Assessment of the Efficacy of the French Military Intervention in the Northern Mali Conflict

This article is published as part of the Small Wars Journal and Divergent Options Writing Contest which runs from March 1, 2019 to May 31, 2019.  More information about the writing contest can be found here.


Greg Olsen is a cyber security professional and postgraduate researcher at University of Leicester doing his PhD on peacekeeping and civil wars.  He can be found on Twitter at @gtotango.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessment of the Efficacy of the French Military Intervention in the Northern Mali Conflict

Date Originally Written:  April 7, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  May 13, 2019.

Summary:  The French military intervention in the Northern Mali Conflict in 2013 (Operation Serval) was a military success and met the criteria for success established by civilian leadership, however, it did not alter the trajectory of conflict in the region.  It subsequently became conjoined to a United Nations liberal peacebuilding effort in Mali with low prospects for rapid success, resulting in a lengthy “forever war” in the Sahel.

Text:  In January 2012, an insurgency broke out in the Azawad region of northern Mali, as the Tuareg’s fought for an independent or at least autonomous homeland.  The Northern Mali Conflict began as a classic example of an ethnic conflict in a weak state[1].  However, the chaotic conflict enabled multiple domestic and transnational Islamist insurgent groups to enter it in the summer of 2012. By fall 2012, Mali was partitioned between multiple factions.  But in January 2013, the conflict entered a new phase towards either an Islamist victory or a Hobbesian conflict between multiple groups in a failed state[2].  In likely response to the United Nations (UN) Security Council authorizing an Economic Community of West African States military intervention in Mali in December 2012 (African-led International Support Mission to Mali aka AFISMA), Islamist insurgents launched an offensive which threatened to defeat the central government of Mali and capture the capital of Bamako.  Due to a slow response from other African regional security partners and intergovernmental organizations, the French government determined that it had to intervene.

Domestic political considerations in France were, as always, part of the calculus of intervention.  Mali was an opportunity for French President Francois Hollande to improve his popularity, which had been in decline from the moment he took office, but there were also real security concerns around transnational terrorism justifying intervention.  Hollande announced on January 11, 2013, the following three objectives for the intervention: (1) stop terrorist aggression, (2) protect French nationals, and (3) restore territorial integrity to Mali.  The operation would be limited in duration and not an open-ended commitment to occupation or nation-building.

French operations began with the insertion of special operations forces and an air offensive.  At the same time, ground forces were moved into theater from neighboring states and France with the help of other nations in transport, aerial refueling, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.  Major ground operations commenced on January 15.  In total, France deployed approximately 4,000 troops to the conflict and had achieved the initial three military objectives by February. Withdrawal was announced on March 8.  According to a RAND Corporation study, Operation Serval was a high-risk operation, because it involved a small expeditionary force waging maneuver warfare with low logistical support and consisted of platoons and companies pulled from multiple units.  But in the end, Operation Serval demonstrated the viability of a force pieced together at the sub-battalion level into a competent fighting force suited for counterinsurgency warfare[3].  This piecemeal approach to deployment is a very different model than expeditionary deployment by the U.S. Marine Corps which deploys a complete combined arms unit around a reinforced division, brigade, or battalion, depending on the mission.

French military operations in Mali did not end with Operation Serval.  In April 2013, the UN Security Council authorized a Chapter VII (i.e., peace enforcement) mission, Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali aka MINUSMA.  Additionally, UN Security Council resolution 2100 authorized “French troops, within the limits of their capacities and areas of deployment, to use all necessary means…to intervene in support of elements of MINUSMA when under imminent and serious threat[4].”  As a practical matter, France’s troops became the chief counter-terrorism arm of MINUSMA.  

After announced withdrawal, France relabeled its intervention to Operation Barkhane (approximately 3,000 troops deployed) and spanned the G5 Sahel in the countries of Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger, Chad, and Mali.  This continued deployment is a repeated pattern seen in civil wars.  With no peace to keep, the UN relies on a parallel “green helmet” force alongside “blue helmet” peacekeepers to maintain security and assist in maintaining order in a conflict zone (e.g., Unified Task Force aka UNITAF in Somalia, the Australian led International Force East Timor aka INTERFET in East Timor).  

