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Handbook 10-51
July 2010

Chapter 1

Global Environment and Challenges


Future Strategic Environment in an Era of Persistent Conflict   MAJ Paul S. Oh, U.S. Army

The Struggle Against Global Insurgency   Dr. Daniel G. Cox

Eliminating High Seas Piracy Legal and Policy Considerations   James P. Terry

China's New Security Strategy for Africa   Jonathan Holslog

Future Strategic Environment in an Era of Persistent Conflict

Major Paul S. Oh, U.S. Army

Reprinted with permission from the July-August 2009 issue of Military Review.

Framing the Future strategic environment in an era of persistent conflict is an immense challenge.1 Unlike during the Cold War era, the United States no longer has an overarching paradigm through which it can view the world. Nonstate actors and irregular warfare dominate America's attention as it continues to fight insurgencies while coping with terrorist threats like Al-Qaeda. Traditional threats persist in places like the Korean peninsula, while the rise of China presents the prospect of a future strategic competitor. Increasingly global forces in economics, the environment, and health have greater impact on citizens worldwide. The U.S. is not sure how to structure, fund, and oversee its national security apparatus to meet these future challenges. No overarching paradigm suffices, and the United States faces the prospect of racing from one crisis to the next.

Several institutions have conducted studies to help policymakers plan for national challenges beyond the next 20 years. Among the most recent are Mapping the Global Future by the National Intelligence Council; Joint Operating Environment by United States Joint Forces Command; Forging a World of Liberty under Law by the Princeton Project on National Security; The New Global Puzzle by the European Union Institute for Security Studies; and Global Strategic Trends Programme by the British Ministry of Defense Development, Concepts, and Doctrine Centre.

These studies suggest the trends that will characterize and shape the future strategic environment: globalization, demographics, and the rise of emerging powers, the environment and competition for resources, non-state actors and challenge to governance, and advances in technology. These trends will present complex, multidimensional challenges that may require careful use of the military along with other instruments of national power. To respond to this future strategic environment, the United States will most likely be involved in three types of missions: expeditionary warfare to manage violence and peace, defense of the command of the commons, and homeland defense. The land forces will spearhead expeditionary missions to "contested zones" to protect American interests abroad. 2 Sea, air, and space forces will counter threats to the American command of the commons-air, sea, space, and cyberspace-where the American military currently has dominance. The military will also support the interagency effort in homeland defense as technological advances weaken traditional natural barriers to attack on U.S. soil.

Future Trends of the Next 20 Years

Globalization will force future trends that present both optimistic and pessimistic likelihoods.

The good - In Mapping the Global Future, the National Intelligence Council calls globalization the overarching "mega-trend" that will shape all other trends of the future.3 Globalization is an amorphous concept, but here it is meant in its broadest definition-the increasingly rapid exchange of capital, goods, and services, as well as information, technology, ideas, people, and culture.4 Markets for goods, finance, services, and labor will continue to become more internationalized and interdependent, bringing immense benefits to the world as a whole.5 Globalization will continue to be the engine for greater economic growth. The world will be richer with many lifted out of poverty. It is unclear, however, whether a richer world where America has less relative economic power will be better for the United States in terms of its global influence.6

Studies before the recent economic shock had expected the global economy to be 80 percent larger in 2020 than in 2000, with average per capita income 50 percent higher.7 According to the European Union Institute for Security Studies, the world economy will grow at a sustained annual rate of 3.5 percent between 2006 and 2020.8 The United States, European Union, and Japan will likely continue to lead in many high-value markets, with the United States continuing to be the main driving force as the world's leading economic power. Emerging economies will continue to do well, with the Chinese and Indian gross domestic product tripling by 2025.9 The percentage of the world's population living in extreme poverty will likely continue to decline.10

The bad - The benefits of globalization will not be global. The harsh realities of competitive capitalism will produce definite winners and losers, and result in increased social and economic stratification both internationally and within countries.11 Internationally, these losers will concentrate in certain areas of the "arc of instability," a "swath of territory running from the Caribbean Basin through most of Africa, the Middle East, and Central and Southeast Asia."12 Here, the gap between countries who are benefiting economically, technologically, and socially and the countries that are left behind will continue to widen.13 And although absolute poverty will decline worldwide, this will not be the case for these regions. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the number of people living in absolute poverty-on less than one dollar a day-has increased from 160 million in 1981 to 303 million today.14 Poverty and aggravated income inequality will remain a monumental challenge in the next 20 years.

The Defense Development, Concepts, and Doctrine Centre notes, "Absolute poverty and the comparative disadvantage will fuel perceptions of injustice."15 The disparities will be evident to all because of globalized telecommunications. Populations of "have-not" countries that perceive themselves to be losing ground may continue to be breeding grounds for extremist and criminal ideologies that lead to violence within and outside those countries.

Greater economic interdependence will lead to greater political interdependence. Although such a scenario diminishes the prospects of major industrialized war between two nations, it also means that what happens in one part of the globe will affect other parts of the globalized world. Economic shocks will reverberate throughout the globe. A drastic downturn in the U.S. economy, for example, has caused a global economic recession, perhaps requiring global or regional political solutions.16

And the ugly - The new era of globalization also means that the United States cannot depend on geography to shield it from the many problems of the developing world. This was clear on 9/11 when the hate espoused by the extremist ideology of radical Islam manifested itself in attacks on U.S. soil. The dangers of interdependence are manifest in other areas as well. Effects of climate change, disease, and pandemics originating from remote parts of the world will affect the United States. Infectious disease is already the number one killer of human beings.17 AIDS is a scourge in most of the world and poses an extreme societal threat in portions of sub-Saharan Africa. Even more frightening is the threat of a global avian influenza pandemic.18 The ever increasing connectivity of nations resulting from globalization means that a virus originating in a remote part of an undeveloped country can spread throughout the world at a frightening pace, as evidenced by the recent "swine flu" panic. A pandemic would also cause economic hardship, even if the disease were physically kept out of the United States.

Demographic Trends

Experts expect the world's population to increase by 23.4 percent from 2005 to 2025.19 The population growth in the developed world, however, will remain relatively stable. The United States will have 364 million citizens by 2030, while the population of the European Union will grow from 458 million to 470 million in 2025 before declining.20 Japan and Russia will experience a decrease in population, with Japan's population falling from 128 million to 124.8 million and Russia's population falling from 143.2 million to 129.2 million within the next 20 years.21

Developed countries will also experience significant population aging. In the European Union, the ratio of employment age citizens (15-65) to the retired (over 65) will shift from about 4 to 1 in 2000 to 2 to 1 by 2050.22 Japan will approach 2 to 1 by 2025, and the median age in Japan will increase from 42.9 to 50 years.23 This trend will fortunately not have as severe an impact on the United States due to higher fertility rates and greater immigration.24 Europe and Japan could face societal upheaval as they try to assimilate large numbers of migrant workers from the developing world. These factors will soon challenge the social welfare structure of these countries, their productivity, and discretionary spending for defense and foreign assistance.

Developing countries

Ninety percent of global population growth by 2030 will occur in developing and poorer countries.25 Population growth in these areas will be 43 to 48.4 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, 38 percent in the Middle East/North Africa region, 24 percent in Latin America, and 21 percent in Asia. Nine out of ten people will be living in the developing world in the next 20 years.26

In contrast to the developed world, a significant portion of the population growth will be the "youth" of the region with a "youth bulge" occurring in Latin American, Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa.27 About 59 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa will be under 24 years by 2025.28 In the Middle East, the working-age population will expand by 50 percent and in North Africa area by 40 percent, challenging governments to provide employment for a young and undereducated populace with little employment opportunities and setting up the potential for violent conflict. As a recent Economist article notes, these young men without "either jobs or prospects" will trade "urban for rural poverty, head for the slums, bringing their anger, and machetes, with them."29 In the last two decades, 80 percent of all civil conflicts took place in countries where 60 percent or more of the population was under 30 years of age.30


Significant portions of the global population will be on the move, mostly to the cities. By 2030, 61 percent of the global population will live in cities as compared to 47 percent in 2000.31 And while the urbanization ratio will be greater in developed countries compared to developing countries (81.7 percent versus 57 percent), the developing countries will struggle to control the transition to urban societies.32 Shantytowns will likely proliferate in "mega-cities" struggling with crime and disease. Migration to wealthier countries will also continue as workers search for better economic opportunities. The Defense Development, Concepts, and Doctrine Centre reports that the number of people living outside their country of origin will increase from 175 million in 2020 to 230 million by 2050.33 Environmental degradation, natural disasters, or armed conflicts will also forcibly uproot populations. How both the developing and developed countries absorb the influx of migrants may determine the level of conflict associated with these movements.


How segments of the global population identify themselves may drastically change in the next 20 years. Individual loyalty to the state and state institutions will become increasingly conditional.34 Identity will increasingly be based on religious convictions and ethnic affiliations.35 Religious identity may become a greater factor in how people identify themselves. Although Europe will remain mostly secular, religion will have greater influence in areas as diverse as China, Africa, Latin American, and the United States. In some areas of the developing world, Islam will continue to increase as the overarching identity for large numbers of people. In other regions, ethnicity and tribal loyalties will continue to be the dominant form of identification.

Emerging Powers

The rise of powerful global players will reshape how we mentally map the globe in an increasingly multipolar world. Mapping the Global Future likens the emergence of China and India to the rise of a united Germany in the 19th century and the rise of the United States in the 20th.36 The global center of gravity will shift steadily toward the Pacific.


China will become a powerful actor in the global system. The rise of China has been called "one of the seminal events of the early 21st century."37 China's economic and diplomatic influence will continue to expand globally. Its gross national product is expected to surpass all economic powers except the United States within 20 years.38 China's demand for energy to fuel this growth will make it a global presence as it ventures out to secure sources of energy. In East Asia, China is likely to wield its growing influence to shape the region's "political-institutional contours" to build a regional community that excludes the United States.39 All this will likely be accompanied by a continued Chinese build-up of its military to reinforce its growing world power status.

Whether China continues to pursue a peaceful rise will have a profound impact on the course of international affairs in the next 30 years. The rise and fall of great powers has been one of the most important dynamics in the international system, a dynamic that is often accompanied by instability and conflict.40 Defense Development, Concepts, and Doctrine Centre believes China will approach international affairs with a fair amount of pragmatism, but face daunting challenges as it develops. It may exert its growing hard and soft power to either protect its growth or ensure internal stability.41 When China does establish itself as a global power, it may be less restrained in its conduct of foreign affairs.42

Other powers

Other nations may also play a greater role in the international arena. Among those mentioned in the studies are India, Russia, Indonesia, South Africa, and Brazil.43 Depending on its ability to achieve greater political cohesion, a more united European Union could also play a greater role, especially as a model of global and regional governance.44 Another possibility would be the rise of a rival alliance.45

The rise of these powers may mean a decline of the relative power of the United States. Though the United States would continue to play the major role in international affairs, its overwhelming dominance may decline. In the next 20 years, a more multipolar world may develop with political, economic, and military power diffused throughout the globe and America's ability to influence dialogue in key global issues relatively diminished.

Environment and Competition for Resources

Scientific consensus increasingly points to human activity as a main contributing factor in global warming. Although climate science is complex and the estimates of probable damages differ, the possibilities of catastrophic effects caused by global warming are real. Major consequences are likely because of "melting ice-caps, thermal expansion of the oceans, and changes to ocean currents and flows."46 Possible consequences on land include increased desertification, reduced land for habitation and agriculture, spread of diseases, and an increase of extreme weather events.

The worst-hit regions will likely face political, economic, and social instability.47 These regions will be an arc of instability affecting the non-integrated areas of the globe and particularly worsening the already marginal living standards in many Asian, African, and Middle Eastern nations.48 The likelihood of more failed states collapsing will increase as weak governments are unable to cope with decreases in food and water and increases in disease and violent uprisings.

Competition for resources

Exacerbating the environmental concerns is the ever-increasing competition for resources. As countries grow richer and modernize, the demand for resources will greatly increase in the next 20 years. According to the International Energy Agency, demand for energy will likely grow by more than 50 percent by 2035, with fossil fuels projected to meet 80 percent of this increase.49 The world economy will remain heavily dependent on oil through 2025 at a minimum.50 Similarly, global consumption of natural gas will increase by 87 percent.51 The United States has so far shown little inclination to seriously address its addiction to oil. Growing Asian powers' consumption of oil will also skyrocket; China will have to increase consumption by 150 percent and India by 100 percent by 2020 to maintain current growth.52 Such explosive consumption will exacerbate global warming in the absence of a global framework to tackle the problem.

Because of global growth, competition for these resources will intensify as the United States and other major economies vie to secure access to energy supplies. The competition will bid up energy prices, making it even more difficult for developing nations to afford minimal energy for their populations. As Isaiah Wilson notes, resource security has persistently been the primary objective of advanced-nation security and military strategies. Quests for this security will continue to draw nations into military and economic engagement in the "arc of instability."53 The United States will continue its involvement in the Middle East for years to come. China will continue to build bilateral agreements with various nations in Africa to secure its oil supply.

