The U.S.’s Strategic Re-Pivot to the Middle Eastern Quagmire

(Newsweek) – The U.S. has not fully woken to the rising Chinese dragon’s aggressive forays into the Middle East. In December 2019, China participated in its first three-way naval exercise with Iran and Russia in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman. More recently, in response to Iran’s economic and military alliance with China, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asserted in the beginning of August that “China’s entry into Iran will destabilize the Middle East. It’ll put Israel at risk. It’ll put the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates at risk as well.”

But the Trump administration has not formulated a comprehensive regional strategy to keep China at bay, while also maintaining a light footprint in the Middle East and pivoting toward Asia. So for now, the U.S. is doomed to continually be sucked into the quagmire of the Middle East.

The U.S.’s regional allies questioned the Obama administration’s withdrawal from Iraq and pivot away from the Middle East toward Asia. This subsequently led to increased Russian involvement in Syria and the rise of ISIS, which once again drew the U.S. into the region. A U.S. in retreat will increase regional instability, as an assertive Russia, a nuclear-aspiring Iran committed to destabilizing the region, a rivaling Saudi nuclear aspirant and mercantilist China seek to extend their spheres of influence across the vacuum of governance spanning the region.

U.S. strategic allies in the region are not convinced by the level of the U.S.’s commitment to their security vis-à-vis Iran. James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, has identified that Saudi Arabia fears that the U.S. will seek to renegotiate the JCPOA with Iran, which may contain loopholes and ambiguities that Iran could exploit. Iran could then be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, enhanced its ballistic missile capabilities and increase its support for terrorist proxies across the region. And the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have lauded the UAE’s recent peace agreement with Israel, which they believe will bolster their security in the event of a regional U.S. drawback.

China will seek to increase its maritime presence in the region to protect its energy imports. The Iranian attack on the Saudi petroleum processing facilities in 2019 saw oil prices spike by 20 percent. This affected China’s purchase of 60 percent of its oil that comes from the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia being China’s top supplier of oil.

The U.S.'s Strategic Re-Pivot to the Middle Eastern Quagmire Geopolitical Risk Consulting

Dorsey notes that Sun Degang and Wu Sike, scholars with close links to the Chinese regime, asserted that the Middle East was a “key region in big power diplomacy with Chinese characteristics in a new era.” China perceives the U.S.’s reticence to commit to the Middle East as an opportunity to destabilize the region. For example, in 2017, China agreed to cooperate with Saudi Arabia on nuclear energy. Although this was guaranteed to heighten tensions with Iran, it was not met with a U.S. response. Similarly, in 2018, China’s comprehensive strategic partnerships with Saudi Arabia and the UAE was met with a muted response. All the while, GCC states are increasingly hedging from fully committing to the U.S. underpinning its security architecture and are simultaneously cultivating ties with China, Russia, Iran the U.S. and Israel.

Despite the U.S. providing weapons sales to GCC states, those GCC states will take the opportunity of increased ties with Israel to diversify their weapons supplies away from sole reliance upon the U.S.—especially in light of criticism by U.S. lawmakers on weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This will reduce the U.S.’s leverage with them, which is and will continue to be exploited by China and Russia. In 2019, Russia advanced a collective security concept for the Gulf. In July 2020, at the ninth ministerial meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, Chinese and Arab League foreign ministers adopted the Amman Declaration, which seeks to build a joint China-Arab community by deepening ties.

Read Full Article: Newsweek

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

The Godfather Wars

(The American Interest) – Don Vito Corleone, Don Licio Lucchesi, Hyman Roth, and the coming international realignment.

