Assessing the Role of Armed Forces in Activities Below the Threshold of War

Damimola Olawuyi has served as a Geopolitical Analyst for SBM Intelligence. He can be found on Twitter @DAOlawuyi. Dr Paul Jemitola is a lecturer at the Air Force Institute of Technology. He can be reached on LinkedIn at Paul Jemitola. 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:  Assessing the Role of Armed Forces in Activities Below the Threshold of War

Date Originally Written: September 26, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  December 21, 2020.

Authors and / or Article Point of View:  The return to Great Power competition and the utilization by various rising powers of the current world order of hybrid warfare and destabilizing activities short of war has increased the calls for governments to refocus their priorities to other levers of power. Even as the authors support increased investment in other areas of government to enhance their contributions to national security, it is important to articulate the role that armed forces could play in interactions that would fall short of armed conflict.

Summary:  As the world returns to Great Power competition, militaries will continue to play a role even in activities below the threshold of war. As the Global War on Terror winds down from a period of intensity, policymakers can identify those roles the military must play without needless overlap with the jurisdiction of other government agencies and shape their policy decisions accordingly.

Text:  The rise of new powers willing to upend the current global order has given rise to new flashpoints while rekindling old rivalries[1][2]. While the interconnected nature of the global economy disincentivizes direct conflict between major powers[3][4], the rise of nationalism, especially in the developed world[5], demands that political leaders take strong actions to counter perceived competitors. This demand for action drives countries to find ways to undermine their opponents without engaging in direct conflict[6].

This reality, combined with the mixed records of military interventions in recent times, has caused many to call for governments to shift resources away from the military to fund other means of projecting national power short of sustained armed conflicts[7]. While governments must maintain various options in foreign policy and defence [8][9], the role of the military in maintaining peace, whether against near-peer adversaries or non-state actors, cannot be diminished and will be crucial in the next Cold War as it was in the last[10].

Militaries can continue to serve as instruments of deterrence against hostile activities of competitors[11][12]. The presence of military power and highly visible demonstrations of its capabilities can reinforce messages being passed through diplomatic and political channels. From gunboat diplomacy to freedom of navigation operations, these shows of force are meant to demonstrate the willingness of their governments to challenge actions against their interests while reassuring allies that their interests were also being catered to. A credible deterrence means that adversaries are less likely to engage in costly conventional military actions and will keep their activities confined below war threshold levels[13].

Militaries can provide security for other arms of governments operating in hostile environments[14][15]. Diplomats and politicians visiting or serving in warzones and other adversarial conditions can be protected by military units with experience in Executive Protection. This security support to diplomacy will be keeping in traditions of the United States Marine Corps and especially its Marine Corps Embassy Security Group[16]. In case of emergencies, the military can provide contingency support to reinforcing security or evacuating personnel[17].

Militaries can build relationships with counterparts through exercises, personnel exchange programs, conferences, and intergovernmental military alliance meetings[18]. In many countries, the armed forces continue to serve as independent power bases largely separate from political leaders[19][20]. These military to military engagements require that senior military commanders engage with their opposite numbers and deliver a unified message alongside diplomatic and political overtures. This unified messaging ensures that actions agreed to by political leaders are not disrupted by the militaries of those countries.

Militaries seek to attract the best and brightest of society[21]. Military education programs and professional training also serve as a platform to develop professionals with critical skills needed by other government agencies. Intelligence collectors and analysts, language and cultural experts, and logistics and security specialists are just some of the skills routinely trained and deployed by the military. Government agencies can tap into the existing military structures to train their professionals[22] or hire veterans with training and experience. Militaries can also second their officers to work directly in civil or political organizations as subject matter experts or even leaders/managers[23].

The military may continue to provide relevant military intelligence on the military capabilities of allies, competitors, and adversaries to political leaders to support policy making[24]. By compiling and presenting information on how capable militaries and other state and non-state actors in the area of interest are, the military can help policymakers determine how much to depend on military power and how much to rely on other means of influencing the situation.

The military can provide support to civil government agencies seeking to leverage military capabilities to achieve civilian goals[25][26]. From logistical support in disaster relief, crisis management during unplanned contingencies, cybersecurity, or even the regular movement of daily items for diplomats and civilian government workers deployed abroad, the military can use its already established logistics networks to support the missions of agencies who do not need to establish duplicating functions in their agencies.

The military can also play a niche role in grey-zone or paramilitary operations usually the preserve of intelligence agencies[27]. As the Global War on Terror and the new competition between states continue to evolve, the military may continue to provide the personnel to carry out the planning and execution phase of clandestine operations previously left to the paramilitary forces of intelligence agencies.

The military can play a critical role in the protection of critical infrastructure[28], especially in cyberspace. In the age of information / political warfare[29], cyber-attacks[30], and election interference[31], the ability to identify, classify, and defeat external threats in real-time depends on military forces and intelligence agencies facing outwards as much as security services and law enforcement agencies looking inwards. The ability to deliver a proportionate response beyond the domain attacked adds additional credibility to deterrence [32]. By its nature, warfare in cyberspace will not be limited to a single service or agency but will require the entire society to build resilience and respond appropriately. The military will necessarily be a part of any response to such threats, either to the Defense Industrial Base Sector or to the wider society.

