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Understanding and Countering Nation-State Use of Protracted Unconventional Warfare
The United States’ national adversaries are engaged in protracted unconventional warfare strategies designed to counter-balance U.S. military might and enhance their own strategic security postures. Nations such as China, Iran, and Russia, while avoiding direct conflict with the U.S., are deploying unique and effective strategies across multiple domains within the spectrum of wartime operations. Though the U.S. remains dominant in the land, sea, air, and space domains, the nation’s adversaries are levying unconventional strategies designed to contest U.S. power within highly disputed and less understood domains to include cyberspace, the international information operations environment, and the human terrain environment. These unconventional warfare strategies, over a protracted period of time, have the effect of subtlety attritting the United States’ worldwide military presence, bleeding the American economy, sowing confusion, chaos, and distrust amongst U.S. policy makers, and wearing down the will of the American people.
This paper, at its core, is designed to identify, enumerate, and provide recommendations to counter protracted unconventional warfare strategies and will fulfill its design by accomplishing two things:
- Demonstrating how the nation’s adversaries operate in such a manner as to aggressively achieve their national security objectives while simultaneously remaining below the threshold of what would be considered an act of war, let alone a universally understood and condemned act of aggression. It is below this threshold that the United States must engage its adversaries if the U.S. is to counter its adversaries unconventional wartime strategies.
- It will deliver strategies designed to directly engage the United States’ adversaries below the threshold of war as well as the means to strategically posture the United States to levy flexible deterrent options.
By accomplishing the above two objectives, it is the intent of the author to demonstrate how the U.S. may effectively contain its strategic adversaries before the U.S. security posture is irreversibly eroded.
War by Other Means
Upon recognition that nuclear weapons had rendered unrestricted conventional war all but obsolete, China’s Communist Party Central Committee and the Central Military Commission endorsed in 2003 a military strategy known as “Three Warfares”. This method of warfare is a dynamic, flexible doctrine that promotes war by other means to include psychological operations directed at the adversary, media warfare designed to exert influence over public perceptions, and legal warfare designed to exploit legal asymmetries to achieve political and commercial objectives. This strategy – indirect, asymmetric, and protracted – is cunningly designed, over time, to combat a superior adversary that cannot be defeated through conventional means.
Over a thousand miles to the west in Southwest Asia, the Iranian leadership – specifically from the early 1990s onward – has begun to implement a strategy that leverages religious loyalism to enhance its strategic influence over the region and preserve the future of Shia Islam against the perceived threat of the Sunni majority. In Yemen, Iran is allegedly providing military support to the Houthi rebellion, a minority Shi’ite movement that stirs unrest and conflict in the war-torn nation. During the height of the Arab Spring, Bahrain’s military leadership unrelentingly swore that Iran was providing both moral and material support to Shi’ite agitators; all this while improvised explosive devices continue to be employed ever more frequently throughout the island nation as the Shi’ite majority becomes increasingly frustrated with the ruling Sunni minority. Most recently, it has been reported that Iran has deployed two or more battalions of its Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) forces to assist Iraqi troops in combating the recent surge of insurgent activity from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an offshoot of al-Qaeda.
Another one-thousand miles to the north in the transcontinental nation of Russia, President Vladimir Putin is likely directing unconventional warfare operations in Eastern Europe. In 2008, at the commencement of the Russo-Georgian war, Russia inspired insurrection within Georgia by handing out Russian passports in the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions as well as installing their own officials in key government posts. This action was immediately followed by government sponsored cyber operations designed to disrupt and degrade the Georgian government’s capacity to communicate with its military and civilian population. Russia’s current strategy in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine bears remarkable similarities; in the early March 2014 timeframe, it was alleged that Russian operatives were distributing passports to ethnic Russians in the Crimean capital of Simferopol. Shortly after, there appeared to be evidence of cyber operations targeted at Ukrainian telecom providers to include denial of service operations against websites and the physical severing of critical fiber optic cable trunks. Still today, it appears that Russia continues to operate in Eastern Ukraine through the use of similar tactics.