MINUSMA followed the standard liberal peacebuilding playbook: disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion of combatants; security sector reform; some form of “truth and reconciliation commission;” constitutional democratic governance; re-establishment of state sovereignty over the territory; and rebuilding civil society.  The UN playbook of liberal peacebuilding was a qualified success in both Cambodia[5] and East Timor[6], where the UN supervised the withdrawal of foreign armies (Vietnam and Indonesia respectively) and was in effect the civilian administration and military.  The UN successfully ran free elections to bring a new democratically elected government into power.  

From a conventional military perspective, Operation Serval was a success, routing multiple irregular forces on the battlefield and securing the central government and French nationals in Mali in a month-long campaign.  It also demonstrated the viability of sub-battalion-level deployment of expeditionary units.  However, Operation Serval did not address any of the underlying state weakness that enabled the insurgency in the first place.  Instead, the French Army has become embroiled in a “forever war” as the UN attempts to build a liberal state from a failed state, under very different circumstances from their previous successes in Cambodia and East Timor.

In Mali, multiple non-state actors—various coalitions of Tuareg clans, and multiple domestic and transnational Islamist insurgent groups—pose a threat to the incumbent government.  The French are in a sense captive to a UN playbook that has worked in cases dissimilar to the situation in Mali.  According to the opportunity model of civil war, it is state capacity, not the redress of grievances, that cause civil wars.  There is an inverted U-shaped relationship between government and civil war.  Strong autocracies don’t have civil wars and strong democracies don’t have civil wars[7].  It is the middle ground of anocracies that have wars, because they are weak institutionally.  This weakness explains the difficulty that post-colonial states have in making transitions from autocracy to multi-party democracy[8], and explains the durability of rebel victories[9].  Because the UN is transitioning an autocracy, Mali will be vulnerable.  Therefore, France and any multilateral partners whom they enlist to support them are set up as the de facto guarantor of security in Mali for a long time to come.


Endnotes:

[1] Hironaka, A. (2005). Neverending Wars: The International Community, Weak States, and the Perpetuation of Civil War. (pp. 80-86) Cambridge: Harvard University.

[2] Kraxberger, B. M. (2007). Failed States: Temporary Obstacles to Democratic Diffusion or Fundamental Holes in the World Political Map?. Third World Quarterly 28(6):1055-1071.

[3] Shurkin, M. (2014). France’s War in Mali: Lessons for an Expeditionary Army. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation.

[4] United Nations Security Council (2013, April 25). Resolution 2100. Retrieved 7 April 2013 from http://unscr.com/en/resolutions/doc/2100

[5] Doyle, M. W. and Suzuki, A. (1995). Transitional Authority in Cambodia. In The United Nations and Civil Wars. Weiss, T. G., ed. (pp. 127-149). Boulder: Lynne Rienner.

[6] Howard, L. M. (2008). UN Peacekeeping in Civil Wars. (pp. 260-298) Cambridge: Cambridge University.

[7] Bates, R. H. (2008). State Failure. Annual Review of Political Science 11:1-12.

[8] Huntington, S. P. (1968). Political Order in Changing Societies. New Haven: Yale University.

[9] Toft, M. D. (2010). Securing the Peace: The Durable Settlement of Civil Wars. Princeton: Princeton University.

Assessment Papers France Greg Olsen Mali Small Wars Journal

An Assessment of Population Relocation in 21st Century Counterinsurgencies

This article is published as part of the Small Wars Journal and Divergent Options Writing Contest which runs from March 1, 2019 to May 31, 2019.  More information about the writing contest can be found here.


Sam Canter is an Infantry Officer in the United States Army and has completed an MA in Military History at Norwich University, where his thesis focused on the failures of the Revolution in Military Affairs.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government any organization, or any group.


Title:  An Assessment of Population Relocation in 21st Century Counterinsurgencies

Date Originally Written:  March 28, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  May 6, 2019.

Summary:  Despite its endlessly debated efficacy, population relocation represents a frequently employed method of counterinsurgency warfare. Notwithstanding the military usefulness of this technique, its deployment in the 21st century is increasingly tied to questions of human rights and international law. As other methods of counterinsurgency fail, population relocation will continue to hold the fascination of military planners, even as it grows increasingly controversial.

