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

Assessment of the United States-China Power Transition and the New World Order

Ray Leonardo previously worked in the defense industry.  He presently works as a graduate researcher in international relations with interests that include power transition, alliance structure, great power politics, and conflict.  He can be found on Twitter @rayrleonardo and writes for rayrleonardo.com.  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 United States-China Power Transition and the New World Order

Date Originally Written:  July 28, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  September 11, 2017.

Summary:  The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) overtaking of the United States as the largest global economy will bring difficult and potentially dangerous consequences.  Continued peace will depend upon the PRC’s satisfaction with the current international system created by the United States, among others.  History and PRC foreign policy indicate the odds of a peaceful power transition may be lower than expected.

Text:  “…[T]he United States welcomes the rise of a China that is peaceful, stable, prosperous, and a responsible player in global affairs[1],” was often stated by United States’ President Barack Obama during his multiple summits with PRC President Xi Jinping.  The United States has little influence in slowing the rapid economic growth of the PRC.  Most forecasters predict the PRC will overtake the United States as the largest economy sometime during the first quarter of this century.  According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the PRC is expected to surpass the U.S. as the world’s largest economy in 2021[2].  Many scholars and practitioners in the field of international relations are concerned that the rise of the PRC will not be so peaceful and their concerns are backed up by theory.

History has shown that rising powers who challenge the status quo, and, or hegemonic nations often create a fertile environment for conflict.  Historical cases indicate that it is power parity (balance of power), rather than a dominated or disproportional relationship (hegemony), that increases the likelihood of war.  This research falls under the theory of Power Transition[3].  Power Transition theory is directly at odds with the often accepted Balance of Power theory, the latter of which states that a balance of power among nations leads to peace[4].  Various theories including nuclear deterrence have formed under the Balance of Power pretext, but the historical data does not back this theory.  Conflict is more apt to break out under conditions where states are about equal in relative power.

Research on power transitions shows that the potential for conflict is dependent on several variables, two of which include relative power and the satisfaction of the rising power[5].  Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is a common measurement for state power but measuring a state’s satisfaction within the international system is a more challenging task.  Regardless of statistical models, one can see through previous cases of great power transitions that conflict is most likely once the rising power has overtaken (regarding relative power) the previously dominant state.  Conflict is even more plausible when the rising power is highly dissatisfied with the current international system.  This is assuming, as is the case today, that the dominant state (The United States), has created an international regime that of which mirrors its own political and economic systems (Bretton Woods), but also mirrors the dominant nation’s socio-political philosophy and values.

Many factors play into a country’s satisfaction.  One can look at the PRC’s rapid economic rise as proof that they have found a way to be successful in an international system created by the West, particularly by the United States.  However, even as the PRC’s economics can be closely aligned with most of the world under the guise of “capitalism,” it must not be ignored that the PRC has very differing views on political systems, individual rights, and traditional western socio-political values.  The PRC government adopts a foreign policy that is textbook realism in so much that its use of force will never be used to promote “Chinese” or “eastern” values abroad.  The PRC has little concern for human rights domestically, never mind protecting human rights on the international stage.

Twenty-first century conflict in East Asia will be fought on water.  The PRC’s recent build up of artificial islands and claims to various islands in the South China Sea are constant and increasing[6].  This is due to many factors, most of which impact their economy and security.  The PRC’s actions show a consistent effort to leverage regional neighbors, particularly those who lay claim to various land masses throughout the South China and East China seas.  The PRC’s regional foreign policy is not surprising; however, the United States and its allies should be questioning how the future global policy of the PRC will look.  Will the PRC’s aggressive regional policy in the early parts of this century be thought of as a microcosm for their mid-century global policy?  The PRC’s aggressive policy toward countries like Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia shows a strong dissatisfaction with the regional status quo.  The PRC understands the leverage that it has over many of its smaller neighbors and seeks to capitalize on it sooner rather than later.

There is no reason why U.S. officials should assume the PRC will peacefully rise through the international system without leveraging the power and control that comes with being the hegemonic nation.  The PRC will seek to advance their interests even as it may be on the backs of other smaller or even major powers.  With the PRC calling more of the shots regarding our international institutions, capitalist economies will still flourish, the bilateral and multilateral trade will continue to grow, but the principles and values that of which upon these institutions were built will continue to erode.  Human rights will take a back seat on the world stage, and over time few nations will care about the well-being of their trade partner’s people.