The degradation of the environment and increased economic growth of nations will cause competition not only for traditional energy sources, but also for necessities like food and water. Major portions of the population will live in areas of "water stress," and the amount of arable land may diminish.54 The consumption of blue water (river, lake, and renewable groundwater) will continue to increase, depriving even more people of access to clean drinking water.55 Concurrently, environmental degradation, intensification of agriculture, and a quickened pace of urbanization will all contribute to the reduced fertility of and access to arable land.56 Increased reliance on biofuels for growing energy needs will reduce food supply crop yields. Competition for other food sources, including fish, will increase.57 Even now, African fishermen bemoan the disappearance of their livelihoods while Europeans bemoan the increasing prices for fish in restaurants.58

Nonstate Actors and Challenges to Governance

Scholars view the rise of nonstate actors as a fundamental challenge to the Treaty of Westphalia-based international system.59 The United States, as the leader and architect of the Westphalian system, has been and will continue to be the primary focus of this challenge. Nonstate actors that do not see themselves bound by national borders are likely to continue to grow in strength and lethality. Small, empowered groups will be increasingly able to do greater things while states' near monopoly on information and destructive power continues to diminish.60 Various factors have aided their cause. The National Intelligence Council sees a "perfect storm" in certain regions of the underdeveloped world as weak governments, lagging economies, religious extremism, and the unemployed youth fuel extremist movements.61

Al-Qaeda remains a formidable near-term threat. Recent testimony by American intelligence officials reported that Al-Qaeda is continuing to gain strength from its sanctuary in Pakistan and is "improving its ability to recruit, train, and position operatives capable of carrying out attacks inside the United States."62 Even if the West neutralized Al-Qaeda, the National Intelligence Council believes that the factors that gave rise to Al-Qaeda will not abate in the next 15 years and predicts that by 2020, "similarly inspired but more diffuse extremist groups" will supersede it.63

Challenges to governance

Nonstate actors such as Al-Qaeda will play a major role in spreading extreme and violent ideologies. Fueled by the perceived injustices in a globalized world and by frustration with the oppressiveness of regional authoritarian regimes, major segments of the population in the arc of instability may rally to radical Islam and attack the institutions of traditional government through violent means. These forces may also cross national boundaries to form a transnational governing body dedicated to terrorism and jihad. The National Intelligence Council, for example, sees a possible scenario in which political Islam provides a context to form a Sunni Caliphate and draws on Islamic popular support to challenge traditional regimes.64 The Princeton Project on National Security presents another scenario where a radical arc of Shi'ite governments rules areas from Iran to Palestine, sponsors terrorism in the West, and tries to destabilize the Middle East.65

Governments in the arc of instability will face daunting challenges to stability. They will have to deal with the adverse effects of globalization, climate change, unemployment, and a new form of identity politics. To succeed, they will need to fight internal corruption and reform their inefficient, authoritative governments. They will need to do this as a radical ideology fiercely attacks their legitimacy and any connections to the Western world.

International crime will also challenge governance.66 Criminal activities will continue to increase in sophistication and lethality as enhanced communication technologies and weapons continue to proliferate.67 Such activities will be increasingly intertwined with civil conflict and terrorism as criminal groups leverage the benefits of increased globalization and their alliances with states and nonstate actors, to include terrorists.

Nonstate actors may also provide opportunities for increased cooperation to meet these future challenges. International, regional, and nongovernmental organizations will continue to grow in capacity. Although governance over international trade and crime has increased due to expanded transnational government networks, new collaborative institutions and mechanisms will be required to cope with increasingly complex global and regional problems.68 These networks must continue to grow in strength to solve global problems.


Advances in technology elicit great hope as well as great fear, because major technological breakthroughs have an impact on every aspect of our lives. We can expect further progress in information technology and nanotechnology, innovations in biotechnology, and increased investments in research and development.69 Faster computers combined with elements of nanotechnology and biotechnology may improve our ability to deal with daunting challenges such as human health, environmental issues, and malnutrition.

On the other hand, technology's availability and ease of transfer allow broader access to previously unavailable weapons. The ease of use of commercial technology has also exacerbated the problem of proliferation.70 This is most dangerous in terms of weapons of mass destruction. The Princeton Project on National Security asserts that the "world is on the cusp of a new era of nuclear danger."71 North Korea does possess nuclear weapons. Despite the findings of the recent United States National Intelligence Estimate, it seems likely that Iran is still determined to acquire the ability to build nuclear weapons. If the international community cannot rein in these countries, other countries in the Middle East and East Asia will likely also attempt to join the nuclear club.72

Countries will also continue to pursue chemical and biological weapons, as well as delivery capabilities for these weapons. Chemical and biological weapons can be integrated into legitimate commercial infrastructures to conceal a country's capabilities.73 At the same time, more countries will be able to acquire ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as unmanned aerial vehicles. By 2020, the National Intelligence Council believes that both North Korea and Iran will have intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capabilities, and several countries will develop space-launch vehicles.74 A preview of such capabilities came on 5 February 2008 when Iran launched a Kavoshgar-1 rocket into space using technology similar to that needed for long-range ballistic missiles.75

Concurrently, many in the United States fear the waning of American domination in research and development of new, emerging technology. The number of American Ph.D. engineering students is decreasing while the number of foreign students returning to their countries from U.S. universities is on the rise.76 At the same time, the Economist notes that the domestic trends in American politics and immigration policy are keeping the world's best and brightest talents from "darkening America's doors."77

Technology and terrorists

The potential nexus of terrorist groups and nuclear weapons is perhaps the most frightening scenario for national security experts. The increasing ease with which terrorists can acquire weapons to deliver a nuclear attack on the United States presents a nightmare scenario. Graham Allison notes that there are more than 200 addresses around the world from which terrorists can acquire nuclear weapons or fissile material.78 Russia, Pakistan, and North Korea are among the likely sources. If terrorists cannot acquire a nuclear bomb, the technology and tools are now available for them to build their own.79 The difficult part is acquiring the fissile material needed for a homemade bomb. There is evidence that Al-Qaeda attempted to acquire a nuclear weapon for an attack on the United States.80 The prospect of Iran gaining nuclear capabilities is also of great concern because of the capabilities of its proxy force, Hezbollah.81

Operating Environment and Threat Evaluation

The second part of this paper explores the ramifications of these trends for each type of mission set by explaining the operating environments and the nature of the threat. There are obvious limitations to such framing. First, missions will likely be joint and interagency ventures with success not achieved purely through the application of military force. Second, labeling these challenges as "threats" inherently implies an adversarial relationship, which may not always be the case. The emergence of great powers, for example, may not necessarily lead to adverse conditions in international affairs. Third, some challenges do not fit neatly into these categories, so we may not always identify an emerging threat. The emerging radical Islamic community in Europe might be an example.

However, categorization does highlight the vastly different types of missions our military forces may perform during the next 20 years. With tighter budgets for discretionary spending, the U.S. must prioritize missions and use military forces efficiently and effectively. Examining and analyzing mission sets allows each service to plan accordingly and adapt to myriad possibilities the future strategic environment may hold.

So, what do these trends mean for our military forces? American expeditionary forces may need to enter what Posen labels "contested zones." These zones correspond to areas the Pentagon has called the global "arc of insecurity." Any mission in these zones will be both dangerous and difficult because political, physical, and technological realities negate many American military advantages. Although this will have to be a joint venture, land forces will likely spearhead such missions. The air, sea, and space forces, on the other hand, will lead the effort in countering threats to the "command of the commons." With the rise of emerging powers and advances in technology, countries will venture into the commons where the U.S. military has traditionally maintained dominance. Finally, all forces will continue to support the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies in defending the homeland against nontraditional actors. For each mission type, the U.S. military will face increasingly capable threats seeking to take advantage of any vulnerabilities.

Expeditionary Warfare to Contested Zones

Although both the Navy and Air Force have begun structuring their forces for expeditionary warfare, the land force will likely spearhead the missions into the "contested zones" in the arc of insecurity. These areas, running from the Caribbean Basin through most of Africa, the Middle East, and Central and Southeast Asia, will disproportionately involve the losers from globalization.82 In fact, these zones are where the many trends of the next 20 years will converge. Increased poverty or at least relative poverty, large numbers of unemployed youth, environmental degradation, competition for resources, emergence of deadly nonstate actors, failed states, and proliferation of devastating technology will be the most evident and severe here.

The American expeditionary force may be drawn into these areas for a variety of reasons. First, these areas will continue to be breeding grounds and safe-havens for extremist ideologies and criminal elements. Second, increased global demand and competition for energy sources could require military intervention in these contested zones. Third, tribal wars or genocides may oblige the United States to join multilateral forces in stabilizing failed states or regions. Fourth, humanitarian interventions may increase if natural or man-made disasters cause mass suffering or death. In these zones, the American forces will be involved in both the management of violence and management of peace, forcing it to "fight" wars in a different fashion.

Political, physical, and technological facts will make the missions in these areas particularly difficult. Local actors have stronger interests in a war's outcome than the United States, and our adversaries will have a plentiful supply of males of fighting age.83 They will also have the "home-court advantage." They have studied the way the U.S. military fights, and the weapons required for close combat are inexpensive and plentiful. In addition, conflicts that involve more than battles between traditional armies will also require nontraditional expertise in areas like cultural awareness, working with and training allied nations, interagency operations, and diplomacy.84 Major General Robert Scales goes as far as to say that the next World War will be the social scientists' war, describing the wars to follow as "psycho-cultural wars" requiring officers with knowledge based on the discipline of social sciences.85 These factors negate the traditional advantages of the American way of war built on technology and organization.

What will the operating environment look like for U.S. expeditionary forces in the contested zones? A survey of the literature suggests that U.S. forces will have to operate in an environment characterized by the following factors:

  • Highly urban environment / megacities. Approximately 60 percent of the world's population will live in cities by 2030.86 Some of these cities will grow into megacities containing huge shantytowns. They may have high crime rates, ineffective or corrupt police forces, and high levels of instability. Some megacities may collapse into chaos.87
  • Extreme environments. These regions may become increasingly inhospitable due to human activities and climate change. There may be less access to basic resources needed for survival, like food and water. These conditions could often obligate U.S. forces to provide such resources to populations in countries in which they operate.
  • Communicable disease. Countries may also have high levels of communicable disease, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, hepatitis, and tuberculosis.88
  • Endemic hostility. There may be underlying hostility among the populace caused by transnational or intercommunal conflicts or virulent anti-American ideologies, such as militant Islam.89
  • Collapse of functioning state. U.S. forces may have to operate in regions where the government has failed and local warlords use extreme violence to control populations.90
  • Nonmilitary partners. U.S. forces will have to understand how to work with other government agencies and elements of society to combat adversaries.91 The management of peace will undoubtedly be an interagency affair as the integrated instruments of national power become increasingly crucial for success. The presence of media and internet coverage will also complicate missions. The military will need heightened awareness of legal implications and the rules of engagement.92
  • Cheaper and deadlier weapons. Adversaries will continue to benefit from wide availability of weapons, and they will continue to modify what is cheaply available to cause maximum damage on U.S. forces.
  • Weapons of mass destruction. Advances in and the proliferation of technology may make the use of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons on U.S. forces a real possibility.
  • Greater collaboration with developing country militaries. Demographic declines and fiscal pressures will result in reduced military capabilities among developed-country allies. Future coalitions will increasingly rely on less well-trained and poorly equipped developing country forces that may not share the U.S. professional military ethic. 93
  • Media on the battlefield. The media will likely cover the actions of the expeditionary force on the ground and communicate them in real time to a global audience.94
  • Humanitarian disasters. Increasingly devastating natural disasters caused by climate change could require more military humanitarian assistance.

Threats will come from multiple sources:

  • Terrorists. Terrorists will continue to target U.S. interests abroad, seeking soft targets to send messages and inspire similar groups to action.
  • Paramilitary forces. These forces will be intermingled with the local population and ally themselves with terrorist groups. The United States will face rebel groups, gangs, insurgents, and private military companies.
  • Tribal forces. Armed tribal forces may be a big challenge because they have the potential to switch from being adversaries to allies depending on American strategy and tactics and on shifting local political calculations.
  • Criminal elements. Weak governance will allow both transnational and local criminal elements to thrive. Drug cartels will continue to be an international presence and the most notorious criminal networks.95
  • Traditional militaries. Although hostilities with another state may be rare, increased competition for resources may cause state-to-state conflicts.

Maintaining the Command of the Commons

Posen describes the "commons" as those areas that no state owns but that provide access to much of the globe. It is analogous to the command of the seas, although Posen also includes command of the air and space.96 The Joint operating environment includes the command of cyberspace as well. According to Posen, "command of the commons" means that the United States gets vastly more military use out of the commons than other states, that the United States can generally deny its use to others, and that others would lose access to the commons if they attempt to deny its use to the United States. The command of the commons has been "the key military enabler" of America's global position and has allowed the United States to better exploit other sources of power.97

The United States sea, air, and space forces will lead in responding to these challenges to the command of commons. Though the command of the commons will most likely remain uncontested in the near- and medium-term, the rise of emerging powers could lead to competition over time. Posen notes that the sources of U.S. command include American economic resources and military exploitation of information technology.98 As American economic power begins to decline relatively, and as advanced technology becomes more diffused, other nations may exploit these factors to become viable contenders. Already, nations have launched missiles into space, started investing in blue water navies, and increased their cyber warfare capabilities.

