About Jeffrey Payne

Jeffrey Payne is the Academic Resources Coordinator at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies. His research interests include contentious politics, transnational movements, East Asia, and Central Asia.

U.S. Policy Against ISIS Unlikely to Change

NESA Communications Intern Nathan Turregano provides us another piece, this one focusing on how the U.S. will combat ISIS following the Paris attacks…

There will never be a short term or simple solution to D’aesh. What Westerners and their governments must realize is that this fight will not be over soon and a long term permanent solution is much more complicated and difficult than one might hope. Avoiding significant reactionary actions and staying the course may be the best option. D’aesh will be rid from this world in due time, but the question that one might ask themselves is at what cost they are willing to pay for that to happen?

Obama’s foreign policy in regards to D’aesh will remain the same, regardless of the incidents in Paris. The U.S. will focus on strategic airstrikes and minimal Special Forces involvement in the area, and avoid a massive troop presence on the ground. The reasoning behind that is credited to a number of factors, one being Americans reservations of further involvement in the Middle East, while at the same time the current administration avoiding giving D’aesh what they want. D’aesh seeks to provoke Obama and the West into sending troops, so that D’aesh can continue to hurt the West on their own turf.

The short term domestic policy effects of Paris have already been seen in the States, with the House of Representatives passing a bill that would limit the number of Syrian Refugees admitted to the U.S. This is, again, is playing into what D’aesh wants. They have created a refugee situation that expunges Syrians and Iraqis from their homeland, while at the same time barring them from others. Closing borders is not an option if the goal is to stop terrorism, it will only fuel it. These events weigh heavily on the upcoming 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. ISIS has already been major discussion point, but the pressure for troops on the ground is felt more now than ever before. Another major component to any candidate’s foreign policy platform is how to approach the developing and challenging refugee situation.

While the situation in Iraq and Syria continues change daily to  the U.S. will adapt with it. It is important that reactionary and impulsive actions are clearly thought out, focusing on a larger and more permanent end goal, which is the eradication of D’aesh. 





Digital Operations Against ISIS

NESA Communications Intern, Mr. Nathan Turregano, offers his views with the following piece on how “hacktivists” are joining the fight against ISIS…

After the Paris Attacks the hacker group Anonymous released a video on YouTube declaring war on the Islamic State (ISIS). Anonymous sent the message that they will “Hunt them (ISIS) down” and to “Expect many Cyber Attacks” in their efforts to combat the extremist group. This is not the first time the Hacktivists have gone toe to toe with ISIS, the Charlie Hedbo attacks also provoked the same response. Anonymous is meeting ISIS on the more unseen battlefield of this conflict, the Internet.

The Islamic State is known for its boisterous and active participation in social media. It constantly uses Facebook and Twitter in efforts to reach out and radicalize people across the globe. These efforts are extremely difficult to combat without a serious invasion of privacy into the lives of private citizens. On the other hand it is impossible to pinpoint one single source of ISIS propaganda. ISIS has over 46,000 twitter accounts posting videos and sharing messages that accelerate radicalism beyond their borders. Combating such a large scale operation, while still conducting airstrikes and special operations missions, has proven difficult to western governments.

Anonymous has taken it upon themselves to contribute to the global front against extremism. After the Charlie Hedbo attacks the group brought down ansar-alhaqq.net a known French terror mongering website. In their very recent battle the group has been focused on the eradication of ISIS Twitter activist and ISIS accounts. Anonymous is not the only group to take on this battle,  Ghost Security Group or Ghostsec have been a major force against ISIS. Ghostsec, unlike anonymous, Deals strictly with social media. It tracks and maps online communication networks, and then passes the information on to relative authorities.  Anonymous has been criticized by Ghostsec in the past on their approach to ‘hacking,’ claiming that tearing down websites leads to a loss of valuable intelligence.

Both Anonymous and Ghostsec provide the world with their form of modern vigilante justice. They independently take on the evil that they see in the world in order to serve what they call “freedom.” While these groups are not without controversy, their hacktivism still finds support across the globe. Anonymous and Ghostec will harass ISIS with no end in sight and continue to be a forefront of digital warfare in a modern age.

