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summer-reading

A Beginner’s Naval Intelligence Reading List

summer-readingWhile the very topic of naval intelligence may seem to imply secrecy, there is a substantial literature on the topic available to the general reader. While many of the books below may be well known to many in the field, they remain a useful start for the uninitiated:

Patrick Beesley’s two books about British efforts to collect, analyze, and use intelligence, particularly in support of the fight against German submarine warfare, are the best places to start for anyone interested in the practical application of intelligence at sea. Very Special Intelligence: The Story of the Admiralty’s Operational Intelligence Centre, 1939-1945 discusses the Second World War, while Room 40: British Naval Intelligence 1914-1918 covers the First World War. In both books Beesley contrasts the performance of these organizations during the two wars (the sharing and use of intelligence was much better during the Second World War). The discussion of British Naval Intelligence’s involvement in the famous Zimmermann Telegram and the subsequent U.S. entry into the First World War is fascinating.

The recommendation of John Keegan’s Intelligence in War may seem a little too obvious and on the nose, but his chapters on intelligence during the age of sail, the First World War, and the Battles of the Atlantic and Midway during the Second World War are one of the best summations of how wireless communications largely created what naval intelligence practitioners call OPINTEL (operational intelligence). Before wireless communications navies conducted “scouting” and “reconnaissance,” but intelligence as we understand it today largely results from the wireless revolution.

Christopher Ford and David Rosenberg’s The Admiral’s Advantage: U.S. Navy Operational Intelligence in World War II and the Cold War is a flawed book, in large part because this slim volume uses the excuse of many of its sources still being classified to justify the general lack of detail and substance devoted to its subject. Having said that, it’s virtually the only source available to a general audience that explains the post-Second World War history of U.S. Navy intelligence. Among the more interesting claims it makes is that the U.S. Navy’s famous Maritime Strategy of the 1980s was directly informed by a detailed understanding of Soviet naval doctrine by American intelligence analysts.

Colonel John Hughes-Wilson’s Military Intelligence Blunders and Cover-Ups features regularly in military and academic courses on intelligence. Discussion of Indications and Warning failures include chapters on Pearl Harbor, the 1973 October/Yom Kippur/Ramadan War, and the Falklands.

“Eddie” Layton and “Joe” Rochefort are two figures considered among the founding heroes of the U.S. Navy’s Intelligence and Information Warfare communities, respectively. Layton (he retired as a Rear Admiral) was the Pacific Fleet’s intelligence officer during the Second World War (both during the Pearl Harbor disaster and the later American victories in the Pacific) while Rochefort led the codebreaking effort that enabled the American victory at Midway. Layton’s autobiography And I was There as well as the recently published biography, Joe Rochefort’s War, offer insight into how a few surface line officers in the inter-war period began to specialize in intelligence-related duties. Of note, both Layton and Rochefort participated in a program that sent them to Japan for several years to learn the language and culture first-hand, an investment that seems to have paid off.

U.S. Naval Intelligence has been one of the many elements of the intelligence community supporting the various aspects of what used to be called the Global War on Terrorism. Mark Bowden is probably the most well-known author covering the special operations world over the fifteen years. While Black Hawk Down is his most famous book, Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw offers another look at the formative years of the current U.S. Special Operations complex and how intelligence is collected and used to target individuals. He’s also written articles for the Atlantic on the 2006 killing of Abu Musab Zarqawi in Iraq, American Special Operations in the Philippines, and counter-drug operations in Colombia.

For those interested in film treatments of intelligence in support of counter-terrorism the obvious choice is probably Zero Dark Thirty. My choice, however, is John Malkovich’s adaptation of Nicholas Shakespeare’s the Dancer Upstairs, a fictionalized depiction of the hunt for Abimael Guzmán, the leader of Peru’s Marxist Sendoro Luminoso Maoist guerrillas in the 1980s and 90s (both the book and film are excellent).

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence officer currently serving on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and onboard USS Essex (LHD 2). The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the US Government.

The Mighty Moo, USS Cowpens, maneuvering with the deftness of its heifer namesake.

The “Mighty Moo” Maneuvers Around Trouble

The Mighty Moo, USS Cowpens, maneuvering with the deftness of its heifer namesake.
The Mighty Moo, USS Cowpens (GG-63), maneuvering with the deftness of its heifer namesake.

The recent near-collision of a PLA Navy tank landing ship and the missile-guided cruiser USS Cowpens in the South China Sea represents yet another incident in a long line of instances of Chinese gamesmanship with the US Navy extending back to the March 2009 harassment of the USNS Impeccable and the 2001 downing of an EP-3. In each of these cases, the Chinese took issue with the United State conducting surveillance of Chinese military targets at sea or on the Chinese mainland (in this case, the Cowpens was conducting surveillance of the PLAN aircraft carrier Liaoning, which was for the first time conducting exercises in the South China Sea).