Text:  No domain of military operations has proven quite as difficult for Western nations to master as counterinsurgency operations (COIN). Many different techniques have been brought to bear in efforts to defeat insurgencies, stabilize governments, and pacify local populations. Historically, one of the most frequently employed techniques in COIN operations is population relocation[1]. Either through brute force or more subtle coercion, this technique entails physically removing a segment of the population from the battlefield, with the purpose of depriving insurgents of their logistical and moral support base.

On a fundamental level, this population relocation makes perfect military sense. In a traditional COIN campaign, insurgents and opposing military forces compete for the “hearts and minds” of a population. For occupying forces, this technique contains a fundamental military flaw: electing to directly engage an enemy in a domain in which they possess an absolute advantage – culturally, linguistically, and fraternally. Population relocation, therefore, represents an asymmetric tactic. Rather than engage the enemy in a favorable domain, a conventional force physically alters the military paradigm by changing the human terrain. Relocating the population theoretically allows for more conventional methods of warfare to take place.

Regardless of the military wisdom of population relocation as a tactic, broader considerations inevitably come into play. The moral and legal issues associated with population relocation naturally invite condemnation from the larger international community. There are negative connotations – both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union practiced forced population relocation with genocidal results. Given the history of population relocation, this practice is unpalatable and unacceptable to the vast majority of Western nations. The United Nations considers forced evictions a violation of human rights, except in rare cases of “public interest” and “general welfare[2].” A COIN campaign might well meet that rare case bar, but it remains an open question if such a policy – even well-intended – can ever be enacted without force.

A recent example of population relocation viewed through a human right lens occurred in Egypt. To combat the Islamic State in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt engaged in concerted efforts to remove the insurgent group’s local base of support. However, within the context of a COIN paradigm, Egypt’s efforts represented a fifty percent solution of sorts. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, Egypt has demolished almost 7,000 buildings in the Sinai, with virtually no efforts made to relocate those displaced, many of whom do not support the Islamic State[3]. In the absence of a practical and humane relocation plan, it is difficult to discern what Egypt hopes to accomplish. While Egypt is not a Western nation and is not necessarily bound by the moral or political consideration that Western democracies are, from a purely practical standpoint their relocation efforts have achieved little other than inviting international condemnation. Even so, given that Egypt’s efforts took place within the context of a legitimate COIN campaign – rather than a wholesale ethnic slaughter as a COIN tactic, such as recently occurred in Myanmar – their case is illustrative of the inherent tension in executing population relocation[4].

For Western nations, political tensions largely outweigh purely military considerations. In Afghanistan – the proving ground for North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries to execute COIN operations – population relocation has proven unviable for many reasons. Certainly, the culture, history, and geography of Afghanistan do nothing to suggest that such a tactic would succeed. Unlike the British experience in Malaya during the 1950s – usually cited as the textbook example of successful resettlement – attempts to implement population relocation would alienate the Afghan people, in addition to encountering a myriad of practical difficulties[5]. Therefore, the opportunity for Western nations to implement a “case study” of sorts in Afghanistan did not present itself. The United States instead recalls the failed legacy of the Strategic Hamlet program in Vietnam as its most recent military experience with population relocation[6].

With all this considered, it is quite evident that in the 21st century, population relocation as a COIN tool has been the purview of some less than exemplary militaries and has remained mostly unpracticed by Western nations. However, this does not necessarily forbid its use in a future COIN operation. If population relocation is to prove viable in the future, a series of conditions must be met to make this course of action suitable to the problem at hand, feasible to implement, and acceptable to Western governments and the international community.

In pursuit of population relocation efforts that are politically acceptable, first, the population must be amenable to such a move. This scenario will only result from the satisfaction of two sub-conditions. The population selected for relocation must be actively seeking greater security and lack historical ties to the land which they inhabit, factors which may preclude this tactic’s use in agrarian societies. Only upon meeting this condition can population relocation efforts avoid the condemnation of the international community. Second, before any attempts to implement this program, a site for relocation or integration will already need to exist. Ideally, the move to a new location should also equate to an increased standard of living for those resettled. Last, verifiable forms of identification are vital, as the process of separating insurgents from the general population must remain the central focus. It is crucial that those practicing COIN not underestimate the level of local support for an insurgency, as these techniques only stand a chance of success if the locals’ primary motivation is one of safety and security rather than cultural loyalty and ideology.

