It invoked terror – but we can’t call the Toronto van attack terrorism

By Stephanie Carvin

Hearts across Canada sank when news broke that a driver of a rental van had deliberately struck pedestrians along Yonge Street in Toronto on Monday. Images of similar events in London, Barcelona and Nice – all linked to terrorism – immediately come to mind during such incidents. But this is not the first time we have seen vehicle-based attacks in Canada – the October, 2014, attack in St.-Jean-sur-Richelieu as well as the 2017 attack in Edmonton, allegedly in the name of violent extremism, are two recent cases.

In the hours between the attack and the news conference on Monday night, speculation as to whether the attack was a terrorist incident grew on social media. Sadly, it was not so long ago that we had a similar conversation in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting. How could it be that someone who accumulated machine guns in order to kill innocent concertgoers was not a terrorist?

In Canada, the answer to this question is somewhat unsatisfying, but worth discussing. Section 83.01 of the Criminal Code states that any act carried out for political, ideological or religious reasons is terrorism. But not all political, ideological or religious reasons are alike. When an act is carried out in the name of a listed terrorist entity – such as al-Qaeda or the Islamic State (IS) – prosecutors can easily point to a coherent set of ideas upon which a terrorism charge can be laid. However, when it comes to fringe movements and broad anti-government ideologies, prosecution becomes trickier.

For example, Justin Bourque, the perpetrator of the 2014 Moncton shootings that killed three RCMP officers, subscribed to an anti-government ideology. And over the past two weeks we have learned that Alexandre Bissonnette had consumed vast amounts of conspiracy theories and alt-right media that demonized Muslims and refugees. Mr. Bissonnette apparently became convinced that society was under attack and he had to do something.

The problem for prosecutors is that in these two cases, the person may have been politically motivated, but pointing to a coherent set of ideas on which their acts were carried out is not possible. So, although their attacks may have been similar, terrorism charges have not been laid.

Part of the issue is the circumstances in which our terrorism legislation was written. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, the government envisioned terrorist groups with coherent ideas, leadership and goals. It is doubtful that they could have foreseen that someone might be politically motivated because of their consumption of material produced by an internet subculture or online videos of conspiracy theorists.

Does this make our terrorism legislation inherently biased? There can be no question that the legislation does a better job of capturing certain violent extremist views and not others. The question then is, would we be better off broadening the crime of terrorism or eliminating it all together?

It is imperfect, but there are practical reasons for keeping the current definition, even when it may lead to what seems to be inconsistent results. First, it helps to set out and limit the mandate of what we want our security services to investigate as violent extremism.

Second, terrorism offences are largely geared toward augmenting the prison sentence of someone accused of plotting a terrorism offence before it is actually committed. Once the act is actually committed, the police have the evidence necessary to put someone away for a considerable period of time. Proving that someone was motivated to act from a particular point of view is difficult and consumes resources at a time when investigative resources may already be burdened in the aftermath of an attack.

This helps to explain why Abdulahi Sharif, the accused in the Edmonton attack, has not faced terrorism charges, despite an IS flag in the vehicle that was used to assault police and civilians. And given that Mr. Bourque received one of the most severe sentences in Canadian history for murder (75 years without chance of parole), it is not clear that terrorism charges would have added anything to his punishment.

There is nothing to stop politicians from describing the attack in Toronto as a terror incident. Indeed, politicians from all parties did so in the wake of the 2017 Quebec mosque shooting. While we may never get terrorism legislation right, there is no reason why our response to any such violent incident should not be the same – to stand up for our communities, to empathize and to work toward a better Canada.

 

This post was originally published by the Globe and Mail 

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Coordinated diplomatic activity against Russia in response to chemical weapons incident in UK

by Jez Littlewood

Russia can expect to be welcoming over 100 of its diplomats back to Moscow in the coming weeks. Sixteen states have today ordered 106 Russians to leave their territory in a coordinated series of national announcements. The US ordered 12 Russian representatives to the United Nations in New York to leave, and a further 48 were also expelled alongside the order to close the Russian consulate in Seattle. Canada, France, Germany, and Poland each ordered four diplomats to leave, Ukraine ordered 13 to depart, and ten other European states took similar actions.

The coordination of national actions itself indicates a few things.

