assad,” Reuters, March 31, 2017, available from www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-usa-idUSKBN1722US

[4]  Mahita Gajanan, “National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster:  U.S. Wants to Eliminate ‘Murderous Regime’ in Syria,” Time, April 10, 2017.

[5]  Ibid and Josh Lederman, “Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Issues Warning About Syria:  ‘We Cannot Let This Happen Again’,” Time, April 11, 2017.

[6]  Paul Wolfowitz, “What Comes After the Syria Strikes: With American credibility restored, Trump should lead a diplomatic effort to replace Assad,” The Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2017.

[7]  David W. Lesch and James Gelvin, “Assad Has Won in Syria.  But Syria Hardly Exists,” The New York Times, January 11, 2017.

[8]  Michael D. Shear, Helene Cooper, and Eric Schmitt, “Obama Administration Ends Effort to Train Syrians to Combat ISIS,” The New York Times, October 9, 2015.

[9]  General Martin E. Dempsey, Letter to Senator Levin on the U.S. Military and the Syrian Conflict, July 19, 2013.  Available at:  http://www.cfr.org/syria/general-dempseys-letter-senator-levin-us-military-syrian-conflict-july-2013/p31198.

 

Civil War Dr. Christopher Bolan Leadership Change Option Papers Syria United States Weapons of Mass Destruction

America First Foreign Policy in the South China Sea

Captain Geoffrey Gage, U.S. Navy, is a Federal Executive Fellow at The Brookings Institution Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in Washington, DC.  The views expressed by the author are his own and do not reflect those of the U.S. government, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Navy.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, organization, or group.


National Security Situation:  People’s Republic of China (PRC) land reclamation and coercive maritime activity in the South China Sea (SCS) contradicts international law and threatens U.S. national interests while a nascent U.S. foreign policy and other strategic challenges limit U.S. options.

Date Originally Written:  February 10, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  April 10, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes that current U.S. foreign policy, though limited in detail, provides a starting point for addressing the security situation in the SCS.

Background:  Among the competing claims in the SCS, the PRC considers most of the SCS sovereign territory.  Recent PRC maritime interference, land reclamation and fortification in the SCS constitute the most assertive claims and, despite international condemnation, have achieved de facto control of new territory.  More broadly, in dealing with SCS and other international relations issues, the PRC prefers bi-lateral problem solving in search of “win-win” outcomes, while prizing clout that derives from participation in multi-lateral fora, military exercises, and summit meetings[1].

Nascent U.S. foreign policy under the Trump administration, labeled “America First,” prioritizes defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and rebuilding the military.  “Embracing diplomacy” is a stated intention while better trade deals for the U.S. are a constant theme[2].  Administration statements and actions have generally supported these priorities, though the President’s fiscal year 2017 budget suggests fewer fiscal resources for diplomacy.  In the near term this adds up to an economy of force: military operations focused in the Middle East, managing security commitments elsewhere in order to rebuild readiness, and forging advantageous trade deals.

Significance:  The security situation in the SCS threatens regional stability and the security of sea lanes.  The SCS is the maritime crossroads for trillions of dollars in trade between globally dispersed producers and consumers.  The SCS is also important for U.S. naval forces operating between the Pacific and Indian Oceans in support of regional alliance commitments and, more generally, maintaining freedom of the seas[3].

The SCS is not a vital national interest for the U.S.  The SCS is not as critical to U.S. national security as the prospect of North Korean nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missiles.  Nevertheless, the security situation in the SCS is very important to the U.S. because of its alliance commitments and the potential for military conflict, indirect economic harm, and degradation of international norms.

The PRC view of the “South Sea” as a vital national interest explains, though does not excuse, their actions.  In addition to vital trade flows, the SCS offers an extension of PRC military capability.  What’s more, Communist Party of China (CPC) legitimacy derives in part from SCS adventurism.  In advance of this year’s 19th CPC Congress, even the status quo gains in the SCS may be sufficient for the party—and President Xi—to claim success and retain tight control.