As the dawn of a new era in international relations begins, leaders will need to rely on every available lever of power to achieve favourable outcomes as they compete for a favourable place on the global stage. While many events will occur outside the realm of armed conflict, it will not diminish the role the armed forces plays to ensure successful outcomes. Thus as governments take critical decisions on the means of expressing their nation’s will and safeguarding its interests, they can embrace neither neglecting their militaries nor limit their contribution to simply to the waging of its wars.


[1] Mullan, T. (2019, June 25). The World Order is Dead. Long Live the New World Order. Retrieved August 8, 2020, from

[2] Friedman, U. (2019, August 6). The New Concept Everyone in Washington Is Talking About. Retrieved August 8, 2020, from

[3] Adorney, G. (2013, October 15). Want Peace, Promote Free Trade. Retrieved September 15, 2020, from

[4] Mooney, L. (2014, May 28). Matthew O. Jackson: Can Trade Prevent? Retrieved September 15, 2020, from

[5] Ulansky, E and Witenberg. W. (2016, May 31). Is Nationalism on the Rise Globally? Retrieved September 15, 2020, from

[6] Barno, D. (2014, July 28). The Shadow Wars of the 21st Century. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

[7] Hick, K. (2020, March/April). Getting to Less: The Truth About Defense Spending. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

[8] Schweitzer, C. (2004, December 1). Building an alternative to military intervention. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

[9] (2007, November). Alternatives to military intervention: What is done by the military that could be done better by civilians? Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

[10] Kaplan, R. (2019, January 7). A New Cold War has Begun. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

[11] Flournoy, M. (2020, August 18). How to Prevent a War in Asia. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

[12] Mauroni, A. (2019, October 8). Deterrence: I Don’t Think It Means What You Think It Means. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

[13] Walter, P. (2016, August 15). National Security Adaptations to Below Established Threshold Activities. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

[14] Roper, G. (2010, February 17). Soldiers train to protect VIPs. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

[15] Elite UK ForcesSAS – Close Protection. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

[16] Martinez, L. (2019, May 1). An inside look at the training for Marines who protect US embassies. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

[17] Atlamazoglou, S. (2020, March 4). Exclusive: Army Special Forces Command Disbands Elite Unit. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

[18] Myers, D. (2018, August 17). The Importance of Educating Foreign Military Officers. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

[19] Feldberg, R. (1970, Spring). Political System and the Role of the Military. The Sociological Quarterly, 11(2), 206-218. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

[20] Gutteridge, W. (1982). The military in African politics — Success or failure?, Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 1:2, 241-252, Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

[21] Barno, D. and Benshael, N. (2015, November 5). Can the U.S. Military Halt Its Brain Drain? Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

[22] National Defense University. Attending National War College. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

[23] UN Secretary-General. (2016, July 29). Seconded active-duty military and police personnel: Report of the Secretary-General. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

[24] Katz, B. (2018, November 14). Intelligence and You: A Guide for Policymakers. . Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

[25] Buchalter, A. (2007, February). Military Support to Civil Authorities: The Role of the Department of Defence in Support of Homeland Defense. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

[26] US Government. (2018, October 29). Defence Support of Civil Authorities. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

[27] Livermore, D. (2019, September 10). Passing the paramilitary touch from the CIA to the Special Operations Command. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

[28] Vergun, D. (2019, September 6). Cyber Strategy Protects Critical U.S. Infrastructure. Retrieved September 27, 2020, from

[29] Robinson, L. Helmus, T. Cohen, R. Nader, A. Radin, A. Magnuson, M. and Migacheva, K. (2018). Modern Political Warfare: Current Practices and Possible Responses. Retrieved September 27, 2020, from,

[30] Wallace, I. (2013, December 16). The Military Role in National Cybersecurity Governance. Retrieved September 27, 2020, from,

[31] U.S. Cyber Command. (2020, February 10). DOD Has Enduring Role in Election Defense. Retrieved September 27, 2020, from,

[32] Monaghan, S. Cullen, P. and Wegge N. (2019, March). MCDC Countering Hybrid Warfare Project: Countering Hybrid Warfare. Retrieved September 27, 2020, from,

Armed Forces Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) Damimola Olawuyi Dr. Paul Jemitola

Assessing the Role of Civil Government Agencies in Irregular Warfare

Damimola Olawuyi has served as a Geopolitical Analyst for SBM Intelligence. He can be found on Twitter @DAOlawuyi. Paul Jemitola is a lecturer at the Air Force Institute of Technology. He can be reached on Linkedin. 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:  Assessing the Role of Civil Government Agencies in Irregular Warfare

Date Originally Written:  August 5, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  November 9, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The authors believe that governments engaged in countering violent extremists must pair hard and soft power to consolidate gains and bring about lasting peace.

Summary:  There are no recent success stories of a multifaceted approach to irregular warfare as leaders have been unwilling to engage in the work required. Responses to militant non-state actors will be ineffective without a whole of government effort that emphasizes military and nonmilitary interventions in appropriate measures to defeat violent threats, stabilize territories and restore the lives of affected populations.