  1. This is serious. States do not readily expel diplomats from their territory. They can signal displeasure with another country through a variety of means in both public and private channels, for example recalling their own Ambassador to Russia. Ordering Russian diplomats to leave is very public and purposeful. The coordination of national activity, in this case, indicates clearly that certain Western states share the UK’s concerns about Russian activity and have been convinced that Russia must answer questions about the chemical weapons attack in the UK earlier this month.
  2. The response increases the pressure on Russia. The UK has been working with its allies and partners over the last few weeks on how to respond to the use of a chemical warfare agent in Salisbury (UK) in an attempted assassination of a former Russian intelligence officer. The UK has stated it believes Russia is responsible and its Western partners have now acted in a manner that supports that claim. Democratic states do not expel diplomatic staff on a whim. This coordinated response indicates that whatever information the UK has shared with its allies and partners has been convincing enough for them act and to act together. Coupled with other UK activity, including last week’s arrival of inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to take samples from the victims of the attack, the signals here are that the UK, and others, have a very high degree of confidence in the evidence about the chemical weapon used. Even if Russia did not order or sanction the attack – something that will probably not be known for many years – the type of chemical used (the alleged ‘novichok’ type of chemical warfare agent) leads back to Russia and some very serious questions. The UK is not alone in holding this view.
  3. It is not just about chemical weapons. The chemical weapons incident is being linked to other Russian actions over the last few years. As the Canadian statement notes: “This is part of a wider pattern of unacceptable behaviour by Russia, including complicity with the Assad‎ regime, the annexation of Crimea, Russian-led fighting in eastern Ukraine, support for civil strife in Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and other neighbouring countries, interference in elections, and disinformation campaigns.”
  4. Russia will retaliate. Further diplomatic expulsions are likely for the states who have acted today. Indeed, TASS is reporting that Russia will reciprocate in each case. One potential key early indicator will be if Russia reciprocates (in numbers) or escalates the number of expulsions across some or all states. Another aspect to watch carefully is whether or not Russia responds to some states more harshly than others.
  5. This issue is not going away. The deaths of various Russians over the last few years have been ignored or subject to private diplomatic signals or statements. Aside from the inevitable response from Russia in the coming hours and days, this chemical weapons issue is not going to fade any time soon. Last week inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrived in the UK to take samples and send them for independent analysis. At some point in the next two to four weeks the results of that analysis will have to be revealed. If the results confirm the UK analysis, pressure will mount in the OPCW and internationally for Russia to explain a few things. If the results contest the UK analysis, the UK will itself have some explaining to do to its allies and the wider world. Even if things calm down over the next few days, the issue will be pushed to the fore once again in a few weeks.
  6. The continued fallout will have negative implications in the near term. A continuation of the deterioration in Russian-Western relations generally should be expected. At stake here is not simply chemical weapons but the actions of the Russian state in a variety of areas as the Canadian statement notes. The collective signalling from Western states might, however, act as a catalyst for change. A slow, walk back from both covert and overt adversarial activity might be initiated if Russia takes the view that its interests are now being hurt and other foreign policies thwarted because of its actions. In short, the perceived advantages of such activities are outweighed by the disadvantages incurred by a coordinated Western response. It is not likely to be identifiable in words any time soon, but actions over the coming months may indicate a reduction in tensions.
  7. How, or if, other states respond, will be informative. Statements of support or statements objecting to the Western response may indicate if this issue remains contained as a Western-Russian flare-up or is spreading to the wider international order. We should expect Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, and potentially others to express support for Russia and decry the perceived hostility of the UK, US, Canada, and others. What China, India, Brazil, South Africa, or others do or not do in the coming days will be an important indicator of whether or not Russia stands alone, or the risk of a West versus the Rest international dispute is taking shape as many fear.
  8. There will be knock-on effects. Outside the immediate issue of chemical weapons where the dispute itself is likely to have serious detrimental impacts on the CWC and the OPCW in 2018, there are likely to be direct and rippling indirect effects on other arms control issues in the coming months. US-Russia relations in the nuclear weapons area have been deteriorating for several years and this is one further obstacle to any new talks on nuclear arms control. The fate of the Iran agreement – the JCPOA – and the expected summit between the US and the DPRK will also experience some of the negative implications of this dispute. As, indeed, will the routine arms control meetings under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention, and in the United Nations Security Council as it attempts to deal with continued use of chemical weapons in the Syrian war.