In the aftermath of World War II, the U.S.-led Western hemisphere decided that economic interdependence between Western democracies would underpin political harmony. The trauma of two world wars prompted the Europeans to establish the Coal and Steel Community in 1951, the progenitor of the European Union. This trend was cemented by the end of the Cold War, with the triumph of capitalism over communism, to the point that the free world became defined by open markets and democracy. Despite being underwritten by the U.S. security guarantee, the Western order distinguished between political security and economic prosperity, to the point that the former concept was consigned to the dustbin of history (this despite historical precedents establishing that economic ties do not necessarily strengthen political ties). The Unipolar Moment came to be identified with the End of History, to the point that President Clinton in 1997 dismissed the Chinese government as being on the “wrong side of history.” Little did the West suspect that it might be on the wrong side of history, or that its primacy would become a source of its vulnerability in the international system.

Liberal internationalists certainly did not anticipate China’s military assertiveness, or its economic decoupling with the United States. They embodied a tendency to idealistically project the West’s unique historical circumstances, and especially the triumph of democratic capitalism over Soviet communism, onto China’s totalitarian political system. This tendency was complemented by the West’s eagerness to access China’s large consumer market and natural resources. In the process, the West discarded realpolitik, and the bell rang forth, extolling the virtues of U.S.-Chinese financial interdependence. The World Trade Organization learned the wrong historical precedent that, “The key lesson drawn from the inter-war experience was that international political cooperation—and an enduring peace—depended fundamentally on international economic cooperation.” In 2002, the Bush Administration’s National Security Strategy advanced the idea that the United States and China would enhance cooperation on global challenges. This was echoed by the Obama Administration’s National Security Strategy in 2010. Tony Blair echoed this approach when he argued that the European Union should extend to China, along with the United States, a new global partnership. As such he took a page from The Godfather’s Peter Clemenza, who orders Rocco Lampone, “Leave the gun. Take the canoli.”

In the liberal internationalist order, which stresses interconnectedness, Western manufacturers have followed suit by preferring access to China’s vast markets. In the process, they were willing to overlook issues like the trade deficit, theft of intellectual property, the forced transfer of U.S. technology to China, and ongoing attempts to prevent China from selling at below-market levels in order to drive out competitors….

Read Full Article: The American Interest

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

Welcome to the Coronavirus – Inspired Supply Chain Security Showdown

(The National Interest) – German chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s President Emmanuel Macron have expressed their commitment to make strategically important products such as medical and pharmaceutical products in France and Germany. In a similar vein, the European Union Chamber of Commerce has asked its members to wean themselves off being reliant on China’s supply chains. Japan and India appear to be following suit.

Strategic decoupling from China is likely to lead to governments to increase national security regulations on foreign investments and expand their definition of strategic sectors from being information technology (IT), telecommunications and dual-use technologies with civil and military applications, to include food security, biotech, and pharmaceuticals. In turn, governments will demand that strategic sectors conduct domestic manufacturing.

The United States, EU, Russian and Chinese governments will have greater oversight and screen foreign direct investment (FDI) in these strategic sectors to prevent foreign investors from accessing sensitive data and technologies in a bid to protect their respective technological bases. As businesses are increasingly vulnerable to buyouts due to the economic downturn, governments are wary of foreign investments of their national companies. In late May, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that would bar foreign companies from U.S. exchanges if they are unable to prove that they are not controlled by a foreign government and refuse greater U.S. oversight of company financials. Similarly, the British government is considering legislation to prevent significant investment and foreign takeovers of UK companies.

Already prior to the pandemic, higher wages and increased shipping costs had led companies to shift supply chains away from China. Yet, the coronavirus has created severe disruptions in a complex web of international supply chains due to quarantines, factory closings, travel restrictions imposed by China and other countries. This increased the momentum of companies seeking to relocate as part of a growing trend of attempting to build resilience into their supply chains and mitigate against future shocks. A recent Bank of America survey of three thousand firms reported that companies in ten out of twelve global industries, including medical equipment along with semiconductors are in the process of shifting part of their supply chains from current locations.

In a bid to accelerate the trend to regionalize supply chains, Western states are likely to increase taxation on goods that were not made onshore or near shore. U.S. Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross exclaimed, “Globalization had gotten out of control. It takes two hundred suppliers in forty-three countries on six continents to make an iPhone.” The United States is exploring increasing tariffs on Chinese goods, tax incentives and potential re-shoring subsidies. The United States is also engaging with states across the international community and companies as part of an “Economic Prosperity Network” to standardize an approach towards regionalizing supply chains, trade, energy and infrastructure.