Text:  As the world resumes Great Power Competition, irregular warfare will continue to be a means for states and groups to project power beyond their conventional means[1][2]. As in the Cold War, powerful nations will continue to employ indirect means to counter adversaries and shape events in the wider world[3]. As political leaders deal with the new global order, states can move from a military-first model of countering violent non-state actors and move to a whole of government approach that encompasses every facet of state power[4][5].

Countries confronting irregular warfare usually have underlying socio-economic difficulties[6][7]. Often, the authority of governing structures has been discredited by discontentment[8]. Both terrorists and insurgents usually seek to achieve political objectives by violence, either against the civil population, representatives of government, or both[9]. This violence to political transition implies that while military forces may defeat the irregular combatants and shape events on the ground, other means of power projection options are required to bring about durable peace. Without integrated and synchronized political, economic, legal, security, economic, development, and psychological activities[6], strategies against guerrillas, insurgents, and militias will not be effective.

Law enforcement agencies are often the most visible symbols of a government’s authority and the target of most attacks by insurgents and terrorists[10]. Historically, police action is the most effective strategy that ends terrorist groups that don’t abandon violence for political action[11]. The police organization’s ability to maintain a significant presence on the ground undercuts any narrative of strength insurgents may seek to project. Police Officers may carry out their usual functions of enforcing the law, mediating in disputes between locals, and protecting the population from criminals looking to take advantage of security vacuums.

Paramilitary forces can protect critical infrastructure, assist in force protection, expand the capacity of law enforcement, and deter militant activity with expanded presence and routine patrols. As these groups are often made up of volunteers from the local population, they can also serve as invaluable sources of intelligence and are less intimidating than armed forces[12][13].

Intelligence agencies can gather information about the combatants to facilitate a proper understanding of what the government is confronting how best to address them[14]. Human Intelligence from interrogations and agents, Signals Intelligence from intercepted communications, and other means of data gathering can help develop the picture of the guerillas, their leadership structures, the forces, the equipment available to them, and their support system both local and international[15][16]. These intelligence activities will include working with financial authorities to cut off their sources of funding and supporting military, security, and law enforcement tactical and operational actions[17].

The government can deploy its diplomatic corps to ensure international support for itself while dissuading foreign actors from intervening in support of the insurgents. These diplomats will ensure that the government’s narrative finds receptive audiences in foreign capitals and populations. This narrative can be converted to concrete support in terms of aid for securing military materiel and social-economic interventions in areas affected by the conflict. These diplomats will also work to dissuade foreign actors from providing aid to the militants and prolonging the conflict unduly[18].

Government agencies may provide social and economic interventions to support refugees and returnees seeking to rebuild their societies. The provision of health care, nutritional aid, job training, and economic opportunities will go a long way to break the attraction of militants and ensure that the population is invested in keeping the peace[19].

The government may encourage well-spirited Non-Government Organizations (NGO) and international agencies seeking to assist people caught up in the conflict. These agencies usually have vast experience and technical knowledge operating the areas of conflict around the world. While ensuring that these groups are acting in good faith, the government does not unduly burden them with regulatory requirements. Security for NGOs can be guaranteed to the extent possible[20].

Political leaders can ensure their words and deeds do not inflame tensions. They can seek to forge national identities that transcend tribal and ethnic leanings. They can address the concerns of indigenous population in the areas under attack work to separate legitimate grievances from violent acts. The governed must be able to advocate peacefully for change without resorting to violence. Governing structures can be focused on meeting societal needs to ensure peace and prosperity. Military and nonmilitary forces can be properly resourced and adequately overseen. They can facilitate understanding and unity of purpose. Concerns raised by security agencies can get the desired attention and support for measured actions to address them. The advent of nationalism and the non-applicability of democracy to all cultures demands that peoples be given sufficient avenues and support to organize themselves and that their demands be respected.

The attacks of September 11, 2001, built up the appetite of politicians for military interventions at home and abroad. This emphasis on military powers was to the detriment of other levers of power. Unfortunately, the abuse of military power to achieve goals best left to civilian or political institutions unfairly discredited the use of force in the eyes of the general public. This discrediting made it harder for politicians to justify military interventions even in situations where its deployment could be justified. While the military may continue to have a legitimate and even necessary role in countering irregular warfare, any successful strategy requires every element of national power. There are no recent success stories of a multifaceted approach to irregular warfare. This is because national leaders have been unwilling to engage in the work required. Political leaders can lead the way to move from violent responses to civil but more effective means to address conflicts.


