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Shaping Effective Strategic Partnerships in the MENA Region By Anthony H. Cordesman


We are here today to find practical ways in which we can strengthen our strategic partnerships. Let me stress that word: practical. I have attended far too many meetings over the years that tried to set impossible goals for regional cooperation, that ignored the real-world limits to strategic partnerships, that did not address the different needs of different nations, and that failed to develop practical options for action.

Defining the MENA Region and Shaping Strategic Partnerships

We need to recognize that there are many different definitions of the Middle East and North Africa – or MENA region. Even a narrow definition of the region indicates, however, that its core consists of at least 18 nations. The United States Census Bureau estimates that this core region will have some 424 million people in mid-2019 – and this is a population divided by nation, language, sect, ethnicity, and tribe It also covers a vast area. It also covers a vast area. The MENA region is over 6,000 kilometers from Casablanca in Morocco to Mashad in Iran, and over 3,000 kilometers from Aleppo in Northern Syria to Aden in Southern Yemen.

Each nation has its own history, character, and national security needs. The fact that all generally refer to themselves as “Arab” does not mean that most do not have serious internal tensions, and that there are no divisions between them and their neighbors that impose serious limits on strategic partnerships between particular countries.

The USCENTCOM web page does an excellent job of laying out the resulting challenges this mixture of diversity and distance pose in creating strategic partnerships: The region is among the least secure and stable places of the world. Adversarial relationships among neighboring states, widespread ethnic and sectarian struggles, malign influence and destabilizing activities, cyber-based threats, and growing arsenals of sophisticated conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction all combine to imperil enduring U.S. vital national interests, as well as those of our trusted partners and allies. Multiple ethnic groups, speaking different languages with hundreds of dialects and confessing multiple religions which transect national borders. Demographics that create opportunities for tension and rivalry . Geography consists of the intersection of three continents and globally vital commercial sea lanes, flight corridors, pipelines and overland routes. Nations which stretch from North Africa across the Middle East have forms of governance ranging across the political spectrum, including emerging democracies, hereditary monarchies, autocracies, and Islamist theocratic regimes. Our task at this conference is not to develop plans for partnerships that ignore these realities. It is rather to find – and begin to implement – the best set of practical strategic partnerships within the region that we can. To do so, we must recognize both what we have in common and our differences. We will need to communicate frankly and honestly, and to respect each other’s different perspectives and national sovereignty.

Focusing on What Can Really Be Done

We have already seen too many past efforts that declare over-ambitious goals. The most recent example is the Riyadh Declaration of May 2017. This Declaration calls for a Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), and it sets goals that go well beyond those set for NATO by seeking to link improved military security to improved political and economic security.

The Declaration calls for an MESA alliance that would help build “peace and security in the region and the world.” It seeks to include every GCC state—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE—and Egypt, Jordan, and the United States. And, it sets five major goals: Create a close partnership between the leaders of Arab and Islamic countries and the US leader to confront extremism, terrorism, achieving peace, stability and development, on regional as well as international stages Promote coexistence and constructive tolerance between different countries, religions and cultures Confront the sectarian agendas and interference in other countries affairs Countering piracy and protecting navigation Create follow-up mechanisms These are broad goals that every state attending this conference does share to some degree. At the same time, these goals are so broad that they fail to acknowledge that each nation has its own needs, perspectives, and resources. They do not focus on the impact of the political upheavals that have occurred since 2011, the need to deal with the aftermath of the defeat of the ISIS caliphate, and the impact of the civil conflicts in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. They do not focus on problems like the flow of refugees outside of Syria, the challenges Egypt faces in Gaza, migration across North Africa, or the tensions between Morocco and Algeria. They talk about a “close partnership between the leaders of Arab and Islamic countries,” but they do not address the problems and issues that exist within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), or between and within Islamic nations outside the MENA region.

They do not set tangible military goals or priorities for cooperation and partnership. They do not address the radical differences in the military forces of the states within the MENA region or between them and the forces of the United States. They do not set any goals for force development. They do not explicitly address the need to fight extremism and terrorism. They also do not address the new hybrid political and military warfare threats posed by nations like Iran, and by non-state actors and popular militias. Moreover, they do not highlight goals and priorities for dealing with the ongoing major changes in the character of modern military forces, and the ways in which they can be used for political and asymmetric warfare. These are the national security challenges that every nation here has to address both today and indefinitely into the future. They are all challenges that already require each nation to adapt both its national military and security structures, its intelligence structures and operational mission needs, and its goals for strategic partnerships. Making Alliances and Strategic Partnerships Real

If we are to addressing these real world challenges, we need to recognize that the rhetoric of regional security cooperation has always been easier to create than the reality. Historically, the more ambitious the goal has been in creating alliances, the wider the gaps have been between that rhetoric and the reality – particularly when there has not been a clear unifying threat or warfighting need that binds potential allies together.

This has been true of far too many past efforts in the MENA region – almost regardless of whether they were attempts at binding Arab states together, or broader partnerships that involved outside powers as well. The Baghdad Pact is an early example of such “over reach,” but so are a long series of efforts to unite the Arab world by the Arab League and to unite the various members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

We must honestly address the fact that the divisions between countries in the MENA region have grown in recent years. Its divisions have been reinforced by the upheavals that began in 2011, and the major civil conflicts in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen that have followed. So have the other tensions that have divided both individual states and the Arab World. For example, the deep fault lines in the Gulf Coordination Council (GCC) became all too clear when the boycott of Qatar began in June 2017 – less than a month after the Riyadh Declaration.

Focusing on the Core Needs that Create Effective Alliances and Partnerships

Historically, strategic partnerships work best when there is a common perception of a common threat – and/or when the threat or reality of having to meet an actual threat or conflict unites a diverse group of nations. Alliances and strategic partnerships work when they show they can actually make a real difference in enhancing internal and regional security, in preventing or limiting crises, deterring or limiting war, and in winning or terminating actual conflicts.

NATO is often cited as the leading example of such a strategic partnership, and it remains a major success in adapting to both the breakup of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, and in reacting to the rise of new Russian challenges. NATO too, however, has always had its limits, and they are ones that provide important lessons for shaping functional strategic partnership in the MENA region.

As someone who spent four years in the NATO International Staff during the most challenging years of the Cold War – and who lived with the gaps between what NATO Ministers said and NATO military planners could actually accomplish – I find the nostalgia that some now show for NATO’s past to be curiously decoupled from the reality that actually existed.