Geographically, strategically, culturally, and politically distinct, all three China, Iran, and Russia appear to be engaging in war by other means through use of protracted unconventional warfare strategies in order to achieve their national security objectives as well as compete for global and regional influence amongst key populations. While not allied with each other in the same manner that the U.S. is allied with the NATO countries, there seems to be a tacit level of cooperation amongst these three nations that has the effect of eroding the United States’ worldwide diplomatic, information, military, and economic (DIME) advantages. Though the nation’s adversaries are varied in their method of strategy execution, these strategies share similarities as follows:
- The nation’s adversaries are strategically interpreting, intentionally distorting, and exploiting international laws and norms to achieve their objectives – this is the most important function of their protracted unconventional warfare strategies. They are aggressively testing the limits of laws and norms by asserting pressure upon the United States’ military posture while simultaneously remaining below the threshold of what would unequivocally be considered an act of war.
- As a secondary – yet almost equally important – effort, the United States’ adversaries are decisively engaged in full-spectrum psychological warfare. The term “full-spectrum” is specifically used to characterize a form of psychological warfare that has evolved far beyond military usage and into the realms of politics, culture, society, and commercial business. This full-spectrum psychological warfare is amorphous in nature and is beyond what most Americans and leaders are capable of comprehending or detecting. Some examples include but are not limited to English language foreign news, foreign political lobbyists, the establishment of Islamic cultural centers, or the exposure of sensitive U.S. intelligence programs by foreign entities with the intent of causing an adverse reaction amongst the American populous through the exploitation and manipulation of defectors.
- Because the U.S. remains the dominant worldwide force in all aspects of the DIME spectrum, the nation’s adversaries, at the time being, are avoiding direct confrontation with the U.S. in favor of strategies that use indirect approaches to erode the nation’s secondary or tertiary national security interests.
- Quick, technologically-centric conflicts favor the United States’ military warfighting posture. Therefore, the nation’s adversaries both now and in the future will engage in protracted, asymmetric conflicts with the United States over an indefinite period of time.
The Strategy of Protracted Unconventional Warfare
The United States’ adversaries are currently not capable of defeating the U.S. in conventional conflict and as such will avoid actions that are universally and unequivocally understood to be acts of war. Following this logic, the nation’s adversaries will avoid direct conflict with the United States’ military, yet will engage indirectly in conflict against the U.S. security posture so long as they can sustain this conflict over a protracted period of time and so long as they can levy asymmetric advantages against a technologically superior American nation. This should not be interpreted to mean that the nation’s adversaries will not engage in warfare against the United States, rather, that they will engage in unconventional warfare by interpreting, distorting, and exploiting the consensus formed by Westernized democracies in regards to international laws and norms. The most internationally accepted and well understood agreement on what constitutes an act of war is contained within article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter, which states that, “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” Legal scholars have gone on to illustrate specific examples of what constitutes use of force, however, the threshold of “force” in terms of what the international community can agree upon is overwhelmingly vague. In the realm of kinetic conflict, it is generally accepted as true that a nuclear strike, state-sponsored terrorist attack, or conventional invasion would constitute use of force. There are other examples, but these three represent the most basic threats that national militaries train and equip for on a regular basis. The increasing prominence of cyber capabilities implies that use of force may also apply to information warfare. According to the Tallinn Manual, state-sponsored actions that result in death, injury, or destruction to persons or property would constitute use of force in cyberspace.
As a secondary effort to the distortion and exploitation of international law, the United States’ adversaries are engaged in full-spectrum psychological warfare against the American population. Some of these psychological efforts are subtle and designed to influence the populous over time. Such strategic thinking is characterized by the writings of Li Bingyan, who proposed the following:
“How can you make a cat eat a hot pepper? You can stuff a pepper down a cat’s throat (the most difficult), you can put the pepper in cheese and make the cat swallow it, or you can grind the pepper up and spread it on his back. The latter method makes the cat lick itself and receive the satisfaction of cleaning up the hot pepper.”
Other efforts of full-spectrum psychological warfare are more overt and direct. Consider Vladimir Putin’s September 2013 article in the New York Times calling for restraint in Syria. In this article, Putin appeals directly to the American people and political leaders, establishes a foothold with the American psyche by referencing the joint U.S. – Russian efforts of defeating the Nazis and establishment of the United Nations, and then follows on by sowing doubt in the United States’ justification for an attack on Syria. Another example – though unconfirmed – is Russia’s harboring of Edward Snowden for reasons that are possibly not humanitarian, but rather to leverage Snowden’s background and knowledge of U.S. intelligence practices to harm the image of the United States Government.
