Centre for International and Defence Policy

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Centre for International and Defence Policy
Centre for International and Defence Policy

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Given the increasing pace of change and the uncertainty that is brings around issues of international and defence policy, this new series is designed to bring some clarity to current events. Short in duration and timely in delivery, the Contact Report presents views and opinions by our fellows, leveraging the diversity of backgrounds and experiences to provides thoughtful and concise analysis.  We are always looking for such analysis and if you want to contribute, please get in touch with us at CIDP@queensu.ca.

Trump, China and North Korea: It's Complicated

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Josh Tupler, 2017 Fulbright Visiting Scholar

It is very easy to get distracted by the almost ‘reality TV-like’ spectacle that is American domestic politics. It seems like a day can’t go by without a new scandal being revealed about the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, the inquiry into possible collusion between the Trump Campaign and the Russians, and the potential disclosure of highly sensitive information—there is certainly a lot of smoke, but it still remains to be seen whether or not there is any fire. Although this is an important issue that deserves thorough investigation, the media coverage of all things ‘Comey and Russia’ has eclipsed discussion of other important global issues—especially events unfolding on the Korean Peninsula. With the announcement that the Department of Justice appointed former FBI Director (2001-2013) Robert S. Muller III as a special counsel to oversee the probe of Russian interference in the U.S. election, people should be comforted that an independent inquiry is occurring and might be wise to shift their attention to what’s going on in the rest of world.

This Contact Report is intended to bring readers up to speed on what’s happened in East Asia since President Trump and President Xi met in early April, and highlight issues of concern—specifically China’s willingness and ability to exert pressure on North Korea—that should continue to be closely monitored.  When Trump and Xi met in Mar-a-Lago, one of the primary issues of concern that they discussed was what China could do to help solve the ‘North Korea Problem.’ Trump’s quote to the Wall Street Journal on the following Wednesday that “after listening for 10 minutes, I realize it’s not so easy” is alarming not only because the American President appears to be learning about security issues from a foreign leader as opposed to a policy expert in the State Department, but also because he appears to lack basic insight or understanding of the complexity of U.S.-China-North Korean relations.

It is important to recognize that American and Chinese interest might diverge on North Korea, especially with regards to financial issues. China is North Korea’s largest import market ($2.95 billion) and largest export market ($2.34 billion).  North Korean coal is also their largest export product ($951 million), and China has been known for dexterously exploiting loopholes in the UN Security Council sanctions allowing for exports of products for ‘humanitarian purposes’, such that August 2016 saw the largest imports of North Korean coal by China ever recorded for a single month. Although China did announce a ban on North Korean coal imports, it also simultaneously took other steps to downsize imports from other coal-producing countries. It is important to carefully monitor Chinese coal imports as China has often restricted them temporarily to signal compliance with sanctions, only to drastically increase such imports again.

Another financial issue to monitor is Chinese exports of military, satellite, or missile technology to North Korea. According to a report released by UN officials last month, a sizable number of technological components critical to the development of North Korea’s ballistic missile program are almost certainly sourced from foreign countries; investigations show that as recently as 18 months ago, Chinese companies shipped restricted products to North Korea. The Washington Post has sourced anonymous former U.S. and UN officials and independent weapons experts who worry that Chinese companies continue to act as enablers. Global actors should continue to monitor such activity, investigate potential governmental complicity, and take any steps available to halt such assistance.

The final issue to monitor is U.S. forward military presence in the region. It was less than a month ago that President Trump boasted about sending an armada towards North Korea when in fact the ships were heading in the opposite direction, and the U.S. deployed a THAAD battery in Seoul—and yes, Secretary Mattis has assured the South Koreans that Americans are going to pay for it. In spite of these developments, there still has not been a major change in U.S. force posture in the region. Although all options might be on the table, anyone with a modicum of common sense recognizes that a potential conflict with North Korea would be extremely costly and bloody. It is very difficult to believe that American policymakers would take any action that risks military conflict without significantly altering the U.S. presence in the region. Deploying a weapons system or sending a ship is one thing, but I would not be too worried unless a true armada and large logistical buildup occurs in Seoul.

Although this Contact Report might paint a somewhat bleak picture of the region, there is nevertheless still a good case for some optimism. President Trump appears to be seriously considering the advice of his senior security advisors—especially Secretary Mattis and General McMaster, who are regarded with the utmost respect and considered to have great poise in both military and policymaking circles in D.C.. As long as Mattis and McMaster are in the room when key decisions are being made, you should be optimistic that no major catastrophe or conflict will occur.


Rigorous and Relevant

Wednesday, 5 April 2017
H. Christian Breede, Deputy Director, CIDP

“Zero, Four-one. Contact, wait out.”