NATO had its greatest successes when the alliance had the strongest level of common interests, and 16 nations faced an overtly hostile Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact between 1949 and 1990. Even then, however, NATO made limited progress in developing common tactics and interoperability, and faced major problems in standardization and force planning.

NATO only achieved limited success in trying to create an integrated air defense ground environment, and setting common priorities for nuclear and conventional forces. Somewhat ironically from intelligence viewpoint, an alliance formed in 1949 only made its first real attempt to directly compare NATO and Warsaw Pact forces in the mid-1960s. It did not attempt to comparatively model NATO and Warsaw Pact computer wargames until the late 1960s.

Building on Proven Arab and U.S. Experience

Here, the successes that the U.S. and its Arab partners have had in actual combat provide both an interesting comparison with NATO – and a reassuring indication that strategic partnerships can work even when they face similar limitations and divisions.

The strategic partnership that liberated Kuwait – and won the first Gulf War – is an example of a functional alliance that achieved major gains in actual warfare. Kuwait was liberated under joint Arab and American leadership – and where the United States and a wide range of Arab states fought together as partners. At the same time, it is important to note that this alliance succeeded even though some elements of the Arab world had divided taking sides in both the Iran-Iraq War, and in reacting to Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait.

It is equally important to note, that much of the unity that existed in 1990-1991 weakened over time because of the divisions within the Arab world, Moreover, the United States went on to make serious mistakes like ignoring the warnings it received from many of its Arab partners about the problems it would face in the aftermath of its invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Yet, the fight against Daesh – and its attempt to form a state or – has again shown that Arab and U.S. strategic partnerships can work. No one achieved some ideal form of unity in this fight, but a wide range of security partners played a constructive role in ending Daesh’s false claims to have established a “caliphate.”

The broader common threat posed by extremism and terrorism throughout the entire MENA region has done much to unite us, even though we still have different national approaches to internal security, the rule of law, and the definition of terrorist. There is still much to be done, but we have come a long way since the early 2000s. It is also clear that there is still much we can do together that serves each of our individual national interests.

Moreover, ever since 1980, the U.S. and a number of its European partners have cooperated with a range of Arab partners in building up forces and conducting exercises that act as a major deterrent to Iran, and done so even though some countries had tense or fractured relations with each other. The U.S. could only fight its “tanker war” against Iran in 1987-1988 because of the support from its Arab Gulf security partners. It has since worked closely with Arab states, and relied on naval and air bases in the Arab Gulf, to deter potential threats from Iran, as well as to fight extremist and terrorist movements.

Looking at CENTCOM goals

So, how should we proceed to build on our successes and avoid past failures? Here, it is worth noting that the USCENTCOM command narrative sets priorities for strategic partnerships that do not disagree with those in the Riyadh Declaration, but are better defined and more realistic in military and security terms.

Moreover, they are priorities that not only suit the new National Security Strategy the U.S. issued in early 2018, but that that every Arab security partner here can broadly agree with. They set clear goals for improving our military and intelligence efforts:

We envision a more stable and prosperous region with increasingly effective governance, improved security, and trans-regional cooperation to counter state and non-state actors posing a threat to U.S. interests. To this end – our USCENTCOM mission is to direct and enable military operations and activities with allies and partners to increase regional security and stability in support of enduring U.S. interests.

…Our strategic approach is focused on protecting our national interests and those of our partners. It is designed to reflect our values, align our behaviors, and support the National Military Strategy. It is proactive in nature and endeavors to set in motion tangible actions in a purposeful, consistent and continuous manner. Each aspect of our approach – Prepare – Pursue – Prevail – enables the next and collectively contributes to the successful achievement of our goals, objectives and our overall mission. Prepare the Environment: Readiness in Advance of Crisis Pursue Opportunities: Seize the Initiative Prevail in Conflict: Win the Current Fight and Plan to Win the Next One Ensure an Effective Posture Strengthen Allies and Partnerships …A coalition approach – at home and abroad – expands our ability to operate on multiple fronts. Strong relationships based upon shared values serve to create greater cohesion and enhance the effectiveness of available resources and capabilities. Integration with partners, within the region and beyond, enhances the benefit of our presence, mitigates resource constraints, and expands the reach of the force. By building the capacity of regional partner nations, we enable them to assume a larger share of the responsibility for securing their sovereign spaces. Deter and Counter State Aggressors Disrupt and Counter Violent Extremist Organizations and their Networks. Setting Four Tangible and Achievable Goals for Strategic Partnerships If one focuses on these more modest steps, on the resulting military and national security priorities, and on the ways in which the U.S. can strengthen strategic partnerships that meet national needs as well as MENA-wide needs, there are four key areas where further progress is possible and necessary. They include Creating an effective and ongoing Partnership dialogue. Finding better ways to meeting the extremist and terrorist threat. Dealing with Changing Military Threats, and Cooperating in dealing with Changing Military Requirements Goal One: Creating an Effective and Ongoing Partnership Dialogue.
  First, dialogue is the key to forging and maintaining effective security partnerships. One critical step in our improving our strategic partnerships – and one that we can begin to take at this meeting – is for our Arab strategic partners to be as frank as possible in stating their needs, and pointing out the gaps in our efforts and our mistakes. It is also to recognize that every partner should be listened to and deserves the same degree of respect. The U.S. may be a superpower, but this scarcely frees it of the need to listen to its strategic partners and listen to them as equals who know their own region better than we can. More than a century ago, Lawrence of Arabia made this point in the very different context of World War I and the collapse of the Turkish empire. He told his British colleagues: “Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them. Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is.” It is more than a century since Lawrence wrote these words in a somewhat patronizing form. The Colonial era has vanished in the winds of time. America’s Arab strategic partners consist of mature and sovereign states. Each Arab nation now brings its own experts and ideas to the effort to forge better strategic partnerships. Moreover, each Arab Nation has officers and experts who know their own nation and region better than Americans can ever do. We in the U.S. have shown that we can bring help in critical areas of expertise, training, and technology, and can use our deployed and rapid deployment forces to make our own major military contributions to our collective security. There are very real advantages to being bigger, to having more money, and having fought more wars. At the same time, recent history has made it all too clear that we in the U.S. have needed to listen to you in the MENA region ever since we reemerged as a world power in World War II. We did listen in fighting the First Gulf War, and it is now clear that we should have listened far more closely in 2003 and in dealing with the turmoil that began in 2011. It is equally clear that we need to listen when you tell us that the need for partnership and U.S. support will continue long after the break-up of the Daesh pseudo-state in Iraq and Syria. We need to hear frank criticism and advice, and we need your help and guidance if we are to adapt to meet your individual national as well as to regional needs. In some cases, it will be as important for other Arab countries to listen to you as it will be for Americans. But,in every case, we need to hear your views, your criticisms, and your suggestions.

