Future Risk & Surge: Brian Christopher Darling

Editor’s Note:  This article differs from the regular format we use at Divergent Options per a request from Nate Freier of the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College.  This article has the writer imagining that they are a Special Assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Defense (SecDef).  The writer is responding to a request from the SecDef for a two page memo that defines or describes strategic and military risk and identifies national security situations that may take place from 2017 to 2027 that would require the U.S. Department of Defense to surge personnel or capability to address.  The entire call for papers can be found here.  

  Brian Christopher Darling has served in the United States Army in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Qatar.  He has master’s degrees in Liberal Studies and Public Service Leadership from Rutgers University and Thomas Edison State University, respectively.  Mr. Darling is presently employed at Joint Force Headquarters, New Jersey National Guard.  He can be found on twitter @briancdarling and has written for NCO Journal.  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.

20 February 2017

Dear Secretary Mattis,

The Department of Defense faces a number of significant challenges in the coming decade.  Some of these situations involve familiar scenarios, some involve rising threats, and worst-case scenarios involve combinations of state and non-state actors and cyber warfare.  Not all threats to national security come from outside influencers either as the current state of the economy places the entire Department on precarious footing.  The purpose of this memorandum is to define strategic and military risk in the context of three areas that might well require a surge of United States armed forces.

It is prudent here to discuss risk assessment.  Although the previous administration sought to create more multilateral relationships and to conclude contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the current President is faced with threats from an unstable North Korea, a resurgent Russia, and continued violence by state and non-state actors in CENTCOM.  The scenarios discussed herein require major risk considerations in terms of force management risk (manpower and readiness), institutional risk (funding and logistics), and future challenges[1].

The first area where the United States may be obligated to commit additional forces is the Middle East, commonly referred to as the CENTCOM Theater.  The Overseas Contingency Operations ongoing in CENTCOM drain manpower and readiness from forces which might otherwise be employed in EUCOM, PACOM, and elsewhere, thereby emboldening adversary states in those regions.  Further, surging forces to existing contingency operation locations risks an appearance of impropriety by the United States through support of oppressive regimes with records of human rights violations[2].

By surging forces in CENTCOM, the United States demonstrates its continued commitment to stability in the region.  Modular escalation of forces also serves to deter Iranian intervention in conflicts in Iraq and Syria[3].  A surge of forces to allied countries in the area would allow for rapid response to conflict within the region, to wit: the destruction of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and ongoing conflicts with Al Qaeda and their affiliates and the Haqqani network[4], the conclusion of the first being a stated goal of the new administration.

A discussion involving the ongoing hostilities in Syria logically leads to a consideration of a rising hegemonic threat.  This second possible area of consideration is the EUCOM Theater, involving a rising Russia and a surge of forces in Eastern Europe.  By surging forces to Eastern European nations formerly associated with the Warsaw Pact, the United States risks escalating tensions with Russia.  Further, reassigning forces from the pool available to CENTCOM creates an operational risk in the Middle East and a future challenges risk in both CENTCOM and PACOM.

A surge of forces in EUCOM would demonstrate the new administration’s continued commitment to NATO[5].  The President has previously publicly questioned the value of the alliance[6]; surging forces to counter Russian territorial expansion is a visible demonstration of the United States’ continued support of the existing international order. A surge of forces in EUCOM would also deter further Russian annexation of territory previously controlled by the former Soviet Union, as it has been aggressively active in previous years[7].

The final area where a surge of forces may be necessary is in South Korea, in the PACOM Theater.  The North Korean regime has become increasingly unstable and its nuclear threat has become more volatile[8].  Surging forces to PACOM risks nuclear intervention by the unstable North Korean regime, as well as grating the Pakistanis and emboldening our Indian allies.  Perhaps most significantly, a surge might also risk aggravating the United States’ relationship with China.

Demonstrating support of our allies in PACOM continues the themes of the previous administration’s pivot to the pacific.  The President has continued to demonstrate an interest in improving America’s Pacific alliances[9].  The United States would provide a balance of power between the rising economies in the area and a hegemonic China.  A surge presence in the Pacific theater would also reassure Taiwan, which might fear Chinese aggression[10], while also balancing potential conflicts between India and Pakistan[11].