Iraq Seeing Resurgence of Violence

Today, our guest blogger, Chris Chapman, returns with a new post on Iraq’s continued troubles…

Syria and Egypt garner the most press when it comes to current coverage of the Middle East. Yet, a rising tide of violence in Iraq should not be ignored.  Iraq, the country the United States spent eight years and countless dollars engaged within, is teetering on the edge of intense conflict.   Recent waves of sectarian attacks are reminding analysts of the mood in Iraq during 2006-2007 when the country nearly fell into civil war

An increase in car bombings, suicide attacks, and jailbreaks have marked a resurgence of Al-Qaeda’s presence in Iraq.  But the violence is not solely being directed by Sunnis against Shiite Muslims.  Within October alone, Iraq has seen multiple attacks on Sunni and Shiite targets.  On October 15 in Kirkuk, a bomb exploded in a crowd of Sunni worshippers coming out of a mosque to celebrate Eid al-Adha and killed 12 people.  On October 13, a string of bombings across the country, many in Shiite areas, killed up to 42 civilians at commercial areas, public spaces, and a funeral. On October 12 a car bomb exploded in Samarra killing 17 people.  These are not battles such as in Syria, these are women and children being killed going about their daily lives.  Reports show that since an April crackdown by the Iraqi government on a Sunni protest camp in Hawija, over 5,000 people have died in sectarian violence.  Al-Qaeda in Iraq is creating an environment of fear and doubt.  Fear of public safety and doubt that the Shiite led government can keep the country stable are on the rise

The brazen attacks in popular community sites exemplify Al-Qaeda’s mission to destabilize the state.  And in doing so, it is pulling Iraq further away from democracy.  The al-Maliki government’s crackdown on terrorism led to a renewed emphasis on a strong internal security apparatus and consolidation of power within the government.  People found guilty of terrorism are subject to the death penalty.  In fact, last week 42 people were executed on charges of terrorism and 68 people received the death penalty in 2011.

The danger of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is real.  Already ISIS is entrenched in Syria fighting.  Reports show they are killing and kidnapping civilians.  If Iraq falls into a civil war alongside Syria expect reports of this type to be more common.  One reason for the invasion of Iraq was to foster stability in the region, but this recent evidence only points out the failings of that endeavor. 

Chris Chapman is currently a Research Intern at the NESA Center and an M.A. candidate at American University’s School of International Service

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

MENA’s Rising Generation

The Strategist’s guest blogger, Chris Chapman, returns with his second post!  It begins just below…

Recently, a group of Washington, DC-based analysts and academics gathered for a seminar devoted to the “Next Generation” in the Middle East and North Africa.  The seminar focused on issues related to demographic pressures in the region, the impact of youth led revolutionary movements, and the role of ideologies.  The topics spurred conversations on the necessity of youth involvement in the political process.  After being so vital to the uprising and push for change in countries, many youth still feel alienated and ignored politically.  It is unreasonable to believe the major voice of change in these states can be marginalized during the transition period.  But how can their revolutionary energy get redirected into political and civic participation?  This was a focus of discussion amongst the seminar participants and is vital to achieving stability. 

Unfortunately, the youth in these states see the government and political process as corrupt.  There is a clear need in these transitioning nations for the next generation of leaders to become active participants in politics at all levels, as well as within civil society.  They have insights and ideas for how to solve their nation’s biggest issues, which will be the issues that define their lifetime.  Their continued exclusion from the political process will breed the anger and resentment which brought them out to protest initially.

The task of inclusion in newly formed governments is not simple.  For instance, the United States, the world’s oldest democratic society, has struggled to get younger generations involved in the political process.  In the Middle East and North Africa, the youth are blocked by established hierarchies, entrenched elites, and internal division.  All in all, the region encourages the young to stay on the street.  This rising generation will need to forge their own way into the political process or else risk being silenced after having achieved so much.

Chris Chapman is currently a Research Intern at the NESA Center and an M.A. candidate at American University’s School of International Service.  Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Is it becoming harder to define Syria?

A guest blogger has joined the NESA-Strategist. Chris Chapman, a research intern at the NESA Center, will be regularly posting his thoughts on events in Middle East, particularly focusing on the Levant. The Strategist writers welcome Chris and hope you enjoy his first piece which follows below…

As it stands today the very nature of Syria as a state is in question.  Large swaths of land are no longer under government control.  The Assad government no longer holds a clear and legitimate monopoly on the use of force within the state.  Even the boundaries of the Syria state are becoming less definitive as spillover threatens Lebanon to be subsumed by the conflict.  Syria may still claim to have a government, representation in international boundaries, and recognition by the international community, but is it truly a state? Consider two potential outcomes of this conflict. 

The first outcome is the Assad regime finds a way to quell the Sunni rebels.  It is hard to picture a scenario where Assad’s forces completely expel or defeat the rebels.  Instead, we are faced with Assad controlling certain regions of land and the Sunni’s maintaining control of others.  Is this still one state?  Could these groups coexist under the same roof, let alone acknowledge the legitimacy of the other?