In the manner that the United States’ adversaries exploit international law and conduct full-spectrum psychological warfare, this paper contends that the strategist or the policy maker must be conscious of three categories of actions concerning the use of force. At the highest level of severity, there are those actions that are unequivocally and universally considered acts of war (nuclear strike, conventional invasion, societally destructive cyberattack, etc.). These actions, however, are few and far in between. In the conduct of warfare in the modern age, most actions fall below the universally agreed upon threshold of war and are legally ambiguous in respect to international laws and norms. The nation’s adversaries are keenly aware of this legal ambiguity; consequently, this is where they predominantly apply their efforts in order to avoid direct engagement with the United States. Per the various interpretations of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, these legally ambiguous actions are considered by some nations to constitute use of force and are considered by others to fall below the threshold of force. These interpretations are almost always subjective and depend primarily on the interests of the involved nation-state(s). The following graphic is this paper’s proposal for the spectrum of nation-state warfare operations and the three categories considering use of force that must be understood by strategists and policy makers in order to counter unconventional warfare.
Figure 1 divides actions of warfare into two categories: information and kinetic. Note that these categories are not mutually exclusive of each other, rather, all actions fall somewhere along the spectrum between being purely kinetic or purely informational in nature. The higher up the action is along the spectrum, the more severe it is; the highest severity of actions being a nuclear strike or cyberattack that destroys the national power grid. Actions above the red line are, on the most part, universally accepted to meet the threshold of declaring war; actions below the red line are either legally ambiguous or clearly fall below the threshold of declaring war. Note that actions tend to be more legally ambiguous in the realm of information warfare due to a less robust understanding as a result of the shorter historical context of information warfare’s usage. Though a cyberattack that critically disrupts the financial sector may potentially be as damaging as or even more damaging than a state-sponsored terrorist attack or a conventional invasion, the realm of information warfare (especially cyberwarfare) tends to be more ambiguous due to issues of blame attribution and the interpretation of sovereignty as it relates to the physical and logical boundaries of computer networks and servers.
Of paramount importance, this paper’s graphic illustrates that most actions of warfare fall within the realm of legal ambiguity. This is not to say that actions within the gray area are legal according to international law, rather, there is a lack of consensus in terms of how nations choose to interpret their legality. In fact, most of these actions under a strict interpretation of international legal code are considered to be illegal. Consider the act of providing material support to an insurgency. In 1986, the International Court of Justice ruled against the U.S. for breaching its obligation under international law to not intervene in the affairs of another state by providing training and weapons to the Contras in Nicaragua. This serves to demonstrate that many, if not most, actions within the gray area, could be considered a violation of article 2(4) of the UN Charter’s prohibition against the use of force. However, often times as is the case with international law, such rules and norms are subject to the interpretation of the nation-state in question. Consider the case of Russia’s use of “Patriotic Hackers” in 2007 to conduct distributed denial of service attacks against Estonian state websites, thereby crippling Estonia’s ability to perform governance. According to the Estonian Minister of Defence, this cyberattack constituted a “national security situation” which was followed on by a request for NATO support and the subsequent foundation of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCD COE) in Tallinn, Estonia. Clearly the Estonians considered this attack to constitute a use of force. Clearly the Russians, while most certainly intending to use force, managed to distort the international perception of this use of national power in order to avoid a larger, disadvantageous conflict.
Given the lack of international consensus regarding the legality of many, if not most, actions of warfare, it is likely that United States’ adversaries’ use of protracted unconventional warfare strategies will continue to exploit this lack of consensus. Such a strategy is best characterized by early-twentieth-century Chinese strategic culture as well as their adoption of “Unrestricted Warfare”. In terms of the basis of Chinese strategy, Sangkuk Lee states that:
China’s revolutionary leadership, such as Mao Zedong, emphasized that in order to defeat militarily and economically stronger enemies, political work to strengthen one’s own forces as well as to weaken enemies was one of the most decisive factors and needed to be systematically organized and pursued assertively.
This philosophy would eventually lead to the writing of Unrestricted Warfare by two People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force colonels, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui. Unrestricted Warfare asserts that an adaptive and cunning warfighting force will:
… no longer use armed forces to compel the enemy to submit to one’s will, but instead will use all means, including armed force or non-armed force, military and non-military, and lethal and non-lethal means to compel the enemy to accept one’s interests… [this] means that all weapons and technology can be superimposed at will; it means that all boundaries lying between the two worlds of war and non-war, of military and non-military, will be totally removed.
