International cooperation since the end of the Cold War has been built on trusting that the United States will follow a set of international norms and rules. Colonel Qiao Liang in his book Chao Xian Zhan (Unrestricted Warfare) submits that unless other countries continue to trust the United States will follow these international rules, the source of this cooperation in compromised and undermined. Since 9/11 the United States has dismissed international rules and supplanted its own. During his United Nations address, President Trump “total destruction,” unrestricted warfare with North Korea because of Kim Jung Un’s nuclear weapons program. Rather than focusing on international cooperation through the framework of United Nations, President Trump demonstrated a willingness to engage outside of these international rules. If President Trump continues to go down this path, it will undermine the United States’ ability to find an international solution on the Korean peninsula. President Trump needs to stop his bombastic rhetoric regarding North Korea and begin to work in concert with China and other key nations to find a solution to Kim Jung Un’s rising nuclear capabilities. Failing to do so will only continue to undermine international cooperation.
While there are political and moral reasons for the recent United States strikes in Syria, the international legal basis for these strikes is lacking.
Tonight the United States launched over 50 Tomahawk Cruise Missiles against the Syria in retaliation for Syria’s use of chemical weapons on April 4, 2017. The Tomahawks targeted the Shayrat Airfield, which is located approximately 25 miles south of Homs. Shayrat Airbase is a small installation in Syria, composed of two airfields. Initial reporting indicates that the strikes targeted aircraft and infrastructure including runways and refueling points at the Shayrat Airfield. Comments from President Trump and radar tracking indicate that Shayrat Airfield was the airfield where the planes were launched from that delivered the chemical weapons on April 4, 2017.
The chemical weapons attack in Syria dramatically changed President Trump’s attitude towards the Assad regime in Syria. Prior to the chemical attacks, President Trump indicated a warming attitude towards Bashar al-Assad. However, the chemical attacks appear to be a turning point for President Trump. President Trump stated “I will tell you it’s already happened that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.” While this Tomahawk attack against Syria will degrade Syria’s capabilities, it will by no means undermine Assad’s capabilities to carry out further chemical weapons attacks in the future. This Tomahawk attack was a measured retaliatory attack.
Early reporting on the attack indicates that the U.S. military contacted Russian officials operating in the area that this attack was coming. Over the next several days, President Trump will have to work with President Putin and other world leaders to define what the continued response to Assad will be and how to contain Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons. Additionally, the next several days will be key for U.S. foreign policy to determine what further actions the United States will take in Syria against the Assad regime.
The New York Times reports that the White House is nearing completion of an order directing the Pentagon to bring future ISIS detainees to the Guantanamo Bay prison. The current version of the order drops previous proposed language regarding CIA black sites which was reported on earlier this week. However the current version does still pose a problem for the Trump administration in that it will allow federal judges to rule on the executive branch’s legal theory of the continued war against the Islamic State under the 2001 AUMF. Continue reading →
The Guardian recently reported about the increase by ISIS in recruiting refugee children. Recently ISIS has increased their recruiting efforts within Lebanon and Jordan offering up to $2,000 as well as food supplies which have been withheld in the past. In a report from the Quilliam Foundation entitled “Refuge: Pathways of Youth Fleeing Extremism” ISIS as well as other insurgent organizations consistently make targeting youth in refugee camps part of their recruitment strategy. The report states ““If the vulnerabilities of young refugees arriving at their destination are not countered by a long-term approach to integration, democratization of national identities, and prioritization of well-being and mental health of young people, the risk of radicalization is likely to persist into future generations.” The United States and allied countries as well as the United Nations should increased emphasis on deterring youth in refugee camps from becoming radicalized. Focus should be placed on the living conditions of refugee camps; particularly food and water supplies. Additionally, nations, such as Lebanon and Jordan, need to deter the recruiting efforts made by ISIS and other groups; particularly focusing on online recruiting efforts that are targeted to young people in the refugee camps.