 

Key sources:

Spy poisoning: Russian diplomats expelled across US and Europe http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-43545565 [March 26, 2018]

Canada expels Russian diplomats in solidarity with United Kingdom https://www.canada.ca/en/global-affairs/news/2018/03/canada-expels-russian-diplomats-in-solidarity-with-united-kingdom.html [March 26, 2018]

The US’ Dilemma: Alliance Politics Vs. Ethnic Ties in Syria

By Uri Marantz

US-Turkish relations are at an all-time low. The northern theatre of the Syrian civil war, going strong for eight years now, is the focal point of the latest tension. Recently, the US has announced that it is doubling down on one of the most effective fighting forces in the region, the Kurds, hoping to capitalize on hard-fought gains that US-backed Kurdish forces have made against the Islamic State (IS). At the same time, Turkish offensives have crippled Kurdish militias resulted in the loss of life for Syrian civilians. The US position has been deliberately ambiguous to avoid antagonizing another close US ally, Turkey, but recent commitments to the Kurds have drawn harsh reactions from the Turks. In response to US promises to the Kurds that it would train a 30,000-strong army to stabilize the region and back a permanent border protection force east of the Euphrates, Turkey has fired back, accusing the US of “building an army of terror” on its doorstep, threatening to “drown” the US-backed forces with its own onslaught, and even firing on US troops if they get in harm’s way. These statements are unprecedented.

Turkish Military Intervention in Northern Syria

Why is the Turkish government launching a military operation into northern Syria in 2018? Is the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, really willing to risk an all-out war with the US over its policy of support for the Kurds in the Syrian civil war? Has the US’ ambiguous policy in northern Syria of low-key but forceful support for the Kurds so they can fight IS without antagonizing the Turks reached the limits of its effectiveness? Amid the many questions one could ask about this perplexing situation, perhaps the most timely one is whether the US has a deliberate strategy that may even remotely succeed. I argue that as long as US forces are strategically embedded among the Kurds in the northern town of Manbij, Turkish forces are unlikely to force the issue and provoke a direct confrontation. There is a certain bargaining logic, a method to this madness, that US commanders are counting on to deter Turkish adventurism in this conflict. The strategic logic is reminiscent of what Thomas C. Schelling, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and scholar of strategy, calls the “art of commitment” in deterring one’s enemies.

Coercion and deterrence are central themes in Schelling’s 1966 classic, Arms and Influence. At its heart, the art of commitment is about relinquishing the initiative. It is important to first maneuver oneself into an advantageous position, a defensible posture, before handing the initiative over to the enemy to force the confrontation. The deterrent is in the “power to hurt” the enemy if they decide to follow through on a reckless course of action, even if it hurts oneself to do so. Of course, words are not enough to make this point. The art of commitment requires action to be credible. This is why standing armies burn bridges behind them: it eliminates any option to retreat in the face of an enemy’s assault, demonstrating a commitment to stand and fight because the only other option is death or defeat. The same counter-intuitive logic applies to the “trip wire” of US forces stationed in Japan and South Korea since the 1950s. By maneuvering themselves into an uncompromising position (of strength, in this case) and then “relinquishing” the initiative, the US has managed to effectively outsource the decision of whether to start a war or not to its enemies. The same logic applies among US allies in Syria today.

US Alliance Politics with Local and Regional Actors

Years of close military coordination with US forces on the ground have helped Kurdish forces clear Islamic State (IS) and other Salafist-jihadist strongholds in the area and establish command and control over what is likely to form the core of an autonomous Kurdish enclave in a post-war Syria. As the Kurds grow more capable, confident, and battle-hardened, however, Turkey is likely to perceive a rising threat and respond with threatening postures and the use of force. Hence the US dilemma: two of its closest allies in the Syrian civil war are actually enemies with starkly divergent preferences. If Turkish forces follow through on their threat to extend the intervention east of Afrin to Manbij, where 2,000 US special forces are stationed as part of the international coalition against IS, the ensuing conflict would not just destabilize northern Syria, it would spark an unprecedented military conflict between the US and Turkey, two central NATO allies.