The above exerts concerning unconventional warfare strategies, though Chinese in origin, are not exclusive to Chinese strategic culture. As illustrated in earlier portions of this paper, both Russia and Iran also appear to be engaged in indirect strategies designed to achieve their national security objectives. With this assertion in mind, the next portion of this paper will discuss strategies designed to counter the unconventional warfare tactics used by the United States’ adversaries.
Countering Protracted Unconventional Warfare
Despite the asymmetric advantages gained through China, Iran, and Russia’s use of protracted unconventional warfare strategies, these nations are characterized by deeply seeded and fundamentally destructive strategic vulnerabilities. If exploited, the nature of these vulnerabilities presents strategic posturing opportunities to the United States and its allies; a brief description of these vulnerabilities is as follows:
- International Isolation: China, Iran, and Russia’s tactics of distorting international law and conducting nefarious operations have left them relatively isolated amongst the international community. This enables opportunities for the United States to leverage its diplomatic and military partnerships to the disadvantage of its adversaries.
- Societal Instability: China, Iran, and Russia suffer from socio-political instability and internal popular insurrection. According to a study conducted by Freedom House, all three nations ranked amongst the worst nations in the world in terms of political rights and civil liberties. Furthermore, ongoing incidents of political insurrection suggest that these nations remain vulnerable to internal upheaval, which implies opportunities to redirect the attention of the United States’ adversaries inward in order to quell unrest amongst their own populations.
- Damaged or Externally Dependent Defense Industrial Bases: China, Iran, and Russia’s defense industrial bases (DIB) are vulnerable to outside influence due to external dependencies and internal complications and therefore have the potential to be crippled through continued competition with the U.S. DIB.
The nature of the above vulnerabilities creates opportunities for the United States to levy two types of counter UW strategies. The first of these strategies is Counter UW through Direct Engagement. Direct engagement strategies encompass those counter UW capabilities/activities that the United States should develop and deploy immediately in order to directly counter its adversaries’ asymmetric, indirect, and international law distortive advantages. These strategies do not have a triggering point and are well-characterized by their immediacy and the direct targeting of an adversary’s vulnerabilities within the gray realm of legal ambiguity. The second strategy that can be leveraged is Counter UW through Flexible Deterrent Options. Flexible deterrent options are those counter UW capabilities/activities that the United States should develop, but not necessarily deploy, in order to coerce the adversary into ceasing their use of UW activities. These strategies are premised upon the credibility of the deterrent capability, the development of key decision points, and selective communication of those capabilities and decision points to the adversary. Using these two strategies, direct engagement and flexible deterrent options, the following portions of this paper will illustrate how the United States can counter unconventional warfare via the exploitation of its adversaries’ critical vulnerabilities.
Counter UW through the Exploitation of International Isolation
China, Iran, and Russia’s international relations are characterized by relative isolation due to their tendencies to cause regional disturbances through their exploitation, violation, and distortion of international law. China, for example, is not a member of any formal military alliance. Iran possesses only an unofficial alliance with Russia and possesses sectarian ties with the incumbent ruling parties of Syria and Iraq (both of which are currently under siege by external forces). Russia, the only one of the three nations to be part of a formal military alliance, is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Of note, the CSTO’s membership has shrunk since its initial formation in 1992, having lost three of its former members to include Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Uzbekistan.
The United States, on the other hand, is party to seven collective defense agreements and has 65 State Partners through the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program. Figure 2 illustrates the United States military’s global depth and is indicative of the magnitude of international cooperation the U.S. is capable of leveraging throughout the world; the same can be said for the United States’ strongest allies who, like the United States, are also able to leverage deeply rooted and advantageous alliances.
Given the United States’ strategic advantage in terms of its relations with the international community, the U.S. should exploit its adversaries’ relative isolation as follows:
- Counter UW Direct Engagement Isolation Strategy vs. Iran: The U.S. should adopt a sunk cost mentality in Iraq and should acknowledge that Iraq will likely not become a fully-functioning democracy free from sectarian partisanship. The current successes of ISIL against Iraq’s conventional military force are indicative of the Iraqi military’s inability to competently defend itself. Moreover, there is little reason to believe that the United States’ provision of 300 special operations military advisers in Iraq will change this dynamic. Instead, the U.S. should seek to exploit the present opportunities to be gained via ISIL’s presence. As stated earlier in this paper, Iran has deployed two or more battalions of IRGC into Iraq and may increase its commitment if the situation worsens. As of 25 Jun. 2014, it was reported that the Syrian government had carried out aircraft bombings against ISIL targets within Iraq. Instead of viewing ISIL as a terrorist organization, the U.S. should instead view ISIL as an insurgency vying for power within Iraq. The United States should facilitate the conditions necessary to allow ISIL forces to directly engage Iranian IRGC and Syria’s Baathist led military troops while straying away from overt military operations in Iraq. Iran’s relative isolation from other regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf States imply that, if successfully executed, the United States could foment the conditions necessary for Iran to fight an insurgency in its own backyard without any help from other regional stakeholders.