On Tuesday, January 31, 2017, MAJ John Spencer with the Modern Warfare Institute at West Point wrote a short article advocating the creation of a “Megacities Combat Unit” for the US Army. MAJ Spencer cites the increasing urbanization of the world’s population. For example, currently “54.5 percent of the world’s population live[s] in urban areas” and this number is expected to increase to over 60 percent by 2030. MAJ Spencer advocates transforming a Brigade Combat Team (BCT) to focus on urban warfare in megacities. While I agree with MAJ Spencer that in future conflicts the US Army will not be able to avoid megacities, I disagree with his premise of establishing a specialized BCT to focus on megacities. Instead of “training, manning, and equipping a 5,000-soldier force to specialize in urban operations” I believe that a better alternative would be to create a specialized unit resembling the Asymmetric Warfare Group. Such a group could focus on gathering lessons learned from other urban operations and would be able to more quickly disseminate that knowledge across the US Army when the United States conducts urban operations in megacities. Additionally the creation a smaller more specialized unit would be less burdensome on the Army personnel system. Furthermore a smaller unit would ensure those joining a unit specializing in megacities brought specialized skillsets similar to the Asymmetric Warfare Group. Overall I agree with MAJ Spencer’s thought that the US Army should do more to prepare for operations in megacities, however, I do not agree with establishing a 5,000-soldier BCT to focus on megacities operations.
Yesterday, the Obama administration released a 61-page review of the legal and policy frameworks guiding the United States’ use of military force. This review describes the domestic and international legal basis for the use of force overseas. Furthermore, it describes the key legal and policy frameworks the Obama administration established regarding the use of force. The President’s Foreword to the document describes how the “United States complies with all applicable domestic and international law in conducting operations” against insurgent actors. The document describes how the Administration has institutionalized a policy framework to ensure operations carried out during counterinsurgency operations meet and “in important respects exceed s the safeguards that apply as a matter of law in the course of an armed conflict.” The report builds upon speeches given throughout the Obama administration, many of which are cited at the end of the document. Further analysis of this document can be found at Just Security and Lawfare.
This morning, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Islamic State is suspected of using mustard gas against the Peshmerga in northern Iraq on Wednesday. The attack occurred southwest of Erbil with Peshmerga fighters reporting injuries that are consistent with a chemical attack, likely a mustard agent. This week’s attack on the Peshmerga is the first documented use of mustard by ISIS fighters. The Wall Street Journal reports that ISIS may have obtained this mustard agent, along with chlorine gas from Saddam Hussein-era stockpiles in Iraq or from stockpiles that Bashar al-Assad failed to destroy in Syria.
Although Turkey declared it entered the fight against ISIS on July 24, it has yet to target ISIS since that announcement. However, during the last three weeks Turkey has executed airstrikes against Kurdish fighters operating in Syria and Iraq rather than targeting ISIS. Yesterday, the New York Times which describes the current situation as well as provides a map of recent Kurdish gains in Syria. While the Y.P.G., the Kurdish group operating in Syria, may be the most effective ally of the United States in the fight against ISIS, the Y.P.G. is also a point of contention for the U.S. relationship with Turkey. The Y.P.G.’s rapid gains were likely the reason Turkey joined the fight against ISIS on July 24 under the condition of the creation of an ISIS and Kurdish free zone in an effort to prevent the creation of a Kurdish state on Turkey’s southern border. The Turks continued targeting of the Y.P.G. and the P.K.K., the Kurdish Group in Iraq, will undermine the United States efforts to weaken ISIS. Overall, the Turks current view that the Kurds are a bigger threat than ISIS, will continue to undermine the U.S. strategy in the region.
Yesterday, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, revealed the United States’ 2015 National Military Strategy. Since the Pentagon last published the National Military Strategy in 2011, General Dempsey states that “some of our comparative military advantage has begun to erode” because the United States is “faced with multiple, simultaneous security challenges from traditional state actors and transregional networks of sub-state groups.” The 2015 National Military Strategy predicts that “future conflicts will come more rapidly, last longer, and take place on a much more technically challenging battlefield” and such future conflicts will not be resolved quickly.