Read Full Article: The National Interest

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

The World is Round: Shifting Supply Chains and a Fragmented World Order

Barak Seener

(The National Interest) – Since the 1990s, nationalism in the West was deemed passé as supply chains spanned the globe and international travel along with financial flows became more frequent. We thought that the digital-information age had led us to transcend nature and history respectively. These delusions were abruptly ended by the Coronavirus pandemic that has proven that the world is indeed round. Yet we are destined to repeat the mistakes of history.

In light of global lockdown brought about by coronavirus, Thomas Friedman’s famous aphorism that “the world is flat” due to ever-increasing interconnectivity sounds anachronistic. The ever-increasing interconnectedness associated with the latest phase of globalization was believed inevitable. Since the 1990s, nationalism in the West was deemed passé as supply chains spanned the globe and international travel along with financial flows became more frequent. We thought that the digital-information age had led us to transcend nature and history respectively. These delusions were abruptly ended by the Coronavirus pandemic that has proven that the world is indeed round. Yet we are destined to repeat the mistakes of history.

The West’s economic prosperity was artificial and predicated upon an artificial standard of living by outsourcing labor to frontier and emerging markets where it was cheaper to manufacture. The rationale for our throwaway society was that it was cheaper to outsource production to areas where health or environmental regulations were poor or non-existent. As a result, we would be raising their standard of living by the service economies’ supply chains extending to impoverished production economies. As these countries’ GDP grew, we would cause them to evolve from production to service economies. We had reached a phase in history where self-interest and altruism were synonymous. Yet within the strength of this proposition lay its vulnerability. It is precisely in areas with weak regulations that makes them attractive and cost-effective to manufacture and ultimately cheaper to purchase, where there is a heightened risk for localized epidemics to become global pandemics.

Currently companies are seeking to resource their manufacturing away from China and relocate supply chains to smaller southeast Asian states such as Vietnam. Apple announced plans last year to diversify its manufacturing from being reliant upon China. Kearney, an international manufacturing consulting firm, released its seventh annual Reshoring Index that identified that in 2013, China maintained 67 percent of U.S.-bound Asian sourced goods. By the second quarter of 2019, China’s share collapsed by 56 percent, a decrease of more than a thousand basis points. Kearney predicts companies “will be compelled to go much further in rethinking their sourcing strategies, (and) their entire supply chains.”

As fostering a sense of security will be associated with controlling supply chains, there will be an increasing trend away from diversifying supply chains that have been disrupted in neighboring countries such as South Korea and Japan due to coronavirus, towards localized supply chains within national borders. The momentum is increasing as the Trump administration fearful of China weaponizing critical supply chains attempts to reduce U.S. dependence on China for drugs and medical products such as antibiotics and pain medicines used across the globe, as well as surgical masks and medical devices. In turn, the Trump administration is encouraging greater American manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, which will lead to them being more costly. This is likely to extend to industries such as semiconductors and technology. Yet the United States. will be unable to build a manufacturing base overnight. Echoing U.S. concerns, German economic affairs and energy minister Peter Altmaier has even raised the option of nationalizing strategically important companies that have suffered because of coronavirus.

Barak Seener

The undermining of global supply chains endemic to international trade will be followed by great power contestation between the United States and China, schisms between nations, and the breakdown of multilateral projects, which in turn sets the stage for future inter-state conflict. These trends coupled with coronavirus’ disruption of global markets are likely to lead to a fragmented global order, which will detrimentally affect the export economies of Europe.

Coronavirus has already begun to undermine the legitimacy of the European project in a greater manner that nationalist movements had hoped to achieve. European finance ministers have clashed over all EU nations sharing “corona bonds” debt, while France and Germany responded to Italy’s request for ventilators with a refusal accompanied by closing their borders with Italy. At around the same time, the United States imposed a unilateral ban on commercial flights with the EU.