An alternate outcome is that Sunni factions breakthrough and defeat Assad’s forces.  This will end the current regime.   Infighting and rivalry already exists amongst the opposition.  The internal division has not yet become a massive problem because each group is primarily fixated on defeating the regime.  If they were to prove successful in that effort, then it is likely that internal competition will escalate into something larger.  Salafist groups, Al Qaeda, the Free Syrian Army, Kurds, and others will claim the right to rule Syria, or seek to carve out a portion in which they rule.  The situation will devolve into more fighting between these groups and Syria in essence becomes a tribal battleground with no clear legitimate leadership.

The outcomes in these two situations pose risks and problems for the international community and native Syrians. If the conflict does not end in absolute victory for one side, then there is a real risk that Syria as it is defined today will no longer exist.  The country could fracture into small segments?  The removal of Assad may not be accompanied by the rise of a competent replacement, which makes Syria a state with no real leadership.

Chris Chapman is currently a Research Intern at the NESA Center and an M.A. candidate at American University’s School of International Service.  Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.


From Russia (and China) with Love

Today, we have a special guest blogger contributing to the Strategist’s digital pages.  Kathleen O’Rourke is an Academic Research Intern at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies. She is a rising Fourth Year at the University of Virginia finishing her B.A. in Russian and East European Studies.

Russia and China are using one of the oldest tricks in the book to build up their political capital in Central Asia – gifts. Lots of them. An extraordinary amount of money is flowing from the two powers into neighboring Central Asia’s infrastructure. Of the more than $47.2 million in humanitarian aid Tajikistan received from the international community from January-June 2013, Russia provided 9.7% and China provided 2.9% as the second and fourth largest donors, respectively. Russia will begin arms shipments to Kyrgyzstan this year worth $1 billion. China will singlehandedly import 25 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year from Turkmenistan. Russia will soon invest over $60 million in Uzbek oil production.

The list goes on. Most intriguingly, Russia recently reached an agreement with Kyrgyzstan in which Kyrgyzstan will sell its bankrupt natural gas company Kyrgyzgaz to Russia’s Gazprom for a staggering total of $1 (yes, $1), in exchange for Gazprom’s pledge to invest a mere 20 billion rubles (more than $619,000,000) in developing Kyrgyzstan’s natural gas infrastructure over the course of five years. Good deal.

But besides its readily apparent intent to create “client states” in Central Asia (most notably Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) by bringing the former Soviet republics back into the fold of its political and economic influence, Russia could have another interest in mind that resonates closely with current trends in Russian public opinion.

Russia’s ostensibly generous aid in bolstering the Central Asian states’ internal development may reflect a conscious effort to prevent an increased rate of Central Asian immigration into a more economically prosperous Russia. RIA Novosti reported that the government-run All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion, or VTsIOM, published a poll on 22 July in which most participants (35%) identified “migration from abroad” as the most viable security threat to the nation. Though significantly lower than the 58% who responded likewise when the poll was conducted in 2005, a high percentage of Russians continue to believe that ethnic minorities hold more potential to harm the Russian state than energy resource depletion or even terrorist attacks. It seems that Russians will remain inhospitable to a heightened Central Asian ethnic presence, at least for the foreseeable future. And the best way for the Russian government to ensure that the Central Asians remain where they already are is for their regional economic environment to improve.

That being said, Russia is not the only world power literally invested in keeping Central Asia stable – China has also broadened its scope of influence over the states, three of which border China’s troubled Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. China has continuously upped its economic assistance to Central Asia over recent years (primarily in the energy sector), and publicly promotes its strong bilateral relationships with the region’s states. Most notably, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently proclaimed that Chinese investment ventures in Kyrgyzstan would forever be free of “additional conditions” that would theoretically require Kyrgyzstan to provide comparable payments or services in return.

But in politics, nothing is free, and gifts never fail to generate a sense of indebtedness. Russia and China clearly possess long-term interests in presently courting the Central Asian states and providing these seemingly unconditional financial favors. So the question is not if, but how, Russia and China will decide to cash in on them.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.


BIT: China and US Agree to New Talks

The conclusion of the U.S.-China Strategic & Economic Dialogue (S&ED) came with the announcement that the United States and the People’s Republic of China agreed to reinitiate talks regarding a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT).  Officials on both sides praised the development.

It makes sense that both sides in the S&ED would emphasize the agreement to begin discussions over a BIT, as most of the S&ED focused on highly contentious issues.  In particular, both sides traded barbs over the other’s cyber policy.  The United States demanded that China cease its commercial and government cyber-espionage activities, while China returned with demands for the United States to end its actions of hacking into university systems in the People’s Republic.  Both sides need to walk away with some type of win – thus, the BIT.