These are high standards to meet, but given the bloody history associated with population relocation, they are wholly appropriate. In COIN operations, many analyze the concept of asymmetry from the standpoint of the insurgent, but asymmetric tactics have a role for conventional occupying forces as well. If insurgents possess an absolute advantage in the human domain, then it is merely foolish for counter-insurgents to engage in direct competition. Therefore, and in the absence of other asymmetric practices, population relocation may still have some utility as a 21st century COIN practice, but only in scenarios that favor its use from a combined moral, legal, and practical standpoint.


Endnotes:

[1] Examples in the 20th century include South Africa, the Philippines, Greece, Malaya, Kenya, Algeria and Vietnam among others. For a cogent examination of the effects of these various campaigns, see Sepp, Kalev I. (1982). Resettlement, Regroupment, Reconcentration: Deliberate Government-Directed Population Relocation in Support of Counter-Insurgency Operations. Fort Leavenworth, KS: Command and General Staff College.

[2] United Nations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights. (2014). Forced Evictions (Fact Sheet No. 25/Rev. 1). New York, NY: United Nations.

[3] Human Rights Watch. (May 22, 2018). Egypt: Army Intensifies Sinai Home Demolitions. Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/05/22/egypt-army-intensifies-sinai-home-demolitions

[4] Rowland, Sarah. (2018) The Rohingya Crisis: A Failing Counterinsurgency. Small Wars Journal. Retrieved March 31, 2018, from https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/rohingya-crisis-failing-counterinsurgency

[5] For an analysis of Malaya as a prototypical COIN operation, see Hack, Karl. (2009). The Malayan Emergency as counter-insurgency paradigm. Journal of Strategic Studies, 32(3), 383–414.

[6] Leahy, Peter Francis. (1990). Why Did the Strategic Hamlet Program Fail? Fort Leavenworth, KS: Command and General Staff College.

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Assessment of the Impacts of Saudi Arabia’s Vision2030 on U.S. Efforts to Confront Iran

This article is published as part of the Small Wars Journal and Divergent Options Writing Contest which runs from March 1, 2019 to May 31, 2019.  More information about the writing contest can be found here.


Scott Harr is a U.S. Army Special Forces officer with deployment and service experience throughout the Middle East.  He has contributed articles on national security and foreign policy topics to military journals and professional websites focusing on strategic security issues.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessment of the Impacts of Saudi Arabia’s Vision2030 on U.S. Efforts to Confront Iran

Date Originally Written:  March 7, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  April 2, 2019.

Summary:  The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Vision2030 plan to transform its economy and society will have significant effects on the U.S. ability to confront and counter Iran. In either success or failure, Vision2030 will alter the balance of power in the Middle East, conferring advantages to either a strong American ally (Saudi Arabia) or the most formidable and long-standing U.S. adversary in the region (Iran).

Text:  Amidst the continuing turmoil and instability that touches many parts of the Middle East, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) maintain a fierce rivalry vying for regional and Islamic dominance. Both countries factor prominently into U.S. regional goals and interests as Iran (since its Islamic Revolution in 1979) serves as the preeminent regional threat and adversary to the U.S. while the KSA, in many ways, serves as the centerpiece of U.S. efforts to counter and degrade Iranian influence in the region[1]. As the region’s premiere Islamic rivals, internal social, economic, and political movements within the KSA and the IRI inherently shape and inform U.S. actions and efforts aimed at undermining hostile (IRI) objectives while supporting friendly (KSA) initiatives. U.S. President Trump, for instance, was quick to voice support in early 2018 for protesters in Iran railing against (among other things) perceived regime inaction and contribution to the stagnant Iranian economy[2]. Alternatively, Trump preserved U.S. support to the KSA even after allegations of KSA government involvement in the killing of a prominent and outspoken journalist[3]. Such dynamics underscore how the inner-workings of regional rivals create venues and opportunities for the advancement of U.S. interests confronting regional threats by applying pressure and defining alliances using different elements of national power.