On January 20, 2018, Turkish forces launched their most recent military intervention in northern Syria against resurgent Kurdish forces. Despite code-naming the latest offensive Operation Olive Branch, its mandate is far from peaceful. The goal is to stymie advances made by the mostly Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), the People’s Protection Units (YPG), and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the Afrin district, all under the umbrella of the Kurdish Democratic Federation of Northern Syria. Turkey claims to be fighting the Islamic State (IS) as well, but no known IS forces are known to exist in this region. This is ironic since Kurdish forces were only able to advance in these territories after they succeeded in fighting to evict IS from wide swathes of northern Syria. In recent weeks, the Kurds have withdrawn strategic garrisons from Deir al-Zour in the east to reinforce besieged positions in Afrin, citing the failure of the US to deter Turkish advances as forcing their hands. This is controversial because the remnants of IS, including its senior leadership, are believed to be holed up there, and the priority of the US and its allies in Syria is supposed to be defeating IS once and for all. So how do Schelling’s bargaining theories help us understand why Turkey is unlikely to force a full-on conflict as long as US forces are stationed in Manbij and integrated with local Kurdish forces?

Arms, Influence, and Deterrence at Play

The US has committed itself to the Kurds in northern Syria more than words ever could by deploying Special Forces in and around Manbij and refusing to evacuate them despite Turkey’s increasingly belligerent demands. US foreign policy has been muddled, confused, and ambiguous in Syria for years, and the election of President Donald J. Trump has done little to change this state of affairs. Nevertheless, US military commanders decided that the risk of supporting Kurdish fighters by deploying ground personnel in this war was worth the benefit long before Turkeys’ latest intervention in northern Syria. For the US to withdraw now would incapacitate the Kurds, risking its progress against IS, inviting Russian and Iranian influence into this part of Syria, and crippling US credibility among its allies going forward. For all these reasons, US commitment to the Kurdish SDF remains intact and the refusal of US forces to vacate the premises in the face of Turkish aggression virtually guarantees that the Turks cannot advance on Manbij as long as US forces are present. While 2,000 US special forces may not be able to stop tens of thousands of Turkish soldiers and Turkish-backed rebels, they may still act as a credible “trip wire” that would provoke a harsh retaliation if crossed.

Following Operation Shah Euphrates in 2015 and Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016-2017, Operation Olive Branch may be part of a strategy to bolster President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s image ahead of a possible election in 2018. The PYD, YPG, SDF, and other Kurdish forces are seen as extensions and enablers of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, a group which the Turkish government has long been at odds with after fighting a decades-long civil war to a virtual stalemate and seeks to punish by targeting Kurds in the Syrian civil war. The anti-Kurdish offensive is part of a tried-and-true strategy of ethnic politics to promote Turkish nationalism and fire up the conservative base. There may be some logic to the diversionary war theory after all, which suggests leaders facing domestic problems divert attention by launching militarized conflicts abroad. If done well, Erdogan may even benefit from rally-round-the-flag effects. Nothing unites the people like the threat, real or imaginary, of a shared enemy. So far, military operations into Syria have proven popular in Turkey. As long as the Turks refrain from targeting US forces, which for now remain embedded in the Kurdish forces in Manbij, Erdogan will likely benefit from Operation Olive Branch and capitalize on the ethnic nationalist dividends gained from Syria.

 

Uri Marantz is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Conflict Management and Resolution program at NPSIA. 

From Nascent Insurrections to Full-Blown Insurgencies: Why Some Militant Groups Engage in Sustained Armed Conflicts

The following post summarizes findings from NPSIA Ph.D. Candidate Michael Shkolnik’s latest research paper.

In October 2014, the Sinai-based militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis conducted a sophisticated, multi-pronged attack targeting two Egyptian military positions and killing 31 soldiers. A month later, that group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, escalating violence and solidifying itself as an unprecedented threat to Egyptian national security. The dramatic and rapid rise of the Islamic State group and its affiliates shocked many observers around the world. By waging a successful military campaign in 2014, the militant organization was able to gain control of significant territory in Syria and Iraq, consolidate new power bases in the region, attract an unprecedented number of foreign fighters, and coordinate large-scale attacks around the world. Now, as the group loses its core territorial stronghold, observers are concerned about the potential emergence and escalation of other terrorist insurgencies around the world.

Data on terrorism and civil wars point to a sharp increase in militant activity worldwide in recent years – both in terms of casualties from terrorist attacks and battle-related deaths during armed conflicts. It is puzzling why some initially weak militant groups, who face immense difficulties in garnering material resources and support, are able to eventually engage in sustained violent operations and confront more powerful militaries. Most militant groups fail to survive beyond their first year, let alone pose a serious threat. Why do some militant groups engage in sustained armed conflicts while other groups do not?