[1] Vrolyk, J. (2019, December 19). Insurgency, Not War, is China’s Most Likely Course of Action. Retrieved July 02, 2020, from

[2] Goodson, J. (2020, May 20). Irregular Warfare in a New Era of Great-Power Competition. Retrieved July 02, 2020, from

[3] Fowler, M. (2019, November 4). The Rise of the Present Unconventional Character of Warfare. Retrieved July 02, 2020, from

[4] McDonnell, E. (2013, January 7). Whole-of-Government Support for Irregular Warfare. Retrieved July 03, 2020, from

[5] White, N. (2014, December 28). Organizing for War: Overcoming barriers to Whole-of-Government Strategy in the ISIL Campaign. Retrieved July 03, 2020, from

[6] US Government (2012). Guide to the Analysis of Insurgency. Retrieved July 03, 2020, from

[7] Cox, D., Ryan, A. (2017). Countering Insurgency and the Myth of “The Cause”. Retrieved July 03, 2020, from

[8] Nyberg, E. (1991). Insurgency: The Unsolved Mystery. Retrieved July 04, 2020, from

[9] Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2020, June). DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. Retrieved July 04, 2020, from

[10] Celeski, J. (2009, February). Policing and Law Enforcement in COIN – the Thick Blue Line. Retrieved July 08, 2020, from

[11] Jones, S. and Libicki, M. (2008). How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al Qa’ida. Retrieved July 08, 2020, from

[12] Espino, I. (2004, December). Counterinsurgency: The Role of Paramilitaries. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from

[13] Dasgupta, S. (2016, June 6). Paramilitary groups: Local Alliances in Counterinsurgency Operations. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from

[14] Clark, D. (2008, June 27). The Vital Role of Intelligence in Counterinsurgency Operations. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from

[15] White, J. (2007, April 14). Some Thoughts on Irregular Warfare. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from

[16] Steinmeyer, W. (2011, August 5). The Intelligence Role in Counterinsurgency. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from

[17] Department of the Army. (2006, December) Counterinsurgency. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from

[18] Murray, S. Blannin, P. (2017, September 18). Diplomacy and the War on Terror. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from

[19] Godson, J. (2015, August 16). Strategic Development and Irregular Warfare: Lessons from the High Water Mark of Full-Spectrum COIN. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from

[20] Penner, G. (2014, July 07). A Framework for NGO-Military Collaboration. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from

Assessment Papers Civilian Concerns Damimola Olawuyi Dr. Paul Jemitola Government Irregular Forces / Irregular Warfare

Assessing African Strategic Needs to Counter Undue Chinese Influence

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.

Damimola Olawuyi has served as a Geopolitical Analyst for SBM Intelligence. He can be found on Twitter @DAOlawuyi. 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:  Assessing African Strategic Needs to Counter Undue Chinese Influence

Date Originally Written:  May 2, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  July 13, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes that China’s current posture in Africa, if left unchecked, will turn the continent into a battleground for Great Power Competition below the threshold of armed conflict.

Summary:  China, despite its claims of peaceful rise, has steadily exercised its military, economic and diplomatic might. With strong leadership that is not afraid of compromise, African countries can enforce their independence as they ensure peace and prosperity on the continent.

Text:  When Deng Xiaoping liberalized the Chinese economy in 1978[1], his goals were to lift 860 million Chinese from poverty and power the Chinese economy to overtake its neighbors[2]. From an agrarian, state-controlled economy, China is now an industrial, largely private sector-led economic superpower[3]. However, as China’s economic power has grown, concerns about China’s global agenda have emerged[4]. China, along with Russia, is determined to reorder the world in its image[5], making conflict with the West more likely[6]. Yet, despite professing a policy of “Peaceful Rise[7]”, Chinese actions in the South China Sea[8] and its isolation campaign against Taiwan[9] show that Beijing isn’t afraid to flex its diplomatic, economic and military muscles.

Africa has attracted the interest of Great Powers through the ages. Often this interest has been to the detriment of Africans. From the destruction of Carthage[10] to slave trade[11][12] and colonization[13], Africa has faced privations from empires looking to exploit its resources. Even after independence, warring powers continued to interfere in the internal conflicts of African countries[14] throughout the Cold War. With a large and growing African population, sophisticated middle class, and increased connectivity to the rest of the world, Africa will continue to be both a source of materials and destination for goods and services.

As China expands its international footprint, it has deliberately increased its African ties. It supplies weapons to African countries without regard to the human rights practices of their leaders[15]. China is now Africa’s biggest trading partner[16] while providing financing for infrastructural projects through its Belt and Road Initiative. These projects have often been sponsored without regard to their sustainability or economic viability. The inability of countries to repay such loans have forced them to surrender critical infrastructure, with potential military implications[17][18].

As Great Power competition returns and China’s stance becomes more confrontational, and African leaders fail to act, the continent will again become just another front for global rivalries without regard for the well being of Africans. Global powers have fought their wars on African soil since the 18th Century. Regardless of the winners of these conflicts, Africans lose more than they gain. Africans, more than ever, can shape their destinies and work for the 21st Century to become Africa’s Century.

Africa nations can work to secure peace on the continent. By leveraging multilateral organizations operating on the continent, African leaders can make the painful compromises required to settle their inter-state disputes and move to cooperative models that engender peace based on common interests. African leaders can expand intra-African trade through the African Continental Free Trade Area and exploit regional organizations to tackle transnational crimes including human trafficking, illegal extraction of resources, religious extremism, and corruption under joint platforms.

