Category Archives: Security

A Rocky Return To Multilateralism

Retracing the most impactful events of the past year has become a December tradition for readers familiar with The Affiliate Network. In a year that started with a violent – and nearly successful – attempt to overturn a US Presidential election, and is ending with a military standoff that could draw NATO into combat against Russia, it would seem to be difficult to find much more to talk about…But 2021 has been special for all the wrong reasons. Two years following the COVID-19 outbreak, political turmoil lingers around the world. Latin America regressed two decades in terms of extreme poverty; and the fight against supply-chain bottlenecks continues to hinder commerce globally. The response from the Biden Administration has been to return to multilateralism. They have explored the possibility of restarting the Iran nuclear deal, reclaiming leadership on climate change and Pacific trade, and have visibly strengthened alliances damaged by the previous administration’s transactional approach. There are signs however, that much of Biden’s multilateral tendencies are superficial, leaving us to wonder whether we are witnessing a rocky return to the status quo ante or if Trump left us with a new, less-cooperative, normal.

Biden kicks off first NATO summit with focus on China, Russia https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/biden-kicks-first-nato-summit-plans-focus-russia-china-n1270645
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks with President Joe Biden during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels, Monday, June 14, 2021.

Trade

Poised to become the world’s leading industrial power by 2049, China’s National People’s Congress released long-term objectives shortly following their centenary celebration in July. Central to these objectives is China’s “dual circulation strategy,” that will allow a balance of domestic demand and export markets to spur economic recovery since the outbreak of COVID. In the short term, dual circulation will integrate with the current Belt and Road Initiative. A good example of this integration is the Colombo Port City (CPC) in Sri Lanka. Through real estate development, business development, and technical outbound investment, China plans to launch CPC as a financial services center for South Asia. The strategy behind the project presents a challenge to the influence of the United States in Asia, a challenge that has been growing for decades. 

After four years of self-defeating hostility from the Trump Administration toward trade agreements, the White House is making superficial attempts to regain a place in the Indo-Pacific economic order. While on the surface this seems a repudiation of the previous administration’s trade policy, it is more a reflection of reality in the region. Despite the differences in tone, Biden has done little to advance climate goals or bolster the successor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership; the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for TPP (CPTPP). In addition, the domestic indecision that mired US vaccine assistance earlier this year made it seem as or more cynical than the overt vaccine “diplomacy” practiced by China and Russia. On trade, climate, and the pandemic, the United States is struggling to lead and failing to find a way to make multilateralism work. On security, the situation is more complicated. 

Security

In September, US foreign policy concerns about China took on a distinctly military focus when the leaders of Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States announced the AUKUS security deal. In their piece: Collateral Impact: The Calculus of AUKUS, Travis Johnson and Lino Miani analyzed the potentially far-reaching impact of the trilateral agreement. The centerpiece of the deal was the provision of nuclear submarines to Australia which came at the expense of a similar arrangement with France. The French submarine deal had long been the subject of controversy in Canberra because it was estimated to be $70 billion over budget and had failed to deliver any significant capability in the five years since its inception. The subsequent outrage from Paris prompted discord between allies and put pressure on certain provisions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). An erosion of these accords leaves room for Chinese diplomacy to further divide the United States from its European allies in ways that are not directly connected to AUKUS. 

Any success or failure of AUKUS in the Indo-Pacific will be completely overshadowed by the drama of the collapse of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The last year of the Trump presidency featured an apparent drive for a deal with the Taliban at any cost. With little room to maneuver that didn’t just prolong the war, President Biden extended the Trump Administration’s May 1st deadline for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops but did nothing to advance a deal between Kabul and the Taliban. Ultimately the delay simply allowed America’s enemy of two decades to position itself for a takeover as American troops managed a desperate and devastatingly chaotic last stand at the airport. With the Taliban back in charge, America cut ties with Afghanistan and now sits on the sidelines while the Central Asian winter and an unfamiliarity with actual governance has rendered the Taliban unable to provide for millions while they consolidate their power.  

More worrying perhaps has been the unexpected and seemingly unprovoked escalation of tension in eastern Ukraine. A large Russian military buildup so alarmed Washington that President Biden spent the better part of a week in early December in virtual summits with NATO and other allied leaders and ultimately Russian President Vladimir Putin. The solidarity from NATO was effective at deescalating tension, at least temporarily, but must be viewed in light of intra-allied stresses caused by AUKUS and the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. Though it is not completely clear that Russia is deterred, Putin’s bold saber-rattling has succeeded in igniting a debate over the legitimacy of NATO expansion in the 1990s. The Kremlin’s seemingly outrageous demands would not have been outrageous in 1997. In 2021 Putin is pressing an advantage that only he can see. Whatever the eventual outcome of the crisis, Ukrainian membership in NATO is dead in the water. 