All three occurred in the South China Sea, although it is not currently clear from media reports where exactly the most recent confrontation took place. This could prove to be an important distinction. Previously, Beijing justified its escalatory responses to US actions by saying that they interpreted U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to mean that military activities within the Chinese exclusive economic zone (EEZ) were prohibited without the consent of China. The EP-3 and Impeccable incidents both occurred near Hainan Island, inside the Chinese EEZ. If this most recent escalatory move occurred outside the EEZ, it will be particularly interesting to see how China justifies itself. Are they expanding their legal interpretation further by claiming that all military activities conducted in waters within the so-called “nine-dash line” must receive Chinese approval? This of course is conjecture—especially given that as of this writing it also appears from a cursory glance of Chinese-language news websites that neither the PLA nor the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet made a statement. At that point this issue will require the analysis of individuals better trained in the vagaries of Chinese territorial legal disputes than I.

Also pertinent to this debate is the recent admission at this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue (by a Chinese military officer no less!) that the PLAN was itself already conducting surveillance of U.S. military installations on Guam and Hawaii within U.S. EEZs around those islands. As Rory Medcalf points out, this clearly contradicts the Chinese legal position on the matter. At what point will this hypocrisy actually catch up with the PLA and necessitate a change in China’s legal position?

Last week at an event at the Wilson Center, Oriana Skylar Mastro suggested that China’s recent announcement of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) fits into a pattern of Chinese “coercive diplomacy,” in which China manipulates risk and intentionally raises the risk of an accident, a view echoed by other analysts in an approach known as salami tactics. In this way, China stops just short of further escalation, and achieves its objectives of slowly chipping away at opposing territorial positions and international legal norms. This analysis is clearly simpatico with her earlier published work regarding the Impeccable incident and the most recent confrontation involving the USS Cowpens. In her paper, Dr. Mastro identified a coordinated Chinese media campaign and legal challenge that accompanied the PLA’s military provocation. She also recommended that in order to prevent further Chinese attempts at escalation, the United States should publicize these events, directly challenge the Chinese legal position, and maintain a strong presence in the area, all things which the United States is now doing (specifically in the Cowpens case, the Department of Defense broke the story).

These are sound responses to Chinese attempts to delegitimize lawful operations in international waters. What should the United States not do? In an article published by the Washington Free Beacon, Bill Gertz quotes a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, Rick Fisher, who suggests that China in this incident is intentionally “looking for a fight” that will “cow the Americans,” and that the United States and Japan should heavily fortify the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in response. Aside from the fact that China certainly is not “looking for a fight,” fortifying the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands would be a terrible idea. The U.S. government does not even take an official position on the islands’ sovereignty! The U.S. response should certainly be firm in insisting that surveillance within foreign EEZs is completely legitimate and lawful; but turning this issue into about something other than surveillance in international waters would be blowing it out of all proportion. The United States should, in contrast to the ways in which China’s behavior is perceived, proceed carefully but resolutely and stick to its guns.

William Yale is a graduate student at Johns Hopkins SAIS. He has lived in China for two years, and worked at the Naval War College and the U.S. State Department. He tweets @wayale and blogs at williamyale.com.

Events Week of 12-18 November 2013

Events Week of 12 – 18 November 2013

 A roundup of events we think our readers may find interesting. Inclusion does not equal calendarendorsement, all descriptions are the events’ own. Think of one we should include? Email Grant at operations@cimsec.org.

12 November 2013 – Washington, DC – The Atlantic Council“NATO’s Deterrence and Collective Defense”

13 November 2013 – Washington, DC – 10th Annual Disruptive Thinkers Technologies Conference

14 November 2013 – India – The Diplomat“International Conference on Future Challenges in Earth Sciences for Energy and Mineral Resources”.

14 November 2013 – Washington, DC – Foundation for Innovation and Discovery - “Implementing Innovation”.

14 November 2013 – Washington, DC – Brookings Institute“Israel’s Economy and Security in a Changing Middle East”.

14 November 2013 – Washington, DC – Carnegie“China’s Views on Prompt Global Strike”

14 November 2013 – Washington, DC – SAIS-JHU“History, Sovereignty, and International Law: China’s East China Sea and South China Sea Territorial Disputes and Implications for Taiwan”

15 November 2013 – Washington, DC – Atlantic Council“Cyber Conflict and War: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow”

16 November 2013 – India – The Diplomat“Global Maritime International Conference”.

18 November 2013 – Washington, DC – Hudson Institute“Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding”.

Longer-Term

20 November 2013 – Washington, DC – Brookings Institute CIMSEC’s DC Chapter Monthly Informal Meet-up at Bluejacket Brewery