Leaders can resolve the various internal stresses that keep their countries in political crises. Many African countries have been unable to foster a national identity, leaving their people clinging to tribal and religious identities without regard for the state’s interest. By decentralizing power, increasing citizen participation, respecting the rule of law, and reforming governance models for efficient service delivery, populations can begin to develop their sense of nationhood. Food security, public sanitation, healthcare, power, justice, and education programs can be implemented smartly and with consideration to the direct needs of their citizens, to prevent the resentment that bad actors can exploit.

African countries can take deliberate steps to diversify their technical, industrial, and financial sources. Governments can implement open standards, secure sensitive infrastructure from interference, and break up monopolies. As COVID-19 exposes the weakness of China’s role as the world’s manufacturing hub, countries can invest in manufacturing abilities and build capabilities to scale up production of critical items to safeguard their supply chains.

Most importantly, African leaders can declare that China will not be allowed to use its assets on the continent for military purposes in its competition with the West. Individual countries can also demonstrate the will to prevent the militarization of Chinese financed projects in their jurisdictions. Regional blocs can come together and draw up contingencies to retake control, by force if necessary, any dual-use facilities in member states. The status of Chinese bases on the continent can be spelled out, and appropriate contingencies planned should open conflict break out.

Ultimately, Africans can make deliberate decisions about the future of the continent. They have more agency than at any other time in history to shape the direction of the continent. While many may balk at the redirections needed to make themselves independent of Chinese machinations as well as the costs involved, such actions are crucial to ensure that African countries have the freedom to pursue policies most favorable to them.


[1] Le, Y., Rabinovitch, S. (2008, December 8). TIMELINE: China milestones since 1978. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from

[2] Kopf, D., Lahiri, T. (2018, December 18). The charts that show how Deng Xiaoping unleashed China’s pent-up capitalist energy in 1978. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from

[3] Brandt, L., Rawski, G. (2008, April 14). China’s Great Economic Transformation.

[4] Arace, A. (2018, August 8). China Doesn’t Want to Play by the World’s Rules. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from

[5] Stent, A. (2020, February). Russia and China: Axis of Revisionist? Retrieved April 19, 2020, from

[6] Kaplan, R. (2019, January 7). A New Cold War Has Begun. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from

[7] Bijian, Z. Speeches of Zheng Bijian 1997-2004. Retrieved April 24, 2020, from

[8] Axe, D. (2020, March 23). How China is Militarizing the South China Sea with a Ton of Missiles. Retrieved April 24, 2020, from

[9] Myers, S. and Horton, C. (2018, May 25). China Tries to Erase Taiwan, One Ally (and Website) at a Time. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from

[10] Kierana, B. (2004, August 1). The First Genocide: Carthage, 146 BC. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from

[11] M’Bokolo, E. (1998, April). The impact of the slave trade on Africa. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from

[12] Nunn, N. (2017, February 27). Understanding the long-run effects of Africa’s slave trades. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from

[13] Settles, J. (1996). The Impact of Colonialism on African Economic Development. Retrieved April 28, 2020, from

[14] Schmidt, E. (2016, July 26). Conflict in Africa: The Historical Roots of Current Problems. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from

[15] Hull, A. Markov, D. (2012, February 20). Chinese Arms Sales to Africa. Retrieved April 24, 2020, from

[16] Smith, E. (2019, October 9). The US-China Trade Rivalry is Underway in Africa, and Washington is playing catch-up. Retrieved April 24, 2020, from

[17] Abi-Habib, Maria. (2018, June 25). How China Got Sri Lanka to Cough Up a Port. Retrieved April 24, 2020, from

[18] Paris, C. (2019, February 21). China Tightens Grip on East African Port. Retrieved April 24, 2020, from

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Africa Assessment Papers Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) China (People's Republic of China) Competition Damimola Olawuyi Great Powers

Assessing the Role of Career Diplomats in National Security

Damimola Olawuyi has served as a Geopolitical Analyst for SBM Intelligence. He can be found on Twitter @DAOlawuyi. Confidence MacHarry is a Security Analyst at the same firm and can be found on Twitter @MacHarryCI. 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:  Assessing the Role of Career Diplomats in National Security.

Date Originally Written:  April 30, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  June 10, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The authors believe that the relegation of career diplomats in shaping national security policy has robbed governments of vital perspectives sorely needed in great power competition.

Summary:  Career diplomats are an essential component of any national security apparatus. Their ability to understand allies and adversaries at the most basic levels means that governments are less likely to stumble down the path of armed conflict while securing the most favorable positions for themselves on the international stage. When diplomatic efforts take a back seat to those of military and security forces, the likelihood of conflict increases.

Text:  Diplomacy is one of the few professions which has remained true to its earliest history, albeit with a few marked adaptations to suit changing times. Harold Nicholson described diplomacy as “guiding international relations through negotiations, and how it manages ambassadors and envoys of these relations, and diplomatic working man or his art[1].”

The Greek style of diplomacy was founded on the abhorrence of secret pacts between leaders arising out of the distrust Greeks have for their leaders. The Greek diplomats pursued this narrative of intergovernmental relations, beginning with relations between the city-states, eventually extending to governments of non-Greek origin, most notably Persia.