- Counter UW Direct Engagement Isolation Strategy vs. China: Specifically within East, South, and Southeast Asia, white paper reporting suggests that China actively conducts computer network operations (CNO) against South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, and India, Australia, and New Zealand. The United States should attempt to form a coalition of regional cyberspace stakeholders within the region in order to exploit China’s position of isolation that they have put themselves in via their nefarious activities in cyberspace. This coalition should be modeled on NATO CCD COE, which is headquartered in Tallinn, Estonia and was founded after Russia’s cyberattacks against the Estonian government in 2007. This organization should specifically exclude China and should be designed to increase China’s isolation in terms of their activities in cyberspace.
- Counter UW Flexible Deterrent Isolation Option vs. Russia: Of the five countries Russia is allied with via the CSTO to include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, the United States currently enjoys National Guard State Partnerships with all except Belarus. The United States should leverage these partnerships and attempt to form a partnership with Belarus in order to deter Russia’s behavior. Specifically, the United States should threaten to provide increased military training and funding efforts to current partners within the CSTO alliance and to form a partnership with Belarus if Russia does not cease its UW operations in Eastern Europe.
Counter UW through the Exploitation of Societal Instability
The United States’ adversaries are plagued by issues with societal instability and consequently engage in censorship and popular unrest suppression operations. While China’s issues in Taiwan are well understood amongst the national security community, less overtly and more recently, China appears to be struggling with Hong Kong as illustrated by the 100,000 demonstrators were present at a 4 June 2014 candlelight vigil marking the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Of note, this event was followed up on 11 June 2014 by a 14,500 word Chinese government white paper stressing that Hong Kong does not have full autonomy and falls strictly under Beijing’s oversight, thus bringing the “one country, two systems” concept into question. Iran, in 2009, experienced massive unrest and violence as a result of alleged corruption and fraudulent practices during that year’s presidential election. Also of note, along with Iraq and Turkey, Iran continues to periodically struggle with its ethnic Kurd population along its western borders. Lastly, Russia has historically struggled along its border regions with former members of the Soviet Union; today, Russia continues to struggle with Islamic and nationalist extremism in the Northern Caucuses. Additionally, Russia’s large country size and history of conquest makes it one of the most ethnically diverse nations in the world, to include more than 170 different ethnic groups and 27 official languages within its various regions. This implies an opportunity to inspire ethnic fracture within the vast Russian state.
Conversely, the United States’ population enjoys robust political rights and civil liberties and is therefore unlikely to be held at risk if its adversaries were to attempt to inspire insurrection within the U.S. mainland. Given the nation’s hardened societal posture, the U.S. should exploit its adversaries’ problems with societal instability as follows:
- Counter UW Direct Engagement Social Destabilization Strategy vs. China: China faces problems with societal instability, most specifically within Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other major cities. To combat this instability in terms of stopping the flow of information that could cause unrest, China engages in strict Internet censorship practices. In an effort to cause instability within China and force them to divert resources from regional UW strategies that hamper the U.S. national security posture, the United States should develop and deploy a cyber capability that can open up externally hosted search engines to the Chinese population that are outside of the jurisdiction of Chinese Internet service providers thereby hampering the government’s censorship capabilities. The effect of such a capability would enable the Chinese population to have unrestricted access to information and contentious historical events such as the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Such an operation would ideally have the effect of forcing the Chinese government to focus resources internally to pacify its population.
- Counter UW Direct Engagement Social Destabilization Strategy vs. Russia: Russia, known for its heavy concentration of corrupt bureaucrats in its largest cities, is responsible for one of the largest crime syndicates in the world. The United States should strategically leak or intentionally expose information gained through its intelligence disciplines that provides proof of corrupt relations between Russian officials and criminals; specifically, the U.S. should seek to deploy this strategy in regions within Russia that are newly acquired, prone to insurgent uprising, or where ethnic Russians comprise the population minority.