In a recent paper, I conduct quantitative regression analysis on 246 prominent militant groups from 1970-2007 and find that, on average, organizational characteristics are better predictors of sustained armed conflict than measures of group capabilities. Some of my core findings diverge from current explanations of insurgency onset or outcomes. Posing a serious challenge to a state is not necessarily a function of how powerful or capable a group may seem – it’s more about the competitive militant environment and internal organizational capacity to effectively mobilize resources and maintain armed hostilities against regime forces. Three particular factors of importance emerged from my analysis: group ideology, organizational structure, and competitive militant environment.

Militant Group Ideology

Exploiting or fueling grievances among a particular population is critical for groups to mobilize for an insurgency. Some militant groups should be more capable of capitalizing on grievances than others – particularly religious and ethno-nationalist groups that can draw on resources from a well-defined constituency. Religiously motivated groups, in particular, tend to be more lethal and maintain indivisible objectives, making negotiated settlements improbable. These types of organizations are also better at overcoming key militant organizational hurdles: collective action and principal-agent problems. Religious groups are often in a stronger position to effectively screen recruits and mobilize resources via their robust social networks compared to more secular rivals. This is one explanation behind why Hamas was better at managing its operatives than its more secular rival Fatah. Religious groups rarely achieve their ultimate objectives. But my research suggests that those religiously motivated militant groups are far more likely to engage in sustained armed conflicts than other ideologically oriented groups – whether they are ultimately successful or not.

Organizational Structure

Research on social movements and militant group structures suggests that centralized and formally structured groups are more likely to achieve broader objectives than more decentralized groups. Militant groups with hierarchical structures tend to be more lethal and have a higher likelihood of ultimately defeating the states they fight. More centralized and integrated groups are more capable of allocating resources effectively, reducing principal-agent problems, and keeping lower-ranking members in line with the group’s broader objectives. By looking at a different dependent variable, however, my findings challenge conventional wisdom: groups with relatively less centralized command and control are just as likely to engage in sustained armed conflict than the most hierarchically structured organizations. Groups with more autonomous cells and specialized wings should still be able to launch a sustained insurgency, regardless of whether they end up beating the regime. Less centralization might make it harder for counterinsurgency forces to infiltrate and dismantle militant groups.

Competitive Environment

Competition for resources and manpower among rival constituent factions and other rebel groups is particularly crucial in the early phases of a violent conflict. Violence serves as an important signal of capabilities and resolves among groups competing for leadership of a particular constituency. Recent work highlights the importance of rival relations and internal movement structure to assess strategic success. In general, I find that more competitive militant environments also reduce the likelihood any particular group presents a major threat to the states they fight. This study also finds that the overwhelming majority of militant groups that engaged in sustained armed conflicts were the most dominant group in their environment around the time the group challenged the state. In the nascent stages of an insurgency, militant groups often have to consolidate rivals – whether by destructive campaigns or alliance formation – before emerging as the dominant organization and then taking on the regime.

Theoretical and Policy Implications

This study offers some implications for scholarship and policy, by examining an underexplored outcome of interest and addressing a selection bias prevalent across literature on political violence. It is important to study analytically distinct phases of armed conflict and differentiate between various militant group objectives (i.e. organizational, strategic) when evaluating success. Understanding this phenomenon is critical since groups that sustain military operations gain more influence and fundraising capabilities while further weakening the target state. Battlefield successes, in turn, encourage more recruitment and defections from rival groups. It is far more difficult for states to defeat a full-fledged insurgency than prevent a nascent insurrection from flourishing. There is no single theory that can explain particular militant group trajectories and counterinsurgency campaigns require context-specific analysis. But this paper presents generalizable empirical associations across diverse militant groups, while acknowledging the limits of large-n research, and identifies key cases for in-depth analysis by the author in subsequent work.

 

Michael Shkolnik is a Ph.D. Candidate at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. He recently served as a senior adviser and scholar-in-residence with the Strategic Foresight unit in Canada’s foreign ministry, focusing on futures of terrorism and international security trends. In the past, Michael worked with security-related research institutes in Ottawa, Washington D.C., and Israel. The views expressed here are strictly those of the author.