Goal Two: Finding Better Ways to Meet the Extremist and Terrorist Threat

Second, there is still a need for partnership in every aspect of deterrence and defense. We do face changing potential conventional threats from both regional states and outside powers, and the need to deter and defend against them. But, the most immediate threats we face consist of extremist and terrorist threats from both within and outside the MENA region, military and paramilitary threats from armed groups and non-state actors – many of which have outside support from hostile states or other non-state actors. We all need to face the reality the extremism, terrorism, civil conflict, and insurgency will be enduring threats. Dealing with these threats is not simply a matter of defeating existing extremist groups like Daesh and Al Qaida, or dealing with today’s non-state actors and militias. These threats are shaped by all of the major causes of civil instability that can lead to the rise of violent groups that threaten effective civil governance, the normal rule of law, and permit the limited use of internal security forces. It means having to react to the creation of new forms of such threats for at least another decade and probably two. Military and internal security forces can only be part of the solution. Each MENA country must find its own political and civil solutions to its own internal divisions and civil challenges. Each must do so in a region were the UN Arab Development Reports, the IMF, and World Bank all warn that economic development will be a major challenge. As was touched upon earlier, the total population of the MENA Region already is five times larger than it was in 1950 , and will be seven times larger by 2050. Every nation faces a critical challenge in terms of creating jobs and careers for a native population where well over 30% to 40% of this population is under the age of 24 years of age. It is a region where UN and Arab development reports indicate that youth unemployment is some 50% higher than in other regions of the world, and already is often at the crisis level. It is a region which not only faces major factional divisions by sect and ethnicity, but where World Bank, UN, IMF and other studies show there are major problems in governance and sometimes in corruption. It is a region with many traditional values, but one that has moved – or is moving – from dispersed rural societies in the 1950s to highly concentrated levels of hyperurbanization. It is a region which the most recent Arab Development Report – as well as ongoing work by the UN, IMF, and World Bank – shows will face by far the greatest challenges in meeting the needs and expectations of its youth over at least the next quarter century. Military and security forces cannot deal with the underlying secular causes of extremism and terrorism any more than they can deal with the religious and ideological ones. But, military forces can and must be able to protect civil society from organized violence, the rise of violent and insurgent groups like ISIS, and outside supplies of arms, “advisors,” and “volunteers.” This means that our security partnerships must continue to look beyond conventional military threats. They must find better ways to create the best intelligence to prevent or cope with the rise of new extremist and violent groups, and their constant adoption of new forms of attack – methods of attack that can range from new uses of the Internet and efforts to manipulate the media to the use of biological and chemical weapons. We must constantly adapt our partnerships, and learn from each other. We must find new ways to support internal security and police forces, to create more effective counterterrorism and counterinsurgency forces. In the process, we must find steadily better ways to ensure that military forces can target threats that ruthlessly use human shields, and the attack or sacrifice the innocent. But, we must also do so in ways that pose a minimum level of risk, damage, or constraint upon to the populations that it is our mission to protect. We have already made major progress in many these areas, but the challenges of 2001, the uprisings that began in 2011, and break-up of Daesh attempt to create of a state – and a false “caliphate” – are all too likely to be warnings of what is still to come. There are no reliable or broadly accepted statistics on the levels and of terrorism, but the START data base that the U.S. state Department uses in its annual Country of Reports on Terrorism is widely accepted as a key source. The START data base helps put both the role of terrorism in the MENA region, and the impact of Daesh in perspective. If one ignores state terrorism – like that of Iran and the Assad regime in Syria – and the violence cause by direct combat in counterinsurgency fights – the START database estimates that there were 68,391 terrorist incidents in the entire world between 2013 and 2017 – the peak years of Daesh influence and activity. It lists 27,430 acts on the MENA region, or 40.1% of the total. This is a high percentage but also a warning that the extremist and terrorist threat is global, and is not confined to any culture, religion, or region. Even when Daesh was at its strongest, it was only directly responsible for 5,624 incidents. This was only 20.5% of the total in the entire MENA region, and 8.2% of the incidents in the world. It shows that Daesh was an all too important threat. But, it also shows that even if breaking up the Daesh attempt at creating a state did not leave major affiliate groups and disperse groups of fighters, it scarcely meant the broad defeat of extremism and terrorism. Moreover, no defeat of part of Daesh addresses any of the causes of extremism and terrorism. Even if one ignores the ideological and religious challenges involved, the urgency of the need to create effective civil-military stability efforts is all too clear from what has happened in Algeria, Libya, Egypt and the Sinai, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, and Yemen. So is the fact that virtually every region-wide statistic on the potential civil causes of extremism and terrorism in the entire region has grown worse since the first Arab Development Report in 2002, and far worse since the political upheavals that began in 2011. Experts in the IMF, World Bank, and a variety of think tanks have already warned that it may well take a decade for Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen to both recover from their fighting and the loss of years of potential economic growth. These are cases where the destructive conflicts that have risen out of what has become an “Arab winter” must not be repeated in the future. Finding the best possible form of intelligence warning about the rise of new threats – and changes in the ways they attack and operate – are keys to achieving this goal. Doing so as early as possible, and countering them before they gather momentum and grow in size will be critical Finding and sharing ways to react quickly and decisively in dealing with emerging and adapting threats – and doing so with minimum impact on innocent civilians and civil governance – will be equally critical. Military intelligence – and intelligence cooperation – must constantly evolve into civil-military intelligence in ways that counter what is certain to be a continuing and adaptive mix of threats.

Cooperation in Dealing with Changing Military Threats

Third, no one at this conference can afford to ignore the major changes taking place in every aspect of military operations. These emerging changes in the more conventional forms of military threat differ sharply across the MENA region. They are clearest in the Gulf region where the threat of extremism and terrorism is matched by a major arms race with Iran.