The following are critical considerations for the operating environment:

  • Increased interest in space. Emerging powers will continue to expand their space programs. Advances in technologies will enable more nations to launch rockets and satellites.99 The United States will be increasingly concerned about capability of nations to convert this technology into intercontinental ballistic missiles as well as weapons threatening to U.S. space capabilities.
  • Nuclear proliferation. As more countries acquire nuclear weapons, American ability or proclivity to intervene in various areas of the commons (or contested areas) may decline due to the threat of nuclear retaliation.
  • Missile technology proliferation. Missile technology proliferation may deny certain areas of the commons to the United States. Examples include sea-lanes in the Straits of Hormuz, the Suez Canal, and the Strait of Malacca.100
  • Connectivity vulnerabilities. Increased automation and reliance on information technology leave the United States more vulnerable to cyber-attacks as adversaries use techniques such as worms, viruses, Trojan horses, botnets, or electromagnetic pulse.101
  • The rise of great powers will feature nations with increased conventional military capabilities like that of the United States. They will possess "information-enabled network" forces as well as naval forces with air and undersea capabilities.102 Nations may be able to challenge command of their regional sea-lanes, as well as U.S. dominance in space and cyberspace. Also, nonstate actors may be able to exploit technology to conduct cyber-warfare.

Military Support to Homeland Defense

With globalization and advances in technology shrinking the world, the homeland of the United States will be more vulnerable. 9/11 was a watershed moment in America as national policymakers began reexamining existing defenses and the balance between security and liberty. Many fear that terrorist and other criminal elements will continue to exploit the openness of American civil society to attack our financial, energy, or governmental infrastructure. The increasing availability of nuclear weapons may result in an attack that dwarfs the physical and psychological damages of 2001.

Despite the lack of terrorist attacks in the United States since 2001, it is still unclear if security measures implemented so far have made America safer. Many doubt the effectiveness of our changes and criticize the behemoth Department of Homeland Security and the restructuring that occurred with the creation of this agency. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's performance during Hurricane Katrina heightened these concerns. Some scholars also doubt the wisdom of the creation of the Office of National Intelligence and the preservation of the Federal Bureau of Investigations as the lead law enforcement agency on domestic intelligence.103 Still others call for reform of Congressional committee jurisdictions and oversight capabilities. How the U.S. military will best support this interagency effort is still unclear. The military has been viewed simultaneously as the last and greatest safety net for devastating events as well as a possible threat to civil liberties when operating within the U.S. borders. The demand for higher levels of security in the homeland leads to tension with many of the political and cultural traditions of America. Increased domestic surveillance conflicts with cherished civil liberties. Similarly, increased border protection affects immigration and even openness to foreign business travelers, both of which can have negative economic and cultural impacts. The vigorous, often partisan, debates in Washington on wiretapping, torture, and immigration will likely continue well into the future. Following are the areas of major concern:

  • Weapons of mass destruction - Proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical technology and material will leave the United States increasingly vulnerable to attacks with weapons of mass destruction.
  • Natural disasters - Hurricane Katrina may have been a sign of things to come, with the nation looking more to the military as the most effective institution for dealing with devastating natural disasters.
  • Economic shocks - Terrorist elements may target key financial nodes in the United States such as the New York Stock Exchange to attack the global financial system.
  • Energy crisis - Shortages of supplies relative to increasing demand may leave the United States susceptible to energy shocks.
  • Refugee flows - Economic and environmental factors may increase both legal and illegal migration from Latin America and elsewhere.
  • Cyber-attacks - Increased automation of our financial systems, physical infrastructure, and government operations renders the homeland more vulnerable to attacks on our information systems by both state and nonstate actors.

There are multiple probable sources of threat. Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups remain the biggest threat to U.S. homeland. Other Islamic terrorist groups may emerge not directly linked to Al-Qaeda, but inspired by similar extremist ideology. Elements of our society may become disposed to extremist Islamic ideology and independently plan attacks. Transnational criminals, including drug cartels, will continue to have a presence in the U.S. Although state attacks on U.S. homeland will be rare, hostile states may use proxy forces to attack vulnerable sites using difficult-to-trace methods, such as cyber-attack. States could also potentially use economic measures, such as energy embargos or financial measures as holders of U.S. debt, to damage the U.S. economy.

Facing the Challenges

The challenges of the next 20 years are immense and diverse. Some are immediate and others are long term or systemic. In this context, the U.S. military must be sufficiently flexible and multi-talented to play the various roles the nation may ask of it. Operations in the contested zones will be extremely complex and multidimensional, and perhaps more frequent; the military will have to redefine the concept of war and the nature and utility of military forces. Great-power politics will continue and may manifest itself in a challenge to American command of the commons. America may have to reexamine its hegemonic status and the role of U.S. forces in maintaining the international system. Threats to the U.S. homeland will continue and increase. The military will need to function effectively in the interagency process to aid in the defense of our homeland. Yet, our military must do this in an era of likely declining military funding. Forward-thinking analysis of likely trends on these various military missions will prove essential to preparing for the challenges ahead.


1. This article was originally written for the United States Military Academy's 2008 Senior Conference. The article reflects the views of the author, and not necessarily of West Point. Special thanks to Mr. Roland DeMarcellus, Colonel Mike Meese, and Colonel Cindy Jebb for their guidance and help in editing.

2. Barry Posen, "Command of the Commons: The Military Foundation of U.S. Hegemony," International Security 28, no.1 (Summer 2003): 5-46. Posen divides the world into two areas: the "commons" and the "contested zones." The United States currently enjoys the command of the commons, which he defines as composed of air, sea, and space. The contested zones, on the other hand, are "enemy held territory." The U.S. currently does not have dominance in these areas.

3. National Intelligence Council, Mapping the Global World (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2004), 10.

4. Ibid., 27.

5. Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC), The DCDC Global Strategic Trends Programme 2007-2036 (2007), 3.

6. West Point Mini-Conference, March 2008.

7. National Intelligence Council, 10.

8. European Union Institute of Security Studies (EUISS), The New Global Puzzle: What World for the EU in 2025? (EU Institute for Security Studies, 2006), 32.

9. Ibid., 32.

10. Ibid., 34.

11. DCDC, 3.

12. Joint Chief of Staff.

13. National Intelligence Council, 29.

14. EUISS, 34.

15. DCDC, 3.

16. United States Joint Forces Command, Joint Operating Environment (JOE): Trends and Challenges for the Future Joint Force Through 2030 (December 2007), 54.

17. The Princeton Project on National Security (PPNS), Forging a World of Liberty Under Law: U.S. National Security In the 21st Century (The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, 2006), 51.

18. Ibid., 50-51.

19. EUISS. 15.

20. EUISS, 19, 20.

21. Ibid, 20, 21.

22. UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs/Population Division, "Replacement Migration: Is it a Solution to Declining and Ageing Populations?" 21.

23. Ibid, 53; EUISS, 20.

24. Ibid., 20.

25. The United Nations, World Urbanization Prospects: The 2005 Revision.

26. EUISS, 15.

27. JOE, 10.

28. EUISS, 22.

29. "Young, alive but not very heaven," The Economist, 2-8 February 2008, 54.

30. JOE, 10.

31. Barney Cohen, "Urbanization in developing countries: Current trends, future projections, and key challenges for sustainability," Technology in Society 28 (2006), 68.

32. EUISS, 17.

33. UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs/Population Division, International Migration Report 2002 (New York, 2002).

34. DCDC, 10.

35. National Intelligence Council, 79.

36. Ibid., 9.

37. PPNS, 47.

38. National Intelligence Council, 9.

39. PPNS, 46.

40. Ibid., 48.

41. DCDC, 45.

42. DCDC, 38, National Intelligence Council, 51.

43. National Intelligence Council, 57.

44. West Point Mini-Conference, March 2008.

45. DCDC, 2.

46. PPNS, 53.

47. JOE.

48. International Energy Agency: World Energy Outlook 2005.

49. JOE, 30.

50. EUISS, 54.

51. PPNS, 53.

52. Isaiah Wilson, "The Arc of Instability and Energy Predation."

53. DCDC, 8.

54. EUISS, 78.

55. DCDC, 8.

56. JOE, 25; DCDC, 78.

57. Elisabeth Rosenthal, "Europe's Appetite for Seafood Propels Illegal Trade," New York Times, 15 January 2008.

58. Isaiah Wilson, "Strength and Honor," 8.

59. West Point Mini-Conference, March 2008.

60. National Intelligence Council, 14.

61. Mark Mazzetti, "Intelligence Chief Cites Qaeda Threat to U.S.," New York Times, 6 February 2008.

62. National Intelligence Council, 94.

63. Ibid., 83.

64. PPNS, 39.

65. JOE, 12.

66. Ibid., 12.

67. Anne-Marie Slaughter, A New World Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004); DCDC, 14.

68. EUISS, 91.

69. West Point Mini-Conference, March 2008.

70. PPNS, 43.

71. Ibid., 43.

72. National Intelligence Council, 100.

73. Ibid., 101.

74. Nazila Fathi, "Iran Launches Rocket to Commemorate New Space Center," New York Times, 5 February 2008, A10.

75. West Point Mini-Conference, March 2008.

76. "Help not wanted," The Economist, 12-18 April 2008, 38.

77. Graham Allison, Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe (New York: Times Books, 2005), 67.

78. Ibid., 92.

79. Ibid., 20.

80. Ibid., 36.

81. "Arc of Insecurity." labeled by the Joint Chief of Staff, provided in Wilson, "The Arc of Instability and Energy Predation," 3.

82. Posen, 24.

83. JOE, 59.

84. Robert H. Scales, "Clausewitz and World War IV."

85. JOE.

86. DCDC, 29.

87. DCDC, 7.

88. Ibid., 51.

89. JOE, 39.

90. Ibid., 59.

91. DCDC, 72.

92. West Point Mini-Conference, March 2008.

93. Ibid.

94. JOE, 42.

95. Posen, 8.

96. Ibid., 8-9.

97. Ibid., 10.

98. DCDC, 65.

99. Ibid., 54.

100. JOE, 35.

101. Ibid., 39.

102. Richard Posner, Remaking Domestic Intelligence (Palo Alto, CA: Hoover Institution Press at Stanford, 2005).

103. Ibid., 47.

The Struggle Against Global Insurgency

Dr. Daniel G. Cox

Reprinted with permission from the 1st Quarter 2010 issue of Joint Force Quarterly.

Since 9/11, it has become commonplace for scholars, politicians, and military thinkers to refer to current U.S. military and diplomatic actions as being part of a larger "war on terror." This is an extremely imprecise characterization of the current conflict. What the United States and, in fact, the world are facing is more properly dubbed a global insurgent movement that emanates from al Qaeda at the international level and that slowly seeps into legitimate (and illegitimate) national secessionist movements around the world. What follows is an argument in support of the claim that al Qaeda is essentially the world's first attempt at a global insurgency.

According to General Wayne Downing, USA (Ret.), "terrorism is a tactic used by Salafist insurgents to attain their strategic goals, which are political in nature."1 Indeed, terrorism is a tactic-and one cannot wage war on a tactic. Though this is a correct but superficial criticism, it has never led to any meaningful discussion regarding the implications of this point or what it is that the U.S. military is actually combating. Only a few authors have asserted that al Qaeda is an insurgency, and even fewer have made the connection between al Qaeda's terror tactics Audrey Kurth Cronin was one of the first scholars to hint that al Qaeda is a global insurgency, writing soon after 9/11 that it was aiming not so much at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon or even the United States, but was instead aiming to destroy the U.S.-led global system.2 David Kilcullen claims that the West is facing a "global jihad," which is much more akin to a global insurgency and has as its chief aim the imposition of a worldwide Islamic caliphate.3 One of the newest entries into this field of argumentation is Dan Roper, who is not only one of a new breed of scholars who clearly sees the folly of declaring war against a tactic, but also one of the few to argue that the U.S. Government and military are facing a global insurgency and to provide some concrete policy recommendations.4

This article seeks to expand on this embryonic line of argumentation, but in order to establish al Qaeda as the first global insurgency, a review of the definition of insurgency and its link to terrorism must be conducted. Next, al Qaeda's rhetoric and demands are briefly examined. The article concludes with an analysis of al Qaeda's strategy for fomenting global insurgency through its exploitation of failed and failing states and of (often legitimate) domestic insurgencies around the world.