The rise of international organizations has transformed the conduct of diplomacy between two entities into a multifaceted discipline. In its original form as relations between states, the conduct of diplomacy involved the exchange of officials in various capacities. Usually, the ambassador is the most important officer of one state’s relations to another. But, as international relations has grown over the last two centuries, diplomacy’s substance has transcended politics to include economic and socio-cultural relations, hence the entrance of consular officers and other subject matter experts amongst others. The exchange of ambassadors is not done without ceremony, and before a country accepts an ambassador, the sending country has to inform the recipient country about who is being sent. When the ambassador arrives, he or she is required to present a letter of credence to the head of state of the host country.

For relations between states to happen without friction, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 spelled out the rules of engagement. Article 27.3 states that the diplomatic bag shall not be opened or detained, while Article 27.4 states that the packages constituting the diplomatic bag must bear visible external marks of their character and may contain only diplomatic documents or articles intended for official use[2]. Given the vulnerability of communications sent by wireless, by telephone, or by correspondence through public facilities—described in the commentary on Article 27.1 and 27.2 and increasing as technology advances and leaking meets with public sympathy—States attach prime importance to the security of the diplomatic bag for reliable transmission of confidential material.

No nation survives on autarky. Diplomacy, along with economic and cultural resources, makes up the soft power of a nation[3]. The importance of diplomats in ensuring state existence cannot be overemphasized and can be seen in the role they play in both peace and war. The ability to achieve foreign policy objectives via attracting and co-opting rather than hard power or coercion means that the country is spared the costs of waging wars[4].

Career diplomats (along with intelligence officers and analysts), through long service and academic study, serve as cultural experts and assist their political leaders in understanding developments from foreign countries. Diplomats understand the ideological leanings, beliefs, and fears of allies and adversaries. Such understanding is useful in crafting appropriate responses to developments. Diplomats are best positioned to seek out countries who share the same ideals with them, making alliances for national security easy. By building relationships with their counterparts from other nations, more channels for conflict resolution between countries become apparent.

These diplomatic understandings and relationships also facilitate both sides taking advantage of opportunities for military, political, and economic cooperation. Cultural attachés can facilitate educational exchanges, military attachés can prepare for joint exercises, and trade attachés can help businesses navigate the business environment in a foreign nation. All of these efforts deepen the bonds that bind countries together and make the peaceful resolution of disagreements more beneficial for all parties.

More importantly, career diplomats help their nations understand shared security threats and ensure a more effective joint response. The work that was done by American diplomats[5] to persuade China and Russia that a nuclear-armed Iran was not in their best interest comes to mind[6]. The sanctions regime that was created forced Iran to negotiate the status of its nuclear program under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The alternative, military action against Iranian nuclear sites, had no guarantee of success and risked a wider, Middle East conflict.

Ultimately, diplomats are required in the entire spectrum of relationships between nations. In peace, they facilitate understanding and rapport between countries. In a crisis, they defuse tensions and calm fraying nerves. In war, they can negotiate terms to bring all sides to lay down their arms and win the peace. All these tasks can only be done if the political masters can be convinced that the price for peace is cheaper than the blood of brave men and women. If peace is valued, then competent civil servants positioned to represent their countries to the world and provide the platform to realize this goal.


[1] Nicholson, H. (1939). Diplomacy.

[2] Denza, E. (2016, January 14). Diplomatic Law: Commentary on the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Retrieved April 16, 2020 from

[3] Smith, A. (2007, October). Turning on the Dime: Diplomacy’s Role in National Security. Retrieved April 17, 2020 from

[4] Nye, J. (2004). Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics.

[5] DePetris, D. (2016, August 9). Diplomacy, Not Force, Was the Best Choice With Iran. Retrieved April 22, 2020 from

[6] Almond, R. (2016, March 8). China and the Iran Nuclear Deal. Retrieved April 22, 2020 from

Assessment Papers Confidence MacHarry Damimola Olawuyi Diplomacy

Options for a United States Counterterrorism Strategy in Africa

Damimola Olawuyi has served as a Geopolitical Analyst for SBM Intelligence. He can be found on Twitter @DAOlawuyi. 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 counterterrorism operations in Africa.

Date Originally Written:  April 10, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  May 4, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The article is written from the point of view of the United States National Security Adviser.

Background:  In a speech before the Heritage Foundation[1], former National Security Adviser, Ambassador John Bolton, outlined a new Africa policy. This policy focused on countering the rising influence of China and by extension, other strategic competitors[2]. As great power competition returns to the fore, Africa is another battlefront between East and West. With vast mineral resources and a growing market, a new scramble for Africa has emerged between dominant and emerging powers. However, as military might has decimated violent Islamist groups in the Middle East, their subsidiaries in Africa have flourished. Groups like Islamic State for West Africa, Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Ansar al-Sunna have capitalized on local government failings to entrench themselves. In recent days, they have carried out spectacular attacks on local government forces in Nigeria, Chad, Mali and Mozambique[3]. Although the involved governments and their allies have responded forcefully, it is clear that stability won’t be established in the near-term.

Significance:  The United States, United Kingdom, France, Turkey, Russia and China have deployed military assets in various parts of the African continent. The majority of these forces are focused on countering violent Islamist groups. While U.S. foreign policy concerning Africa focuses on achieving American strategic goals on the continent[4], it also takes into consideration the need to address the various local conflicts that threaten the security of investments and viability of governments. For the foreseeable future, any foreign policy towards Africa will need a robust counter terrorism component.

