Monthly Archives: August 2014

The ICRC and Deterrence in Ukraine

International institutions may be increasing in salience in our globalizing world, but their impact on deterrence is understudied. The current crisis in Ukraine illustrates an interesting model for considering international organizations in deterrence and reputation. It is well understood that international institutions can facilitate compromise by decreasing transaction and communication costs. However, international organizations may additionally have the ability to defuse crises by decreasing actors’ reputation costs. The situation in Ukraine presents just such a scenario. In a classic Chicken model of deterrence, disaster results when both parties “tie their hands” by throwing their proverbial steering wheels out the window.  Analogously, when two states commit to a hard-line approach in a military crisis, a costly military contest may result. However, the presence of international institutions can create an additional step between both parties’ defection and immediate disaster. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is playing this role now in Ukraine.

A critical tenet of deterrence theory is that states’ actions today can come back to haunt them tomorrow. A rich political science literature debates the importance of reputation in international relations, albeit with little consensus. The  importance of reputation in theoretical models of deterrence is understandable: past behavior can be a powerful predictor of future actions. While it is typical in this literature to think of reputation as an attribute of states, Sechser (2010) reframes reputation as a bargaining problem. He argues that a successful threat “requires the challenger and target to agree on a fair ‘price’ for the target’s reputation” (629). Under this framing, as long as reputation is a divisible good, it should not unduly affect crisis bargaining behavior. Sechser offers the idea of side payments to “divide” a state’s reputation costs. However, international institutions offer an alternative when such a division is difficult.

Russia’s apparent decision to send humanitarian aid to Ukraine provides an example of just such a case. When Russia challenged Ukraine by sending a convoy to the border for “humanitarian” purposes, it was acting upon its estimate of Ukraine’s resolve. Wary of Russians bearing gifts, Ukraine refused entry to the vehicles, simultaneously demonstrating Ukraine’s resolve and challenging Russia. This creates a situation in which either Russia or Ukraine must pay a reputation cost for backing down. According to Sechser’s framework, the party to back down could demand a side payment in exchange for their humiliation. However, such a side payment may be difficult to identify in practice. Fortunately, the ICRC has created a third option, allowing both parties to avoid paying high reputation costs for standing down. The ICRC, as a neutral third party, is able to allow Russia to carry out its ostensible mission without being blocked, while Ukraine gets the piece of mind of knowing that the aid is truly humanitarian. What’s more, ICRC can defuse this contest without coercion: it is in both states’ interest to comply with ICRC’s mandate.

More formal theorizing is necessary to truly understand the implications of this role of international organizations in deterrence. Will a potential decrease in reputation costs increase the rate of foreign policy crises, especially with humanitarian pretenses? If so, will the consequent international organization activity be sufficient to decrease the overall rate of war? Will states be able to resort to this method of decreasing reputation costs in all cases, or will Russia’s reputation suffer regardless of the ICRC’s involvement? The costs and benefits for international organizations in future deterrence are uncertain, but their potential role is worth more inquiry.

The New Political Frontier of Limited Nuclear Warfare

Rising tensions throughout the world, especially in crisis areas like Ukraine, Iraq, and Israel/Palestine, has brought the issue of conflict escalation to the forefront of political decision-making. In Donetsk and Luhansk, continuing clashes between pro-Russian rebels and the Ukrainian military in the aftermath of the downing of a civilian airliner by a surface-to-air missile raise the fear of escalation from a conventional conflict to one where the use of non-conventional weapons, including limited nuclear strikes. In addition to increasingly bellicose statements by Russian officials over Western intervention in Crimea, Russian nuclear doctrine highlights the avenues for nuclear use in such a scenario. It states, “the Russian Federation reserves the right to utilize nuclear weapons in response to the utilization of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and (or) its allies, and also in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation involving the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is under threat.” Perhaps surprisingly, this is not the first time a Russian official has discussed the possibility of limited nuclear warfare. In 2011, General Staff Chief Gen. Nikolai Makarov warned “the possibility of local armed conflicts virtually along the entire perimeter of the border has grown dramatically. I cannot rule out that, in certain circumstances, local and regional armed conflicts could grow into a large-scale war, possibly even with nuclear weapons.” These discussions in Ukraine and other conflict areas, such as East Asia as North Korea continues to pursue increasingly aggressive rhetoric and actions against its neighbors, has motivated serious discussions in the policy and military communities about the very real possibility of the limited use, whether deliberate or as a result of unintended escalation, of nuclear weapons. This marks a significant departure from both status quo policy and public opinion about nuclear weapons use. Since the development and first, and only, uses of nuclear weapons during World War II, policy-makers and military officials have centered their attention and resources on nuclear deterrence. Yet, as crises continue to develop and raise the spectre of escalation and the use of weapons of mass destruction by state or non-state actors, they demand additional focus on key questions about limited nuclear warfare. How likely are limited nuclear strikes in response to the use of kinetic or non-kinetic weapons in other domains, such as cyber or space? Perhaps more importantly, in consideration of the huge human cost of nuclear weapons, what steps need/can be taken to ensure that a conflict that involves nuclear weapons remains limited? Understanding the new frontier of limited nuclear strikes requires in-depth understanding of the history and nuances of limited nuclear warfare, how it is likely to manifest in the 21st century with developing weapons and technology, different domains and arenas for use, and evolving nuclear doctrine among a new cadre of actors. Only then can we truly begin to comprehend the heavy toll that weapons of mass destruction is sure to take on our global community.