Reengagement on bilateral investment is a positive step in the US-China dynamic, but everyone should not be overly optimistic about where new talks will lead.  Prior discussions on investment floundered and it is quite possible that new talks will as well.  The reason that a formal investment treaty may prove unlikely is that there already exist standard patterns of investment between the two countries.  After a period of decline during the global financial crisis, US investment in China is once again picking up.  The United States also has no BIT with two of its most important trading and investment partners: Canada and the European Union. 

Added to the already existing financial architecture is the fact that BITs are not easily passed by the United States Congress.  Formalizing investment between the United States and a foreign country means that a great many interests in the United States will have to be heard from before Congress will act.  Furthermore, the US Congress remains wary of China’s impact in the realm of human rights, intellectual property, environmental safety, consumer safety, financial transparency, and banking stability.  Similar apprehensions are held by some central leaders on China’s side regarding US regulatory systems, banking and financial requirements, and trade protection laws.  In short, the BIT has a steep hill to climb before becoming real. 

New talks on investment do have one positive impact regardless of the end result of those talks: developing rules regarding US-China economic interaction.  The current bilateral relationship is made difficult by the territorial disputes in the Asia-Pacific, China’s policy regarding the DPRK, its activities in the IOR, and its cyber policy, but the two countries are making strides economically.  US-China trade remains robust with more firms in both countries entering into joint enterprises.  Continuing to institutionalize economic behavior may well have the side effect of easing tensions within the strategic and political realms.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Reform, Cyber, and Bilateral Tension

From 10-11 July, the fifth meeting of the U.S.-China Strategic & Economic Dialogue (S&ED) will take place in Washington, DC.  The meeting serves as the highest bilateral meeting between the leadership of the United States and the People’s Republic.  For more background, read this overview.

Since its inception, the S&ED has been criticized for not achieving much within the bilateral relationship, but that may soon be changing.  Internal pressures in China and a changing international arena affecting the United States may finally lead to some frank, essential discussions between these two major powers.  What sort of issues will likely be a subject of discussion…?


Cyber assaults and espionage have long increased tensions between these two countries.  For years, the United States has been the victim of attacks originating in China.  These incursions have predominately focused on private industries in the United States, searching for proprietary information that could give Chinese firms a leg up by gaining access to cutting edge technology without going through the investment of research and development.  US industry has partnered with the US government in order to increase effective countermeasures for cyber incidents and pushed for a stronger stance on cyber topics within the bilateral relationship.  With the US firm Mandiant publicly revealing earlier in 2013 the scope of Chinese hacking on US government offices, the issue of cyber has become a primary topic of concern.

The cyber issue is not solely a topic of concern for the Americans, as the Chinese government has also traced cyber incursions into their systems back to American shores.  However, whereas Chinese cyber forces focus on extracting information by disrupting systems, especially from US corporate entities, American cyber forces focus on gleaming information without causing disruption.  Given the potential cyber capabilities of the United States and superior global position of US information technology firms, the Chinese government understands that US cyber policy could readily become much more invasive and overtly confrontational.  As of right now, there is likely no more contentious topic of conversation between these two countries.

The Asia-Pacific

China’s rise has been accompanied by not only an over interest in becoming the hegemon of the Asia-Pacific, but also with a policy of extending China’s territorial claims in the South and East China Sea.  Viewed by many of its neighbors as aggressive, China’ expansion claims have increased hostilities with Vietnam, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Japan.  Given US strategic alliances with Korea, the Philippines, and Japan, the United States has been dragged into regional tensions.

It is unlikely that discussions over the Asia-Pacific will lead to any new understandings.  China will never be able to exert control over everything it claims, which means that eventually there will have to be conciliation by some party to the disputes.  Yet, that time has not yet arrived.  Additionally, China remains wary of the US rebalance to the Asia-Pacific.  It is likely that both countries will strongly reiterate their positions and move on.

China’s Economic Transformation

Over the past several years, there has been mounting evidence that China needs to initiate wide-ranging economic reform.  The almost magical growth rates of the 1990s are no longer possible, its banking sector is saddled with billions in bad debt, its real estate sector is in many ways toxic, and the country’s overall economic health remains dependent on exports.  Greater financial transparency, industrial and commercial regulation, and stronger domestic consumption are essential for maturing the economy.