Given the current manpower of the armed forces, any of the options above present an unsustainable future challenges risk to the Department of Defense.  Consideration must also be given to the condition of the platforms available to the services; the Air Force and Navy are currently dealing with issues regarding decades-old weapons platforms[12].  Although the President has sought more cost-effective relationships with vendors[13], there is a long-term institutional risk to development and acquisitions.


[1]  Gates, R. (2010). Quadrennial defense review. Washington, DC.

[2]  Dorsey, James. (2017 January 18). “Qatar’s Backtrack On Labor Rights And Cooperation With Russia Reflects New World Order”. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/qatari-backtracking-on-labour-rights-and-cooperation_us_587c5ef5e4b077a19d180f56

[3]  Bar’el, Zvi. (2017, Feb 11). “In Iraq, the U.S. Invests, ISIS Loses and Iran Gains”.  Retrieved from http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/iraq/.premium-1.770944

[4]  Lamothe, D. (2017 February 9). “Top U.S. commander in Afghanistan opens door to a ‘few thousand’ more troops deploying there”. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2017/02/09/top-u-s-commander-in-afghanistan-opens-door-to-a-few-thousand-more-troops-deploying-there/

[5]  Smith-Spark, L., and A. Shubert. (2017, January). “Poland welcomes thousands of US troops in NATO show of force”.  Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/14/europe/poland-us-troops-nato-welcome/

[6]  Gordon, M.R. (2017, January 15). “Trump Criticizes NATO and Hopes for ‘Good Deals’ With Russia”. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/15/world/europe/donald-trump-nato.html?_r=0

[7]  Dews, F. (2014, March 19). “NATO Secretary-General: Russia’s Annexation of Crimea is illegal and illegitimate”.  Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brookings-now/2014/03/19/nato-secretary-general-russias-annexation-of-crimea-is-illegal-and-illegitimate/

[8]  BBC News. (2017, February 12). “North Korea ballistic missile test sparks condemnation” Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-38950733

[9]  Reuters.  (2017, February 11). “Trump and Japan’s Abe take a swing at golf diplomacy”.  Retrieved from http://www.cnbc.com/2017/02/11/trump-and-japans-abe-take-a-swing-at-golf-diplomacy.html

[10]  Graham-Harrison, E. (2017, February 4). “Islands on the frontline of a new global flashpoint: China v Japan”.  Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/05/china-v-japan-new-global-flashpoint-senkaku-islands-ishigaki

[11]  IANS. (2017, February 12). “Pakistan sounds alarm over ‘nuclearisation’ of Indian Ocean by India”. Retrieved from http://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/pakistan-sounds-alarm-over-nuclearisation-of-indian-ocean-by-india/story-Hdp49Lb4wpsPHYhbjs8A1M.html

[12]  Serbu, J. (2017 February 8).  “Military readiness problems can’t be fixed overnight, Defense chiefs warn”.  Retrieved from http://federalnewsradio.com/defense/2017/02/military-readiness-problems-cant-fixed-overnight-defense-chiefs-warn/

[13]  Cohen, Z. (2017 February 4). “After Trump attack, Lockheed Martin slashes F-35 cost”. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/03/politics/f-35-lockheed-martin-cost-reduction/

Brian Christopher Darling DO Partners Risk Assessment Strategy U.S. Army War College

U.S. Options for Israel: Accept or Reject Settlement Activities

Brian Christopher Darling has served in the United States Army in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Qatar.  He has master’s degrees in Liberal Studies and Public Service Leadership from Rutgers University and Thomas Edison State University, respectively.  Mr. Darling is presently employed at Joint Force Headquarters, New Jersey National Guard.  He can be found on twitter @briancdarling and has written for NCO Journal.  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 Nations (UN) Security Council adopted Resolution 2334 on December 23rd, 2016.  In addition to demanding the Palestinian leadership take steps to end violence, this resolution called for an end to the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

Date Originally Written:  January 26, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  February 6, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Author is a member of the U.S. military.  Author believes that U.S. involvement in Israeli politics should be limited.  The U.S. and Israel have traditionally enjoyed a strong, informal alliance.  Despite the ongoing friction between the Jewish State and its Arab neighbors and the UN, there is no benefit to the U.S. to inject itself into the situation.  The author’s MA studies focused on war and politics in the Middle East and Asia and the importance of intergovernmental networking to maintain the current global balance of power.