Alliances and the return of multilateralism represents the hallmark of 2021. Yet, strategy must not be cooperation for cooperation’s sake. NATO was founded in 1949 with the original purpose of ensuring that the core industrial, economic, and military regions of the world did not fall under the sway of a hostile power. The case of AUKUS is cut from the same cloth. Still, expansion should not be a substitute for long-term stability or diplomacy. Where Western sanctions against Russia have shown success, a similar military presence in Ukraine risks the threat of all out war. Ultimately, diplomacy, trade, and security must serve those willing to build and balance the peaceful international order. 


Travis Johnson is an active duty US Marine pursuing a MA degree in intelligence studies and is the associate editor for The Affiliate Network.

Collateral Impact: The Calculus of AUKUS

The Biden Administration’s strategic shift toward evolving threats in the Indo-Pacific signals an attempt to reaffirm the balance of power there in Washington’s favor. In a short trilateral statement issued from the White House on 15 September, President Biden — with Prime Ministers Scott Morrison of Australia and Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom — announced an enhanced security partnership they call AUKUS. Despite its brevity, the AUKUS declaration supports a profound broadening of pre-existing defense relationships in the region by means of technological, scientific, and industrial collaboration across fields such as artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and cyber warfare. Though AUKUS was not explicitly aimed at the expansion of Chinese power, some clues about the agreement’s implementation cause most analysts — and certainly those in Beijing — to believe that it is. Regardless of how the messaging surrounding AUKUS is intended or received, it clearly has the potential to complicate Chinese designs in the region.

AUKUS sent a ripple that began in the South China Sea but surged heavily onto world capitals in East Asia and Europe. One heavily touted aspect of the pact is an agreement for the US and UK to provision the Royal Australian Navy with nuclear submarines; a capability that could radically curtail China’s economy in the event of a conflict. Though the submarine deal was presented as an economic move with military implications, Beijing dismissed any attempts at nuance as “extremely irresponsible” and stated the pact “seriously undermines regional peace and intensifies the arms race.” Still, considering the enormous expansion of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in recent years, including the development of multiple military outposts in the South China Sea and the expanding reach of the Belt and Road Initiative, some enhancement of regional maritime security seems necessary. 

In initial remarks certifying AUKUS, President Biden made clear distinctions between nuclear-powered subs and those armed with nuclear missile systems. This distinction would allow for the use of weapons-grade uranium, provided Australia initiates and adheres to additional strengthening of safeguards on the production, use, and disposal of highly enriched uranium (HEU). Safeguards provided by the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) prevent nuclear warheads aboard the Australian submarine fleet and also restrict the use of naval HEU reactors. The move would make Australia the seventh country to field such assets and the very first non-nuclear weapons state to do so but also raises the concern that North Korea or Iran could obtain similar technology. Though it is not clear what specific contributions the US and UK will provide in terms of technology and HEU, this capability enables Australia to undertake a variety of operations far outside its territorial waters, putting pressure on the Chinese “nine-dash line” and complicating planning for Beijing. 

AUKUS proposes the development of similar nuclear-powered submarines for the purposes of the Australian naval fleet. https://www.navy.mil/Resources/Photo-Gallery/igphoto/2002371154/
(March 15, 2018) The Royal Navy hunter killer submarine HMS Trenchant (S 91) surfaces in the Beaufort Sea during Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication 2nd Class Micheal H. Lee/Released)

Collateral Effect

Though differences exist between the Trump Administration policy and Biden’s current focus on pragmatism, it is evident that countering the developing threat of China remains at the top of the bipartisan list of priorities. The same is true in the UK where critics of Boris Johnson initially hesitated to label him as a China hawk. However, by capitalizing on the 2007 decision to buy two aircraft carriers, their impact within the Pacific theater is a powerful reminder of “Global Britain.” In this respect, the US has effectively hardened the UK’s line on China. In Australia, the heavy-handed influence of Chinese interference is felt more strongly through cyber-attacks and state agents acting under the cover of Chinese journalists. While foreign policy must weigh necessary contingencies against the country’s developing trade, economic, and investment relations with its autocratic neighbor, stepping into commitments with AUKUS presents much more than a defensive posture. 