This Iranian threat has four major elements, each of which can affect a wide range of different levels of hybrid political warfare and each of which can lead to many possible levels of actual combat: The uncertainties surrounding Iran’s nuclear weapons programs, chemical warfare programs, and potential biological warfare programs. The ongoing changes in Iran’s major ballistic and cruise missile programs – and intelligence and targeting assets like UAVs – that will give it a major precision strike capability using conventional high explosive warheads. These changes can replace weapons of mass destruction with strikes on key military and civil targets in ways that make them weapons of mass effectiveness. They are coupled to Iran’s acquisition of the Russian S-300 missile system – its first major modern land-based air defense system since the fall of the Shah – and a serious potential shift in the regional air balance. The steady expansion of an asymmetric mix of naval-missile-air forces that can challenge or attack petroleum exports, shipping traffic, and naval forces throughout the Gulf, in and outside the Strait of Hormuz, and increasingly in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. They include steadily more advanced anti-ship missiles, submarines, submersibles, missile attack craft, “suicide” boats, and smart mines Iran’s success in exploiting the divisions, fracture lines, and self-inflicted political wounds in the Arab world though the support, arming, and training of forces like the Hezbollah, Houthi, pro-Assad forces, some of the popular militias in Iraq, and Shi’ite extremist factions in Bahrain. These evolving Iranian threats are all illustrations of why we need new forms of military cooperation, not divisions within the Arab world or uncertainties in the level of U.S. effort, but they are only part of the story. Elsewhere in the MENA region, nations like Egypt and Jordan face military uncertainties because of the lack of progress in reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Migration across the Sahara, and divisions between Morocco and Algeria still affect the stability of North Africa. The war in Yemen presents serious challenges. And, the flow of millions of refugees from the fighting in Syria affects civil stability.

There is no clear way to predict how tensions may escalate into actual combat, but ways in which CENTCOM now defines the military goals and objectives of U.S. and Arab strategic partnerships – the need for the intelligence activities necessary to support them – will need to expand and adapt in the following ways:

The current USCENTCOM goals, which remain valid, include the following four steps: Prepare the Environment: Readiness in Advance of Crisis Deter and Counter State Aggressors Prevail in Conflict: Disrupt and Counter Violent Extremist Organizations and their Networks The new goals that need to be added include: Cooperate with – and assist – strategic partners and other members of the CENTCOM coalition Conduct advanced and more flexible forms of joint and coalition warfare. Deter or win all levels and types of conventional and hybrid warfare and politico-military asymmetric challenges from hostile states and non-state actors. Counter outside financial, political, arms transfers, and military assistance support of hostile regional states and non-state actors Manage and dominate the process of escalation and conflict termination. Protect the population, minimize civil casualties and collateral damage, and carry out civil-military operations. Provide ongoing and emergency support to maintain civil stability, and aid to civil governance, law enforcement, and paramilitary forces. Adapting to new forms of technological warfare like cyber warfare, advances in electronic warfare, and new forms of civil and military vulnerability to precision strikes. Provide emergency support and aid for civil crises, disasters. Meeting the challenge of ideological, sectarian, and ethnic polarization, violence and warfare, and the use of new tools like the Internet, social networking, and efforts to manipulate public opinion and the media. Successfully anticipate – and react to – technological, tactical, and hybrid warfare changes Cooperation in Dealing with Changing Military Requirements

Fourth, all of the preceding steps must deal with the fact that the tactical and technological nature of warfare – and every related area of military intelligence – is changing on a global and local level. Moreover, some of these changes avoid combat in the conventional sense. Some allow states and non-state actors to conduct hybrid warfare at a political level and achieving major strategic results without firing a shot.

Virtually every military expert and planner would describe these changes differently, or have a different list – but even a brief list of a few key changes makes the point that our strategic partnerships must attempt to anticipate, and then both exploit and counter such changes: Increased use of air mobility Precision/Deep strike – integrated air-missile forces Artificial intelligence Cyber operations-warfare; Electronics warfare Advances in ballistic and cruise missiles and air/missile defense Counter/pose threat to space-based systems Ideological/information operations/Internet, and strategic communication warfare Use, support of, non-state actors, arms transfer, train and assist. Political, asymmetric, hybrid operations/warfare Sectarian, ethnic, tribal, “factional” and “fault line” conflict. Increasing limits on civilian casualties and collateral damage; unilateral restrain versus use of civilians as shields/hostages. Increased role of civil-military operations. Support and protection of governance, rule of law, and internal security operations. Integration and speed of IS&R, C4I, and Battle Management Redefining “jointness” in terms of time, scale, options, and operations. Once again, such changes mean that strategic partnerships and intelligence cooperation cannot simply focus on current military priorities and needs. Partnerships must anticipate the new needs that changes in technology and in the character of war are going to impose in the future, and focus as much on deterring and limiting conflict as winning actual wars. They also must recognize that interoperability is the only practical answer. It would take at least a decade to standardize on major combat systems in virtually all partnerships, and there is no present chance of winning political support for such an effort.

Interoperability, however, is changing. These changes include the need to shift – with little or no advance notice – from secure national battle management, secure communications, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (IS&R) systems to integrated partnership systems for managing missile/air operations, missile and air defense, naval surveillance and operations, targeting and damage assessment, and other forms of complex joint warfare for both deterrence and defense. Warning times, reaction times, system complexity, operational time windows, and economy of force all dictate the need for full real time integration, and for joint operational exercises and testing, before a crisis or combat need arises.

Using Military Resources Wisely and Effectively

Ambitious as the previous lists may appear, the U.S. and many of its Arab strategic partners have already begun such many efforts. The key to success, however, is not simply to find ways to improve our strategic partnerships, but to find ways to use that partnership minimize the cost of military forces, free to resources to support other missions, and/or reduce the burden of military spending.

Here, the United States needs to careful review its policies towards burden sharing, and several Arab partners need to find ways to reduce their present burden. Virtually all of the nations in the MENA region face major problems in financing their civil development, and dealing with the other problems in ensuring national stability.

The International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) reports that most MENA countries spent over 4% of their GDP on military forces in 2018, even if one allows for the under reporting of such expenditures by many states. Algeria spent 5.3%, Iraq spent 7.5%, Jordan spent 3.9%, Kuwait spent 4.3%, Oman spent 11.0%, and Saudi Arabia spent 10.8%. The UAE did not report a number, but almost certainly spent 9% or more. To put these levels of effort in perspective, the goal for NATO countries is to spend 2% of their GDP by 2024. Moreover, the U.S. defense budget for FY2020 indicates that the US Department of Defense will only spend 3.1% of America’s GDP.