Background:  On December 23, 2016, the UN adopted Security Council Resolution 2334.  The adoption of this resolution, and the abstention from the vote by the U.S., involves a number of operational environment variables, to include regional and global relationships, economics, information, technology, and military capabilities.

Significance:  The abstention by the U.S. during the vote broke with long-standing policy regarding support for Israel, but was in keeping with the Obama administration’s actions towards the Jewish State.  Under Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israeli politics have moved further to the right, making a two-state solution less feasible.

Option #1:  The incoming administration could reaffirm U.S. support for Israel, continuing to disregard the settlement activities that led to the adoption of the resolution.

Risk:  By continuing to accept Israeli settlement of occupied territory, the U.S. would further alienate itself from the international community, returning to the unilateral international relations policies of the Bush administration.  Option #1 would have an adverse effect on U.S. attempts at coalition building to pursue its interests in the Middle East.  The U.S. needs the support of the international community and of intergovernmental organizations like the UN, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank in order to facilitate the resolution of ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and in the Middle East.

Gain:  Under Option #1, the U.S. would, in Israel, maintain an ally in the Middle East, and demonstrate strength in the face of its adversaries.  The informal U.S.-Israeli alliance is beneficial to the U.S., as Israel is considered the only democracy in the Middle East, and economic ties between the two states run deep.  After reaffirming U.S. support for Israel, the U.S. could use this reaffirmation as leverage with Israel to request further assistance in the resolution of other conflicts in the Middle East, to include those ongoing in Syria and Iraq.

Option #2:  The U.S. accepts UN Security Council Resolution 2334, affirming that Israel has no legal basis for its ongoing settlement activity.

Risk:  The U.S. risks losing Israeli support, in the Jewish State and domestically.  Further, the abstention of the U.S. from the 2334 vote and the continued unfavorable treatment of Israel by the UN threaten to further delegitimize the UN in the eyes of the American people.

Gain:  Accepting UN 2334 without any further activity would demonstrate the U.S.’ commitment to operating as an integral part of the liberal international system.  Having abstained from the vote, the U.S. appears to support the UN.  However, in the eyes of U.S. citizens, the vote itself further discredited the UN and garnered public support for the Jewish State.  Further, regardless of UN involvement, the economic relationship between the U.S. and Israel would likely continue, regardless of the U.S. stance on the resolution.  If the U.S. does nothing, maintaining the policy of noninvolvement or abstention, Israel will remain strong, and will continue to maintain a military hedge against Iran and its proxies.

Other Comments:  Israel continues to deal with unfavorable perceptions in the UN due to its settlement activity, and with periodic harassment from a rogue’s gallery of terrorist organizations.  The only real threat to Israel comes not from Palestine, but from Iran and its proxies.  The military capability of the Jewish state keeps the Iranians at bay, and it is widely assumed that Israel has its own nuclear deterrent capability.  If the U.S. does nothing regarding the UN resolution, Israel will remain strong, and will continue to maintain a military edge against Iran and its proxies.

Although the U.S. was the first nation to recognize the Jewish State, Israel no longer needs the U.S. in order to support its activities.  The U.S. abstention from the Security Council vote demonstrates U.S. commitment to the liberal international order and to the rule of law as Israeli settlement activity is founded on claims of legitimacy that are dubious at best.  At the bottom line, the ultimate interest of the U.S. and of Israel is not the continued legitimacy of the UN, but the continued existence of their respective sovereignty, in the current climate of global politics, the U.S. and Israel will remain relevant long after the UN.

Recommendation:  None.



Brian Christopher Darling Israel Option Papers Palestine United States