Insurgency and Terrorism

David Galula, in his seminal work Counterinsurgency Warfare, defines insurgency as "a protracted struggle conducted methodically, step by step, in order to attain specific intermediate objectives leading finally to the overthrow of the existing order."5 Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency, defines an insurgency along similar lines as "an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict." Frank Kitson expands on these notions, emphasizing that the successful insurgent generally starts with little power but a strong cause, while the counterinsurgent has a near monopoly of power but a weak cause or reason for holding that power, which the insurgent levers against the counterinsurgent over time until those in power are ousted.6 Bard O'Neill adds three types of insurgency, which he dubs "anarchist," those wishing to overthrow government but not replace it; "egalitarian," those attempting to replace the current government with one that emphasizes distributional equality; and "traditionalist," those bent on replacing corrupt modern society with a mythologized distant past that emphasizes traditional values often rooted in fundamental interpretations of religion.7 The relationship between insurgency and terrorism is not without controversy. While most scholars see the two as related, some view terrorism as an indicator of failed insurgency in its last death throes, while others deem it an essential first step toward gaining momentum. Galula views "blind," or indiscriminate, terrorism as the first step in "bourgeois-nationalist" insurgencies where a fledgling movement is seeking to gain notoriety for its cause.8 This is followed by a second stage of "selective" terrorism in which an insurgency gaining strength seeks to target counterinsurgents and isolate them from the people.9 Sometimes terrorism is seen as the only viable tactic for an insurgent facing a severe asymmetry in the balance of military force. In this case, terrorism becomes one of the feasible forms of "lesser violence" that can be implemented against a superior conventional force.10 But not all agree that terrorism is a tactic that can be employed successfully by insurgents. Anthony Joes, for instance, came to the conclusion that terrorism is antithetical to the waging of successful guerrilla warfare after examining modern insurgency movements. He notes that in all but one of the insurgent cases, terrorism was employed as a last resort by "insurgencies that were losing, or that eventually lost."11 While one could certainly conclude that terrorism is the tactic of choice for the weak, the evidence for the assertion that it is a tactic of failed insurgencies is unconvincing. Galula's argument that terrorism is the initial stage of an insurgency seems more plausible. That terrorism is the tactic of choice for insurgencies facing overwhelming conventional threats does not conclusively indicate weakness or future failure. In fact, in a recent study for the RAND National Defense Research Institute, Daniel Byman found that while not all terrorist groups are insurgencies, it does appear that "almost every insurgent group uses terrorism."12

Demands from al Qaeda

Establishing that terrorism and insurgency are closely linked and that many national insurgencies have used terrorism both to draw attention to a cause and later to isolate counterinsurgents from the people is insufficient to substantiate the claim that al Qaeda is an insurgency. An examination of al Qaeda's own words and deeds is necessary to close the correlative link.

Cronin argues generally that the Western world has been slow to recognize that terrorist activity has increased in response to U.S.-led globalization, or what is being termed "Western imperialism."13 This is an important point; it is this backlash against globalization that al Qaeda is tapping into in fomenting its own global insurgency. Al Qaeda leaders have referenced the intrusion of Western nations as colonial oppressors, military bullies, and economic exploiters.

Al Qaeda's brand of insurgency against perceived imperial intrusion is grounded in the work of the 12th-century Islamic thinker Ibn Taymiyya, who grew up experiencing a brutal Mongol invasion and oppressive occupation. This created a problem, as the invading Mongols were also Islamic; hence, Taymiyya had to devise a way around Koranic law, which specifically forbade the killing of any Muslim by another, to justify killing fellow Muslims. He had to expand the notion of what it is to be Muslim and differentiate between "good" and "bad" Muslims. Obviously, since the Mongols were an invading people, they had to kill Muslims to achieve their goals, and this fact, coupled with their horrible treatment of conquered Muslims, allowed Taymiyya to make a convincing argument that invading Mongols were "bad" Muslims. The road became clear when he declared that the invading Mongols and the rulers who bowed down to them were apostates. Now distinctions could be drawn between self-professed and real Muslims, and some could be determined to be enemies of Islam and were, therefore, subject to death.14

The reason this is so monumentally important to al Qaeda is that Taymiyya's revolutionary shifting of targets allows al Qaeda free rein to conduct its terror attacks against a much broader group of infidels. Not only are apostate Muslims fair targets, but so are infidel women and children. In fact, al Qaeda has a written directive in a seized training manual that specifies that "apostate rulers"15 presiding over predominantly Islamic nations are more of a threat than past colonial oppressors. The link to Taymiyya is clear, for as one author writes, "Islamic radicals everywhere see the United States as the neo-Mongol power lurking behind the apostate governments that they seek to topple."16 According to al Qaeda theologian Faris Al Shuwayl, Shia Muslims are portrayed as polytheists and worthy only of death. Christians and Jews can obey sharia law and Islamic theological directives or be expunged. The broadening of enemies of Islam initiated by Taymiyya, expanded by Wahhabi, and carried into modern times by al Qaeda serves as the foundation for terror attacks aimed at overthrowing Western dominance, capitalism, globalization, and modernization, which currently define the world system. While apostate rulers within Dar al Islam are singled out as the prime targets of al Qaeda's global insurgency, al Qaeda has made it clear that Western powers, especially the United States, are not off the hook. The demands from al Qaeda regarding Western powers are instructive, as they have the flavor of demands made by many domestic insurgent groups. Osama bin Laden has on several occasions demanded that the United States withdraw all support for Israel and remove all presence from Saudi Arabia, especially military presence.17 A slightly expanded version of these demands was offered in a letter sent to the New York Times by al Qaeda propagandist Nidal Ayyad the day after the 9/11 attacks. In this directive, al Qaeda demanded that the United States cut economic and military aid to Israel and cease interference in all domestic affairs within any Middle Eastern state.18

In the final analysis, al Qaeda's demands that Western imperialists leave the Middle East and refrain from interfering with domestic Arabian politics, that apostate rulers in Arabia step down, and that illegal Israeli colonizers give up their claim to Israel are strikingly similar to demands from the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka or the Free Aceh Movement in Indonesia, both of which demand autonomy from unfair and abusive state rule. The only significant difference is that al Qaeda's claims stretch across multiple Islamic countries instead of being confined to a specific region in a recognized nation-state. O'Neill's characterization of a traditional insurgency seems appropriate when attempting to categorize al Qaeda. He writes, "Within the category of traditionalist insurgents, one also finds zealous groups seeking to reestablish an ancient political system that they idealize as a golden age."19

Dune Insurgency

Shaul Mishal and Maoz Rosenthal offer an interesting reinterpretation of al Qaeda as an organization. Instead of classifying it as a hierarchical (almost no one claims this anymore) or a networked organization, Mishal and Rosenthal perceive al Qaeda as being "Dune-like." According to these authors, a Dune organization "relies on a process of vacillation between territorial presence and a mode of disappearance. The perception of territorial presence is associated with stable territorial formations: nation-states, global markets, or ethnic communities."20 Like sand dunes, Mishal and Rosenthal see a temporary network attaching and detaching and "moving onward after changing the environment in which it has acted."21 This analogy seems to depict al Qaeda accurately and explains why direct confrontation is so difficult. Mishal and Rosenthal argue that Dune movement is "almost random,"22 but this assertion is debatable since al Qaeda seems to be spreading and growing in strength.

The Dune analogy captures the movement and actions of al Qaeda and helps illustrate how a complex and adaptive global insurgency works. Combating a Dune insurgency is difficult because once one tries to stamp a sand dune with his foot, he is likely to find either the wind has blown most of the sand to a different area or his foot is now stuck in the sand. Worse still, successfully dislodged sand can blow back into an area that was previously cleared. This certainly appears to be the modus operandi with al Qaeda's global insurgency. From the movement's humble birth in the late 1980s as a successful mujahideen insurgency against Soviet invaders in Afghanistan, bin Laden and al Qaeda constructed their first significant Dune in Sudan. Al Qaeda built a close relationship with the Sudanese government, developing joint business enterprises in exchange for a safe haven and, on at least one occasion, securing hundreds of Sudanese passports for al Qaeda operatives to use for travel.23 While in Sudan, al Qaeda branched out, meddling in any regional problem that contained an Islamic component. In Somalia, 18 U.S. Army Rangers were killed in a particularly brutal battle on October 3, 1993, by Somali fighters trained by al Qaeda operatives in Sudan.24 Eventually, the United States continued to apply diplomatic and economic pressure on the Islamic-dominated government of Sudan, and in 1996, bin Laden and his organization had to seek refuge in Afghanistan.25 But once again, al Qaeda is regaining influence in both Sudan and Somalia. The dislodged sand is accumulating once more. J. Stephen Morrison argues that this should be expected as "both states are highly porous, fractured, and weak (or wrecked) states; both welcomed al-Qaeda in the past and retain linkages to it today."26

After Sudan, al Qaeda set up shop in its old haunt, Afghanistan. But Afghanistan was by no means the only base of operations. Al Qaeda had learned in Africa to spread its operations and to foment violent radicalism wherever possible. While it was only able to operate freely in Afghanistan under fundamental Taliban rule from 1996 until the government itself was removed from power by coalition forces in 2002, al Qaeda grew in strength and complexity not only by continuing to perpetrate successful attacks against the United States but also through linking itself and its Salafist cause to many domestic insurgencies and secessionist movements throughout the world. What is most interesting during this period is that al Qaeda seemed to ramp up its emphasis on global insurgency. Southeast Asia became a target of choice and remains one of the group's most prominent fixations.

There are several reasons why the region is a good fit for its brand of insurgency. Zachary Abuza argues that Southeast Asia is perfect for al Qaeda and other terror organizations because of widespread poverty, lack of equal education, lax border controls (due to many states being reliant on tourism), and the spread of Wahhabist and Salafist Islam.27 Another enticement for al Qaeda is that there is already a fairly well-established regional terrorist organization, Jemaah Islamiyah, which espouses the grand goal of establishing a caliphate encompassing all Southeast Asian states.28 Finally, there are numerous Islamic secessionist movements looking for support. The Free Aceh Movement in Indonesia, multiple Islamic secessionist groups in the Philippines, and recent secessionist movement in southern Thailand all provide fertile grounds for al Qaeda to infiltrate. Al Qaeda began laying the seeds of insurgency in Southeast Asia while headquartered in Sudan. Ramsey Youssef, a chief architect of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was one of the main actors managing al Qaeda's growing regional network in Southeast Asia. Youssef regularly visited the Philippines and consulted with the Abu Sayyaf group and coordinated cooperation between it and al Qaeda.29 Al Qaeda continued to expand this initial cooperation while in Afghanistan, supporting secessionist movements and regional insurgent movements in Southeast Asia, which allowed it to gain a strong foothold and a networked base of operations there. In fact, by 2002, it is estimated that nearly 20 percent of all of al Qaeda's organizational strength was in Southeast Asia.30 Simultaneously with the infiltration in Southeast Asia, al Qaeda began to align itself with a strengthening fundamental Islamic movement in Pakistan.

Islamic fundamentalism sprang up, in part, due to the Pakistani government's decision to back the fundamental Taliban regime against Soviet invaders. When the Taliban mujahideen succeeded in resisting Soviet occupation, an explosion of fundamentalism occurred in Pakistan. The number of fundamentalist madrassas there increased tenfold in the decade after the Soviet Union was unceremoniously expelled from Afghanistan, and these religious schools began training insurgents who would become influential leaders of radical terror organizations in Southeast Asia.31 Al Qaeda grew as an organization, and the sand dune that was seemingly dislodged from Sudan reappeared in Afghanistan. While in Afghanistan, al Qaeda gained a strong foothold in Southeast Asia that it largely retains today. In 2002, coalition forces would kick the sand again and al Qaeda would relocate to the nearby Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) in Pakistan. Many pundits, political leaders, and high-ranking members of the military quickly proclaimed that al Qaeda was severely damaged when its operations were forcefully dislodged from Afghanistan,32 that it could no longer operate as it used to, and that bin Laden and his whole organization were hopelessly on the run. But these proclamations were soon proven premature as al Qaeda continued to perpetrate, or at least inspire, major attacks against Spain and Great Britain. Al Qaeda also continued to infiltrate Southeast Asia and revisit old haunts in North Africa. In fact, U.S. intelligence agencies reported in 2007 that al Qaeda had actually become stronger and more dangerous almost 6 years after coalition forces dislodged it from Afghanistan. The organization has also continued to strengthen in Sudan and is actively supporting the Islamic Courts movement in Somalia.

Al Qaeda consistently calls for an Islamic caliphate and the destruction of Western imperialist interveners in Islamic affairs. It persists in demanding the dissolution of the state of Israel. It continues to grow in strength and arguably in scope even though successful efforts dislodged the organization from two separate nation-states that it was using as its main bases of operations. Al Qaeda is acting like a Dune insurgency, and forceful attempts to disrupt this organization are meeting with what appears to be short-term success but long-term failure.


Al Qaeda appears to be using terrorism as an early-stage tactic to draw attention to its insurgent cause and to separate the people in multiple nation-states from the counter-insurgents just the way Galula predicted. It also shows the characteristics of being what O'Neill describes as a traditionalist insurgency attempting to rail against global forces and return at least the Muslim world to a mythologized caliphate emphasizing traditional, fundamental Islam. Finally, al Qaeda appears to be perpetrating a successful Dune insurgency, transitioning nimbly between short periods of territorial presence and then seemingly disappearing until it becomes evident that it has set up shop elsewhere, perhaps even in multiple locations.

If the above analysis proves true, then combating a complex Dune insurgency will be problematic. Successfully countering al Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan, while vital, does not necessarily encompass all that needs to be done to counter a global insurgency. Unfortunately, the old counterinsurgency mantra "clear, hold, build" now applies to almost everywhere there is an exploitable instability. Kinetic options will likely meet with limited success as the main course of action, as the al Qaeda movement has spread deeply into multiple states and regions, and no coalition force could hope to intervene militarily in all of these places simultaneously. What really needs to be combated is instability and fundamentalism, as al Qaeda thrives off of these two features. Instability provides a perfect environment for al Qaeda to step into. Groups with sometimes legitimate secessionist demands provide potential allies, because poverty and human rights abuses provide causes that al Qaeda organizers can latch on to and use to leverage popular support for their larger global cause. One of the great ironies of the al Qaeda insurgency is that it could unintentionally unite the industrialized world in the first genuine, concerted effort to eradicate poverty and human rights abuses in the developing world. Stability operations performed by the military take on prime importance in such a struggle.