China’s economic growth strategy and foreign policy aspirations are being frustrated in the wake of Coronavirus, as developing countries are likely to scrutinize China’s Belt Road Initiative. Among Western policymakers anti-China sentiment is increasing. In the UK, there is mounting opposition to Huawei building its fifth-generation mobile networks. In late March, the United States abandoned its long-standing policy of maintaining a status quo vis a vis Taiwan. President Donald Trump signed into law The Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act, which increases U.S. support for Taiwan and “alters” engagement with nations that undermine Taiwan’s security or prosperity. Beijing responded that it would respond forcefully if the law was implemented, all the while China increases its military drills around Taiwan. This is increasingly likely to occur while the United States increasingly supports Hong Kong’s independence movement and demonstrates willingness to confront China in the South China Seas. Similarly, Washington is likely to be drawn into a confrontation with North Korea as the collapse of North Korea’s health system may threaten Kim Jong-un’s regime leading him to militarily lash out.


The latest phase of globalization spearheaded by the West entailed that service economies were not responsible for the manufacture of the products they consumed. Instead, they depended upon outsourcing production of cheap goods in distant shores creating unprecedented levels of economic prosperity, which at its root was artificial. Liberal democracies did not reach “the end of history,” where conflict was to be consigned to the dustbin of history, but could easily be unraveled by a virus emanating from a society it was reliant upon that did not share its norms. In a similar vein, the Roman Empire’s apex contained the seeds of its decay as it had become overstretched and difficult to manage. The historian Edward Gibbon, in his 1776 book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, notes that Romans had become weak and responded to the challenges of hyperinflation, civil wars and revolts by outsourcing their duties to defend their empire in far flung regions to “barbarian” mercenaries such as the Visigoths. Blowback occurred as these barbarians’ increased economic production and their ability to conduct warfare, which led them, ultimately, to turn against their benefactors and sack the Roman Empire. Similarly, the West increased the prosperity of faraway nations and ironically, as a result their military assertiveness by being beholden to extended global supply chains. This along with the risk of globalization unravelling increases the prospects of inter-state and great power conflict. All it took was a virus to detonate the fuse that was shorter than anyone expected.

Article published on: The National Interest

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

Trump’s Saudi pivot is a golden opportunity in terror fight

Barak Seener Article

(CNN) — US President Trump’s recent speech in Riyadh exhorted Muslim nations to counter Iranian regional aspirations and “drive out the terrorists and extremists.”

A NATO-style Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition of 41 Sunni states, including all six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), was initially announced by Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman in December 2015 — including Qatar.

A work in progress, the Trump administration’s aim is to coordinate coalition members to help it function more effectively.

Yet in the aftermath of Trump’s trip, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have severed ties with Qatar due to its alleged sponsorship of radical Islamist groups.
How this will effect the GCC — the powerful six state regional union of which all four nations are members — is not immediately clear.

What is certain, however, is that Tuesday’s suicide bombings at Iran’s parliament building and the Ayatollah Khomeini Mausoleum will be met by a sense of urgency within the Islamic coalition — and a need to coordinate in order to rapidly bolster its security and defenses.
Despite ISIS’s media wing, Amaq, claiming responsibility for the attack and threatening Iran and GCC States alike, Iran may also use the attack as an opportunity to raise tensions with GCC States.

Counter-terrorism strategy

The US seeks increased levels of cooperation with Saudi Arabia on counter-terrorism and counter-radicalization, and President Trump’s itinerary in Saudi Arabia reflected this, as he attended the opening of the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology.
This, however, is part of an ongoing Saudi-led effort to counter terrorism.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Defense initiated an attempt to counter Islamist terrorism and its ideological roots by establishing the Ideological Warfare Center (IWC) in December 2015.

Muslim nations form coalition to fight terror, call Islamic extremism ‘disease’. The IWC communicates with the Digital Extremism Observatory, established in 2005 under the supervision of Mohammed Bin Salman, with the aim of monitoring and ultimately combating digital extremism.

