The CSS Blog

Can the US-Philippine Alliance Endure Duterte?

Don't Spook the Gun

Courtesy of Thomas Hawk / Flickr

This article was originally published by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) on 14 September 2016.

Philippine President Roberto Duterte is continuing his anti-American campaign with two latest bombshell statements, first calling for the fewer than 200 American Special Operations Forces advising and training Philippine troops to exit the southern Philippines. “I don’t want a rift,” he told the press this week, “but they have to go.” The terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, he explained, would kill them on sight, a curious claim since U.S. forces have been helping to counter threats in the southern Philippines for years. Perhaps Duterte’s real motives are designed to permit him to conduct military and law-enforcement operations without worrying about international scrutiny, while at the same time letting China know he is willing to distance himself from his ally if that is the price of major capital investment.

Whatever the real drivers behind Duterte, the Philippine president managed within a mere 24-hours to shock the world by ordering his defense secretary to work on security pronouncements with China and Russia to combat drug traffickers and insurgents and cease joint patrols in the South China Sea alongside the U.S. Navy. In case it wasn’t abundantly clear at this point, Duterte spelled out his position: “I do not like Americans. It’s simply a matter of principle for me.” For a leader actively supporting extra-judicial killings, “principle” may be a relative concept. But the biggest problem is the potential long-term damage that could be caused by Duterte airing his emotions in public.

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Grappling with the Fait Accompli: A Classical Tactic in the Modern Strategic Landscape

Note stating 'It's a fate accompli'

Note stating ‘It’s a fate accompli’, courtesy Adamina/Flickr

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 31 May 2016.

Good scholarship doesn’t need to fit within a 2×2 matrix, but it sure helps make sense of things when it does. It’s in this spirit of conceptual clarity that I developed the diagram below depicting variations in the fait accompli, an age-old but underappreciated tactic of the disgruntled and strategically minded. Rather than the naked use of force or threat-making alone—situations whose logics are straightforward even if the best responses aren’t—the fait accompli is a move that pursues an advantage by making it difficult for a competitor to retaliate or counter.

Variations of the Fair Accompli

Variations of the Fait Accompli Table, courtesy Van Jackson/War on the Rocks

This 2×2 diagram is part of a lecture I give at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies on revisionist tactics short of war — what many now call “gray zone” conflicts. Although most security studies scholars and analysts understand broadly what a fait accompli is — literally an “accomplished fact” — the tactic itself has rarely been an object of analysis (two recent rare exceptions are discussed more below). This is a serious oversight, because in the so-called “gray zone” of conflict, the fait accompli is a common means by which states pursue revisionist agendas.

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Russia’s Soft Power Development in the 21st Century

Courtesy Дмитро (Dmytro)/Flickr

Courtesy Дмитро (Dmytro)/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Small Wars Journal on 13 August 2016.

In a speech earlier this year at the Russian Academy of Military Science, Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, discussed the changing environment of modern warfare. Noting the rise of hybrid conflicts such as color revolutions, General Gerasimov highlighted the importance of, “leading military theorists and specialists as well as the defense industry and the government to jointly develop a “soft power” strategy to counter the potential threat from ‘color revolutions.’” The importance of this speech is two-fold. First, it demonstrates that while some have come to believe that Russia has developed a unique and profound soft power strategy, this is not the case. Second, this speech may indicate a trend towards a greater reliance on the use of soft power, though its use is framed as a defensive measure. Rather than using soft power to project values and appear more attractive as countries such as the United States attempts to do, this speech highlights the importance of countering foreign efforts directed against the Russian Federation. Though Russia traditionally relies on hard power to ensure state security and project power, the country may begin a revitalized effort of utilizing soft power to help achieve this, an effort not seen since the Cold War era.

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China’s Growing Influence in the Caribbean

Caribbean flags

Caribbean flags, courtesy Sberla_/flickr

This article was originally published by the Institute for Defence Studies and Alalyses (IDSA) on 3 August 2016.

In June 2013, during the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Trinidad and Tobago, the then Prime Minister of the Caribbean nation, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, in a fawning speech, had lauded President Xi’s vision saying, “We see in your China Dream a splendid opportunity for China to become a model for the world.”(1) Like a royalty holding court, President Xi thereafter hosted the leaders of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, the Bahamas, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Suriname and Jamaica in Port of Spain, capital of Trinidad and Tobago, where he announced soft loans and investments worth US$ 3 billion as well as grants of up to $8 million for the region.(2) President Xi’s visit was an effective and a graphic demonstration of China’s growing influence and outreach in the English-speaking Caribbean region, coming at a time when the United States (US) had been somewhat less forthcoming with financial grants for the region.

President Xi’s visit to Trinidad was followed by a reciprocal visit by Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar to Beijing in February 2014, when, in a major breakthrough for Chinese arms sales to the region, the controversial purchase of a long-range maritime patrol vessel was agreed upon.(3) This was again a demonstration of the growing Chinese influence over the governments of the region, which so far had been firmly under the largely benevolent gaze and geopolitical sway of the US. The decision to buy Chinese patrol vessel also marked the first sale of a non-Western military hardware to the Caribbean nation since the end of the Cold War.(4) In fact, acceptance of Chinese aid and investment has since become a norm in the English-speaking Caribbean, where the US has been conspicuous by its absence in respect of doling out large bilateral loans and grants. In quite a contrast, while the private American investment declined post the 2008 financial crisis, the Chinese investment in the region grew by more than 500 per cent between 2003 and 2012.(5)

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Taking First-Use of Nukes off the Table: Good for the United States and the World

1014px-Peacekeeper-missile-testing

Courtesy David James Paquin/wikimedia

This article was originally published by the War on the Rocks on 14 July 2016.

The United States first used nuclear weapons more than 70 years ago on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fearing the threat from massive Soviet conventional forces and possible large-scale use of chemical and biological weapons, U.S. military and political leaders decided to keep the option to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict. Today, the United States in the world’s dominant global military power and the Soviet Union is long gone. The Cold War-era policy of not ruling out nuclear first-use poses a grave risk to the security of the United States and is not suitable for today’s global security and political environment.

The greatest threat to the United States and to any nation is from the enormous and indiscriminate destructive effects of nuclear weapons. It is in the interest of the United States that, as long as these weapons exist, all nuclear-armed states agree that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to respond to a nuclear attack by other nuclear-armed states and only when the survival of the state or one of its allies is at stake. It is time for the United States to adopt this policy.

In April 2009, President Barack Obama made clear that he sought “to put an end to Cold War thinking” and pledged to “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same.”

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