These figures show the potential importance of taking every possible step in strengthening U.S. and Arab strategic partnerships that can reduce the burden of military spending. Past history shows that efforts at standardizing equipment buys can be impractical because of national politics, and that trying to standardize readiness and investment rates often fails to meet differing national needs.

On the other hand, experience also shows that strategic partnerships do offer ways of reducing costs and improving military efficiency. Options that already have been tested at a limited level, worked in other strategic partnerships or are in development, include Common/standardized training Interoperability and common munitions and support. Centralized or common maintenance, repair, and modernization. Coordinated force and modernization plans. Integrated battle management; air, control, and warning; air defense; blue/red force tracking, maritime surveillance facilities Integrated and centralized intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (IS&R) facilities. Cooperation in both using and countering strategic communications and information warfare Standardized secure communications and data formats/transfers. Specialization and contingency plans to use different levels and types of national weapons mixes and capabilities in complementary ways. Creation of key rapid deployment contingency facilities and prepositioning. Integrated biometrics, human factor, facial recognition, and surveillance/intelligence systems. Common cyber defense and cyberwarfare systems and efforts. Turnkey systems that are normally securely national but that can integrate on contingency basis. Advanced/centralized common training and simulation facilities, ranges and exercise grounds. Once again, every expert has their own list of such options. These also are efforts where national sensitivities – and differences in threat characterization, security systems, procurement sources, and dependence on local allies – present problems. There often will be causes where some strategic partners find it easier to depend on allies than others.

At the same time, there often are “work arounds” that can overcome such sensitivities and the only way to know what options can really be implemented to examine them in detail. The key point is that far too much military planning focuses on getting “more” at higher cost.

Strategic partnerships can offer “better” at lower cost, and be critical in substituting partnership for more national forces. This is particularly true when partners can cooperate in terms of full operational interoperability by mission, rather than simply at a technological level. Put simply, human interoperability is often more important than equipment interoperability. This can only be achieved, however, by preparing in peacetime, by actually working together, and by conducting the kind of exercises and training that develop the ability to operate before a crisis or conflict occurs.

Moving Forward

I would hope that by the end of this meeting, we will have heard enough ideas to be able to make some important beginnings – particularly beginnings that reflect your needs and your advice. I also hope, however, that our dialogue will create basis for future meetings, ongoing working groups, create some kind of “blogs” or forums to advance our dialogues. One possible tool would also be to expand the role of our attaches to be centers of such efforts.

I would also stress that with so many different regional needs, we will not limit improvements in partnership to area of formal consensus or attempt some kind of master plan. We need to focus at least as much on improving partnership at a bilateral, subregional, or multilateral level. My own experience in NATO – and in working strategic partnerships over the years – has taught me that some of the most important progress in strategic partnership can be local and informal. To put it simply, it is better to build working friendships – and real relationships at the bilateral, multilateral, and subregional level – than seek unachievably broad goals and impossible levels of consensus. No one more rhetoric about alliances and partnership. We need the reality.

* This is the full written text of the speech and some portions have been updated and expanded to reflect the comments of those attending the meeting. Some PowerPoint slides used during the speech have been incorporated in the downloadalbe text. Others have been modified and expanded in the following figures to suit Word format.

Other Burke Chair Studies of Strategic Partnership options in the MENA region include: The Arab Gulf States and Iran: Military Spending, Modernization, and the Shifting Military Balance, December 12, 2018, Gulf Security: Looking Beyond the Gulf Cooperation Council; December 12, 2017;, and . The Real Challenges of Security Cooperation with Our Arab Partners for the Next Administration, November 16, 2016, Iran, Evolving Threats, and Strategic Partnerships in the Gulf, December 22, 2014, Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He has served as a consultant on Afghanistan to the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of State. ### The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is a bipartisan, nonprofit organization founded in 1962 and headquartered in Washington, D.C. It seeks to advance global security and prosperity by providing strategic insights and policy solutions to decisionmakers.

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Continue reading Shaping Effective Strategic Partnerships in the MENA Region By Anthony H. Cordesman

Reading Between the Lines: The Next Spratly Legal Dispute




In August 2018, the HMS Albion sailed through the Paracel Islands to assert freedom of navigation and challenge China’s claim to straight baselines around the island group. The United Kingdom’s challenge was the first operation by a non-U.S. vessel in the South China Sea that was analogous to the United States’ now well-publicized freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs). Three months later, the USS Chancellorsville undertook an identical challenge to Beijing’s baselines around the Paracels. Similar operations had been undertaken by the USS Decatur in October 2016 and the USS Chafee in October 2017. The public discussion of South China Sea FONOPs most often focuses on those that take place within 12 nautical miles of disputed features. Those operations are meant either to challenge China’s demand for prior notification for innocent passage through the territorial sea or to assert that there is no territorial sea around naturally submerged banks and reefs. But the steady pace of U.S. and now UK operations challenging China’s declared baselines around the Paracels warrants just as much attention, both because of the egregiousness of that claim and because of a fear that Beijing will soon declare similar baselines around the Spratlys.

Existing Baselines In 1996, China declared a series of straight baselines around the Paracel Islands from which its territorial sea should be measured. That not only extended Beijing’s territorial sea claim by asserting it should be measured from the grouping as a whole rather than from individual islands; more importantly, it declared all the space within the baselines China’s internal waters. As a result, Beijing insists that foreign vessels have no rights to transit through or fly over the waters between the Paracels, even if they are farther than 12 nautical miles from any individual island. This is the claim that the Albion and numerous U.S. FONOPs have challenged. The U.S. State Department issued a Limits in the Seas study shortly after that 1996 announcement, detailing its legal objections to the Paracels baselines. The Philippines and Vietnam objected as well. The United States argues that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) does not allow a coastal state like China to use straight baselines to connect the islands of an offshore archipelago. That right exists only for archipelagic states, such as the Philippines or Indonesia, whose landmass consists entirely of islands. China must therefore measure the territorial sea and any other maritime entitlements of the Paracels from each individual island, and cannot declare internal waters between them. The United States reiterated this position in a 2016 note verbale to China following Beijing’s response to the South China Sea arbitration award that year. The arbitral tribunal hearing Manila’s case against Beijing’s South China Sea claims considered the question of whether a coastal state like China might be able to enclose offshore archipelagos (in that case, the Spratlys) with baselines. It found that UNCLOS “excludes the possibility of employing straight baselines in other circumstances [than those expressly listed in the convention], in particular with respect to offshore archipelagos not meeting the criteria for archipelagic baselines.” But even setting that legal hurdle set aside, UNCLOS still establishes rules that must be followed in setting archipelagic baselines. The two simplest are that the baseline segments cannot, for the most part, be longer than 100 nautical miles, and that the ratio of water to land enclosed by the baselines cannot exceed 9 to 1. China’s baselines around the Paracels meet the first of these. But they far exceed the second limit. Even including all of the new land Beijing created by dredging and landfill in recent years, there is only about 9.11 square kilometers of land in the Paracels. The baselines, meanwhile, enclose some 17,290 square kilometers of water. That is a ratio of 1,898 to 1. In 2012, Beijing declared straight baselines around the East China Sea’s Senkaku Islands, called the Diaoyu Islands by China. In that case, two sets of baselines were used rather than one, likely to avoid enclosing an even more excessive ratio of water to land than occurred in the Paracels. The Senkakus total about 4.96 square kilometers of land. The combined baselines encompass roughly 153 square kilometers of water. This results in a sea to land ratio of 31:1; much better, but still more than four times the treaty limit.