- Counter UW Flexible Deterrent Social Destabilization Option vs. Iran: The United States should issue a demarche to Iran announcing a policy of funding Iran-based dissident groups such as the Mjahideen-e-Khalq or Kurdish separatists in direct proportion to Iran’s funding and training of its own dissident groups throughout the region. I.e., for every dollar of direct funding, material, or training support provided by the Iranians, the United States should provide a higher yet directly proportionate amount funding to Iranian dissident groups, thereby making it increasingly difficult for Iran to sustain its foreign support efforts.
Counter UW through the Exploitation of the Defense Industrial Base
The United States’ adversaries’ defense industrial bases (DIB) are hampered by external dependencies and internal macroeconomic and procedural problems. China, for example, is incredibly dependent upon espionage efforts in order to remain abreast of the latest military innovations and is therefore subject to misinformation and deception. Iran’s theater ballistic missile (TBM) program, its principal military deterrent, is reliant on external suppliers for key missile components and materials and is therefore vulnerable to supply chain interdiction. Russia faces problems in terms of defense procurement and R&D planning to include a general inability to retain its top talent due to macroeconomic and internal policy. Furthermore, Russia’s DIB has experienced substantial problems over the last decade in terms of financial solvency, with one-third of its arms manufacturers on the verge of bankruptcy.
The U.S. DIB, on the other hand, is a world leader in the production of advanced military weapons systems and C4ISR systems. Compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. DIB has financially outperformed the global market in terms of operating profit per employee (see figure 3), implying that the U.S. can produce a higher quantity of higher quality weapons at a lower cost margin than other world competitors.
The U.S. should leverage the strength of its DIB in order to exploit its adversaries’ defense industry external dependencies and internal vulnerabilities as follows:
- Counter UW Direct Engagement DIB Exploitation Strategy vs. China: Given the emphasis on China’s CNO espionage programs, the United States should endeavor to develop custom designed honeynets containing counter-data in order to defend the schematics and plans contained within the most sensitive DIB networks. Such counter-data could include custom designed malware that, if exfiltrated in an unauthorized manner, would directly harm the adversary, activate a callback module, or notify the local police authorities and the media (thereby naming and shaming Chinese personnel engaged in CNO espionage); another option would be to seed intentionally flawed data within the honeynet in order to indirectly harm the adversary by sowing misdirection, confusion, and false intent.
- Counter UW Direct Engagement DIB Exploitation Strategy vs. Iran: Iran’s perceives their TBM inventory as an important deterrent capability which provides them the strategic latitude to promote substate conflict abroad through state proxies and insurgent groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Yemeni Houthi Rebels. So long as the current U.S. Central Command air defense posture remains evenly matched against Iran’s TBM force and so long as Iran believes in the integrity of its TBM key technology and materials acquisition program, Iran will continue to maintain confidence in deterrent. Given Iran’s perception, the U.S. should engage in a three-part counter UW strategy comprised of the following:
- U.S. policy makers and military leaders should publically state that they are seeking to degrade and/or disrupt Iran’s TBM program, thereby raising the Iranian alert posture.
- The U.S. should engage nation-state and non-state actors who facilitate the Iranian TBM acquisition process and should financially compete with the Iranian acquisition program. This will serve to drive up the price of TBM components and materials as well as cause distrust in the acquisition process due to U.S. competitive involvement.
- U.S. intelligence and special operations forces (SOF) should engage in TBM supply chain interdiction in order to replace functioning missile components with faulty missile components. Occasionally, the U.S. intelligence community (IC) should intentionally leak information (true or false) to the Iranians regarding the success of its supply chain interdiction operations.
- Counter UW Flexible Deterrent DIB Exploitation Option vs. Russia: The U.S. DIB should directly compete with the Russian arms sales industry in order to apply downward pressure on Russian sales quotas and sales revenues. Given this strategy, the U.S. must not allow Russia to gain market footholds in newly formed conflict zones. Iraq’s recent acquisition of fighter jets from the Russian defense industry as a result the United States’ inability to deliver F-16 jets to the Iraqi military is a mistake that cannot be repeated. Upon applying sufficient pressure on the Russian DIB and further exacerbating Russia’s internal macroeconomic challenges, the United States should issue an ultimatum to the Russian leadership stating that if they do not cease their UW activities in Eastern Europe, the U.S. will increase its DIB sales to nations within the CSTO alliance, thereby striking at the heart of the Russian arms sales industry.