According to Salman Al Ansari, President of the Saudi American Public Relations Affairs Committee (SAPRAC), an organization aiming to strengthen Saudi-US relations, the IWC seeks to coordinate the effort of the Islamic coalition’s member states to counter terrorism.

The IWC’s initiatives include a range of counter terrorism strategies: the exchange of intelligence and databases of terrorist organizations among coalition members, media initiatives to communicate counter-radicalization messaging, and the coordination of military support according to each states’ capabilities to confront terrorism that threatens the member states.

The US, UK, Australia, Germany, France, Canada and Italy support the coordination of these member states, and would potentially benefit from these efforts, receiving increased intelligence and support in countering home-grown or imported terrorism and radicalization.

The IWC also seeks to coordinate with international government departments, including the US State Department and the African Union Mission for Somalia, and international agencies like the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), NATO and Interpol.

Barak Seener Article

It aims to create regulatory guidelines for governmental agencies across the Islamic coalition on how to drain financial funding of terrorism — working with several respected worldwide anti-money laundering organizations — and work closely with counter-radicalization/terrorism organizations such as the Global Counterterrorism Forum and the Counter-Extremism Project.

In the sphere of cyber security, this Islamic coalition would work closely with NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defense Center for Excellence (CCDCOE) as well as the Forum for Incident Response and Security Teams (FIRST) to heighten levels of cooperation and coordination to prevent cyber-security attacks and rapidly respond in the event of a cyber-attack.

Coordinating with the coalition would grant Western agencies increased intelligence on potential terrorist attacks.


This, however, is all undermined by a European Parliament report accusing Saudi Arabia of spending $10 billion to promote Salafism via charities connected to Al Qaeda across the West. Salafism — also referred to as Wahhabism — believes in a literalistic reading of the Koran that rejects rationalist interpretations that can engage modernity. This leads to an embracing of fundamentalist ideologies that support terrorism, posing a security threat to both GCC and Western states.

Similarly, Germany’s BfV domestic intelligence agency and Federal Intelligence Service (BND) accused Saudi Arabia — along with Qatar and Kuwait — of funding mosques, religious educational institutions, radical preachers to disseminate Salafism via the Saudi Muslim World League.
But rather than acknowledge the existence of Salafism or Wahhabism, the Director of the IWC, Dr Mohammed Al Eissa, asserts that the IWC considers “Islam to be embracing, loving and all inclusive.”

“The type of Islam that the center seeks to counter is a doctrine that goes beyond logic leading to extremism, hatred and exclusion,” he says.

The US must monitor Saudi Arabia’s consistency in promoting a moderate form of Islam and pressure Qatar to cease its sponsorship of radical Islamist groups.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards blame Saudis for Tehran attacks. This will enable Qatar to re-establish ties with other GCC States to promote counter-terrorism and counter-radicalization initiatives internationally. To prevent future attacks it is essential to have the support of all the Gulf States working towards counter-terrorism and counter-radicalization.

This can only happen effectively if they are united in their commitment and promote non-literalistic readings of the Koran internationally, with the US, UK, Australia, Germany, France, Canada, and Italy coordinating their activities.

The Trump administration’s reorientation towards Saudi Arabia is a golden opportunity to leverage Mohammed Bin Salman’s domestic reform agenda, and promote Saudi-led counter-radicalization initiatives internationally that could prevent attacks as seen in London and Manchester.

Article published on

Reality check on strategic interests behind humanitarian concerns in Yemen

Barak Seener Article

(Defense News) – The US and Saudi Arabia have opposing strategic priorities in Yemen. The US has prioritized countering al-Qaida, while Saudi Arabia considers al-Qaida an equal threat to its security as Iranian proxies such as Hezbollah and the Houthis.