This expanding network remains most relevant in the 14-year-old Quad alliance consisting of Japan, Australia, India, and the US. As tensions continue to rise on all sides of China’s borders, the importance of the Quad is increasing tremendously. Taiwan regularly witnesses incursions of dozens upon dozens of military fly-overs, as do Japan’s nearby Senkaku Islands. Similarly, Indian and Chinese troops have repeatedly clashed in high-altitude tension in the Himalayas. Although critics are quick to write off these events as disparities common to the Indo-Pacific region, AUKUS offers more significant value given its intended depth. In addition to hardened physical boundaries, major strategies backed by the Quad and AUKUS have risen in importance over the past months as a counterforce to Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. Build Back Better World, or B3W, announced in June at the G-7 summit in Cornwall, U.K., aims to counter Chinese influence through massive investment in infrastructure development of developing countries by 2035. The expansion is led by the principles of the Blue Dot Network (BDN) which sets standards for transparency and environmental impact in infrastructure projects in low and medium-income countries across the world. Among G-7 member states, there is talk of AUKUS broadening to align its activities with that of Japan, although such cohesion remains to be seen. Ultimately, this network will solidify spheres of influence to an extent not witnessed in decades.

Pending Reprisal

The most profound outrage regarding the AUKUS alliance erupted not in the Indo-Pacific, but in France. French President, Emmanuel Macron, was not notified of the pact before it was announced. France’s unsurprising response expressed betrayal by two NATO allies and aggrievement at the economic losses to its lucrative submarine deal with Australia. Though the French arguments seem justified, there was notable dissatisfaction with the submarine deal which was estimated to be nearly $70 billion over budget. Though observers debate the righteousness of French outrage, the opportunity it presents for China to drive a wedge between NATO allies is certainly more important. Faced with what European leaders are calling a “stab in the back,” Beijing’s recourse to diplomatic vindication is not unexpected. Indeed, Chinese diplomats contend that France’s vision of “strategic autonomy” is code for avoiding over-reliance on America. If China can effectively present AUKUS as an erosion of the NPT, it could provide further leverage in their efforts to divide the United States from its European allies far beyond Paris and in ways that are not directly connected to AUKUS. 

President Biden’s apparent willingness to risk relations with France over AUKUS suggests a rearrangement of US security priorities back toward something that resembles the Obama Administration’s “pivot to Asia.” The extent to which this may justify the Elysee’s push for “strategic autonomy” will shape how well Washington can maintain a balance of power against China. For some, this balance is increasingly urgent. Michéle Flournoy conveys this sentiment more precisely in a Foreign Affairs essay in 2020: “It will take a concerted effort to rebuild the credibility of US deterrence in order to reduce the risk of a war neither side seeks.”


Lino Miani, CEO Navisio Global LLCTravis Johnson is an active duty US Marine pursuing a MA degree in intelligence studies and is the associate editor for The Affiliate Network

Lino Miani is a retired US Army Special Forces officer, author of The Sulu Arms Market, and CEO of Navisio Global LLC.

What a Biden Win Means for Latin America

Latin America has had an interesting history with democracy.  From the “southern cone” to the Rio Grande, the countries of the western hemisphere have endured a political cycle of right-wing fascism that gives way to leftist insurgency and socialist governments which in turn were vulnerable to military coups. The common denominator through it all was a robust U.S. foreign policy interest in the region. Though American foreign policy manifested differently through the decades, no country south of the border can remain unaffected by decisions made in Washington. This was as true in 1820 as it is in 2020, so what will a Biden win mean for Latin America?

Carry a Big Stick

The history of U.S. influence in the region arguably begins with the administration of James Monroe whose “doctrine” is presented to history as an anti-colonial gesture aimed at the powers of Europe. In Latin American and European capitals however, it is seen less as a benevolent hedge against colonialism and more as an argument for giving Washington a free hand in the region.

Whatever Mr. Monroe’s true motivation, its effect was a succession of American Presidents that dealt roughly in the region. James K. Polk needed to win a war against Mexico to secure the southern flank for manifest destiny. William McKinley bowed to political pressure and declared war on Spain, a conflict that handed America its first taste of imperial responsibility. Theodore Roosevelt supported insurrection to create a nation (Panama) favorable to construction of the canal. Even Eisenhower, the ultimate practitioner of a cooperative foreign policy, did not shy away from supporting the overthrow of democratically elected governments in Guatemala and elsewhere. Thereafter, US foreign-policy in Latin America became a balance of fighting communism and fighting drugs; neither of which did much to impede existing oligarchies or bring peace.