In 2016, Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, known as “MBS,” unveiled an ambitious and grandiose plan for economic, cultural, and social change in the Kingdom. In response to a worldwide decline in oil prices that drastically shrunk Saudi cash reserves and simultaneously highlighted the precarious state of the Kingdom’s oil-dependent economy, MBS released “Vision2030”- a sweeping program of reform that aimed to create a vibrant society, build a thriving economy, and establish a culture of ambition within the Kingdom[4]. Motivating these ideas was a desire to increase the privatization of the economy and make Saudi society attractive to foreign investment to diversify the economy and decrease its dependence on oil[5]. Whether explicitly or implicitly, the mechanisms of change that drive the execution of MBS’ Vision2030 rest on the extent to which Western values (namely free-market principles and social liberalism) can be inculcated into a historically conservative and closed society. Given the magnitude of Vision2030’s scope, targeting all of Saudi society, the ideology involved in its execution (incorporating Western values), and the KSA’s geopolitical status as a key U.S. ally against Iranian foreign policy objectives, the implementation and execution of Vision2030 cannot fail but to have far-reaching impacts on both Middle Eastern regional stability in general and U.S. efforts confronting Iran in particular.

Whether Vision2030 succeeds or fails, the sheer scope and scale of its desired effects will shape (or re-shape) the momentum of America’s ongoing conflict with Iran and perhaps play a decisive role in determining who (American friend or foe) holds sway in the Middle East. On an ideological plane, if Vision2030 succeeds and successfully introduces Western values that contribute to a balanced and prosperous economy as well as a (more) foreigner-friendly open society, the KSA immediately serves as a blueprint for other Middle Eastern societies plagued by government corruption, limited economic opportunities, and social restrictions. In Iran specifically, Saudi success at transforming their society will perhaps reinvigorate popular protests against a ruling regime that many perceive as purveyors of exactly the kind of corruption and social control described above[6]. That the impetus for change in KSA sprang from the government’s desire for reform (and not citizens engaged in resistance –as in Iran) may further buoy popular unrest in Iran as Vision2030 allows the Saudi government to be cast as benevolent leaders in stark contrast to the Iranian regime’s reputation as corrupt and heavy-handed rulers. Increased unrest in Iran opens the door for increased American support and actions aimed at dislodging the current hostile regime and supporting popular Iranian efforts to introduce democratic reforms. On an economic plane, the success of Vision2030 will potentially decrease the economic capability of the IRI as the desired foreign investment into the KSA resulting from Vision2030 will presumably draw resources from traditional IRI economic partners and cause them to re-invest in a more open and friendly KSA market[7]. This potential economic success will potentially make it more difficult for the IRI to circumvent U.S. actions in the economic realm (sanctions) designed to coerce the IRI into abandoning hostile policies towards U.S. interests.

There will also be significant regional repercussions should Vision 2030 fail and the KSA proves unsuccessful in transforming its economy and society. On an ideological plane, Vision 2030’s failure will likely serve as a referendum on the viability of Western values in the Islamic world and, as such, help sustain the IRI ruling regime. Just as a failing Venezuela has become a symbol and warning of the dangers of socialism to America, so too will the KSA become fodder for IRI propaganda denouncing Western values[8]. On an economic plane, the failure of Vision2030 will, by default, mean that the KSA was unsuccessful in diversifying its economy and severing its reliance on oil for prosperity. Given the tumultuous state of oil prices and the gradual (but palpable) desire of advanced countries to decrease their dependence on oil, this will likely mean that the KSA, as a whole, will be a weakened and less-capable ally against the IRI.

The success of Vision2030 is far from a foregone conclusion in the KSA as recent government implementation measures have encountered staunch resistance from a Saudi citizenry not accustomed to a reduced supporting role from the government[9]. However, what seems clear enough is that the endeavor, regardless of its success or failure, will create effects that reverberate across the Middle East and alter (for better or worse) the balance of power and impact the U.S. ability to confront, counter, and compete against the IRI in the region.