Modeling Spratly Baselines China has made no secret of its intention to eventually declare straight baselines around the rest of its claimed features in the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands. The 1996 baselines declaration ended with, “The Government of the People’s Republic of China will announce the remaining baselines of the territorial sea of the People’s Republic of China at another time.” In its July 2016 White Paper rejecting the South China Sea arbitral ruling, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated that since 1958, its official policy has been to apply straight baselines to the “Dongsha Qundao [Pratas], Xisha Qundao [Paracels], Zhongsha Qundao [Scarborough Shoal and Macclesfield Bank], Nansha Qundao [Spratlys] and all the other islands belonging to China.” A small number of scholars, almost all from China, have attempted to build a legal case for Beijing to declare baselines around either all or part of the Spratlys. These arguments generally rest on the idea that such baselines should be considered neither straight nor archipelagic baselines governed by the rules of UNCLOS, but rather a sui generis case applicable only to the offshore archipelagos of coastal states. That reasoning is generally dismissed in legal circles outside of China, most comprehensively by J. Ashley Roach. But that has not changed Beijing’s official position on the matter. The exact nature of baselines in the Spratlys would depend on how brazenly Chinese authorities were willing to flout international law. But the writings of Chinese academics and previous practice in the Paracels and Senkakus suggest four general models. First, Beijing could decide to ignore all the precepts of UNCLOS and enclose every feature it considers part of the Nansha Qundao within baselines. This would include not only the Spratly Islands, but the entirely underwater Luconia Shoals and James Shoal off Malaysia, as well as Vanguard Bank and other submerged features on the continental shelf of Vietnam. Beijing has consistently ignored the reality that these reefs and banks are underwater, insisting that they are part of the collective whole of the Nansha Qundao. By the same logic, China maintains that the Zhongsha Qundao is a single island group and will one day be enclosed by baselines, despite Macclesfield Bank and the rest of the group except for Scarborough Shoal being underwater. Pursuing this model might enclose about 230,769 square kilometers of ocean within baselines. In contrast, there is only about 17.3 square kilometers of land in the Spratlys by the most generous method of counting (the roughly 4 square kilometers that existed naturally, plus the 13.3 square kilometers created artificially by all parties). That results in a water to land ratio of 13,339:1.

Another possibility is that China could seek to enclose all of the Nansha Qundao but avoid any baseline segments of more than 100 nautical miles. That would still disregard the status of features as high-tide or submerged but would otherwise be consistent with previous practice in the Paracels and Senkakus. The result might enclose about 208,259 square kilometers of ocean for a water to land ratio of 12,038:1.

The first two models would disregard virtually all the rules for establishing straight and archipelagic baselines under UNCLOS. In either case, the treaty requires basepoints to be drawn only to high-tide islands, or low-tide elevations that sit within 12 nautical miles of the coast or another island. A third, marginally more defensible, option would be for China to observe this rule, drawing baselines only around above-water features and nearby low-tide elevations. This would enclose about 122,345 square kilometers of ocean, giving a water to land ratio of 6,494:1.

Each of the first three options would amount to Beijing thumbing its nose at the international community and attempting to seal off an enormous section of the South China Sea as internal waters. A less escalatory option, though one that would still be inconsistent with UNCLOS, would be to enclose only closely-grouped high-tide features within baselines. China might argue, for instance, that groups of islets and low-tide elevations which sit on a single contiguous reef or bank should be treated as a collective whole. The six most likely candidates for this treatment would be the features atop Union Banks, Tizard Bank, Loita Bank, Thitu Reefs (including nearby Subi Reef, which is within 12 nautical miles), North Danger Reef, and London Reefs. In this scenario, China would presumably continue to claim territorial seas and other entitlements from the rest of the high-tide features (as well as Mischief Reef, which it has raised artificially) but would not incorporate them within baselines. The water to land ratios within these hypothetical baselines could vary from 1,838 to 1 for Loaita Bank (with 146.92 square kilometers of ocean to just 0.08 square kilometers of land) to 28 to 1 for Thitu/Subi Reefs (with 142.79 square kilometers of ocean to 5.21 square kilometers of land). Overall these six groups of baselines would enclose 1,923.41 square kilometers of water and 6.99 square kilometers of land for a ratio of 275 to 1.

One motivation for Beijing to declare baselines around some or all of the Spratlys is to strengthen its claim to an exclusive economic zone and continental shelf from the features. Despite the findings of the arbitral tribunal in 2016, the Chinese government and commentators maintain that the Spratlys are collectively capable of sustaining human habitation or independent economic life, and therefore generate full maritime entitlements. It only makes sense, then, that Beijing would seek to measure those entitlements from a set of baselines drawn around the group. Under any scenario, such a claim to entitlements would cover nearly all of the South China Sea, perhaps even exceeding the limits of the nine-dash line.