While post-war relations brought cooperation and development to those that sought it and coercion and deterrence to that that did not; the Trump administration somehow managed to weave it all together. Characterized by a transient focus on a handful of issues that would impact Trump’s domestic voting base, the United States shifted all its development programs and most of its diplomacy to the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, and the independent Development Finance Corporation; a government agency that guarantees loans to be issued to local investors by local banks. The result was the commoditization of a narrow list of foreign policy priorities that had little to do with anything except providing sound bytes for the never-ending Trump campaign.

Aside from a recurring focus on deterring immigration from Central America, none of Washington’s policies south of the border seemed to have any longevity or credibility. American ambassadors and working level-diplomats continued to make cooperative noises and broadcast neighborly themes of solidarity against endemic poverty, inequality, and crime but their voices were drowned out by the President who cancelled summits, made fun of and threatened leaders that displeased him, subordinated complex relationships to his narrow interests, and seemed unable to focus on anything for meaningful periods of time. Among his short lived fixations were making Mexico pay for a wall they did not want and which would not accomplish its purpose; a renaming of the North American Free Trade Agreement without any of the legislative legwork required for meaningful reforms; a poorly conceived attempt to topple Venezuela’s president by supplying his rival with humanitarian assistance and political top cover; and a very brief “war” against cartels in the Caribbean. The result was a decline in goodwill toward American leadership and a generation of Latin American leaders that got very good at telling Washington what it wants to hear while doing as little as necessary to keep the money flowing.

What Would Joe Biden Do?

A future Biden administration will have its work cut out for it in Latin America. While the job will not be as straightforward as simply rolling back Trump’s policies, there is recognition the United States must rebuild relationships for mutual benefit down South. Immigration is the most obvious starting point. The Trump Administration’s migration policies were among the most comprehensive attempted during his tenure. Building the wall and deploying the military was only part of that. Changing U.S. interpretations of political asylum procedures; imposing legally questionable deportation practices; and altering incarceration standards that saw children separated from their parents and held in horrifying conditions also came into play. But these were only the symptoms of a larger bureaucratic alignment that Biden will fix.

In 2018 the Trump administration crippled U.S. development and cooperation relationships in Central America by prohibiting USAID and parts of the State Department from initiating new programs there. Diplomats report an inability to secure meetings, a lack of involvement in events, and are facing difficult decisions to cut valuable local staff. Coupled with the government shutdown at the outset of that year that affected all but the Defense Department, U.S. engagement with host nation governments has been radically shifted to the security sector at the expense of education, anti-corruption, and judicial reform. In much of Latin America security agencies are the least capable of addressing the preconditions that lead to migration and in some cases have terrible relationships with the exact segments of the population that are most likely to migrate.

The upshot of this is we will see an immediate move to rebalance U.S. foreign aid programs in Latin America in general but in Central America in particular since the focus will be once again on immigration. Rather than reiterating the punitive approach taken by Trump, Biden will likely adopt four policy aims:

  • Redouble and revitalize cooperative efforts to help Mexico address its rule of law challenges with special attention to the problem of corruption. Social programs that reduce U.S. drug addiction, illegal firearms flows, and money laundering will reduce the size of the U.S. market and profitability.
  • Rebalance U.S. Foreign Aid: U.S. security interests in Central America include a complex mix of countering transnational organized crime, building partner capacity, intelligence sharing, and countering malign influences that impact the stability of governance or impede U.S. objectives. Addressing these threats requires improvements to the capability of law enforcement, refocusing military roles away from traditional law enforcement tasks, improving disaster response capacity, and countering malign influences from abroad.
  • Address Conditions that Lead to Migration: The vast majority of Central American migrants to the United States are seeking economic opportunity or to escape violence by either government or criminal organizations. Relatively small investments in economic development, enhancements to fairness and impartiality in both governance and economics, protection of minority rights, and assistance to migrants and refugees can go a long way to prevent Central Americans from making a decision to migrate. USAID has long been the primary foreign policy tool for addressing these problems. Biden will re-enable USAID and breathe life back into relationships with its governmental and non-governmental partners.
  • Encourage Regional Integration: Regional integration in Central America is expanding in some very effective ways in the Northern Tier and will be encouraged. Examples include cooperation agreements on immigration, disaster response, human rights, and legislation. Biden will encourage regional initiatives as a way to develop efficiencies in the above areas and more by enabling more meaningful engagement with international organizations and resuming a U.S. leadership role.


    Lino Miani, CEO Navisio Global LLC

    Lino Miani is a retired US Army Special Forces officer, author of The Sulu Arms Market, and CEO of Navisio Global LLC.