Finally, strategic communication will be a key in managing the al Qaeda problem. Industrial powers will need not only to foster stability in the developing world but also to broadcast the benefits of modernization and freedom to a large and diverse body of people that is largely wary of outsiders and that has been exploited by European colonizers. None of these tasks will be easy, but the sooner it is accepted that al Qaeda is a complex, adaptive global insurgency, the sooner real debate and discussion regarding these and broader, more global initiatives can occur.

But one must also take caution when combating al Qaeda's global insurgent movement. Kinetic options are necessary to take out irreconcilables, but widespread kinetic operations can actually feed the movement and serve to coalesce disparate groups around the al Qaeda banner. One must always bear in mind that the implication of an attempted global insurgency is that al Qaeda has declared war against the world, and the sheer magnitude, and perhaps hubris, of such an undertaking might mean that it is doomed to fall under the weight of its own ambitions.


1 Wayne A. Downing, "The Global War on Terrorism: Re-Focusing the National Strategy," in Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Understanding the New Security Environment, ed. Russell D. Howard and Reid L. Sawyer, 2d ed. (Dubuque, IA: McGraw- Hill, 2006), 439.

2 Audrey Kurth Cronin, "Behind the Curve: Globalization and International Terrorism," International Security 27, no. 3 (Winter 2002/2003), 38.

3 David J. Kilcullen, "Countering Global Insurgency," The Journal of Strategic Studies 28, no. 4 (August 2005), 598, 603-604.

4 Daniel S. Roper, "Global Insurgency: Strategic Clarity for the Long War," Parameters 37, no. 3 (Autumn 2008).

5 David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (New York: Praeger, 1968), 4, emphasis in original.

6 Frank Kitson, Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency, and Peacekeeping (Saint Petersburg, FL: Hailer, 1973), 29.

7 Bard E. O'Neill, Insurgency and Terrorism: From Revolution to Apocalypse, 2d ed. (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2005), 20-21.

8 Galula, 58-59.

9 Ibid.

10 O'Neill, 57.

11 Anthony James Joes, Resisting Rebellion: The History and Politics of Counterinsurgency (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2004), 20.

12 Daniel Byman, Understanding Proto-Insurgencies (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2007).

13 Cronin, 34.

14 See Michael Doran, "The Pragmatic Fanaticism of al-Qaeda: An Anatomy of Extremism in Middle Eastern Politics," Political Science Quarterly117, no. 2 (Summer 2002), 179; and Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror (New York: Random House, 2002), for a more complete accounting of Taymiyya and his influence on al Qaeda.

15 Doran, 180.

16 Ibid., 183.

17 Barry R. Posen, "The Struggle Against Terrorism:Grand Strategy, Strategy, and Tactics," InternationalSecurity 26, no. 3 (Winter 2001/2002), 40.

18 Benjamin and Simon, 12-13.

19 O'Neill, 21.

20 Shaul Mishal and Maoz Rosenthal, "Al-Qaeda as a Dune Organization: Toward a Typology of Islamic Terrorist Organizations," Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 28 (2005), 282.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid.

23 Benjamin and Simon, 112.

24 Ruth Wedgewood, "Al-Qaeda, Military Commissions, and American Self-Defense," Political Science Quarterly 117, no. 3 (Autumn 2002), 358.

25 Benjamin and Simon, 133.

26 J. Stephen Morrison, "Somalia's and Sudan's Race to the Fore in Africa," Washington Quarterly25, no. 2 (Spring 2002), 192.

27 Zachary Abuza, "Tentacles of Terror: Al-Qaeda's Southeast Asian Network," Contemporary Southeast Asia 24, no. 3 (December 2002), 428.

28 Mishal and Rosenthal, 280.

29 Wedgewood, 359.

30 Rohan Gunaratna, Inside Al-Qaeda: Global Network of Terror (New York: Berkley Books, 2002).

31 Irm Haleem, "Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia: Recruiting Grounds for Terrorism?" in Democratic Development and Political Terrorism, ed. William Crotty (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2005), 146.

32 Mary Louise Kelly, "Is Al Qaida Stronger Six Years after Sept. 11?" Transcript from National Public Radio, Morning Edition, September 11, 2007, available at "".

Eliminating High Seas Piracy Legal and Policy Considerations

James P. Terry

Reprinted with permission from the 3rd Quarter 2009 issue of Joint Force Quarterly.

In December 16, 2008, the United Nations (UN) Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1851 authorizing states to mount land-based operations in Somalia against pirate strongholds. This reflects the deep concern of all UN members with respect to the unacceptable level of violence at sea perpetrated by Somali pirates. As noted by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in her statement in support of the resolution before the council's vote:

"Because there has been no existing mechanism for states to coordinate their actions, the result has been less than the sum of its parts. . . . We envision a contact group serving as a mechanism to share intelligence, coordinate activities, and reach out to partners, and we look forward to working quickly on that initiative. A second factor limiting our response is the impunity that the pirates enjoy. Piracy currently pays; but worse, pirates pay few costs for their criminality."1

Combating piracy-not only off the coast of Somalia but also in other areas of the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, and Red Sea-has been a subject of great U.S. concern for years, although it has been accentuated in recent months. In November 2008, the Saudi supertanker Sirius Star, with $100 million worth of crude oil aboard, was seized by Somali pirates and held for more than 2 months until January 9, 2009, when a $3 million ransom was paid. Somali pirates held a Ukrainian cargo ship, the MV Faina, seized in late September 2008 with 33 tanks and other weaponry aboard, for a similar period until a ransom was paid. These incidents are not unique. In 2008 alone, more than 100 pirate attacks were reported in the busy shipping lanes off eastern and southern Somalia.

Legal Dimension

There is no question that the increase in acts of piracy emanating from Somali territory over the past year is a reflection of the near state of anarchy plaguing that nation. Nevertheless, nearly all UN member states, in passing Security Council Resolution 1851, underscored that actions to combat this dangerous phenomenon must conform to international law standards, including the Law of the Sea Convention.

The standards for addressing the international crime of piracy, and the available enforcement mechanisms, are not in dispute. Piracy, at its core, encompasses "illegal acts of violence, detention, or depredation committed for private ends by the crew or passengers of a private ship or aircraft in or over international waters against another ship or aircraft or persons or property on board. (Depredation is the act of plundering, robbing or pillaging.)"2 The 1982 Law of the Sea Convention added to the definition: "any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft," and "any acts of inciting or intentionally facilitating [such acts]."3

In international law, piracy is a crime that can be committed only on or over international waters, including the high seas, exclusive economic zones, international airspace, and other places beyond the territorial jurisdiction of any nation.4 The same acts committed within the internal waters, territorial sea, or national airspace of a country are within that nation's domestic jurisdiction.

U.S. law addressing the international crime of piracy emanates from the Constitution, which provides that "Congress shall have Power . . . to define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the Law of Nations."5 Congressional exercise of this power is set out in Titles 18 and 33 of the United States Code.6 U.S. law makes criminal the international offense in section 1651 of Title 18, where it states: "Whoever, on the high seas, commits the crime of piracy as defined by the law of nations, and is afterward brought into or found in the United States, shall be imprisoned for life."7

U.S. statutes further authorize the President to deploy "public armed vessels" to protect U.S. merchant ships from piracy and to instruct the commanders of such vessels to seize any pirate ship that has attempted or committed n act of depredation or piracy against any foreign or U.S. flag vessel in international waters.8 These sections also authorize issuance of instructions to naval commanders to send into any U.S. port any vessel that is armed or the crew of which is armed, and which shall have "attempted or committed any piratical aggression, search, restraint, depredation, or seizure, upon any vessel," U.S. or foreign flag, or upon U.S. citizens; and to retake any U.S. or foreign vessel or U.S. citizens unlawfully captured on the high seas.

While U.S. law makes criminal those acts proscribed by international law as piracy, other provisions of U.S. municipal law describe related conduct. For example, Federal statutes make criminal the following: arming or serving on privateers9, assault by a seaman on a captain so as to prevent him from defending his ship or cargo10, unlawfully departing with a vessel within the admiralty jurisdiction11, corruption of seamen to unlawfully depart with a ship12, receipt of pirate property13, and robbery ashore in the course of a pirate cruise.14

Under provisions of the High Seas Convention and the Law of the Sea Convention, a pirate vessel or aircraft encountered in or over international waters may be seized and detained only by a nation's warships, military aircraft, or other ships or aircraft clearly marked and identifiable as being on government service.15 U.S. warships seizing pirate vessels or aircraft are guided by U.S. Navy regulations and the fleet commanders' U.S. basic operational orders.16 Under this guidance, U.S. authorities may also arrange with another nation to accept and try the pirates and dispose of the pirate vessel or aircraft, since every nation has jurisdiction under international law over acts of piracy.17

UN Effort to Stem Piracy

The UN Security Council has been concerned with the disintegration of Somali government control over its territory since the late 1980s. It has also addressed piracy arising from that state in council resolutions since 1992. In 2008, the Security Council got serious about addressing the piracy issue directly and not only in the context of the crisis inland in Somalia. In Resolution 1814 of May 2008, for example, it called upon member states "to take action to protect shipping involved with . . . United Nations authorized activities."18 This was followed by Resolution 1816 in June 2008, which called upon all nations "to combat piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia."19

On October 7, 2008, in Resolution 1838, the Security Council ratcheted up its direction to states with maritime interests. What made this resolution significant was its specific call for "States interested in the security of maritime activities to take part actively in the fight . . . in particular by deploying naval vessels and military aircraft."20 This resolution further advised all states to issue guidance to their flag shipping on appropriate precautionary measures to protect themselves from attack or actions to take if under attack or threatened with attack when sailing in waters off the coast of Somalia.21 On December 2, 2008, after Somali pirates seized the Saudi supertanker Sirius Star, the Security Council, in an unprecedented provision in Resolution 1846 under Chapter VII of the Charter (authorizing all necessary means), determined that for a period of 12 months, warships of member nations were permitted to enter Somali territorial waters for the purpose of repressing acts of piracy consistent with such action permitted on the high seas.

The December 2, 2008, resolution, when paired with Resolution 1851 of December 16, 2008, weaves a tight pattern around piracy activities in the waters of the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia. In Resolution 1851, moreover, the Security Council went one step beyond authorizing member nations to enter territorial waters when it extended that right to the Somali landmass for the purpose of U.S. law addressing the international crime of piracy emanates from the Constitution suppressing piracy. The resolution provides that states and regional organizations can "undertake all necessary measures ‘appropriate in Somalia,' to interdict those using Somali territory to plan, facilitate or undertake such acts."22

Having dealt with the jurisdictional issues related to operations, the council next addressed the criminal jurisdiction concerns affecting all nations that happened to take individuals engaged in piracy into custody. In Resolution 1851, states and regional organizations were asked to conclude special agreements with countries willing to take custody of pirates and that were willing to embark law enforcement officials onboard from the latter countries to facilitate the investigation and prosecution of persons detained. Following passage of Resolution 1851, U.S. and allied leaders represented in the Combined Maritime Force agreed to enhance the entire ongoing counter-piracy effort in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

Marine insurance for ships transiting the Gulf of Aden. The report found that commercial shippers could require a special war risk insurance premium costing additional tens of thousands of dollars per day, and that these additional costs could adversely impact international trade during the current global economic downturn.

The subcommittee hearing on February 4 provided a comprehensive examination of piracy, to include its prevalence, its current and potential impact on shipping, and the nature and effectiveness of the international efforts being implemented to following passage of Resolution 1851, U.S. and allied leaders represented in the Combined Maritime Force agreed to enhance the entire ongoing counter-piracy effort Congressional Support On February 4, 2009, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the House held a lengthy hearing on International Piracy on the High Seas in its Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. The hearing, the first held by the subcommittee on this subject, was precipitated by a Congressional Research Service report dated December 3, 2008, that focused attention on economic and humanitarian threats posed by pirates to the global seafaring community and the smooth flow of international trade.23 The specific focus of the report was that, given the marked increase of pirate attacks, the cost of transporting cargo in international waters could rise dramatically because of the sharp increase in ocean combat this threat. The hearing established that the international community has mounted a multifaceted response in the Gulf of Aden-Indian Ocean region, and that the United States is taking an active role in this effort through its leadership in Combined Task Force (CTF) 151. However, as subcommittee chair Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) stated in his opening remarks, "Given the size of the ocean area that international forces must patrol and their limited manpower, international naval powers are unlikely to be able to protect every ship passing the Horn of Africa from pirates."24

The hearing identified recent actions by the U.S. Government to respond to this threat, including the national strategy document, Countering Piracy off the Horn of Africa: Partnership and Action Plan25 (hereafter National Strategy), issued by the National Security Council with the President's approval in December 2008. The National Strategy recognizes that lasting solutions to the piracy problem require significant improvements in governance, rule of law, security, and economic development in Somalia. The strategy is realistic, however, in recognizing that, in light of the current threat, steps can be taken in the near term to deter, counter, and reduce the risk of attacks by Somali pirates. The strategy calls for preventative and precautionary measures that include:

  • Establishing a senior level contact group of nations that have the political will, operational capability, and resources to combat piracy off the Horn of Africa.
  • Strengthening and encouraging the use of the Maritime Security Patrol Area in the Gulf of Aden
  • Updating Ship's Security Assessment and Security Plans to harden commercial shipping against pirate attacks.
  • Establishing strategic communications plans to emphasize the destructive effects of piracy on trade and on human and maritime security and to encourage the rule of law.