In any form, a baselines declaration in the Spratlys would escalate tensions in the region. Claimants like the Philippines and Vietnam would find disputed seas, including those immediately around some of their outposts, suddenly labeled China’s internal waters closed to foreign planes and ships. The United States and other outside parties would also be sure to undertake operations to signal their nonrecognition of those internal waters. And both commercial shipping and airline companies would face the possibility of China attempting to close previous routes through and above these baselines. Recent Analysis
  Ambiguity and Changing Times Compel Review of the Philippine-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty by Lucio Blanco Pitlo III

How China Can Resolve the FONOP Deadlock in the South China Sea by Liu Xiaobo

China’s Economic Cabbage Strategy by Richard Javad Heydarian

Outstanding Issues in the Philippines-U.S. Alliance by Aaron Rabena

Continue reading Reading Between the Lines: The Next Spratly Legal Dispute

Five Risks to Watch in 2019: Q2 Update By Samuel Brannen

1. Yes, we have no certainty. I warned in a 2019 year-ahead look at risks that uncertainty would rule. Let me double down on that bet. Mueller Investigation: Recent weeks have included the indictment of Roger Stone, the conviction of Paul Manafort, and the jarring testimony of Michael Cohen. The overall stats of the investigation are mind-boggling: 199 criminal charges, 37 indictments or guilty pleas, and 5 prison sentences. House Democrats are conflicted about impeachment as they intensify their own series of investigations. Multiple additional criminal and civil actions are unfolding in courts from Washington to Manhattan. But this has yet to move markets or fundamentally alter the U.S. political landscape, and it remains pure speculation whether anything definitive hits before 2020. Federal Budget: The year started with the fiscal uncertainty of the longest U.S. government shutdown in history. The outlook for the FY2020 budget is even worse, with President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration to fund southern border security and ongoing maneuvering to reprogram already appropriated Pentagon dollars intensifying the battle across party lines. U.S.-China Trade: The U.S.-China non-deal on trade is caught between a largely uncompromising Chinese position and a shifting U.S. one. Beijing and Washington appear to have each changed their minds at least once on the importance of concluding an agreement and on the wisdom of getting Presidents Trump and Xi Jinping into the room without a final deal agreed. The worst possible outcome is a non-deal that markets do not sufficiently anticipate and price in, which could send both U.S. and Chinese stocks reeling (to date, U.S. markets have shrugged off the delays and overall course of negotiations). North Korea: The zero-outcome Hanoi summit has pushed Pyongyang back to its old tricks of provocation. While it likely redoubles global criminal activities from illegal fishing to bitcoin theft and ransomware to keep itself solvent, it’s also dusting off its rocket testing program. North Korea made clear at the summit that it is eager for sanctions relief, but it isn’t willing to give enough to get that. A worsening situation would be a real problem for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has tied himself to the process and is due for reelection next year with a faltering economy in tow. Brexit: Let’s call it Zombie Brexit, or maybe go with the slogan, “The sun never sets on Brexit.” Theresa May remains in her job, principally because no one else would dare take it. And while Britain is united in hating her proposals, no one else has a clue how to proceed. A highly frustrated Brussels will keep this albatross around its neck for the foreseeable future as it also deals with rising populism across the European Union and increasingly tense transatlantic ties (more on that below). Emerging markets: Recession has finally hit in Turkey, a market that had proven surprisingly resilient despite rising sovereign risks, debt, and inflation over the past several years. If Argentina was the first emerging market shoe to drop last year, Turkey might be another canary in the coal mine warning of tough times ahead. Energy markets: Oil markets could tighten dramatically in May as Iran sanctions waivers expire and U.S. secondary sanctions on Venezuela’s cratering oil sector tighten. The Saudis feel burned by the price outcome the last time the United States leaned on them to increase production ahead of Iran sanctions late last year, so don’t expect relief should the United States decide to tighten things up. More on the outlook from my CSIS Energy Program colleagues. 2. U.S. alliances are breaking. Allies increasingly doubt U.S. commitment today and in the future. Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis warned in his resignation letter to President Trump, “While the U.S. remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies.”

Having served as a shock absorber for the first two years of the Trump administration, Secretary Mattis knew just how thin U.S. policy was wearing with U.S. allies. Since his departure, what was happening behind closed doors is out in the open.

In recent months, the Philippines demanded a U.S. affirmation of commitment to defend its territory in the South China Sea under the terms of the bilateral 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). Setting a slippery-slope precedent, U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo recently publicly reaffirmed U.S. commitment, hoping to forestall a threatened review by some in the Philippines government of the MDT. Under the chaotic Duterte presidency, the Philippines is merely the most vocal of U.S. allies, but it’s hardly the only one in the Indo-Pacific asking these questions of U.S. resolve to honor mutual defense commitments—and wondering whether they want to get drawn into commitments of their own as tensions rise between the United States and China. As the United States walks away from multilateralism in the region in favor of a bilateral approach, concern is waxing, and willingness to cooperate is waning.

In Europe, NATO allies are reeling from the way U.S. withdrawal from Syria was announced. By all reports, the decision was made on the fly by President Trump following a late December phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during which President Trump said about Syria, “[I]t’s all yours. We are done.” Since that time, others in the administration—and particularly the Pentagon—have walked the president back to a 1,000-strong enduring U.S. force presence in Syria. But Europeans remain furious over the lack of consultation, which the president repeated regarding U.S. enduring troop presence in Afghanistan, where NATO allies have spent blood and treasure over the past 18 years.

No surprise then that not a single NATO ally committed forces several weeks ago when the United States pivoted back to U.S. allies to request troop commitments for Syria, even going so far as to impose a deadline on demand. That resounding silence is the first total brushoff from NATO allies in recent memory. Even at the height of the furor over the Iraq War under the George W. Bush administration, there was commitment of forces from NATO allies. Europeans are similarly breaking ranks on U.S. calls to keep Chinese companies out of 5G networks, and they’re broadly going their own way on China policy due to lack of U.S. consultation on trade talks among other issues.

Tensions between the United States and its allies could become much, much worse in coming months if the Trump administration moves forward with the president’s reported focus on a “cost plus 50” arrangement to U.S. bases abroad. Allies also remain concerned about the next lurch in U.S. trade policy, including possible auto tariffs.

And the problem is unlikely to go away under a new administration. There is a growing sense among U.S. allies that U.S. retrenchment and unilateralism under the Trump administration may not be outliers in U.S. policy but a trendline they must account for in future planning. Many in Europe still have a bitter taste from the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq War, and deep disappointment in U.S. response to the Syrian Civil War and resulting refugee crisis. Frontrunning 2020 Democratic candidates have been notably quiet on the importance of alliances as well. And public views of the United States from allies certainly make it politically convenient for leaders to step back from working closely with the United States, including a recent Pew Research poll that finds U.S. favorability ratings at historic lows, and another Gallup poll in which China now eclipses the United States in global approval and Russia equals it.