Behind US humanitarian concerns for civilian casualties in Yemen lies another motivation: a growing inclination at least during the latter part of the Obama administration, undeclared but increasingly clear, to pivot away from Saudi Arabia in favor of its rival, Iran, which backs the Houthis. For this reason, the US has not reacted to Iran’s recent announcement that it plans to build naval bases in Syria and Yemen, which could considerably increase Iran’s support for the Houthis.

Iran, along with Hezbollah, provide money, training and ballistic missile technologies to the Houthis posing a threat to Saudi Arabia from the south, as the Houthis have overrun Saudi border guard headquarters and occupied 50 square miles of depopulated Saudi border towns. In April 2015, US Secretary of State John Kerry asserted that Iran was providing military assistance to Houthi rebels. Brig. Gen. Ahmad Asiri, a military adviser to Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, told me that, to date, Saudi Arabia has intercepted 36 ballistic missiles fired indiscriminately by the Houthis. As the collapse of Yemen’s government enabled al-Qaida, Houthis and other local militias to organize, Saudi Arabia’s exit from Yemen would be met by the increased presence of al-Quds fighters of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, al-Qaida, Houthis and Hezbollah, all threatening regional security.

Broader Ramifications of the Conflict

Sunni-Shiite tensions in Yemen have global security and economic ramifications; tensions are affecting sailing routes of oil tankers leaving the Arabian Gulf. The Pentagon confirmed Houthi rebels in Yemen were responsible for launching cruise missiles at the US Navy destroyer Mason multiple times in October 2016. In the same month, the Houthis used advanced anti-ship missiles provided by Iran to target US, UK, and Emirati ships delivering medical aid to Aden and evacuating wounded civilians for treatment.

The increasing Iranian presence in Yemen and differing strategic priorities of the US and Saudi Arabia can adversely affect the United States’ capabilities to exert influence in the Gulf. Iran or Russia would be in a position to control the Bab el-Mandeb strait that connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea. This will most certainly occur if Iran builds a naval base along the strait, undermining the access and activities of US warships such as mine sweeping and coastal patrols. An Iranian naval base would prevent Saudi Arabia’s blockade of Yemen and likely lead to direct confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia. This could also prevent the trade route of two-thirds of global oil from the Arabian Gulf from reaching the Suez Canal or Sumed Pipeline. Iran demonstrated its naval aspirations in 2009 when it conducted exercises near the Gulf of Aden and in 2011 when Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood granted Iranian ships access to the Suez Canal.

New Administration Reset

The Trump administration’s rejection of the Iran deal will likely be accompanied by a greater willingness to confront Iran’s building of naval bases beyond its borders and support for Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen. Preemptively targeting transit points for weapons prior to reaching Houthi fighters will likely reduce civilian casualties as Saudi Arabia will be less reliant upon faulty Yemeni intelligence. Neighboring Gulf states with Yemen are likely to be pressurized to provide intelligence on overland smuggling routes to interdict weapons along porous borders with Yemen.

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Fallout of Halting Weapons Sales to Saudi Arabia

(Defense News) – UK asserted that cluster bombs used in Saudi Arabia against Houthi rebels in Yemen were restricted to purely military targets, and that no civilians were targeted. Nonetheless, the outgoing Obama administration is halting a planned weapons sale of precision-guided munitions (PGMs) to Saudi Arabia due to its concerns over civilian casualties while paradoxically continuing to refuel Saudi-led coalition planes.

This is a reversal of the US Congress’s decision in November 2015, to sell smart bombs to Saudi Arabia to limit civilian casualties. Other sales included laser guided munitions such as Guided Bomb Unit (GBU 10) Paveway II, UAVs, JADAM and as well as air to ground precision guided missiles used on the American built Saudi F15 fleet.

For Saudi Arabia, avoiding collateral damage is central to effectively countering the Houthis. Brigadier General Ahmad Asiri, a spokesperson for Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Defense expressed that Saudi Arabia’s strategy in Yemen is imitating the US-led coalition’s strategy in Mosul and Riqqa of avoiding civilian casualties by relying upon local intelligence while relying upon air power rather than ground troops. This however creates a problem as Yemen’s National Army intelligence that Saudi Arabia relies upon is poor. To avoid civilian casualties Saudi Arabia and the UAE are in need of a greater intelligence network on the ground. This requires Saudi Arabia to reverse its doctrine that relies heavily upon airpower and commit to greater ground troops.