The second prong of the National Strategy addressed at the hearing looks to interrupt and terminate acts of piracy through effective antipiracy operations. These operations are designed to interdict vessels used by pirates, and where possible to intervene in acts of piracy. The National Strategy also calls for identifying, disrupting, and eliminating pirate bases in Somalia and, to the extent possible, impacting pirate revenue.26

The final prong of the National Strategy addressed at the hearing relates to the requirement to hold pirates accountable for their crimes. All participants agreed during the hearing with the statement in the National Strategy that piracy is flourishing because it is highly profitable and nearly consequence-free. For this reason, developing the capacity to capture and successfully prosecute these criminals is critical to combating piracy. To that end, the National Strategy supports the development of agreements and arrangements with states in Africa and around the world that will allow pirates to be captured, detained, and prosecuted.

Operational Response

The Combined Maritime Force (CMF), comprised of ships and assets from more than 20 nations and commanded by a U.S. flag officer from U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, has its headquarters in Manama, Bahrain. On January 8, 2009, the CMF formally established CTF 151 for counter-piracy operations.27 Previously, in August 2008, the CMF created the Maritime Security Patrol Area in the Gulf of Aden to support international efforts to combat piracy. At that time, the only organization within the multinational CMF tasked with counter-piracy operations was CTF 150, which had been established at the onset of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

The mission of CTF 150, however, was focused on the deterrence of all destabilizing activities at sea in the region, with an emphasis on drug smuggling and weapons trafficking. Piracy, although destabilizing, was not a major focus. Moreover, several of the navies of the 20 nations whose assets articipated did not have the authority to conduct counter-piracy missions. It was for this reason that CTF 151, with its sole focus on piracy, was established. This would allow CTF 150 assets and the nations supporting this mission to remain focused on drugs and weapons trafficking, while at the same time providing tailored training and operations for the counter-piracy requirement in CTF 151.

The unclassified execute order (EXORD) for CTF 151 was published by the CMF commander on December 30, 2008. The mission of CTF 151 is clear:

CTF 151 is to conduct counter piracy operations in the CMF battlespace under a mission-based mandate to actively deter, disrupt and suppress piracy in order to protect global maritime commerce, enhance maritime security and secure freedom of navigation for the benefit of all nations.

This order mirrors the prior authorizations provided in the UN Security Council resolutions described above. It provides that ships of nations cooperating in the counter-piracy operations may board and search vessels where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting the vessels are engaged in piracy; may seize and dispose of these vessels, arms, and equipment used in the commission of piratical acts; and detain those suspected of engaging in piracy with a view to prosecution by competent law enforcement authorities. While the EXORD authorizes entry into Somali territorial seas by participating warships, nowhere does it grant CTF personnel the authority to enter the land territory of Somalia as provided in UN Security Council Resolution 1851.

Despite this limitation, CTF 151 has deployed highly trained U.S. Navy Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) teams, as well as the Coast Guard's elite Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) 405 aboard the command ship USS San Antonio.28 The role of LEDET 405 is to supplement and train the VBSS teams in various maritime interdiction operations mission areas, including maritime law, boarding policies and procedures, evidence collection and preparation, and tactical procedures.

The rapid escalation of armed attacks off the Horn of Africa in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean has prompted an unprecedented counter-piracy response within the National Security Council, U.S. Congress, United Nations, and the Combined Maritime Force. The December 2008 Countering Piracy off the Horn of Africa: Partnership and Action Plan, issued by the National Security Council, is realistic in recognizing that there are steps that can be taken in the near term to deter, counter, and reduce the risk of attacks by Somali pirates.

The United Nations has similarly begun to seriously examine the dangerous conditions in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean off Somalia's coast. In December 2008, the Security Council unanimously passed two sweeping resolutions that authorized the warships of the multinational Combined Maritime Force to enter both the territorial waters of Somalia and the land territory of that state when necessary to destroy pirate strongholds. These actions and this authority are unprecedented and indicate the deep UN commitment to deal effectively with this threat to international peace and security.

The establishment of Combined Task Force 151 in January 2009 reflects U.S. and allied commitment to provide a choke hold around the actions of pirates off the coast of Somalia. In the Navy's commitment of its Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure teams and the Coast Guard's assignment of its Law Enforcement Detachment unit, moreover, the U.S. military has committed its best.

There is no question that piracy will continue in the highly vulnerable shipping lanes of the Gulf of Aden as long as the rewards outweigh the risks. With the establishment of CTF 151, that equation may be changing.


1 Condoleezza Rice, remarks at United Nations (UN) Security Council, New York, NY, December 16, 2008.

2 A.R. Thomas and James C. Duncan, Annotated Supplement to the Commander's Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations, sec. 3.5.2 (Newport, RI: Naval War College, 1999), 222-223.

3 Sec. 101 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Opened for Signature December 10, 1982, 21 I.L.M. 1261; Art. 15 of the Convention on the High Seas defines piracy in essentially identical terms. See 13 U.S.T. 2312, 450 U.N.T.S. 92, Geneva, April 29, 1958.

4 Thomas and Duncan.

5 Art. I, sect. 8, U.S. Constitution.

6 See 18 U.S.C. 1651-1661 (1996) (piracy); 33 U.S.C. 381-384 (1996) (regulations for the suppression of piracy); and 18 U.S.C. 1654 (1996) (privateering).

7 18 U.S.C. 1651 (1996).

8 33 U.S.C. 381-384 (1996).

9 18 U.S.C. 1654 (1996).

10 18 U.S.C. 1655 (1996).

11 18 U.S.C. 1656 (1996).

12 18 U.S.C. 1657 (1996).

13 18 U.S.C. 1660 (1996).

14 18 U.S.C. 1661 (1996).

15 Ibid.

16 Thomas and Duncan, sec.

17 Art. 19, Convention on the High Seas; Art. 105, UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

18 Para. 11, UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1814 (2008).

19 Para. 7, UNSCR 1816 (2008).

20 Para. 2, UNSCR 1838 (2008).

21 Ibid., Para 6. See also International Maritime Organization (IMO) Resolution A-1002 (25), which requested that IMO member states issue similar guidance to all vessels flying their national ensigns.

22 Para. 6, UNSCR 1851 (2008).

23 Rawle O. King, Ocean Piracy and Its Impact on Insurance, Report R40081 (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, December 3, 2008).

24 Elijah Cummings, statement before the House Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, Hearing on International Piracy on the High Seas, February 4, 2009, 1.

25 National Security Council, Countering Piracy off the Horn of Africa: Partnership and Action Plan (Washington, DC: The White House, December 2008).

26 Ibid., 10.

27 "New Counter-Piracy Task Force Established," January 8, 2009, accessed at " cusnc".

28 See testimony of RADM William Baumgartner, USCG, before the House Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, Hearing on International Piracy on the High Seas, February 4, 2009, 6.

China's New Security Strategy for Africa

Jonathan Holslog

Reprinted with permission from the July 2009 issue of Parameters.

In December 2008, the Chinese Navy deployed three warships into the Gulf of Aden. This operation is not just a key moment in the development of China's blue-water navy, but also demonstrates China's growing willingness to secure its economic interests in Africa. The question is how successful this policy will be. The deeper China ventures into the resource-abundant African continent, the more it stumbles upon various security challenges. It is obvious that the People's Republic of China (PRC) desires to be Africa's most prominent economic partner. It is also unmistakable that the PRC is swiftly gaining diplomatic leverage. What is less clear, however, is how it will respond to the perils that lie ahead. Throughout history, most external powers for whom Africa's mineral wealth became indispensable to their industrial growth backed up their economic forays with a projection of military might, to suppress local resistance in their dominions or defend their realms from imperialist competitors. The dispatching of forces to Africa derived from the desire to reduce vulnerability while not having to rely on others.1

Now China has achieved a stage of economic development which requires endless supplies of African raw materials and has started to develop the capacity to exercise influence in most corners of the globe. The extrapolation of history predicts that distrust and uncertainty will inevitably lead the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to Africa in staggering numbers. In application of the self-help paradigm, China is expected to confront security challenges autonomously, while keeping other powers at bay. This article provides an overview of recent security challenges and the ways in which China has been adapting its security policy, then discusses what China's options are for the future and to what extent unilateral military action in Africa is feasible.

Security Challenges

There are several sources of uncertainty regarding China's aspirations in Africa. Chinese mining activities often fall prey to endemic instability and violence in economic partner states. Since 2004, several Chinese companies have been in the frontline of internal conflicts. In 2004, rebels abducted Chinese workers who were working in southern Sudan.2 In April 2006, a separatist movement detonated a car bomb in the south of Nigeria, warned that investors from China would be "treated as thieves," and threatened new attacks on oil workers, storage facilities, bridges, offices, and other oil industry targets. A spokesperson for the militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta condemned China for taking a $2.2 billion stake in oil fields in the delta.3 In July of that year, violent protests erupted at the Chinese-owned Chambisi copper mine in Zambia, resulting in five deaths and severe material damage. In November, Sudanese rebels launched three attacks on Chinese oil facilities and briefly seized the Abu Jabra oil field close to Darfur.4 In January 2007, five Chinese telecommunications workers were kidnapped by gunmen in the oil city of Port Harcourt in southern Nigeria. Two weeks afterward, another nine Chinese oil workers went missing after being attacked by an armed group in Bayelsa state, Nigeria.5 A month later, four assailants raided a Chinese stone plant in Kenya and killed one Chinese employee.6

In April 2007, nine Chinese and 65 Ethiopian oil engineers were killed during an assault on an oil exploration site operated by SINOPEC's Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), an ethnic Somali group, kidnapped and later released seven Chinese men. The ONLF has repeatedly warned foreign oil companies to leave the region bordering Somalia. In 2008, the Chinese government organized the evacuation of 212 compatriots from Chad to Cameroon after clashes in N'Djamena, Chad's capital. In the seas around Africa another risk looms. Chinese trawlers have been poached repeatedly when approaching the Horn of Africa. Between 2000 and 2006, seven incidents involving Somalian pirates were reported. In 2008, pirates targeted six Chinese ships in the Gulf of Aden.

Violence also threatens economic interests indirectly. Mindful of Deng Xiaoping's proverb, "safeguarding world peace to ensure domestic development," Beijing is investing an increasing amount of effort into branding itself a responsible actor on the international scene.7 "The multifield, multilevel, and multichannel cooperation within the international community has become the realistic choice," Foreign Minster Li Zhaoxing wrote in 2005. "The vigorous pursuit of peace, development, and cooperation by the people of all countries has formed a tide of history . . . . China's diplomacy has made bold headway, serving domestic development and contributing to world peace and common development."8 Mayhem in the Sudanese province of Darfur, however, cast some doubt on these ambitions.9 China was not only criticized for supporting Khartoum following the commission of war crimes, but the situation in Darfur also put Beijing in a bind between two diverging aspects of China's new diplomatic standards. On the one hand, there is the traditional emphasis on sovereignty and noninterference, principles that have proved to be lucrative in establishing economic deals in Sudan and elsewhere in Africa.10 On the other hand, the principle of constructive engagement as described by Minister Li is essential to maintaining good relations with nations and participating in multilateral organizations. In Sudan, China's traditional policy of noninterference was contrary to the expectation of other African nations that Beijing would contribute to the stabilization of Darfur. Domestic violence from China's point of view reduces its diplomatic maneuverability and ability to maintain the policy of noninterference which facilitated business with various countries.

The Chinese position became even more awkward when violence in Sudan started to spill over into Chad. Following the establishment of diplomatic ties with Chad in 2006 and the consequent oil deals, the government in N'Djamena made it clear to Beijing that the infiltration of rebels from Darfur into its own territory had to stop. During a visit to Beijing in April 2007, Chad's Minister of Foreign Affairs urged the PRC to pressure Khartoum into ending its support of the Chadian armed opposition. After the siege on N'Djamena in the early part of 2008, Chad's envoy to the United Nations stated, "China was a friendly country to both the Sudan and Chad," and he expressed the hope that "China would bring to bear more pressure on the Sudan to stop the process of destabilization in Chad." The Sudan was trying to overthrow the legitimate government of Chad, in order to settle the conflict in Darfur. It was in China's interests to pressure the Sudanese.11 When Li Zhaoxing visited the Central African Republic, President Francois Bozize joined Chad's appeal for exerting more pressure on Sudan. In April 2006, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs was asked by the Ethiopian government to take a more active stance on the crisis in Somalia, implying that China should condone the Ethiopian intervention in Somalia to drive out the Union of Islamic Courts.