 You can follow him on Twitter:  @Shkolnik_M

 

 

Probably a Violation of the Terms of Service: Donald Trump’s Tweets and the Risk of War

by Mark Haichin

Well, it’s hardly surprising that something went wrong with Donald Trump’s trip to Asia. It seemed to be going fairly well at first, too, at least by the standards set by Trump’s behaviour this past year – mostly due to the fact that he avoided raising uncomfortable topics such as human rights and democracy in China and the Philippines. But then he found himself defending Vladimir Putin’s denials about meddling in the US elections last year and being forced to awkwardly clarify his remarks when it was pointed out that the US intelligence community strenuously disagreed. And on November 12th, he responded to an earlier statement by the North Korean government that referred to him as an “old lunatic” with a passive-aggressive tweet where he called North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un “short and fat” (though for whatever reason he didn’t take offense to being described as a lunatic).

The fact that the President of the United States is petty enough to launch insults at other heads of state over Twitter, especially in the way a stereotypical teenager would, is a problem in itself. It transcends merely embarrassing behaviour to become an outright national security concern, however, when those insults are aimed at the leader of a hostile nuclear weapon state that is already feeling seriously threatened by a number of other tweets and hostile signals, as North Korea has over the course of the past year. Perhaps most blatantly, an earlier tweet by Trump in late September, which stated that North Korea’s leaders “won’t be around much longer,” was explicitly referred to by the North Korean government as a declaration of war (which is admittedly a frequent statement). Bizarrely, threatening another state apparently doesn’t count as a violation of the Twitter terms of service, as presidential statements are considered newsworthy by default and thus supersede pesky rules like not harassing and threatening people.

All of this serves to indicate the broader issue that Trump’s use of Twitter is circumventing the usual means of conducting diplomacy – which is especially concerning in light of reports that his administration is essentially gutting the State Department. In the past, professional diplomats have been key in preventing conflict by communicating with each other and clearing up possible misperceptions that leaders might have about the intentions of their peers. Such misperceptions have a tendency to lead to war between states, as leaders on both sides overestimate the other side’s actual hostility and willingness to fight until one or the other decides they need to strike first.

Unfortunately, this seems to be what’s happening between Trump and Kim Jong-Un at present. North Korea’s government has long been concerned about the US invading and removing it from power (given that they had fought during the Korean War and has never fully ended hostilities with US-aligned South Korea), and invested significant resources into developing a nuclear arsenal in order to prevent this. The present consensus is that if the North Korean government believes that it is about to be attacked by the US and overthrown, it will retaliate with every weapon at its disposal – after all, if Kim Jong-Un and his lackeys are removed from power, they’ll likely be killed like Saddam Hussein and Moammar Qaddafi were, so what would they have to lose at that point? By threatening this kind of retaliation, the regime’s intent is to make any attempt at overthrowing it a suicidal venture, especially since the Kim family’s style of governance over the years have made it readily apparent that they are willing to do anything to stay in power. Naturally, the reasonable thing for other states to do in this situation would be to avoid any kind of signal that would lead the North Korean government to think it will be attacked, such as threatening to “rain fire and fury” on it in response to its nuclear tests.

Trump, however, seems to lack the filter that most heads of state possess, and regularly tweets whatever he’s thinking without so much as consulting advisors and diplomats as to whether it would be a good idea to do so (or to make sure his remarks are anywhere close to factually correct). Moreover, as the leader of the US, his comments are easy to interpret as his country’s official position. So when Trump tweets that the US has prepared military solutions to deal with North Korea, it’s only logical for the North Korean government to seriously consider the possibility that an attack is likely. Given the heated rhetoric on both sides, it is likely that either North Korea or the US ends up believing that the other side is about to attack and decides to strike first, even if it turns out that no such attack is imminent. While there have been calls in the US to mitigate this by removing Donald Trump’s authority to launch a nuclear first strike (with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee actually debating this), Trump’s erratic tweets could still help provoke a war by giving the impression that there may be a conventional attack.