Human Shields

It is not only Saudi Arabia’s usage of air power that has contributed to civilian casualties. Houthi rebels along with units loyal to Saleh have launched rockets and shells from residential areas and constituting human rights violations. On November 10 2016, General Al-Asiri asserted that Houthi militias held up 34 humanitarian aid ships carrying urgent medical assistance for over six months. The UN Security Council’s established Panel of Experts on Yemen reported to the UN Security Council that in the Taiz province, the Houthis had violated international humanitarian law by concealing fighters and equipment in or close to civilians in Al Mukha in the Taiz Governorate “with the deliberate aim of avoiding attack”. Houthi-Saleh forces in Aden and Taiz were documented attacking “medical facilities, schools and other civilian infrastructure, and using snipers positioned atop buildings to target people seeking safety, medical care or food.”

A Human Rights Watch report in January 2016, similarly accused Houthi forces of placing its armed fighters in a school for the blind in Sanaa, saying this placed vulnerable children “at grave risk”. Echoing this, Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri revealed that on Nov 9, 2016, Saudi Arabia killed 30 Al Qaeda operatives in the Eastern side of Al Mukalla where numerous Al Qaeda operatives had embedded themselves in the densely populated areas.

For this reason in 2014, when Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah condemned the war in Gaza, he but did not criticize Israel’s military operations against Hamas’s usage of human shields. Israel has accused Iran’s proxy Hamas from storing and firing rockets from schools, hospitals and mosques in order to raise the prospects of collateral damage. Iran’s Al Quds force along with Hezbollah are training Houthi militias to conduct the same tactics in densely populated areas.

Military Assistance

In early 2016, the U.S. military significantly reduced the number of US military personnel coordinating with the Saudi-led coalition’s air campaign resulting in increased likelihood of the usage of cluster bombings which would increase civilian casualties. Such measures also provides Iran the initiative to increase its support to the Houthis with impunity.

Both the US and UK can assist Saudi Arabia to dramatically lower civilian casualties in Yemen by increasing its intelligence cooperation with Saudi Arabia combined with offering precision guided munitions and pilot training. Reversing Houthi advances and Iranian involvement in Yemen can only be achieved with increased UK and US involvement leading to a greater humanitarian outcome.

Read Full Article: Defense News

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

US Must Remove Sequester

(Defense News) – Chinese President Xi Jinping’s announcement that China is overhauling its military to be combat ready and able to project force beyond its borders comes at a time when Russia has been increasing its military expenditure and Britain, in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, is increasing military spending by $18 billion over the next decade to contend with numerous security threats that Europe faces.

A future US administration is likely to reassess the sequester as laid out by the strategic policy guidance issued by the Pentagon in 2012. This eroded the US strategy of maintaining a military capability to meet crises in all geographic locations and to fight two major conflicts around the globe simultaneously. Subsequent military cuts due to financial austerity measures led the Obama administration to be cautious to intervene anywhere.

Currently, there are numerous differentiated threats to international security posed by sub-state actors like ISIS, as well as rising states vying with the US for power such as China and the Russia. It was not smart or soft power, but the sequester rationalized the US’ reset policy with Russia.

The US is likely to revert back to the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review that advanced the idea that maintaining “a core capability is central … to avoid a situation in which an aggressor in one region might be tempted to take advantage when US forces are heavily engaged elsewhere.”

It was not merely the rise of China and the eastward shift of economic power that prompted the US to pivot toward Asia, but military sequestration that led to a strategic prioritization in that region. Ironically, it was due to military sequestration that an effective pivot to Asia in the form of Asia-Pacific balancing initiatives was undermined. This undercut the operational concept of being geographically dispersed with a military presence in Australia and Southeast and East Asia and to link the Indian Ocean with the Pacific.