Endnotes:

[1] David, J. E. (2017, May 20). US-Saudi Arabia seal weapons deal worth nearly $110 billion immediately, $350 billion over 10 years. Retrieved March 05, 2019, from https://www.cnbc.com/2017/05/20/us-saudi-arabia-seal-weapons-deal-worth-nearly-110-billion-as-trump-begins-visit.html

[2] Mindock, C. (2018, January 03). Donald Trump says Iranian protesters will see ‘great support’ from US. Retrieved March 6, 2019, from https://www.indepeent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/donald-trump-iran-protests-us-support-twitter-hassan-rouhami-iranians-corruption-terrorism-a8139836.html

[3] Harte, J., & Holland, S. (2018, November 17). Trump calls CIA assessment of Khashoggi murder premature but possible. Retrieved March 6, 2019, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-khashoggi-trump-idUSKCN1NM0FI

[4] Full text of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. (2016, April 26). Retrieved March 6, 2019, from http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/features/2016/04/26/Full-text-of-Saudi-Arabia-s-Vision-2030.html

[5] Khashan, H. (2017). Saudi Arabia’s Flawed “Vision 2030”. Middle East Quarterly, 24(1), 1-8. Retrieved February 27, 2019.

[6] Pourzand, A. (2010). Change They Don’t Believe In: The Political Presence of the Basij in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Kennedy School Review, 10, 99. Retrieved March 6, 2019.

[7] Al Gergawi, M. (2017, October 26). China Is Eyeballing a Major Strategic Investment in Saudi Arabia’s Oil. Retrieved March 6, 2019, from https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/10/26/china-is-eyeballing-a-major-strategic-investment-in-saudi-arabias-oil/

[8] Montgomery, L. K. (2018, May 22). Venezuela should remind Americans about the dangers of socialism. Retrieved March 6, 2019, from https://www.foxbusiness.com/politics/venezuela-should-remind-americans-about-the-dangers-of-socialism-kennedy

[9] Ghitis, F. (2017, April 27) Is Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 Reform Plan Faltering—or Succeeding? Retrieved March 6, 2019 from https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/21969/is-saudi-arabia-s-vision-2030-reform-plan-faltering-or-succeeding

Assessment Papers Iran Saudi Arabia (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) Scott Harr Small Wars Journal

Options for the West to Address Russia’s Unconventional Tactics

This article is published as part of the Small Wars Journal and Divergent Options Writing Contest which runs from March 1, 2019 to May 31, 2019.  More information about the writing contest can be found here.


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


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

Date Originally Written:  March 3, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  March 25, 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Option #2:  The West responds outside of Russia.

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

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

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

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

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

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

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

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

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

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Small Wars Journal and Divergent Options Writing Contest

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Small Wars Journal and Divergent Options have joined forces in 2019 and are sponsoring a writing contest.

What:  A 1,000 word Options Paper or Assessment Paper examining a small war as defined in chapter 1 of the United States Marine Corps Small Wars Manual of 1940.  This definition is as follows “As applied to the United States, small wars are operations undertaken under executive authority, wherein military force is combined with diplomatic pressure in the internal or external affairs of another state whose government is unstable, inadequate, or unsatisfactory for the preservation of life and of such interests as are determined by the foreign policy of our Nation.”

When:  Submit your 1,000 word Options Paper or Assessment Paper between March 1, 2019 and May 31, 2019 to submissions@divergentoptions.org.

Why:  To refine your thoughts on small wars, get your thoughts published on both Small Wars Journal and Divergent Options, and have a chance to win $500 for 1st Place, $300 for 2nd Place, $200 for 3rd Place, or be one of five Honorable Mentions that receives $100.

How:  Submissions will be judged by content, adherence to format, adherence to length, and grammar, spelling, and punctuation.  Submissions will be published after the contest closes.  Contest winners will be announced once the judging is complete.

Other Comments:  For the purposes of this contest a writer may examine a current or historical small war or also look at a small war through the lens of an alternative future e.g. “An Assessment of the Impact of the U.S. Divesting its Small War Capability” or an alternative history e.g. “An Assessment of the Impact of the U.S. Not Supporting the Coup Against Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam in 1963” or “An Assessment of the Impact of the U.S. Not Assisting Iraq in Combatting the Islamic State.”  Also, while the definition of “small war” is U.S. centric, we encourage entries from all who are interested in writing on this topic as we understand that each country has its own “small war” policies and capabilities.

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