Alliance Management in Cybersecurity: Case of the U.S.-Japan Alliance

Last week there were protests against the Japanese government throughout Asia as crowds demanded apology for its aggression during WWII and for cabinet members’ visit to the Yasukuni Shrine. It was August 15, 2014, the 69th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II. Like August 15 of previous years, leaders of China and South Korea also condemned Japan’s increasing assertiveness in foreign and defense policy.

Interestingly, the U.S. government’s growing willingness to share burden with Japan in its defense and deterrence against China and North Korea seems to have stroked this fear of Japanese militarism. The U.S. government has been carefully balancing the military need to push Japan to bear a bigger burden and the diplomatic need to not offend other countries in East Asia by doing so. The difficulty of such balancing act was underscored by Japan’s recent reinterpretation of its constitution, which extended the scope of the right to self-defense to include the defense of an ally under attack. The event exemplified the understanding between the two allies in burden-sharing but was recognized by other East Asian countries as a sign of Japan’s new assertiveness.

Political scientists have long recognized such complicated dynamics in inter- and intra-alliance relationships, in East Asia in particular. For instance, Cha (2000) argued that the key determinant in friction between Japan and South Korea is the symmetry of the U.S. commitment to Japan and South Korea. Noting Japan and South Korea are in a quasi-alliance relationship where the both countries have the U.S. as an ally, respectively, but not are in an alliance with each other, Cha applied Snyder (1984)’s framework of allies’ fear of abandonment and entrapment to explain the fluctuating tension between Japan and South Korea. He maintained that Japan and South Korea experience friction when the U.S. commitment to the region is strong or when there is an asymmetry in the two countries’ fear of abandonment by the U.S. When the U.S. commitment is weak and both countries fear abandonment by the U.S., Japan and South Korea display greater cooperation with each other.

Yet existing work on the dynamics in U.S. alliances in Northeast Asia are mostly concerned with nuclear and conventional military forces. How would the dynamics play out in the cyber domain? For one, burden-sharing between the U.S. and Japan in the cyber domain would incur lower diplomatic costs than other war-fighting domains. Cyber warfare is usually accompanied by anonymity. According to Gartzke (2013), anonymity in cyberspace provides both initiators and targets with conundrums. While anonymity “protects an aggressor from retribution, it also dilutes credit for the deed” (Gartzke 2013: 46-7). Moreover, anonymity fails to give the target a way to retaliate or to acquiesce (Gartzke 2013: 47). However, this implies that anonymity in cyberspace will prevent the U.S.-Japan cooperation from any public diplomacy crisis. While cyber warfare’s anonymity may weaken its effect in deterrence, it would neutralize any public outcry among East Asian countries responding to Japan’s burden-sharing. Because it is difficult to identity who cooperated and who attacked in cyberspace, Japan can take an initiative in its cooperation with the U.S. yet hide behind the cover of anonymity.

On the other hand, it is unclear whether Japan has the capability to share its burden and contribute to deter cyber threats from China and North Korea. The case of Stuxnet serves as a useful benchmark. In 2010, the U.S. and Israel implanted a computer worm in which attacked Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and disrupted its nuclear enrichment. According to Lindsay (2013), Stuxnet included “collaboration with Israel for both operational and strategic reasons: the United States needed access to Israeli clandestine intelligence networks in Iran, and the United States wanted to dissuade Israel from launching an airstrike against Iran” (385). There are some reports which suggest that it was Israel, not the U.S., which spearheaded the Stuxnet attacks (Lindsay 2013: 385). Unlike Israel, however, it is uncertain whether Japan can offer the U.S. anything akin to what Israel provided. Japan has been relatively slow in developing cyber capabilities and in responding to cyber threats. It was only in 2005 that the National Information Security Center was established in the Cabinet Secretariat. It was only last year that the Japanese government created and released its Cyber Security Strategy for the first time.