The US has been unable to rebalance effectively when it allocates 2,500 Marines to the region or to increase its naval presence in the Western Pacific as its Navy shrinks from 272 to around 250 ships. Due to the reduction in military expenditure, the US was forced to rationalize its failed attempt to pivot by describing its goals as “economic engagement.”

In contrast to the US, China has been annually increasing its defense spending by double digits. While Asian Pacific countries have invested in power-projection capabilities such as naval and air forces that may in the future deny the US access to the Pacific Rim, the US has focused more on post-conflict reconstruction and ground operations.

Read Full Article: Defense News

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

A Security and Humanitarian Imperative

(Huffington Post) – The Parliamentary vote to strike ISIS in the aftermath of the Paris attacks demonstrates that the globalised world of the 21st century does not afford us the luxury to relive an isolationist past. The US was shielded by two oceans and the UK was a distant island with foreign intervention being an arbitrary matter of moral conscience. Today’s increasingly networked reality and the erosion of borders in the Middle East causes global politics to be local and the security threats have increased at an exponential rate. Yet the question has been frequently asked about intervening in Syria was, ‘what has it got to do with us?’ Syria has led to one of the greatest refugee crisis of our time with terrorists able to conduct attacks within our shores. We have reached a stage in history where our security and strategic interests are aligned with humanitarian concerns. It is impossible and immoral to enjoy liberal democracy while abroad people are slaughtered by repressive regimes like the Assad regime or by sub-state terrorist groups like ISIS as it will come to haunt us as it did in Paris.

Targeting ISIS: A Security and Humanitarian Imperative

Fears of potential reprisals against Western targets if the US or Britain intervened in the Syrian crisis ignored the risk of terrorism due to the failure to intervene. Any environment hosting a vacuum of governance coupled with a totalitarian ideology that reinforces extreme poverty, serves to be a springboard for international terrorism, enabling the proliferation of conventional, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Radicals are attracted to that environment not only from impoverished and lawless areas, but from developed states. In areas like Libya, Mali, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria they are indoctrinated with radical philosophies and receive the know-how to conduct terrorist activities when they return home to their Western states. Even if Islamists don’t travel abroad they are radicalized by the internet and social media posing a security risk. In Britain the number of attempted terror plots and suspects on the watch list has soared to the thousands since the advent of ISIS. Despite the security risks of Syrian refugees being low, it is impossible to effectively screen them.

Read Full Article: Huff Post

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

U.S Counter-Terrorism Strategy

(Janes Islamic Affairs Analyst) – Having extended its strategy to the broader Muslim community, the US government’s approach to counterterrorism has become inconsistent. Barak Seener examines the consequences of some of the US administration’s foreign and domestic policy decisions.

The current United States administration’s approach to counterterrorism has been inconsistent. On the one hand, following its domestic policy review in December 2009, the White House extended its Afghan strategy to the broader Muslim world in order to “intensify regional diplomacy to enable a political process to promote peace and stability”. However, this move coincided with an increased number of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks against Al-Qaeda’s and its affiliates’ leadership in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. President Barack Obama’s administration also ordered a troop surge in Afghanistan and reduced its armed forces in Iraq. The government engagement with the Middle East is marked by numerous strategies ranging from more frequent UAV attacks to increased intelligence sharing with states in the Middle East, and diplomatic engagement with Iran.

Moreover, the US government adopted a unique feature of engaging with local actors, despite the latter’s extremist Islamist ideology. This applies to the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hizbullah in Lebanon, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
The US, caught by surprise by the Arab Spring, found itself drawing spurious distinctions between political and terrorist wings of extremist organisations. This approach was aggravated by cuts in defence expenditure. As a result, policymakers preferred to politically co-opt rather than confront Islamist organisations. Co-opting Islamist organisations abroad has its roots in the flawed counter-narrative to domestic Islamism that the US and the United Kingdom propound.

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Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.