The April 2017 U.S.-PRC summit will likely focus on basic relationship building, North Korea and trade.  The SCS security situation, if left unaddressed, could be construed as tacit U.S. acceptance.  A reasonable near-term objective may be to maintain the status quo.  Given emerging “America First” foreign policy priorities, U.S. SCS options are captured in two distinct categories, Indirect and Direct.

Option #1:  Indirect Approach.  Leverage issues outside of the SCS to influence the PRC in the SCS.  For example, tie the conditions of trade agreements to PRC actions in the SCS.  Another option is greater U.S. patience on North Korea in exchange for the PRC’s cooperation in the SCS.  A less fraught military option would be to exclude the PRC from participation in combined exercises such as Rim of the Pacific subject to better behavior in the SCS.  This approach hinges on the U.S. “ask,” ranging from maintenance of the status quo to reversal of the PRC’s SCS island reclamation and fortification.

Risk:  Linking largely disparate issues may confuse U.S. priorities and further complicate relations with the PRC.  Option #1, in the case of North Korea, could be perceived by South Korea as a sell-out for a less important issue, creating acrimony between allies and further destabilizing the situation on the Korean peninsula.  Similarly, if the PRC perceives its position in the SCS as an existential one, it may refuse to “give” on trade agreements, sparking a trade war.

Gain:  Option #1 effectively makes the SCS more important to the U.S. from the PRC’s perspective.  Success of this option depends on limited objectives and reasonable demands.  If executed deftly, these indirect levers to stabilize the situation in the SCS could yield progress across a range of mutually important Asia-Pacific challenges while keeping the issue safely on the back burner.

Option #2:  Direct Approach. Focus efforts in the SCS region.  Sustain the long-standing policy of routine military presence, including U.S. Navy freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) near the contested land features.  Conducting FONOPs and other military operations in the region is an obvious lever, with the option to adjust the frequency and nature of those measures, including land-based exercises with local allied and partner nations.  Drawing “red lines” against further island reclamation or fortification is a logical consideration given past administration statements.  Targeted economic sanctions on PRC entities supporting SCS activities is another lever.  A novel and riskier measure would be to abandon U.S. neutrality with respect to claims in the SCS and endorse a solution—one that might include certain PRC claims.  Finally, the U.S. could tie maintenance of the One China policy to the security situation in the SCS—a direct measure because Taiwan is an SCS claimant whose nationalist forbearers conceived of the nine-dashed line[4].

Risk:  Option #2 presents an array of risks, not least being a military confrontation that could undermine broader U.S. strategic priorities.  In particular, drawing red lines in the SCS would dramatically increase the risk of confrontation, as would linking the One China policy to SCS issues.  Mitigating the risk of a direct approach is done through incremental steps that are mindful of the broader regional situation.

Gain:  Option #2 is unambiguous and reinforces U.S. commitment and resolve on the key issues of freedom of navigation, territorial integrity and treaty obligations.  The direct approach also contains the issue to the SCS, de-linking the matter from higher-priority issues facing the U.S. and the PRC.

Other Comments:  As the new U.S. administration develops a comprehensive national security strategy, foreign challenges and crises will not wait.  Every “environmental monitoring station,” surface-to-air missile site and high seas harassment in the international waters of the SCS constitutes a “win-lose” in the Sino-American relationship.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Foreign Ministry of PRC. (2017). China’s Policies on Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation (http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805)

[2]  Trump, Donald J., President. (2017). America first foreign policy. https://www.whitehouse.gov/america-first-foreign-policy

[3]  Mission of the U.S. Navy. http://www.navy.mil/navydata/organization/org-top.asp

[4]  Fisher, M. (2012, November 26). Here’s the Chinese passport map that’s infuriating much of Asia. Retrieved April 08, 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2012/11/26/heres-the-chinese-passport-map-thats-infuriating-much-of-asia/

 

China (People's Republic of China) Geoffrey Gage Option Papers South China Sea Trump (U.S. President) United States