The United States has long called on China to initiate this change.  The Americans believe that by doing so, China will become a stronger partner in the global economy and abandon many globally unpopular actions.  Yet, a change of this magnitude is dangerous for the global economy and for China’s political elite.  Economic conversations will likely center on how the United States can help China if it seriously desires to reform.


During the two days of engagement, there will be conversations on topics where the United States and China largely share common interests.  Maritime security is one such example, especially in the Indian Ocean Region, global energy market stability and energy pricing will be another opportunity.  Furthermore, stability in the Middle East, which is all the more important with recent instability in Egypt, is of greater importance to both countries.  With any luck, the United States and China will discuss not only topics where they disagree, but also engage on those issues where they walk in parallel.  Investing in such topics will improve the bilateral relationship while also enhancing stability on a whole host of global issues.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

The Struggle between Populism and Democracy in Egypt

At this moment, the Egyptian military, under the direction of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and with the support of anti-Morsi protestors, is removing the current Egyptian president from power.  Over the coming days, many will debate the moves of the military, the effectiveness of the Morsi administration, and the realistic expectations of liberal protestors.  What is essential at this moment, however, is to recognize how serious the emerging problem is for Egyptian citizens.  A democratically elected President is in the process of being removed from power by his country’s military. 

The removal of President Morsi is supported by millions of Egyptians who oppose the policies of the Muslim Brotherhood, are fed up with the current regime’s inability to fix Egypt’s myriad of problems, or are fearful of what the religiously-guided Muslim Brotherhood will do to the country’s nascent democratic institutions.  The opposition to President Morsi has completely legitimate complaints about his administration, but there is a fear that the actions taking place today will only serve to undercut democracy and increase social tension in Egypt.

First, it is the military that once again chose to step in to solve a dispute within Egyptian society.  Not only is this pattern dangerous for democracy, but it undercuts the very notion that civilian leaders have any real power in Egypt.  Second, pro-Morsi supporters will not forget or forgive today’s actions.  The Muslim Brotherhood and other religiously-motivated groups remain powerful factions in Egyptian society.  It is entirely possible that removing Morsi from power will completely sour his constituency on the benefits of democracy and motivate them towards more radical political methodologies.  Finally, the opposition to Morsi who have seized control of Cairo’s streets in an effort to show their displeasure with the current government are not an organized force in a political sense.  If President Morsi is removed, then can this hodgepodge of forces making up the opposition put democracy on a firm footing?

In short, Egypt has a serious problem between democratic procedure and populist sentiment.     

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.


No Candles Today

Every year on the 4th and 5th of June, a grim anniversary becomes the source of political theater.  These dates are the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, in which the central leaders of the Chinese Communist Party and the senior leaders of the Beijing Municipal Government ordered the pro-reform protesters to be forcibly removed from Tiananmen Square. 

For much of the world, the 1989 Tiananmen Protests have become almost myth.  Every year during the anniversary of the crackdown, thousands take to social media platforms to talk about “the Tank Man”, the “Goddess of Democracy”, and the pro-democracy message of the protestors.  It is unfortunate that much of what survived that spring in 1989 does so as image or slogan. 

The reality is that these protests started as a tribute to the death of Hu Yoabang, a CCP leader with a reformist bent.  The protest movement that emerged from this initial memorial was never about pushing for Chinese democracy.  It was a reform movement that wanted greater government transparency.

The battle for reform continues today, but instead of protestors concentrating within a national symbol, activists and netizens use the anniversary to highlight the degree by which the Chinese state continues to control information and worries about opposition.  Almost every year some bizarre action is taken in order to block discussion of the Tiananmen protests.  In 2010, foursquare, a social networking website, did not allow people to check in at Tiananmen.  This year, web searches regarding the Shanghai stock exchange are limited because it closed last year on June 6th with a loss of 64.89 (6/4/89).  Also this year, Sino Weibo, the most popular Chinese blogging platform, refuses to allow people to use the candle graphic.  The graphic is generally used in reference to death.

Most regimes around the globe lack the willingness and/or capacity to engage in information control to the same degree as the CCP in the People’s Republic.  However, every regime facing opposition acts to protect its own power and discredit the opposition.  When the opposition cannot be discredited, then isolate them as much as possible.  Perhaps this is the reason Prime Minister Erdogan criticized social media recently – such tools allow the opposition to circumvent the state’s ability to repress. 

The question, though, is this – how far must a regime go before realizing its efforts to repress are a waste of energy?  Is it really worth taking the steps the Chinese state takes in order to limit discussions of Tiananmen Square?  In the end, the population always figures out ways around them – as they did, at least temporarily, this year [link – using the giant inflatable duck from Hong Kong’s harbor in place of tanks].

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.