The fact of the matter is this: Donald Trump’s habit of blustering and threatening leaders on social media is not just unbecoming of a world leader, but is a threat to US national security in its own right, as it may lead other states to believe an attack is imminent even when this is not the case. If a nuclear war were to break out, that threat could end up having dire consequences for states beyond the belligerents, especially if other nuclear weapon states like China (which is technically allied with North Korea, if only out of perceived necessity). Shutting down Trump’s Twitter account seems like a simple solution to this, if only because it would force him to think about what he says a little more and potentially go through somewhat more sensible advisors. Yet Twitter’s moderators claim that even his most threatening tweets don’t actually violate their terms of service due to their newsworthiness, and thus his account shouldn’t be shut down or even suspended in response. We can only hope that they decide to change their minds before one of Trump’s tweets leads to disaster.

 

Mark Haichin is a PhD candidate with the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University. He has a Masters in International Relations (Research) from the London School of Economics, UK. He specialises in issues relating to nuclear deterrence and proliferation. In addition, he has strong research interests in terrorism, ethnic conflict, and international relations.

Benefiting from the Conflict in the Korean Peninsula: How China Came Out on Top

By 

OVERVIEW AND HISTORY OF THE CONFLICT

The basis of international affairs surrounding North Korea is the Korean War 1953 armistice. A permanent peace agreement was never enacted, and therefore, all interactions with North Korea continue to be conducted under the auspice of war-time conditions.  Awkwardly, North Korea signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1985, and would later agree (1994) to phase out its nuclear capabilities in exchange for international support in development of a civilian nuclear power program.  This dynamic has created conditions for international access to North Korean nuclear programming.

US authorities determined, in 2002, that North Korea maintained a secret nuclear weapons production program and in 2005, an energy crisis in North Korea resulted in the US, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and China agreeing to provide energy aid and ‘economic cooperation’ (i.e. a transfer payment) to North Korea in exchange for the North’s pledge to dismantle all nuclear weapons and facilities.  North Korea accepted the terms of the agreement and promptly violated them by conducting separate ballistic missile and nuclear weapons tests.  This commenced a pattern which can be observed from 2006-2016:  North Korean leaders agree to dismantle its weapons program in exchange for payment; after a period of time an advancement in ballistic missile or nuclear weapons is revealed; additional payment is demanded; and the process starts over.

As of 2017, North Korea claims to have successfully conducted a test of a hydrogen bomb and appears to have advanced long-range missile technology to a point where their weapons may be capable of reaching North America.  Only very recently has China increased pressure on North Korea with a view to nuclear disarmament.  One possible explanation for the late arrival of China in this role is the usefulness of a rogue North Korea vis-à-vis China’s regional military interests.  For example, committing the US Navy to force project against North Korea reduces US capacity to offset expanding Chinese control in the South China Sea.  As such, this dynamic creates a three-way security dilemma worth assessing.

WHAT IS AT STAKE?

Before we launch into the explanation as to why actors are behaving the way they have over the last few months, it is important to identify the objectives of each state. So, what does each player want?

State actor Main objectives

 

United States ·         Avoid loss of critical economic partnerships with Japan and South Korea as regional actors move closer in terms of economic integration

·         Maintain regional military dominance of Chinese containment

·         Maintain regional military dominance of Russian containment

 

China ·         Control over the South China Sea and extending economic waters/zones

·         Maintain military buffer with the United States and avoid Russian-like NATO containment

·         Maintain centralized control of RMB to favour exports and ideally avoid US accusations of currency manipulation

 

North Korea ·         Development of sophisticated military deterrents to preserve the regime militarily

·         For domestic purposes, missile defense has become a cultural cornerstone and serves in preserving/legitimizing the status of the Kim dynasty

·         Status quo: return to the conditions of the armistice agreement, re-instate trade mainly with China and Russia and receive aid from the United States

Although Japan and South Korea are important players in this conflict, because they are not nuclear powers and have played a diminished role in the escalation of the conflict in recent months, they are excluded from this analysis.

MAKING SENSE OF THE CURRENT CONFLICT

In the defense literature, “Security trilemma” – whereby a state, in a complex web of deterrence relationships, may increase its security forces against a belligerent (or perceived as belligerent) state, simply to see a third state feel more insecure. This is the case of North Korea which has alienated its Chinese ally in an effort to develop its nuclear programme and, if its claims are true, reach miniaturization of a nuclear warhead for its long-range weapons. However strict and unfavourable the sanctions may be (and they most definitely are detrimental to the regime), the progression of the regime’s missile and nuclear capabilities seem to have succeeded in galvanizing the domestic population and pushing its military deterrence agenda forward. North Korea succeeds in 2 out of 3 of its objectives.