Though the United States adversaries’ currently enjoy the advantages gained through their asymmetric activities, these advantages are in a perpetual state of flux and are vulnerable to U.S. sponsored counter unconventional warfare (UW) strategies. This paper has demonstrated that China, Iran, and Russia can be directly engaged and flexibly deterred through exploitation of their international isolation, societal instability, and vulnerable defense industrial bases. By levying counter UW strategies that play to the United States’ principle strengths and exploit its adversaries’ principle weaknesses, the United States can, over time, attrit and eventually defeat the UW strategies employed by China, Iran, and Russia.
The United States’ struggle versus its primary nation-state adversaries is likely to be a protracted and borderless conflict fought within the realm of legal ambiguity. In many ways, this conflict resembles the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union. Battles will be fought indirectly and success will have to be measured in terms of long-run gains and losses. The key difference, however, is that today’s conflict is likely to be fought within unconventional warfighting domains to include cyberspace, the international information operations environment, and the human terrain environment. Nonetheless, like the battles fought throughout the Cold War and the Soviet Union’s subsequent collapse in 1991, it stands to reason that the more legally just, socially cohesive, economically sustainable, and politically sound society will prevail; all of which the U.S. is characterized by in abundance and conversely is lacking within the societal constructs of United States’ primary nation-state adversaries.
 Stefan Halper, (2013) “China: The Three Warfares,” University of Cambridge, 11.
 Ibid., p. 12-13
 Anthony Cordesman, et al., (2013) “The Gulf Military Balance Volume III: The Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula,” Center for Strategic & International Studies, v.
 Bahraini Royal Air Force Officer in discussion with the author, February 2011.
 Amir Abdallah, “Iran deploys military to fight Sunni ISIL insurgents in Iraq,” www.iraqinews.com, http://www.iraqinews.com/iraq-war/iran-deploys-military-fight-sunni-isil-insurgents-iraq/ (accessed 17 Jun. 2014).
 Uri Friedman, “Putin’s Playbook: The Strategy Behind Russia’s Takeover of Crimea,” The Atlantic, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/03/putins-playbook-the-strategy-behind-russias-takeover-of-crimea/284154/ (accessed 18 Jun. 2014).
 Jason Rivera, “Has Russia Begun Offensive Cyberspace Operations in Crimea?” The Georgetown Security Studies Review Forum, http://georgetownsecuritystudiesreview.org/2014/03/02/has-russia-begun-offensive-cyberspace-operations-in-crimea/ (accessed 18 Jun. 2014).
 U.N. Charter, art. 2, para. 4.
 According to NATO, the Tallinn Manual is “an independent ‘International Group of Experts’ [and] is the result of a three-year effort to examine how extant international law norms apply to this ‘new’ form of warfare.”
 Michael Schmitt, et al., (2013) Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare, (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press), 45.
 Famous contemporary Chinese strategist.
 Li Bingyan, (2004) “Applying Military Strategy in the Age of the New Revolution in Military Affairs,” The Chinese Revolution in Military Affairs, (China: New China Press), 2-31.
 Vladimir Putin, (2013) “A Plea for Caution From Russia: What Putin Has to Say to Americans About Syria,” The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/12/opinion/putin-plea-for-caution-from-russia-on-syria.html?pagewanted=all (accessed 6 Jul. 2014).
 Former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor responsible for the single largest classified intelligence disclosure in U.S. history.
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 Andreas Schmidt, (2013) “The Estonian Cyberattacks,” in A Fierce Domain: Conflict in Cyberspace, 1986 to 2012, (Vienna, VA: Cyber Conflict Studies Association), 192.
 Member of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.
 Sangkuk Lee, (2014) “China’s ‘Three Warfares’: Origins, Applications, and Organizations,” The Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 37, No. 2, 200
 Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, (2011) Unrestricted Warfare, 2nd ed., (Wuhan, China: Chongwen), 41, 46-47.
 A nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that supports democratic change, monitors freedom, and advocates for democracy and human rights.
 Freedom House, (2014) “Freedom in the World 2014,” Freedom House, (Washington, DC: Freedom House), 18-23.
 Alexander Lukin, (2014) “What the Kremlin is Thinking: Putin’s Vision for Eurasia,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 93, No. 4, 91.