Endnotes: 

[1]  Office of Press Secretary, The White House (2015, September 25). Remarks by President Obama and President Xi of the People’s Republic of China in Joint Press Conference Retrieved July 25, 2017, from https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2015/09/25/remarks-president-obama-and-president-xi-peoples-republic-china-joint

[2]  OECD Data (Edition 2014). GDP Long-term Forecast Retrieved July 25, 2017, from https://data.oecd.org/gdp/gdp-long-term-forecast.htm#indicator-chart

[3]  Kugler, J., & Organski, A.F.K. (1989). The Power Transition: A Retrospective and Prospective Evaluation. In Manus I. Midlarsky (Ed.), Handbook of War Studies (1st, pp. 171-194). Winchester, MA: Unwin Hyman, Inc.

[4]  Schweller, R. L. (2016, May). The Balance of Power in World Politics Retrieved July 25, 2017, from http://politics.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190228637.001.0001/acrefore-9780190228637-e-119

[5]  Kugler, J., & Organski, A.F.K. (1989). The Power Transition: A Retrospective and Prospective Evaluation. In Manus I. Midlarsky (Ed.), Handbook of War Studies (1st, pp. 171-194). Winchester, MA: Unwin Hyman, Inc.

[6]  Ives, M. (2017, August 4). Vietnam, Yielding to Beijing, Backs Off South China Sea Drilling Retrieved August 4, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/04/world/asia/vietnam-south-china-sea-repsol.html

Assessment Papers China (People's Republic of China) Power Transition Ray Leonardo United States

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

Assessment of the Search for Security in the Eastern Baltic

Jeremiah Cushman is a senior analyst at Military Periscope, where he writes about weapons.  He holds an M.A. in European and Eurasian Studies from the George Washington University.  He can be found on Twitter @jdcushman.  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 Search for Security in the Eastern Baltic

Date Originally Written:  July 15, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  August 14, 2017.

Summary:  For much of the last 800 years, the natives of the Baltic States and Finland were ruled by others, whether Baltic Germans, Swedes, Russians or Hitler’s Germany.  History shows these countries that, to retain independence, they must be willing and able to fight for it, and possibly join collective security organizations.

Text:  Lithuania existed as an independent nation prior to 1918, in contrast to Estonia, Latvia and Finland.  In 1385, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania joined with the Kingdom of Poland via a dynastic marriage.  Although not specifically made for security purposes, the result was a great Central European power that eventually spread from the Baltic to the Black Sea.  This was, however, an unstable union, with divergent interests between the Lithuanian and Polish halves.  (Poland ultimately became the dominant power.)  Efforts were made to strengthen the union, culminating with the establishment of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569.  The commonwealth eventually succumbed to its own weaknesses and the machinations of neighboring powers, Austria, Prussia and Russia, which divided it among themselves in the partitions of 1772, 1790 and 1795.  If ultimately unsuccessful, the commonwealth nevertheless provided security for the Lithuanians for centuries.

Upon gaining independence in 1918, the Baltic States struggled to navigate their security environment.  For the most part, they sought refuge in the collective security arrangements of the League of Nations.  Different threat perceptions, a territorial dispute over Vilnius between Lithuania and Poland, and the maneuvers of the Germans and Soviets hindered trilateral defense efforts.  A proposed four-way alliance among Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Poland foundered on Finnish reservations.  Helsinki elected to focus on a Scandinavian orientation.  Estonia and Latvia managed to conclude a defense alliance in 1923.

The Soviet Union saw Baltic cooperation as a threat and worked to undermine it.  The Baltic States concluded their own treaty of cooperation and friendship in 1934, although little came from it.  Non-aggression pacts signed with Moscow and Berlin came to nought and the three nations were occupied by Soviet forces in 1940 and annexed.  While Finland fought for its independence and survived World War II, Baltic failures to prepare, and the overwhelming strength of the Soviet and German states that opposed them, ended their initial experiment with independence.

Finland was able to maintain its independence during and after World War II, fighting the Soviet Union twice in the Winter War of 1939-1940 and the Continuation War of 1941-1944.  The Finnish state was saved, though it lost the Karelia region to the Soviets.  Viewing Moscow as a direct threat, Helsinki allied with the Nazi regime as Berlin prepared its own attack on the Soviet Union.  The Finnish government took pains to portray its own war as separate from that of Germany’s, without much success.

At the end of the war, Finland was left with an 830-mile border with Russia and a difficult position between its preferred partners in the democratic West and the Soviet Union.  Moscow was able to dictate terms as the Finnish war effort collapsed in 1944 along with the fortunes of its German allies.  In 1948, the Finnish government concluded a mutual assistance treaty with Moscow, including military obligations to come to the Soviet Union’s assistance in the event of an attack by Germany or its allies, or an attack from Finnish territory.  The goal was to maintain independence and reduce the chance of conflict in Northern Europe.