Finally, China is concerned about the increasing military presence of other powers.12 Between 2000 and 2006, the United States increased the number of its forces in Africa from 220 to nearly 1,000. The establishment of a new US Africa Command (AFRICOM), announced when Chinese President Hu Jintao was completing a tour of the region in 2006, raised eyebrows in Beijing. Although the Chinese government did not officially comment, state-controlled media reported that the American initiative stood for "Cold War balancing" and that this move was "rejected by African countries."13 An official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs interpreted the establishment of AFRICOM mainly in the context of the war against terrorism, but also recognized that "for the Americans, military diplomacy is a way to counterbalance China and to maintain a strategic edge."14 Lin Zhiyuan, the deputy director of the Academy of Military Sciences, went further: "AFRICOM will surely facilitate coordinating or overseeing US military actions in Africa for an effective control of the whole of Africa," he wrote. "The United States has enhanced its military infiltration in Africa in recent years, with its military aid to the continent doubling and its weaponry sale skyrocketing continuously."15 Chinese officials also tend to believe that, in the case of Sudan and Zimbabwe, Washington is not really concerned with human rights, but that it highlights such issues to constrain China and to eventually effectuate a regime state at the expense of China's influence.16

India is also expanding its military presence in the region. Along the East African coast, it has inked defense agreements with Kenya, Madagascar, and Mozambique and initiated joint training programs with Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, and South Africa. Its naval dominance in the strategic maritime shipping lanes around Africa in particular makes Chinese security analysts worry about the safety of Chinese supply routes. Delhi has convinced island states such as Madagascar, Mauritius, and the Seychelles to cooperate on maritime surveillance and intelligence gathering. India's fleet in the Indian Ocean is becoming one of the most powerful naval forces and includes state-of-the-art aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, and other surface combatants.17 "As one of the emerging powers in the world, India is now catching up with their involvement in Africa," one Chinese expert asserted. "The maritime build-up of India along the African shores is one of these endeavors taken by India. The purposes are multifold: economically for market and resources, politically for international influence and support for possible permanent membership in the UN Security Council, and it may also involve competing with China for influence in Africa."18 Another scholar, Zhang Yuncheng, claims that "if some accident occurs or if the Strait [of Malacca] is blocked by foreign powers, China will experience a tremendous energy security problem." This assessment is also shared by Zhu Fenggang, who points to the possibility of sea denial as a coercive measure against China.

Instability and geopolitical rivalry loom over China's future supply of natural resources. Most of Africa's energy deposits are located in the violence-plagued area that surrounds Sudan or in the Gulf of Guinea where the United States continues to step up its influence. In the east, India has begun converting the Indian Ocean into a sphere of influence. The most urgent need for Beijing is the protection of Chinese citizens and companies whenever they fall prey to instability overseas. The long-term risk is that local tensions and conflicts will entice external powers to interfere and to exploit this instability to gain clout at the expense of the People's Republic. It is this double security challenge that Chinese experts and policymakers have started to address.

China's Current Security Policy

In response to the attacks in Africa during the last five years, China has confronted the problem of nontraditional security threats in several ways. Two senior researchers of the State Council's study department categorized nontraditional threats as a strategic economic challenge and called for including a series of new measures in the national security strategy, in congruence with China's position as an "influential world power."19 Following the lethal attack on a Chinese oil facility in Ethiopia, China Daily headlined: "China needs to consider new channels to protect overseas interests." The article stressed that "China must break through traditional diplomatic thinking . . . . The principle of self-restraint is insufficient to protect ourselves or to safeguard overseas economic interests and development."20

The PRC's initial reaction is to work with local governments. "China will cooperate closely with immigration departments of African countries in tackling the problem of illegal migration, improve exchange of immigration control information, and set up an unimpeded and efficient channel for intelligence and information exchange," China's 2006 Africa Policy stated. "In order to enhance the ability of both sides to address nontraditional security threats, it is necessary to increase intelligence exchange, explore more effective ways and means for closer cooperation in combating terrorism, small-arms smuggling, drug trafficking, transnational economic crimes, etc."21 Beijing has instructed its embassies in Africa to keep a close watch on local security. The swift and successful evacuation of Chinese citizens from Chad also demonstrated that China has developed operational scenarios to deal with these emergencies. The Chinese government has also started issuing travel advisories. In Sudan and Kenya, state-owned companies receive protection from local armed forces against attacks by rebels. Beijing has signed an agreement with South Africa to prevent the Chinese diaspora from turning into a target for armed gangs.22

Such measures are designed to help Chinese citizens and companies avoid some of the risks related to operating in Africa, but they do not provide any guarantee for safeguarding China's economic activities if the situation keeps deteriorating. In the case of Sudan, China learned the hard way that prodding instable governments can have drastic consequences. If problems start to occur at the regional level, supporting these emerging states might prove even riskier. Nor does this narrow security response address China's uncertainty about the military capability of African nations. The dilemma reverts back to the realistic supposition of self-help. Is the PRC trying to safeguard its interests by building up its own military presence in Africa?

Bilateral military exchanges are a first indicator to test whether this assumption holds true. According to the Chinese government, interaction with other armed forces expanded significantly, with 174 high-level visits in 2001 and more than 210 in 2006. This upward trend was not maintained in Africa, however, where such bilateral exchanges have remained stable at an annual average of 26. Beijing has established a permanent military dialogue only with South Africa. Interviews with European diplomats in ten randomly chosen African countries also reveal that the number of accredited military officers in Chinese embassies, i.e., military attachés and their support staff, has barely or not expanded at all in the last few years. In fact, only in 15 countries are Chinese military attachés assigned on a permanent basis.23 China's military diplomacy in Africa remains modest, and it has not kept up with the impressive number of Chinese trade officials posted in African nations to strengthen economic ties in the last few years.

Military aid is another indicator. Providing military hardware to partner nations can serve various objectives. In a context of competition, it helps to thwart defense cooperation with other states or to prevent other powers' attempts to alter the regional military balance. Defense aid might help a privileged political partner to safeguard economic interests. Whereas these three objectives are motivated by security issues and long-term economic interests, defense aid may well be the result of more short-sighted aspirations. There is no evidence that China's military aid successfully counterbalances other powers, such as the United States. Apart from Sudan and Zimbabwe, most countries that have received Chinese military aid in the last few years are also supplied by Washington. In 2007, Beijing temporarily froze the supply of heavy arms to Khartoum after pressure from the West.24 When Nigeria's Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, announced that his nation would turn to China instead of the United States for arms, Beijing's response was reluctant, and no major supply operations materialized. China's military aid programs should not be considered as support for its forays into the mining industry. For instance, between 2004 and 2008, resource-rich Nigeria received only half as much military aid as Ghana or Uganda. During this period, China provided more military assistance to Angola than to Sudan, even though the security challenges in the latter were much greater. Although violence in Somalia has threatened China's oil exploration activities in both Ethiopia and Kenya, China only made a commitment to Kenya to help in protecting its border. China has, at times, provided military aid, but such assistance does not seem to be part of any coherent strategy related to protecting its security interests.

Finally, self-help would imply the deployment of military forces whenever China's interests are threatened, possibly in an attempt to train friendly armed forces and dissuade any challengers. Yet, such a Chinese military presence is negligible. China has no bases in Africa, as does the United States and France, nor has it trained African soldiers to counter threats to its national interests. In Sudan, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, and Gabon, China has employed teams of three to ten instructors, but they are assisting in the maintenance of equipment, rather than providing training for combat missions. In Zambia and Algeria, similar examples of cooperation exist but are limited to medical activities. Other major powers deployed naval vessels in an effort to combat piracy and to maintain the maritime supply lines surrounding Africa. During such operations, the Chinese Navy has rarely shown its flag. In 2000, China sent its newest Luhai-class guided missile destroyer and a supply ship to Tanzania and South Africa. A 2002 fleet composed of a guided missile destroyer, the Qingdao, and a supply ship, the Taicang, visited Egypt.25 These voyages were gestures of courtesy rather than a reaction to security challenges. They were limited in duration, and no actions were attempted against pirates or poachers. In December 2008, however, the Chinese government did deploy two destroyers and a replenishment ship in the Gulf of Aden to participate in the United Nations-backed mission against piracy. A mission that was only undertaken after receiving a positive signal from US Pacific Command chief Admiral Timothy Keating.

Instead of dealing with security threats unilaterally, China has resorted to bandwagoning. Although in the 1980s and early 1990s, Beijing opposed attempts by the international community to intervene in African security issues, nowadays it tends to join them. Beijing is increasingly recognizing the United Nations' role in resolving the numerous conflicts and safeguarding the sovereignty of developing nations. In the 1990s, China began supporting United Nations (UN) missions designed to implement peace agreements between rivalling parties, on the condition that a well-defined and restricted mandate was included. Traditional peacekeeping operations such as those in Somalia (UNSOM I), Mozambique, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone all were supported. When the UN Security Council decided to dispatch forces to Liberia in 2003, China offered to support the mission and gradually increased the number of its peacekeepers to 1,300 in 2007.

At the same time, however, failed states and national governments that had actively participated in atrocities challenged the efficacy of many of the traditional UN operations. China's focus on the primacy of sovereignty, requiring at a minimum the state's consent, collided with the willingness of other nations to intervene aggressively under the UN Charter's Chapter VII mandate. Beijing loudly opposed the move by European countries to push for Operation Turquoise in Rwanda, Washington's call to broaden the UNSOM mandate, or France's demand for a troop increase in the 2004 UN operation in Ivory Coast. Despite its strong concerns, China did not veto these interventions at the UN Security Council, but rather abstained and remained aloof from implementation. Sudan was the first instance where China actively lobbied an African government to permit a UN mission on its soil. Via active brokering and indirect pressure, China succeeded in neutralizing the incompatibility between its economic interests and the principle of noninterference on the one hand, and western appeals for intervening in Darfur and the need for long-term stability on the other.

That Beijing recognizes the importance of collective security became apparent in 2006, when China was the first nation to ask the UN Security Council for a peacekeeping mission in Somalia. In June that year, at a Security Council meeting in Addis Ababa, China's Permanent Representative to the UN, Wang Guangya, scolded other diplomats for neglecting Somalia and urged them to support the deployment of peacekeepers. "I was reluctant to take on this role," said Wang, explaining that African governments had been pushing China to raise the issue in the Council, "but there was a lack of interest by the other major powers." Initially, the proposal was tentatively received by Great Britain and the United States, but after various talks in New York, Beijing and Washington jointly sponsored a resolution for the deployment of a UN mission. In 2007, in early consultations with France, China supported a French draft resolution on Chad calling for the dispatch of mainly European peacekeepers under the auspices of Chapter VII. It was significant that China approved the "close liaising" with the Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), where earlier it had objected to the development of links between UNAMID and UN missions. "Our support for the resolution on Chad shows that we are prepared to cooperate to tackle security issues at a regional level and that our awareness on the increasing complexity of violent conflicts in Africa grows," a Chinese diplomat explained.

China is also turning to African regional organizations to collaborate on security issues.26 In the China-Africa Action Plan, approved in November 2006, Beijing vowed "to support Africa in the areas of logistics" as well as "to continue its active participation in the peacekeeping operations and demining process in Africa and provide, within the limits of its capabilities, financial and material assistance as well as relevant training to the Peace and Security Council of the African Union."27 In June 2006, the Chinese government granted the African Union's Mission in Sudan $3.5 million in budgetary support and humanitarian aid. Earlier, it provided financial and technical support to the Association for West African States.

Slowly but surely, China is showing itself ready to participate in international efforts to prevent conflicts, fueled by the easy availability of small arms and illegally exported natural resources. In 2002, for instance, Beijing revised its regulation on the control of military products for export and published the "Military Products Export Control List" supplying guidelines for the export of military-related products. In the same year, it signed the "Protocol Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms," which committed the People's Republic to control the manufacturing, marking, import, and export of firearms, and to confiscate and destroy all illicit firearms.28 In 2005, the government launched a national information management system for the production, possession, and trade of light arms, and it introduced a system to monitor end-users of Chinese-made weapons to prevent the arms from finding their way to "sensitive regions" around the world via third parties.29 In 2006, China supported a draft UN resolution on the illicit trade of small arms and light weapons, in contrast to the United States.30 In 2002, China joined the Kimberley Process, a joint government, international diamond industry, and civil initiative designed to stem the flow of conflict diamonds originating from Africa.31 In 2005, China allowed a voluntary peer review of its support for the Kimberly Process.32 Although these actions still have many flaws, they seem to prove that China wishes to do more than just put "boots on the ground" in response to Africa's internal conflicts.

Despite the strategic importance of Africa, China does not try to safeguard its foothold in the region by unilaterally projecting military power. In Africa, its military diplomacy remains limited when compared with defense initiatives in other regions. If the PRC does pursue bilateral cooperation programs, these are more likely to be a part of its diplomatic charm offensive, rather than addressing threats to China's economic and security interests. Instead of relying on a military presence to counterbalance other powers, the PRC tends to join collective security efforts within the framework of the United Nations and African regional organizations. Over the past few years, this strategy of joint ventures has evolved from passive support to active cooperation. Beijing has softened its devotion to noninterference. While maintaining the primacy of sovereignty, it has become willing to support interventions whenever regional stability is at stake.

Although China has become a revisionist power in terms of its economic aspirations on the continent, it is acting as a status-quo power in terms of security objectives. There are several explanations for this stance. First, China only recently began its economic focus on the African continent. For the past two decades, China concentrated on curbing the military and diplomatic influence of Taiwan; the focus on "economization" of its Africa policy only began in the late 1990s. Hence, the security challenges it is facing now are a recent phenomena, and solutions to these challenges are just starting to be explored. The PRC is going through the early stage of resecuritization of its Africa strategy, and joining with other nations in an allied strategy can be considered the easiest immediate response. Second, and related to this point, China has not developed sufficient means to back up its security policy with military power. This is a matter of budgetary constraints. Building an independent and sustained military presence is a costly affair and would, at present, overstretch the PLA's capabilities, while Asia remains its primary focus. The PLA does not possess the logistical capacity to support sustained region wide deployment in Africa. Its long-range airlift and sealift, as well as its intelligence and command capabilities, are not up to the task. Third, the Chinese government wants to avoid the People's Republic being perceived as a hegemonic power.