Option #1:  The U.S. military increases its footprint in Africa with conventional forces.

Risk:  This will widen America’s forever wars without guaranteeing success, stretching the already limited resources of the armed forces. While there is currently bipartisan support for continued engagement with Africa[5], it is doubtful that such backing will survive a prolonged intervention with significant losses. This option will also require the expansion of the United States Africa Command Staff at the operational level. Finally, moving the headquarters of the command onto the African continent despite the public opposition of prominent countries will be reexamined[6].

Gain:  The presence of significant U.S. forces embedded with combat troops has proven to improve the combat performance of local forces[7]. By providing advisers, reconnaissance assets, and heavy firepower, the U.S. will boost the morale of the fighting forces and provide them with freedom of action. The counter Islamic State campaign in Iraq and Syria can serve as a template for such operations. Such deployment will also allow U.S. assets to monitor the activities of competitors in the deployed region.

Option #2:  The U.S. expands the scale and scope of special operations units on the African continent.

Risk:  The absence of U.S. or similarly capable conventional forces on the ground to provide combined arms support limits and their effectiveness. While special operations units bring unique abilities and options, they cannot always substitute for the punching power of appropriately equipped conventional troops. The United States, sadly, has a history of insufficiently resourced missions in Africa suffering major losses from Somalia[8][9] to Niger[10].

Gain:  Special operations units are uniquely positioned to work with local forces. Historically, unconventional warfare and foreign internal defense has been the responsibility of units like the U.S. Army Special Forces[11]. Combined with units like the Army Rangers dedicated to conduct raids and enhancing operational security, it will allow the United States to put pressure on violent groups while mentoring and leading local forces to fulfill their security needs. It will also increase the number of assets available to meet emergencies.

Option #3:  The United States limits its role to advising and equipping local forces.

Risk:  Despite American support for African states, the security situation in Africa has continued to deteriorate. Decades of political instability and maladministration has created disgruntled populations will little loyalty to their countries of birth. Their militaries, regarded as blunt instruments of repression by civilians, lack the credibility needed to win hearts and mind campaigns critical to counter-insurgences. The supply of U.S. weapons to such forces may send the wrong signal about our support for prodemocracy movements on the continent.

Gain:  This option will fit with the current posture of the United Africa Command of enabling local actors mainly through indirect support[12]. The is a low cost, low risk approach for the U.S. military to build relationships in a part of the world where the armed forces continues to be major power brokers in society. This option keeps our forces away from danger for direct action.

Other Comments:  It is critical to acknowledge that any military campaign will not address the underlying problems of many African states. The biggest threats to African countries are maladministration and political instability. The United States has traditionally been a model and pillar of support for human rights activists, democratic crusaders and governance reformers. A United States push to ensure that bad actors cannot take advantage of security vacuums caused by a failure of governance while providing support for those looking to deliver society’s benefits to majority of their fellow citizens, would likely contribute to U.S. foreign policy goals.

Recommendation:  None.


[1] Bolton, J. (2018, December 13). Remarks by National Security Advisor John Bolton on the Trump Administration’s New Africa Strategy. Retrieved April 11 from

[2] Landler, M. and Wong, E. (2018, December 13). Bolton Outlines a Strategy for Africa That’s Really About Countering China. Retrieved April 11 from

[3] Jalloh, A. (2020, April 9). Increased terror attacks in Africa amid coronavirus pandemic. Retrieved April 10 from

[4] Wilkins, S. (2020, April 2). Does America need an African Strategy? Retrieved April 10 from

[5] Gramer, R. (2020, March 4). U.S. Congress Moves to Restrain Pentagon over Africa Drawdown Plans. Retrieved April 11 from

[6] (2008, February 18). U.S. Shifts on African base plans. Retrieved April 12 from

[7] Tilghman, A. (2016, October 24). U.S. troops, embedded with Iraqi brigades and battalions, push towards Mosul’s city center. Retrieved April 10 from

[8] Lee, M. (2017, September 16). 8 Things We Learnt from Colonel Khairul Anuar, A Malaysian Black Hawk Down Hero. Retrieved April 11 from

[9] Fox, C. (2018, September 24). ‘Black Hawk Down: The Untold Story’ recalls the soldiers the movie overlooked. Retrieved April 11 from

[10] Norman, G. (2018, March 15). U.S. forces ambushed in Niger again, military says. Retrieved April 11 from

[11] Balestrieri, S. (2017, August 17). Differences between Foreign Internal Defense (FID) and Counter Intelligence (COIN). Retrieved April 11 from

[12] Townsend, S. (2020, January 30). 2020 Posture Statement to Congress. Retrieved April 11 from

Africa Damimola Olawuyi Option Papers Violent Extremism

Assessing the Effect of Military Aid on Both Donor and Receiver

Damimola Olawuyi has served as a Geopolitical Analyst for SBM Intelligence. He can be found on Twitter @DAOlawuyi.  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:  Assessing the Effect of Military Aid on Both Donor and Receiver

Date Originally Written:  April 4, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  April 13, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author maintains a keen interest in the geopolitical implications of conflicts and alliances. The author believes that any assistance towards parties in conflict must be bound in an overarching strategic framework that allows both donor and receiver achieve their aims.