3. Pressure to fragment global supply chains is intensifying. Growing regulation and scrutiny by the U.S. government of technology trade with China has rightly raised for businesses the question of whether they should restructure global supply chains to bifurcate U.S.-bound and U.S.-sourced inputs and products from China-bound and China-sourced inputs and products. This challenge is also being felt in the digital domain as China builds out its own global approach to digital products and services under its Digital Silk Road initiative, an offshoot of the $1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative. U.S. digital services companies have for years been forced to navigate China’s censorship and data localization requirements; now Chinese information and communication technology (ICT) and digital companies are falling under U.S. national security scrutiny, with the United States taking a strong stance with its allies not to integrate Chinese commercial technology into their next generation 5G telecommunications networks or face potential reductions in U.S. intelligence cooperation.

Congress is closely watching ongoing trade talks to decide whether it needs to step in to address the structural issues threatening U.S. future prosperity and security. Last year, Congress passed the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act and Export Control and Reform Act. Chinese companies have broadly accepted a presumption of denial in a range of potential U.S. investments and acquisitions, and U.S. companies in turn are losing appetite for new investments into China with so many uncertainties about the future contours of the relationship.

Another wildcard is Europe’s parallel movement on scrutiny of Chinese tech transfer, alongside its increasingly protectionist posture toward its own technology base. As mentioned under the last risk item, Europe and the United States are pursuing these similar ends quite independently. And when taking into account the additional layer of data privacy standards, where Europe has been particularly aggressive in protecting its citizens at the expense of U.S. high tech companies, it’s not difficult to envision a trifurcated world. Related, Japan is in talks with the European Union about creating a shared data governance standard it hopes to involve the United States and others to set norms in sharp contrast with the direction China is taking the internet.

The hook is this: we’re talking about completely unraveling the global economy. It’s wishful thinking that the United States and China can file for a neat divorce. Supply chains are deeply intertangled. There’s a reason Tim Cook has spent so much time at the White House, and that Xi Jinping has met more with U.S. business leaders than U.S. officials over the past two years. A move from market to state-directed supply chain planning and operations would likely place a significant drag across a range of sectors and industries reflected in immediate economic slowdown and consumer price increases beyond tariffs to date.

4. Alternatives to capitalism are trending. In case you hadn’t noticed, socialism is no longer a cringeworthy word—and it’s not just the Bernie 2020 campaign and the arrival of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez driving this change. To an increasing number of Americans who never lived through the Cold War, socialism doesn’t invoke life behind the Iron Curtain, but rather an idyllic life of center-left Nordic governments with zero student loan debt, generous parental leave, and free health care.

The progressive arm of the Democratic Party, which took off after the 2016 election and claimed serious ground in the 2018 midterms, is happy to look beyond free-market capitalism for cures to perceived social ills. Its ideas have already taken the party by storm. A two-pronged litmus test has emerged for all 2020 Democratic hopefuls: endorsement of single-payer healthcare and the New Green Deal.

This hasn’t gone unnoticed by Republicans, including President Trump’s rejoinder in his State of the Union address, “Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.” But polling data suggests that Republicans are likely on the losing end of a trendline dating back at least to 2010. Their own experience with the failed repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the continued state expansion of Medicaid should be instructive in reading the mood of the country when it comes to interest in government playing a substantially different role in the broader U.S. economy.

Gallup polling from last year revealed that 47 percent of Democrats have a positive view of capitalism compared with 57 percent that holds a positive view of socialism. The trend also holds for all voters ages 18-29, with only 45 percent with a positive view of capitalism and 51 percent with a positive view of socialism.

President Trump redirected U.S. concerns about fairness in wealth inequality and perceived global winners and losers on the issue of trade in the last election. This election, we can expect Democrats to push the idea that it’s far less about trade and more about the underlying “winner-take-all” approach to the free market. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s campaign promises to put the focus back on U.S. corporations, and in particular large tech companies. She doesn’t accuse them of outsourcing jobs, but of rigging the overall system so that it isn’t competitive or fair for new entrants or workers. There is similar furor with drug companies and health costs—something the Trump administration has only dabbled in, leaving it vulnerable to Democratic attacks in the lead-up to 2020. There’s also a growing interest among Democrats across all wings of the party in the idea of massive government stimulus: a return to a mixed economy and limited industrial policy focused on growing a new American middle class. Signature initiatives under discussion include infrastructure investment, a rapid move from hydrocarbons to renewable energy (“green collar jobs”), and broad job retraining and upskilling to get ahead of an anticipated automation onslaught.

5. Designer babies are here. It is no exaggeration to say that humans now hold the potential to control their own evolution. CRISPR—an acronym for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats”—is essentially a cut-and-paste function for DNA editing in organisms from the most basic bacteria to humans. While the technology has been in use for only five years, it has already transformed biosciences, with remarkable possibilities and frightening potentials.

In November 2018, MIT Technology Review broke headline news: “EXCLUSIVE: Chinese scientists are creating CRISPR babies.” He Jiankui and his team at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen announced that, contrary to an agreed-upon worldwide ban on the practice by the scientific community, he and his research team had genetically altered a viable human embryo resulting in the live birth of twins: Lulu and Nana. His research purpose, he assured the world, was noble: create a human resistant to HIV, smallpox, and cholera.

A global furor followed the announcement. Shockingly, the changes made to the DNA of the babies were germline edited, meaning heritable to any children the twins may have in the future. The Chinese government reacted to the furor by denying involvement in the undertaking, placing He under apparent house arrest, blaming him alone for the event, and even threatening the death penalty. Further investigation suggests that elements of the Chinese government might have been behind the research, raising questions about what else might be ongoing in China and elsewhere.

In recent days, leading global scientific researchers have called for a global moratorium on human testing of genome editing until an agreed international framework can be put into place. But even the co-discoverers of the technology are split, with some arguing that such restriction would fail to constrain the worst practices while denying the benefits of the technology. Existing regulations are nation-by-nation and fuzzy in what they permit. They can be very difficult to enforce considering the ease and availability of CRISPR technology. CRISPR is so easy to use that there is even an online enthusiast community of “do-it-yourself” biohackers who have edited their own DNA, inspiring the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to issue a warning about the safety of such activities. More alarming yet: biosecurity researchers have also flagged the dual-use potential for the technology to increase new classes of bioweapons.

Sam Brannen leads the Risk and Foresight Group and is a senior fellow in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

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