 A military alliance comprised of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan.
 Miles Yu, (2012) “Uzbekistan exits Russia-controlled pact, joining Georgia, Azerbaijan,” World Tribune, http://www.worldtribune.com/2012/07/10/uzbekistan-exits-russia-controlled-pact-joining-georgia-azerbaijan/ (accessed 24 Jun. 2014).
 U.S. Department of State, (2014) “U.S. Collective Defense Arrangements,” www.state.gov, http://www.state.gov/s/l/treaty/collectivedefense/ (accessed 245 Jun. 2014).
 Current U.S. Collective Defense Arrangements include the North Atlantic Treaty, the Agreement between the United States and Australia and New Zealand, the Philippine Treaty, the Southeast Asia Treaty, the Japanese Treaty, the Republic of Korea Treaty, and the Rio Treaty.
 Division of International Affairs, J53, (2014) “The National Guard State Partnership Program: Annual Report Fiscal Year 2013,” The National Guard Bureau, (Arlington, VA: The National Guard Bureau), 3.
 A previous cost that has already been incurred and therefore cannot be recovered.
 Mark Landler & Michael Gordon, (2014) “U.S. to send Up to 300 Military Advisers to Iraq,” The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/20/us/obama-to-address-nation-on-iraq-crisis.html?_r=0 (accessed 26 Jun. 2014).
 Karen DeYoung, (2014) “Syrian aircraft bomb Sunni militant targets inside Iraq,” The Sydney Morning Herald, http://www.smh.com.au/world/syrian-aircraft-bomb-sunni-militant-targets-inside-iraq-20140625-zsl1a.html (accessed 26 Jun. 2014).
 Dmitri Alperovitch, (2011) “Revealed: Operation Shady RAT,” McAfee, (Santa Clara, CA: McAfee), 5.
 The Guardian, (2014) “Chinese cyber-attack on Australia ‘wider than previously thought’,” The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/28/chinese-cyber-attack-australia-emails (accessed 29 Jun. 2014).
 Eduard Kovacs, (2014) “Cyberattack on New Zealand Supercomputer Traced to Chinese IP,” Security Week, http://www.securityweek.com/cyberattack-new-zealand-supercomputer-traced-chinese-ip (accessed 29 Jun. 2014).
 Tim Hume, (2014) “Alarm in Hong Kong at Chinese white paper affirming Beijing control,” CNN World, http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/11/world/asia/hong-kong-beijing-two-systems-paper/ (accessed 24 Jun. 2014).
 World Population Review, (2014) “Russia Population 2014,” www.worldpopulationreview.com, http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/russia-population/ (accessed 24 Jun. 2014).
 Robert Orttun, (2006) “Causes and Consequences of Corruption in Putin’s Russia,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, (Washington, DC: CSIS), 2.
 Robert Farley, (2014) “Can China’s Defense Industry Catch Up?” The Diplomat, http://thediplomat.com/2014/05/can-chinas-defense-industry-catch-up/ (accessed 25 Jun. 2014).
 Steven Hildreth, (2012) “Iran’s Ballistic Missile and Space Launch Programs,” Congressional Research Service, (Washington, DC: GPO) 38.
 Vasily Kashin, (2014) “The State of Defense Innovation in Russia: Prospects for Revival?” Center for Analysis on Science and Technology, (California: University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation), 1.
 Guy Anderson, (2009) “The Russian Defence Industrial Base,” www.rusi.org, https://www.rusi.org/downloads/assets/Russian_Defence_Industrial_Base_RDS_Summer_09.pdf (accessed 25 Jun. 2014).
 Command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.
 Deloitte, (2014) “2014 Global Aerospace and Defense Industry outlook,” Deloitte Global Services Limited, (United Kingdom: Deloitte), 14.
 An artificially emplaced network designed to be compromised for the purposes of studying and preparing against adversarial CNO tactics and capabilities.
 Jason Rivera & Forrest Hare, (2014) “The Deployment of Attribution Agnostic Cyberdefense Constructs and Internally Based Cyberthreat Countermeasures,” in The 6th International Conference on Cyber Conflict Proceedings, (Tallinn, Estonia: NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence), 111.
 Ibid., p. 112.
 Ibid. 34, p. 3.
 BBC.com, (2014) “Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki: Russian jets will turn tide,” BBC News Middle East, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-28042302 (accessed 28 Jun. 2014).