By resolving Moscow’s security concerns, Finland was able to pursue trade with Western countries and play an active role in détente during the 1970s.  The Nordic country benefited from trade with its eastern neighbor, while holding off Soviet efforts to tighten military relations.  While this “Finlandization” policy ensured the nation’s sovereignty during the Cold War, it came at a cost to Finland’s freedom of action.  Habits formed over those decades continue to influence national policy, including hindering those who might prefer new security arrangements in light of Russia’s increasingly aggressive posture.

The Baltic States declared their independence from the Soviet Union in 1990.  Remembering the lessons of 1940, they immediately focused on trilateral cooperation and integration with European security organizations to secure their freedom.  Their security bodies focused on developing modern, capable forces on the Western model with the object of joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU).  These goals were achieved in 2004.  NATO’s Article 5 pledge that an attack on one is an attack on all is seen as the cornerstone of Baltic security.  Accordingly, all three countries recognize the United States as their most important security partner.  The Baltic States also pursue regional cooperation with their Nordic neighbors.  These multilateral cooperation efforts have, in some cases, detracted from trilateral endeavors. Small countries have limited resources.

Accession to NATO and the EU, which has its own security mechanisms, seemed to resolve the security concerns of the Baltic States.  However, the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. has led to uncertainty about the wisdom of relying on Washington.  Trump has threatened to assist only those NATO members who meet the alliance’s defense spending goals and his commitment to Article 5 appears uncertain, despite efforts from other administration officials to reinforce American support for the Baltic allies.  Trump’s apparent ties to Russia cause additional discomfort in the region.

Officially, the governments of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania emphasize the continued importance of security ties with the U.S. and a belief that Trump will live up to Washington’s NATO commitments should it become necessary.  So far, U.S. and NATO activities in the Baltic region have been unchanged from the previous administration, with multinational battalion task groups active in all three countries.

As for Finland, it has eschewed its former relationship with Moscow in favor of closer security relations with NATO and the U.S., and strengthened ties with neighboring Sweden.  Helsinki still sees a strong national defense capability as vital for its security.  NATO membership remains politically challenging, although Finland potentially benefits from E.U. mutual assistance mechanisms.

The lessons of history for this region are simple.  To retain independence, one must first be willing and able to fight for it.  States as small as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania must additionally find allies to bolster their own defense efforts.  If one cannot be a great power, joining a great power organization, such as NATO, is the next best thing.


Endnotes:

[1]  Kirby, David. (1998). Northern Europe In The Early Modern Period: The Baltic World 1492-1772. New York, NY: Addison Wesley Longman.

[2]  Kirby, David. (1998). The Baltic World 1772-1993: Europe’s Northern Periphery in an Age of Change. New York, NY: Addison Wesley Longman.

[3]  Kasekamp, Andres. (2010). A History of the Baltic States. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

[4]  Plakans, Andrejs. (2011). A Concise History of the Baltic States. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Aggression Assessment Papers Baltics Estonia European Union Finland Jeremiah Cushman Latvia Lithuania North Atlantic Treaty Organization Russia Trump (U.S. President) 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

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

Options for United States Military Assistance to the Kurdistan Regional Government in Northern Iraq

Brandon Wallace is a policy wonk who spends his time watching Iraq, Kurdish borders, data, and conflict in the Middle East of all varieties.  Brandon can be found on Twitter at @brandonwallacex and at his website www.brandonlouiswallace.com.  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:  As the defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) looms closer and the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq (KRG) ponders its future relationship with greater Iraq, the United States must decide what, if any, military assistance it will provide to the Kurds.

Date Originally Written:  July 7, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  July 10, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This options paper is written from the hypothetical perspective of a senior policy advisor for a policy maker in the United States government.

Background:  The KRG, a semi-autonomous region in Northern Iraq with intentions of secession, requires both intrastate and external sponsors to sustain functionality.  The KRG depends on resource allocations from the central Government of Iraq (GOI) in Baghdad, as well as assistance from the United States and other international partners.  The campaign to defeat ISIS requires a functioning KRG partnership, resulting in several partners providing additional capital and arms to the region.  Without such assistance, the KRG faces serious economic turmoil.  The GOI allocates 17 percent of the federal budget for the KRG, yet the budget does not balance KRG spending.  The KRG carries an inflated public sector wherein 70 percent of KRG public spending is devoted to payroll[1]. The KRG must also support internally displaced people (IDP).  This year, KRG debts exceeded US$22 billion[2].

Moreover, the KRG cannot sustain itself through oil sales.  It is estimated that the maximum output of KRG oil production is nearly 800 kbd (Thousand Barrels Per Day)[3].  To balance the budget, the KRG would need oil to sell at nearly US$105[4].  Today oil trades at roughly US$50.