At present, it is unclear how the dynamics of the U.S.-Japan alliance will unfold in the cyber domain. The alliance has been central to East Asian security in the conventional domains. Both friends and adversaries in the region have observed and reacted to the changes in the relationship, resulting in political and military ramifications. It is unquestionable that they will continue to pay close attention to the alliance dynamics in the cyber domain.

Reflections on the SITC Summer Workshop

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the 2014 Summer Training Workshop on the Relationship Between National Security and Technology in China (August 4-8) and the 5th Annual Chinese Defense Industry Conference (August 9-10), both organized by IGCC SITC. The workshop and subsequent conference collected participants from a wide array of fields (government, military, industry, academia etc), with a diverse set of backgrounds (engineering, political science, physics, computer science etc), to UCSD to discuss the latest developments in Chinese science and technology. Speakers included Tai Ming Cheung (UCSD), Barry Naughton (IRPS), David Finkelstein (CNA), Andrew Erickson (USNWC), and Kevin Pollpeter (IGCC), and Jon Lindsay (UCSD). The diversity of participant backgrounds as well as the multidisciplinary approach used to explore the subject were notable strengths of the program. The workshop also introduced participants to an array of sources and databases for further inquiry into Chinese S&T that are available at UCSD through SITC such as Chinese language databases available through East View: CNKI, Wanfang. We had the opportunity to play around with an alpha version of the China-Minerva Database which promises to be a very useful tool for China researchers everywhere. Overall, the workshop did an excellent job of weaving a narrative of how technology, security, and innovation interact with each other in China’s rise as a world power.

The SITC workshop and conference provided me with a wealth of contextual information on Chinese defense modernization but also gave me a few insights that are relevant to our exploration of Cross Domain Deterrence (CDD). Classical deterrence is about achieving a particular end (preventing war) through the use of strategy. The means used are unspecified, though traditionally concerned with nuclear force. But CDD is concerned about means as well as ends. If we treat the means available as given and fixed (such as the force structure available at a particular point in time), then CDD would resemble combined arms warfare at the operational level.  And if we allow the means available to vary (such as developing new capabilities in new domains) then CDD begins to look more like ultimate reconciliation of means and ends at the national level. At this level CDD would be primarily concerned about economizing over means, how to maximize the effectiveness of your own capabilities at minimum cost.

The case of China’s defense modernization since the 1990s offers an example of CDD at the grand strategic level. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the stunning success of the First Gulf War shaping the international strategic context coupled with democratic elections in Taiwan and the threat of Taiwan independence close to home, China’s security outlook fundamentally shifted in the early 1990s. After years of demilitarization under Deng’s Opening and Reform policies, the defense apparatus was in shambles. A new generation of Chinese leaders suddenly realized that China did not have the means to achieve even limited ends (prevent Taiwan independence). Under Jiang, China prioritized defense modernization with the goal of creating a new PLA capable of winning modern wars under informatized conditions. China also resolved to develop ‘assassin’s mace’ capabilities after 1999 bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. The idea of the assassin’s mace, weapons to overcome much more power adversary, bears a strong resemblance to CDD, gaining advantage through the use of unlike capabilities. As far as we know, the assassin’s mace program is not a single weapons system. But over the past twenty years, China has modernized its C4ISR, ballistic & cruise missiles, submarines, strategic forces, anti-satellite and electronic warfare capabilities. Since A2/AD is now a beltway bogyman, these developments in China’s defense modernization illustrate an effective use of CDD.

The above example illustrates that it takes a long time for a military to develop new capabilities: the PLA of today is a product of reforms initiated in 1993. Conversely, investing in the wrong capabilities today carries a high opportunity cost tomorrow. Weapons systems also have life-cycle costs that are too rarely considered in grand strategic analysis. A potential contribution of CDD is to fill the middle ground on the spectrum of combined-arms warfare to grand strategy, to shed light on which means to invest in today to achieve tomorrow’s ends. Analytically, we have made the analogy between CDD and rock, paper, and scissors (RPS). If the means are fixed (each player can throw rock, paper, or scissors) then the winning RPS strategy (randomize) is banal and does not a policy prescription make. But RPS becomes a much more interesting game if players had to purchase means under conditions of incomplete information. A player that only invested in rock would find itself vulnerable to a player that invested in paper. A promising application for CDD is thus in the strategy and political economy of means acquisition.