Although China fears escalation in the Korean conflict, its implementation of economic sanctions against North Korea have set aside previous Sino-American disagreements with regards to accusations of currency manipulation and expansion of territorial waters in the South China Sea. With China able to exert its influence through domestic monetary policy and its expansion in the South China Sea, mild escalations that avoid full fledged warfare have largely benefited the Chinese. Not only have events favoured Chinese foreign and domestic policy, but their alignment with US foreign policy has temporarily camouflaged or immunised them from the ire of Washington that was omnipresent during the last US administration. The recent rapprochement in Sino-American foreign policy may have favoured China, but may endanger longer term relations with North Korea that acts as an important buffer state against American containment. China wins all 3 of its main objectives.

For its part, the US has maintained its spheres of military and economic interests in the region, albeit at the cost of letting China grow its own military might in the South China Sea. Americans have containment directly adjacent to Chinese borders. The American approach is one of incremental pressure on the North Korean regime by forcing the regime to break under pressure. Whether this be an intra-state civil rupture or a North Korea ready to return to the bargaining table with one hand tied behind its back remains unclear. Thus far, the US has largely maintained its objectives in the region but coming short of exerting pressure on China in other matters. The US succeeds in 2 out of 3 of its main objectives.

WHO WINS AND HOW?

In light of the framework set forth, how would each state characterize a victory in this conflict?

China wins: Current conflict distracts from their other objectives elsewhere and avoid going back to the accusations of currency manipulation and influences in the South China Sea of the Obama administration.

US wins: Culmination of North Korean threats never occur dismantling image of nuclear capability and nuclear miniaturization. Possible implosion of the Kim regime under economic and diplomatic pressure.

NK wins: Go back to status quo with only mild tensions enough to justify military and nuclear fixation for the purposes of controlling the domestic population. Ideally, coerce some form of concession from the US whether it be the withdrawal of trade restrictions or a foreign aid payment.

Unfortunately, these “wins” are unlikely or at the very least short-lasting. No single actor will walk away from this conflict unscathed at the expense of other state actors. However, one thing remains certain: war would be catastrophic and detrimental to all, including other surrounding states such as South Korea, Japan and Russia. Compromise will have to be achieved, ideally through diplomatic channels. Although military options remain on the table, these unsavoury options leave much to be desired. With estimates in the millions of casualties within days, every other diplomatic solution should be exhausted before calling upon a forceful intervention. As for the diplomatic solution, time will tell whether the economic pressures on the North Korean regime are enough to bring it to the bargaining table. However, the North Koreans may force an impasse thinking that they could in turn force the Americans back to the bargaining table if nuclear miniaturization is achieved and successfully tested in the eyes of the world. Regardless of the state of the seemingly deadlocked negotiations between the US and North Korea, China’s recent rapprochement to US foreign policy has deflected attention away from previously contested areas in the South China Sea and has temporarily put an end to American accusations of currency manipulation.

 

Samuel MacIsaac is a PhD student at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, where he specializes in International Economic Policy. He holds a Masters in Economics from the University of Montreal. His research interests include international migration, international finance and trade, and international relations. He has written on issues relating to negative interest rates, the impact of trade on education outcomes and forecasts of immigration within Canada.  

Bryan Bereziuk is a PhD student at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, where he specializes in International Conflict Management and Resolution.  He is an experienced practitioner in counter-insurgency operations and defence organizational development.  His research interests include counter-terrorism policy development, insurgency containment, and international technology transfers. 

CSEC and airport Wi-Fi

CBC certainly broke an interesting story this morning with the release of documentation from Edward Snowden’s collection. The story “CSEC used airport Wi-Fi to track Canadian travellers: Edward Snowden documents indicates ‘Canada’s electronic spy agency used information from the free internet service at a major Canadian airport to track the wireless devices of thousands of ordinary airline passengers for days after they left the terminal.’

Understandably this is causing a bit of a kerfuffle. CSEC has issued a statement that states that in order to fulfil CSEC’s foreign intelligence role ‘CSE is legally authorized to collect and analyze metadata. In simple terms, metadata is technical information used to route communications, and not the contents of a communication.’

While more is sure to break on this in the coming days I’ll stick my neck out here and suggest this may not have been against the law. If this was an exercise or trial or field test of a capability still in development then it wasn’t an intelligence gathering operation and, as such, might be considered permissible.

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