These six words, spoken over a radio, bring an acute focus to all who hear them.  Everything else stops.  Everything else is suddenly less important.  Focus now shifts to ‘Four-one’, the call sign representing a small unit of soldiers who are suddenly engaged in a fire fight – firing their weapons in anger and likely fighting for their lives. ‘Contact’ in this sense means that the small unit has begun engaging the proverbial enemy – they are being shot at and are shooting back. More ominously, they will let ‘zero’ – the headquarters – know when they are done.  In essence, they are telling the headquarters, "don’t call us – we’ll call you".  More importantly, until the contact is resolved, everybody else stays quiet – and waits.

What they are waiting for is called a contact report. This report follows a format that all combat leaders memorize and consists of where the shooting is coming from, who they think is shooting at them, what they are doing about it, and when the shooting started.

The contact report is designed to be a clear, concise, and precise response to an event.  It is designed to get the essential information to those who need to know and, more importantly, may be able to offer support in a timely fashion. In short, what is happening to Four-one may be of importance to other organizations on the same team.

It is in this spirit of precision, concision, and clarity that the CIDP launched the Contact Report this year. This series is designed to be a venue for our Fellows to provide their learned opinions on the contacts of the day, in this case international and defence policy-related events. It is designed to do so in a timely but accurate and thoughtful manner that enables us to leverage the knowledge of our researchers to inform the debates that ensue.

As a research center within one of Canada’s leading universities, we need to not only examine problems in a systematic and rigorous way, but we need to communicate this to Canadians too.  The contact report is one way in which we hope to do this.

Over the past few weeks, in the wake of the resignation of Andrew Potter from his administrative position at McGill’s Institute for the Study of Canada and the supposed connection between this and his controversial Op-Ed from this past March, much has been written about the question of academic freedom in Canada. More to the point of this new series, this has also raised questions as to what the role of the university in Canada ought to be.

Most recently, Éric Montpetit, a professor of Political Science at L’Université de Montréal, suggested in the Globe & Mail that institutions such as universities need to choose to either remain as bastions and incubators of knowledge or weigh in on the political and social affairs of the day.  They – he argues – cannot do both and he cites the events surrounding Potter’s departure from McGill as evidence of this.

Others are not so quick to sound the retreat from public engagement.  Philippe Lagassé, another professor, but this time from the University of Ottawa and arguing through Twitter, claimed instead that those of us engaged in research that relates to the events  of the day - both political and social - should weigh in.  More to the point, he argues, we need to do so to ensure that academic research remains of value not just to other academics, but to society at large, especially when that society pays the bills.

As you can probably guess, our centre falls in line behind the position of Lagassé on this question.  The marriage between theory and practice has been a not-so-subtle theme in all of our work, to include the motivation behind our core research axes as well as within the makeup of our team.  Alongside our professors and researchers, we also have former ambassadors, senior public servants, and serving senior military officers from several different countries. This team provides a unique combination of theoretical and methodological rigor along with recent and relevant policy experience.  It is a powerful combination.

This new series, to be updated as events require, is part of the CIDP's continued commitment to communicating cutting-edge and world class research to decision makers and more importantly, to Canadians.  As our director recently challenged in a TED talk, this is your Foreign Policy.

This is something we take seriously.  Contact, wait out.



Tuesday, 28 March 2017
Brigadier-General G.R. Smith, Defence Fellow, CIDP

Conventional operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are approaching an end game in Northern Iraq. ISIL initially swept into Western and Northern Iraq in the Summer of 2014 capturing Ramadi, Tikrit, Fallujah, and ultimately the major city of Mosul. Equally, employing terror and exploiting Iraqi ethnic fissures, the warriors of the Islamic State seized vast tracts of land and large populations along the strategically important Euphrates River Valley (ERV) and Tigris River Valley (TRV). Advancing nearly to the gates of Baghdad, a modern city of seven million, ISIL’s advance was only halted through the efforts of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) including the Kurdish Security Forces (KSF), the Shia-heavy Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), and Coalition kinetic targeting.

This final action, led by the United States under Operation INHERENT RESOLVE (OIR), included the contributions of Canada and 51 other nations. Initially focused on the aforementioned air bombardments to halt ISIL’s murderous advance and the associated humanitarian crisis, Coalition activities broadened to compromise collaborative planning, providing Advise and Assist teams to ISF and KSF land formations, and the training and equipping of security forces at Building Partner Capacity sites throughout Iraq. These collective cooperative efforts of the ISF and its OIR Coalition partners succeeded in arresting and re-capturing considerable tracts of the approximately 40 per cent of Iraqi territory held by the violent jihadists.

This re-conquest has been far from bloodless and the ISF’s slow and irresistible advance has killed large numbers of Iraqi Sunnis and foreign fighters with ISIL. Similarly, at great cost to the Iraqi Forces, the Islamic State-held cities of Ramadi, Tikrit, Fallujah, and numerous other urban and rural areas throughout the ERV and TRV have been recaptured in grinding battles of attrition. The ISF, although possessing a poor brand as the result of some Iraqi Army divisions breaking and fleeing as ISIL advanced into Northern Iraq in 2014, has rebuilt itself and is now capturing the final symbolic enclave of ISIL in Iraq: Mosul.