In the initial stage of its economic charm offensive, the PRC tried to pursue a business-as-usual approach, maintaining a low profile and steering clear of political entanglements. That approach is no longer possible now that China stands at the forefront of Africa's political scene, actively altering the economic balance of power. Beijing is well aware of the dichotomy between its weak and strong identities and is reluctant to demonstrate any independent military capacity. Such a show of strength might reduce its diplomatic maneuverability, increase resistance from African nations-just as Washington is now experiencing-and raise suspicions elsewhere regarding Chinese intentions. Yet, as interests, perceptions, and capacities are susceptible to change, the question remains whether China will stay on this track of cooperative security.

China's interests in Africa have changed over the past decades and will undoubtedly continue to evolve. The concept for its security policy in the region will depend on the role that Africa plays as a supplier of natural resources. Africa currently supplies approximately 30 percent of China's oil imports. Beijing and its African partners announced that they are preparing to increase bilateral trade to $100 billion by the year 2010. Most of this increase will come from the import of raw commodities. In recent years, Chinese companies have laid the foundation for a substantial increase in the production of resource industries. Exploration in the Gulf of Guinea, Angola, and the Horn of Africa have the potential for an increase in oil exports to China of more than 80 percent in the next ten years. Chinese companies are just starting to tap the large mines that were recently acquired in Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia, and elsewhere on the continent. Given the fact that other emerging markets such as India and Brazil are shifting the use of their raw materials from export to domestic consumption, the economic relevance of Africa to China cannot be overstated.

How necessary it is to back up these Chinese economic ventures with more overt security measures is yet to be seen. The incidents described in the first section of this article, the persistent instability in nations, as well as the weak position of amicable political leaders will undoubtedly position Africa higher on Beijing's foreign security agenda and require a more complete approach. The question again arises whether it is in China's best interest to apply its African policy independently or in synergy with other nations. The short-term costs of any unilateral action would certainly exceed those of collective action, but long-term uncertainty about the intentions of other major players might influence any concerns related to cost-effectiveness. If Washington or Delhi decides to change course and contain China's expanding influence in Africa by pursing a strategy of counterbalancing and sea denial, the repercussions for the People's Republic will be dramatic. The concerns of the national security establishments in India and the United States and their expanding military presence in Africa are not unnoticed in China, and they highlight the necessity for the PRC to build a legitimate capacity to deal with crises unilaterally.

China's diplomatic identity will help shape policy decisions in support of a more active and autonomous security strategy. Beijing is realizing that the comfortable cloak of frailty it previously presented to the world no longer fits. African partners do not attach much value to China's diplomatic schizophrenia and the complex image of an economic giant, political dwarf, and minor military player it projects. When mayhem erupts, China automatically ends up on the frontline, finding itself hounded by African governments asking it to exercise its leverage. The cases of Chad and Somalia are not the only examples of this. South Africa has accosted China regarding illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe.33 Central Africa has carefully examined the violent incursions from Sudan.34 The African Union has called upon China several times to play a more active role in promoting security. The possibility exists that individual countries may be compelled to form a closer alliance with China in order to reduce their current reliance on the European Union and United States for security. Nigeria's announcement that it would rely on China instead of the United States for military support hints at this direction. The ability of the PRC to keep a low military profile is diminishing.

On the other hand, China's self-perception is also in transition. The "Century of Humiliation" is far behind and is being replaced by a national attitude of confidence and assertiveness. Chinese leaders have built on the success of their policy of good neighbor diplomacy that resulted in fewer frictions and more influence in Asia. The People's Republic has drawn confidence from the successful launch of a number of new defense systems. As China sees its diplomatic leverage expanding geographically from the Strait of Formosa, via Asia to the rest of the developing world, its ability to deal with emerging security issues is likely to follow suit.

Finally, there is the factor of capacity. China is gearing its military for a greater deployment capability. Its large immobile army is gradually being converted into a highly specialized and flexible organization. Simultaneously, the PLA is launching new military systems that will enhance its capacity to transport these forces. In 2007, the Chinese government approved the development of large passenger jets, including military transport variants similar to the American C-17 Globemaster III. Beijing has also ordered several new ships in an effort to enhance its naval transport capacity. In 2006, the hull of the first T-071 vessel was laid. This landing-platform dock has a range that goes far beyond Taiwan, with the aim of providing sea-based support to operations on land, humanitarian aid, and assisting in evacuations and disaster management. These vessels will be supported by a new generation of large replenishment ships and could be escorted by advanced frigates and destroyers. The Chinese flotilla that was sent to Somalia demonstrates China's new blue-water capacity. The type 052C Lanzhou, for instance, is a showcase of the advanced detection capacity for China's Navy. Its multifunction, active phased-array radar has a detection range of 450 kilometers and is complemented with a long-range, two-dimensional air search radar that has a 350-kilometer range and three additional systems to detect incoming missiles and aircraft.35 China is advancing its ability to pursue a more confident and independent security policy in Africa.

Will all this newfound military activity be sufficient to offset the antagonistic response it is likely to provoke? Probably not. If China decides to go solo and to pursue a more aggressive security policy in Africa, it is improbable that it will be able to overcome countermoves by India and the United States. As this article previously detailed, it will be difficult for China to safeguard maritime trade with Africa if India exercises its naval dominance in the Indian Ocean. The sheer geographical divide between the PRC and the African continent makes it extremely difficult to support military activities if the United States or India opposes them. Contrary to China's revolutionary phase of the 1950s and 1960s when trade and economic interests only played a small part, China's increasing reliance on Africa renders it highly vulnerable to sea denial operations or a guerre de course. The fragile Cold War balance between the United States and the Soviet Union that allowed Mao to meddle with America's interests in Africa without having to fear political or economic reprisals can no longer be counted on. These days China has much to lose if it provokes Washington or Delhi.


There are several reasons to assume that China will abandon its security cooperation strategy in Africa. The persistence of the double security challenge, the growing strategic importance of Africa, and China's growing military might and diplomatic assertiveness may lead to a more strident and unilateral security policy. For the long-term haul, however, the geo-economics in question, specifically the vulnerability of its long supply lines, will prevent China from resorting to a unilateral diplomacy that a number of nations previously pursued. Despite changing interests, perceptions, and means, China is and will remain dependent on the good will and collaboration of other players to help safeguard its economic interests in Africa. As long as its economic stability relies on a supply of Africa's natural resources, China will stick to the path of security cooperation. In fact, it will be the main stakeholder in terms of maintaining peace, social stability, good governance, and equitable development in its partner countries. Beijing's only option is to avoid future friction with other world powers by not being drawn into national power plays and by preventing regional and domestic hostility. Unlike any other external power, it is in China's interest to turn regional actors into flexible and globally supported organizations, and by demonstrating strategic leadership and conflict management while doing so.


Acknowledgements go to Chris Alden, Bates Gill, David Shinn, Gudrun Wacker, and He Wenping for their constructive remarks.

1. Ian Taylor and Paul Williams, eds., Africa in International Politics: External Involvement on the Continent (London: Routledge, 2004); Shaun Gregory, "The French Military in Africa: Past and Present," African Affairs, 99 (July 2000), 435-48; Louis Balmond, ed., Les Interventions Militaires Françaises en Afrique (Paris: Pedone, 1998).

2. "Two Chinese Abducted by Rebels in Sudan," China Daily, 17 March 2004.

3. Craig Timberg, "Militants Warn China over Oil in Niger Delta," The Washington Post, 30 April 2006.

4. Associated Press, "Sudan Rebels Attack Kordofan Oilfield," Sudan Tribune, 27 November 2006.

5. Martin Espinola, "Nigerian Militants Attack Oil, Gas Industries," Reuters, 25 January 2007.

6. Qiang Guo, "Chinese Engineer Killed in Kenya Attack," China Daily, 2 February 2007.

7. On the transition of China's diplomatic identity, see Rosemary Foot, "Chinese Power and the Idea of a Responsible State," The China Journal, 45 (Spring 2001), 1-19; Evan S. Medeiros and M. Taylor Fravel, "China's New Diplomacy," Foreign Affairs, 82 (November/December 2003), 21-35; Zhao Kejin, "Hard Diplomacy, Soft Landing: On the Formation and Consequences of the New Thought of China's Diplomacy," International Review, May 2005); Su Changhe, "Discovering China's New Diplomacy: Multilateral International Institutions and New Thought of China's Diplomacy," World Economics and Politics, 4 April 2005.

8. Li Zhaoxing, "Banner of Diplomacy Stressed," People's Daily, 23 August 2005.

9. Jonathan Holslag, "China's Diplomatic Maneuvering on the Question of Darfur," Journal of Contemporary China, 17 (February 2008).

10. On the application of noninterference as an economic lever, see Jonathan Holslag, "China's New Mercantilism in Central Africa," African and Asian Studies, 5 (no. 2, 2006), 133-69.

11. United Nations, "Press Conference by Chad's Foreign Minister," 26 February 2008.

12. Horace Campbell, "China in Africa: Challenging US Global Hegemony," Third World Quarterly, 29 (February 2008), 89-105; Jiang Chunliang, 21 shiji shijie shiyou jingzheng yu Zhongguo shiyou anquan [21st Century World Oil Competition and China's Oil Security] in 21 shiji Zhongguo shiyou fazhan zhanlue [21st Century China's Oil Development Strategy] (Beijing: Shiyou Gongye Chubanshe, 2000), 30-43; Kang Sheng, "American Factor and Chinese Petroleum Security and Diplomacy in Africa," Journal of Socialist Theory Guide (April 2006); Wang Jinchun, "Geopolitical Analysis on USA's Oil Strategy towards Africa," Development and Economy (September 2003).

13. See, for instance, "African States Reject US Military Command Center," China Daily, 27 June 2007; and "North Africa Reluctant to Host US Command," Xinhua, 24 June 2007.

14. Author's interview at Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Beijing, 7 December 2007.

15. Lin Zhiyuan, "U.S. Moves to Step up Military Infiltration in Africa," People's Daily, 26 February 2007.

16. Peng Jianli and Luo Huijun, Dangqian Fazhanzhong Guojia dui Meiguo Renquan Waijiao Ying Caiqu de Duice [On the Countermeasures the Developing Countries Should Take Against America's Human Rights Diplomacy], Hunan Shifan Daxue Shehui Kexue Xuebao [Journal of Hunan Normal University], (April 2002); Holslag, "China's Diplomatic Maneuvering on the Question of Darfur."

17. Jonathan Holslag, China, India, and the Military Security Dilemma (Brussels: Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies, 2008), 13-25; Zhang Wenmu, Jingji quanqiuhua yu Zhongguo haiquan [Economic Globalization and China's Seapower], Zhanlue yu guanli [Strategy and Management], no. 1 (January 2004), 90-96; Zhang Jie, Zhongguo Nengyuan Anquan de Maliujia Yinsu [The Malacca Factor in China's Energy Security], Guoji Zhengzhi [International Politics] (February 2005).

18. E-mail to author from Chinese Africa expert, Beijing, 28 February 2008.

19. Li Shantong and Hou Shantong, Zhongguo "shiyiwu" jingji zhanlue zhimian ba da tiaozhan [China's eleventh five-year plan faces eight strategic economic challenges] (Beijing: State Council Development Research Center, 16 June 2007).

20. Zhongguo chuantong waijiao shoudao fei chuantong tiaozhan [China's traditional diplomacy challenged by nontraditional security threats], China Daily, 28 April 2007.

21. Foreign Ministry of the People's Republic of China, China's Africa Policy (Beijing: 12 January 2006), section 4.4.

22. Author's interview with expert at China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, Beijing, 17 December 2007.

23. Susan Puska, "Military Backs China's Africa Adventure," Asia Times, 8 June 2007.

24. Author's interviews with European Union official, Brussels, 20 February 2008, and European diplomat, New York, 21 February 2008.

25. Puska.

26. Wan Yulan, Feimeng yu Feizhou Anquan Tixi de Goujian [African Union and the Creation of African Security System], Xiya Feizhou [West Asia and Africa] (June 2007); Luo Jianbo, Lixiang yu Xianshi: Feimeng yu Feizhou Jiti Anquan Jizhi de Jiangou [Ideal and Reality: AU and the Construction of African Collective Security Mechanism], Waijiao Pinglun [Foreign Policy Review] (April 2006).

27. "Forum on China-Africa Cooperation: Addis Ababa Action Plan, 2004-2006" (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Second Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, 15-16 December 2003).

28. "China's Vice Foreign Minister on Small Arms Issues," Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Beijing, 10 December 2002.

29. Qiao Zonghuai, "Statement by Chinese Representative at UN Workshop on Small Arms and Light Weapons," Beijing, 20 April 2005.

30. United Nations Disarmament Committee, "The Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects," revised draft resolution A/C.1/61/L.15/Rev.1, 19 October 2006.

31. Kimberly Process, "Participants World Map,"

32. Global Witness Publishing and Partnership Africa Canada, "Implementing the Kimberly Process," June 2005; Clive Wright, "Tackling Conflict Diamonds: The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme," International Peacekeeping, 11 (Winter 2004), 697-708.

33. Author's interview with South African scholar, Brussels, 5 February 2008.

34. Author's interview with French foreign affairs official, Paris, 12 February 2008; e-mail to author from French diplomat, Bangui, 13 February 2008.

35. "Chinese Naval Fire-Control Radars," Jane's Naval Fire Control Radars, 27 May 2008.


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