Summary:  Military aid is a significant part of any foreign diplomatic effort. While aid, properly constructed, can provide significant advantages for all parties involved, the failure of such a policy will result in serious political repercussions for both sides beyond the ceasing of such transfers.

Text:  Ever since nations have been established, they have supported allies in prosecuting armed conflict, including fighting interstate conflict, terrorism, and counter-insurgencies[1]. The Egyptian-Hittite treaty is the first treaty of which both sides’ independent copies have survived. The treaty spoke to providing aid in case of attacks on either party[2]. While the treaty was between adversaries, it aligned the interests of both parties in putting down external military threats and stabilizing their internal jurisdictions.

Military aid takes various forms, often tailored to meet the perceived needs of the receiver as well as strategic considerations guiding the relationships. One form of military aid is the provision of men and firepower for direct combat like the Russian intervention in Syria[3]. Donor countries may provide instructors and advisers like the Military Assistance Advisory Groups that operated around the world during the Cold War[4]. Donors will also sell weapons and the instruct allies in their employment, managed in the United States by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency under its Foreign Military Sales program[5].

The deployment of military aid allows donors to show support to allies and deter aggressive behavior from adversaries. As part of its diplomatic strategy, aid will allow the sponsor to deepen personal and institutional bonds with the recipient. Industries can develop overseas markets via follow-on contracts and opening of the recipient’s markets to trade. The donor can fine tune doctrines, test equipment, and prepare personnel for future military campaigns[6][7]. By exhibiting the lethality and reliability of its weapons, the donor can attract sales from other countries looking to expand their military capacities and capabilities. The threat of withholding aid may be used to shape the behavior of receiver countries[8]. Finally, the donor may leverage the platform of the recipient to project power and influence in the recipient’s region.

The recipient gains access to military capabilities often beyond the ability of local industries to manufacture. By leveraging relationships with allies, those capabilities can be obtained at favorable conditions not available to others. This access to top level technology may also enable the recipient jumpstart local industries to meet civil and military needs. Exposure to military training and expertise from first rate armies will allow the beneficiary military to professionalize faster than organic capacity will permit. The presence of a patron will result in more freedom of action for operations while curtailing the ability of their adversaries to act without risking escalation.

However, the provision of military aid may result in adverse consequences. The Athenian support for the Ionian Revolt precipitated the 50-year Greco-Persian War[9]. Aid may encourage unproductive behavior in the recipient, especially by prolonging the conflict. Once aid is passed to the beneficiary, there is limited donor control over its use, resulting in potential exposure of the benefactor to accusations of enabling war crimes[10]. There is no certainty that the aid will result in a favorable outcome for the recipient[11] and the fall of the ally may result in sensitive technology passing into hands of adversaries[12].

Ultimately, foreign military aid type, size, and duration, requires constant critiquing. Military aid, for both the donor and receiver, is a crucial extension of defense and diplomatic policies. The consequences of a failed aid policy will exert political costs far beyond currency figures. It is crucial that political leaders are made aware of the multiple options available to them in deciding what is sent, who it is sent to and how it is sent.


[1] Shah, A. (2010, May 3). Military Aid. Retrieved April 2, 2020 from

[2] Bryce, T. (2006). The Eternal Treaty from the Hittite perspective. Retrieved April 2, 2020 from

[3] O’Connor, T. (2018, August 23). How many Russian Troops in Syria? Military reveals full count as U.S. told to leave. Retrieved April 3, 2020 from

[4] Liebman, O., Midkiff, J. and Minor, M. (1963). Preliminary Inventory of the Records of Interservice Agencies. Retrieved April 3, 2020 from

[5] Defense Security Cooperation Agency. Foreign Military Sales. Retrieved April 3, 2020 from

[6] Musciano, W. (2004, September). Spanish Civil War: German Condor Legion’s Tactical Air Power. Retrieved April 3, 2020 from

[7] Oppenheimer, P. (1986). From the Spanish Civil War to the Fall of France: Luftwaffe Lessons Learned and Applied. Retrieved April 3, 2020 from

[8] Shah, S., Entous, A., Lubold, G. (2015, August 21). U.S. Threatens to Withhold Pakistan Aid. Retrieved April 4, 2020 from

[9] White, M. (2011, November). The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definite Chronicles of History’s 100 Worst Atrocities.

[10] Hathaway, O., Haviland, A. Kethireddy, S., Francis, A., Yamamoto, A. (2018, March 7). The Legality of U.S. Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia for Use in Yemen. Retrieved April 4, 2020 from

[11] Cohen, R. (1988, April 22). The Soviet’s Vietnam. Retrieved April 4, 2020 from

[12] Demerly, T. (2019, May 31). The Secret is Out: How Russia Somehow Captured U.S. Fighters (And Tested Them Out. Retrieved April 4, 2020 from

Assessment Papers Capacity / Capability Enhancement Damimola Olawuyi