Operations against the East side of this city of two million people began on 16 October 2016 with a collaborative assault by the KSF and ISF. After 100 days of urban fighting, the ISF completed the capture of East Mosul in late January 2017 and began preparations for the seizure of the Western half of the city. Transferring elements of the Iraqi Army, Counter Terrorism Services, Federal Police, and the PMF to the West side of the Tigris River, Iraqi Forces continued their re-conquest of Iraq's second city in February 2017. Again, the ISF faces a relentless battle against ISIL as it advances house-by-house through booby-trapped Improvised Explosive Devices, snipers, re-infiltration tunnels, human shields, crude chemical weapons, and fast-moving suicide car bombs. In this challenging operational environment the Iraqi Forces and the supporting Coalition must contend with a battle space replete with non-combatants and an enemy prepared to rapidly exploit real, manufactured, or phony civilian casualties on Social Media.

Yet this physical, military battle is approaching its conclusion. The ISF is irresistibly compressing Western Mosul and approaching the Great Mosque of al-Nuri where ISIL’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the caliphate in June 2014. Following the fall of West Mosul and the clearing of some remaining Islamic State-held areas in Northern and Western Iraq, the Iraqi Government will once again possess loose control of its territory. However, Iraq’s larger strategic problems revolve around governance and not military competence. Although it will be important to secure the country against physical manifestations of a redux ISIL, this will only succeed if the Shia, Sunni, Kurd, and other ethnic and religious components of Iraq feel supported by and give their allegiance to the central government in Baghdad. This is a political, economic, and communications problem that must be resolved by continued efforts at an inclusive, competent, and representative Iraqi federal government.

Moreover, there is widespread appreciation of the need for continued, international assistance in Baghdad to achieve this. Although the United States and the Western world largely walked away from Iraq in 2011, Iraqis recognize the requirement for assistance in the post-ISIL era. With many neighbouring countries possessing national interests in Iraq and its population, a suitable post-conflict international construct must be established to enable governance and economic development in this troubled country. The United States, Iraq, and potentially Canada must decide upon and negotiate such future engagement to rehabilitate this fragile state and prevent an ISIL 2.0.



Monday, 7 February 2017
Louis A. Delvoie, Fellow, CIDP

During his campaign for the presidency of the United States Donald Trump made quite a few unusual remarks in the realms of foreign policy and international relations. One of the most noteworthy was made in the course of a speech to the America-Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC). In that speech he promised his audience that he would move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

It is far from clear that Trump knew or understood the implications of that promise, despite the fact that the location of the American embassy in Israel is an issue which has been debated in the United States for many years. A long succession of American presidents, starting with Ronald Reagan, have steadfastly resisted pressures to make this move, even in the face of pressures emanating from Congress and from lobby groups representing elements of the American Jewish community. They recognized the implications and the downsides of moving the embassy, since it would have the effect of helping to consolidate the claim of the Israeli government that a unified Jerusalem was the eternal capital of Israel.

Jerusalem is a unique city for two reasons. First, it is home to holy sites sacred to the three main monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Second, it is the only city in the world that is the object of a UN General Assembly resolution (No. 303), which states in part that “Jerusalem should be placed under a permanent international regime.” The resolution goes on to stipulate that “The City of Jerusalem shall be established as a corpus separatum under a special international regime and shall be administered by the United Nations.”

Most recently, in December 2016, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution (No. 2334) which stated in part that Israeli settlements in occupied east Jerusalem constitute “a flagrant violation under international law” and represent an obstacle to the achievement of a "just, lasting and comprehensive peace" between Israel and the Palestinians. The terms of this resolution reflect the views of virtually all of the international community, including some of its most influential members; Great Britain, France, China and Russia all voted in favour of the resolution.

If he were to implement his promise to move the embassy, Trump would be putting his administration at loggerheads with nearly all of the world’s governments, including all of the United States’ NATO allies. He could expect thoroughly hostile reactions in the Arab world, most notably from America’s oldest ally in the region, Saudi Arabia. The kings of Saudi Arabia are the self-proclaimed custodians of the holy sites of Islam, including those in Jerusalem. While the Saudi government may frequently be tepid and opportunistic in its support for the Palestinian cause, it is rock solid in its opposition to any consolidation of Israeli control over east Jerusalem.

The Saudi government can be expected to mount a vigorous campaign in Washington to prevent the embassy move. In that campaign they can look forward to having one major ally in the person of the new Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. As a long-time executive in the oil industry and as a former chairman of Exxon Mobil, Tillerson well understands the importance of Saudi Arabia to American interests in the Middle East. He will not want to see those interests put at risk, whether on the oil front or in the fight against Islamist extremism. In this he will enjoy the support of virtually all of the Middle East experts in the State Department.

In the face of such widespread opposition, any prudent president would find a way to fudge an ill-conceived campaign promise and leave the American embassy in Tel Aviv. What the totally unpredictable Donald Trump will do is anybody’s guess. There are, however, a few mildly encouraging signs that he is amenable to accepting a logical argument, particularly one grounded in a solid analysis of American interests.