Yemen: Carnage or Strategy? What is the War Really About?

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 9, No. 3, March 2021

By William R. Hawkins

Map of Yemen’s insurgency, according to published reports. Pink: Controlled by Hadi-led government. Green: Controlled by Revolutionary Committee. Tan: Controlled by Southern Transitional Council. White: Controlled by Ansar al-Sharia/AQAP forces. Grey: Controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Blue: Controlled by local, non-aligned forces like the Hadhramaut Tribal Alliance. Salmon: Controlled by forces loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh. Source: Ali Zifan.

Every new President is challenged by foreign adversaries early in their term to test how U.S. policy may change with a new administration. Iran did not wait long to send its proxies into combat against American forces and allies. In Iraq, Shiite militia groups launched rockets attacks which wounded several Americans. On February 26, President Joe Biden sent air strikes against several related militia targets in Syria in retaliation. This seemed a continuation of President Donald Trump’s policy of muscular deterrence inaugurated by the drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, while he was meeting with Iraqi militia leaders on January 3, 2020. President Biden sent a further message of deterrence to Tehran with a show of force by two B-52 strategic bombers escorted by Israeli fighters. The connection was important because an Israeli ship docked in Dubai was bombed by terrorists suspected of working for Iran on February 25.  

In Yemen, Iran’s proxy Houthi rebels have stepped up attacks by drones and ballistic missiles against Saudi Arabia, targeting both population centers and oil industry targets. Every few days, another barrage is launched. On March 7, Houthi Brigadier Yahya Sareea claimed the group had fired 14 drones and eight missiles at Ras Tanura, one of the world’s biggest oil ports, and other targets near their border. In retaliation, the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi renewed their air campaign in Yemen with strikes at the rebel-held capital of Sana’a and other key targets. The coalition had pulled back on their air strikes due to pressure from the U.S., but restraint by Riyad and Washington has only encouraged the rebels. Continue reading

NATO and Beyond: President Trump Revitalized Our Alliances

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 9, No. 1, January 2021

By William R. Hawkins

US President Donald Trump, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi attend a meeting during the G20 Osaka Summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019. (Photo by Carl Court / POOL / AFP via Getty Images)

The new NATO 2030: United for a New Era report shows how President Donald Trump has reinvigorated the West’s central international security alliance. It proclaims, “the main characteristic of the current security environment is the re-emergence of geopolitical competition – that is, the profusion and escalation of state-based rivalries and disputes over territory, resources, and values.” This reflects the 2018 National Defense Strategy issued by the U.S. Department of Defense which saw America “emerging from a period of strategic atrophy” into a world of “increased global disorder” where Great Power competition with Russia and China is the major challenge facing the country. By looking at the world as it is, President Trump sent a gale of fresh air into a becalmed foreign policy establishment on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond.

The first three “main findings” of the NATO document deal with the “changes to the geostrategic environment (including both Russia and China)” which have occurred since its 2010 Strategic Concept. Though the report paid lip service to “the dual-track approach of deterrence and dialogue with Russia” to placate those member states (like Germany) who shy away from confrontation, the report’s message is strong. “The Alliance must respond to Russian threats and hostile actions in a politically united, determined, and coherent way, without a return to ‘business as usual’” says its second findings, advising “NATO should evolve the content of its dual-track strategy to ensure its continued effectiveness by raising the costs for Russian aggression.” Continue reading

China Celebrates The Anniversary Of Its “Victory” In The Korean War

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 11, November 2020

By William R. Hawkins

Korean War. Units of the Korean People’s Army and the Chinese People’s Volunteers celebrating their joint defeat of an attack by US forces. 1953. (Photo by: Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

On October 23, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a speech at a major gathering in Beijing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Chinese People’s Volunteers (CPV) entering the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in 1950. He claimed the purpose of military intervention was to help North Korea resist U.S. aggression. The speech is representative of the kind of propaganda Beijing creates to send messages to audiences both at home and abroad at a time of rising tensions across the Indo-Pacific.

Xi’s speech is not the only event staged to celebrate China’s role in the Korean War. Wang Huning, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, delivered a speech at the opening ceremony of a new exhibit dedicated to the war on October 19. According to state media, Wang’s history ran as follows. On October 19, 1950, as requested by the DPRK, CPV forces crossed the Yalu River to aid the DPRK’s fight in the “War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea” (Beijing’s official name for the conflict). The war lasted until a truce was signed in 1953. A total of 2.9 million CPV soldiers entered the battlefield, and 197,653 died. New films and books are also being released pushing the theme that China was acting to defend Korea from an American invasion, motivated only by a desire to regain peace and stability. Continue reading

State of War, State of Mind: Reconsidering Mobilization in the Information Age

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 10, October 2020

By LCDR Robert “Jake” Bebber, USN

Recently, American policy-makers and national security thinkers have begun to recognize that revisionist powers in Communist China and Russia have no interest in preserving the current liberal order, and instead have embarked on a course to challenge and supplant the U.S. as the world’s superpower. However, the United States is not postured to mobilize for long-term strategic competition or war with great powers. American policymakers’ assumptions regarding war preparation, prosecution, and sustainment are not aligned to the emerging 21st Century landscape being dominated by three major trends: advances in understanding of neuroscience, emerging dual-use technologies, and new financial business models.  This report takes a holistic approach toward identifying how war mobilization in the 21st Century will look different from the industrial models of the mid-to-late 20th Century. Looking beyond the Defense Department, it explores economic, policy, social, technological and informational aspects of planning and preparation. It identifies why the intelligence and national security communities are not postured to detect or anticipate emerging disruptions and strategic latency. It puts forward strategies and recommendations on how to grow American power and create new sources of comparative advantage that can be rapidly converted into both kinetic and non-kinetic effects in all domains, not just the military domain.

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China’s Rise and the Weaponization of Soft and Hard Power: How the U.S., Japan, India and Australia are Responding

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 9, September 2020

By John Garrick (Charles Darwin University) and Yan Bennett (Princeton University)

Detail from mural of Xi Jinping and Donald Trump in Berlin, Germany in 2020. Source: Yan Bennett.

China has now fully weaponized its entire soft power repertoire and dramatically upgraded its military arsenal. The Middle Kingdom is no longer unwilling to openly challenge U.S. global hegemonic supremacy or coerce less powerful nations that do not accede to its will. The shocks caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have unmasked the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) ambition to be at the centre of global power, but at the same time, the CCP also faces uncertainty over China’s chances of achieving its 2017 strategic targets set by General Secretary Xi to ‘comprehensively build a moderately prosperous society’ by 2021.

Wary of what a world order under the CCP might entail, democratic countries including the United States, Japan, Australia and India have re-activated the informal Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (‘Quad’). The Quad involves informal summits, information exchanges and combined military drills known as the Malabar exercises. Including Australia in this year’s Malabar drills follows an upgrade in June 2020 in the security relationship between Australia and India to a ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’. Why ramp-up the QSD now and what are the potential risks and benefits to member nations? Continue reading