Significance:  The KRG’s ability to receive independent assistance from the United States has profound implications for the United States’ relationship with the GOI, Kurdish commutes in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey, and relations between neighboring states.  Yet, the KRG has been a valuable non-state partner in the fight against ISIS.  The United States paid the KRG Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs (the military forces of the KRG) US$415 million for their role in the Mosul Operation to topple ISIS- this does not include military equipment and other forms of aid from the United States and international partners[5].

Option #1:  The United States sustains its current level of military assistance to the KRG.

Risk:  This option risks dissatisfaction with bordering countries of the KRG.  Sustained support implies United States complicit backing of the KRG to the GOI, Iran, Turkey, and a significantly crippled Syria.  Further, military assistance, specifically cash payments from the United States, contributes to the bloating KRG payroll.

Gain:  The KRG will continue to be an important partner in the campaign against ISIS.  As ISIS is driven out of its controlled territories, a well-supported Peshmerga and other Kurdish forces will be necessary for security operations post-Mosul.  No allied actor is so upset by United States support of the KRG as to dramatically obstruct the campaign against ISIS.  Option #1 carefully mitigates the reservations of other actors while accelerating counter-ISIS operations.

Option #2:  The United States diversifies and increases its assistance to the KRG.

Risk:  Significantly increasing independent assistance to the KRG, without involving the GOI, will likely be met with open hostility.  If the United States increases its support to Kurdish groups, anxious governments with Kurdish minorities may attempt to undermine United States’ interests in retaliation.

Conversely, the United States may choose to diversify its assistance to the KRG by changing its lending model.  Last July, an International Monetary Fund loan of US$5.25 billion conditionally reserved US$225 million for KRG road infrastructure and small projects[4].  However, adopting this model, setting conditions for KRG sharing with the GOI, opens the United States to risks.  The KRG may not have the stability to repay a loan, and it is likely the GOI, who may be better positioned to pay off the loan quickly, will insist on the KRG meeting a 17 percent repayment share.  The symbolism of any conditional loan or military transfer to the KRG will certainly strain relations with the GOI.

Gain:  United States’ Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and Foreign Military Assistance (FMA) programs in Iraq require the approval of the GOI, even when agreements are specifically directed at the KRG.  Per United States law, the FMS and FMA are limited only to interaction with central governments.  To secure large-scale military sales directly to the KRG would require a congressional change to existing United States’ laws.  Option #2 would surely win the favor of the KRG, and it may expedite counter-ISIS operations across northern territories.  Expanding the scope of assistance to the KRG by lending conditionally or giving conditionally to the GOI, could force Erbil, capital of the KRG, and Baghdad to broaden collaboration in developing the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).  Option #2 ensures the KRG does not return to relative isolation from the international community in a post-ISIS future.

Option #3:  The United States ceases all military assistance to the KRG and relies on the GOI to allocate resources.

Risk:  This option to cease assistance to the KRG may hinder security operations in Northern Iraq, and it diminishes the United States’ presence in the region- a vacuum other countries may fill.  For example, this option will certainly please Iran.  Conversely, the KRG will likely interpret this move as aggressive.

Gain:  Providing the GOI full authority in distributing assistance communicates a strong faith in the central government and the Iraqi state.  Further, this consolidation of assistance to a single power center in Baghdad may simplify bureaucratic procedure and empower the ISF.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Coles, I (2016, February 16) Iraqi Kurdish deputy PM says deal with Baghdad ‘easy’ if salaries paid. Retrieved June 06, 2017, from http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-kurds-idUSKCN0VP22Z

[2]  Natali, D (2017, January 3) Is Iraqi Kurdistan heading toward civil war? Retrieved June 7, 2017, from http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/01/kurdistan-civil-war-iraq-krg-sulaimaniya-pkk-mosul-kurds.html

[3]  Jiyad, A. M (2015, July 7) Midyear Review of the State Budget and Oil Export Revenues. Retrieved June 5, 2017, from http://www.iraq-businessnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Ahmed-Mousa-Jiyad-Mid-Year-Review-of-the-State-Budget-and-Oil-Export-Revenues.pdf

[4]  Grattan, M (2017, June 25) David Petraeus on US policy under Donald Trump, the generational war against Islamist terrorism, and dealing with China. Retrieved July 7, 2017, from https://theconversation.com/david-petraeus-on-us-policy-under-donald-trump-the-generational-war-against-islamist-terrorism-and-dealing-with-china-80045

[5]  Knights, M (2016, July 28) The U.S., the Peshmerga, and Mosul. Retrieved June 6, 2017, from http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/the-u.s.-the-peshmerga-and-mosul

Allies & Partners Brandon Wallace Capacity / Capability Enhancement Iraq Kurdistan Option Papers United States