20 November 2013 – Brisbane, Australia – Royal United Services Institute of Australia“Veils, Boots, and Bullets – Australian Military Nurses”

21 November 2013 – Sydney, Australia – Lowy Institute for International Policy“The Future of American Policy in the Asia Pacific Region

21 November 2013 – Washington, DC – Hudson Institute“Taiwan and the US: Shared Strategic Interests”

25 November 2013 – Washington, DC – Cato Institute“Rethinking U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy”.

25 November 2013 – London – King’s College“Russia and the Caspian Sea: Projecting Power or Competing for Influence?”

26 November 2013 – Canberra, Australia – Kokoda Foundation“Researching Australia’s Future Security Challenges”

03 December 2013 – Washington, DC – CSIS“World Energy Outlook”

10 December 2013 – Washington, DC – USNI2013 Defense Forum Washington: Shaping the New Maritime Strategy and Navigating the Budget Gap Reality.

17-18 December 2013 – Washington, DC – Center for Strategic and International StudiesPONI Series: The PONI Conference Series, now in its tenth year, offers an opportunity for rising experts in the field to present findings from their research in order to advance the broader discussion on nuclear weapons issues. It also seeks to provide a venue for interaction among people from different sectors and for mid-career and senior members of the community to mentor their junior counterparts.

14-16 January 2014 – Washington, DC – Maritime Administration“National Maritime Strategy Symposium: Cargo Opportunities and Sealift Capacity”.

Typhoon Haiyan – 48 Hours After

PAF C-130s and a Sokol helicopter (background) at the battered Tacloban City Airport. Image Credit: Reuters
PAF C-130s and a Sokol helicopter (background) at the battered Tacloban City Airport. Image Credit: Reuters

Super Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Central Visayas area of the Philippines, not only leveling Tacloban City where she made first landfall, but ripped through the islands of Samar and Leyte, Northern Cebu and the Panay provinces and swiped Busuanga Island, on her way out to the Western Philippine Sea. One apt description of Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) was “easily a Category 4 Hurricane, but combined with a tornado having a hundred-mile wide damage path .”

The impacted area is about the size of West Virginia, but with the added complication of being scattered islands and archipelagos, relying on key transit points including airports, seaports and vital roads and bridges that are mostly inoperable. Thanks to a storm surge of up to 24 feet, much of the infrastructure may remain closed or damaged for months. Reports of casualties vary, but victim narratives backed by initial media coverage and official government tallies seem to confirm that at least over one hundred people lost their lives in the storm. That number is likely to rise as contact is re-established with the harder-hit outlying areas. As of the time of this article’s publication, the storm made landfalls over 5 islands, displacing over 600,000 people, destroying or damaging at least 20,000 homes and structures.

The Philippine Government had sufficient warning and heeding past incidents, pre-positioned relief supplies and began mandatory evacuations of residents into emergency shelters such as stadiums and other sturdy structures. No one was prepared however, for the immense damage wrought by winds close to 190 miles per hour with gusts exceeding that figure, along with flash flooding and storm surges that easily came to rooftop levels in most locations. Possibly the only saving grace is the speed of the storm that wrought those winds also made a quick transit of the Visayas region.

With Haiyan now well off-shore and threatening the Vietnamese coast, damage assessment efforts have begun. A generous outpouring of international aid both near and far, and deployment of US Navy units out of Japan will bolster current government operations to bring immediate relief. The challenge is that the entire area is dark, literally. A complete power and communications blackout has hampered efforts to reach both major population centers and the the more isolated townships and villages. Tacloban City airport was devastated, but some reports indicate that the runway is mostly intact. Initial sorties by the Philippine Air Force were focused on delivering electrical generators and sufficient communications gear to replace what was lost on the ground and re-establish links to unaffected areas of the country. Based on media photos, a few PAF C-130s and Sokol utility helicopters were seen on the battered and congested ramp, but the lack of electrical power, damage to the control tower and fueling areas will severely limit the number of flights the airport can handle in the coming days. Sealift support by the Philippine Navy includes up to 20 vessels, most notably the hard-working Bacolod City-class Logistical Landing Craft, a familiar sight from recent crises such as the Bohol earthquake and the Zamboanga City uprising. Overall, the government committed a goodly portion of it’s military and civilian assets and personnel prior to Haiyan’s arrival, to quickly deal with the aftermath. This comprehensive effort is being managed through the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the equivalent to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Perhaps the only benefit of this natural disaster was the temporary cessation of the standoff at Ayungin Shoals – the Philippine Marines aboard the grounded BRP Sierra Madre safely rode out the storms, as did many other of the small, isolated detachments in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) or as the contested Spratleys are known. The Chinese Maritime Surveillance ships quickly moved out ahead of the oncoming tempest for safer harbor.

As with any major Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Recovery (HA/DR) operation, the bulk of relief supplies will have to be sent via ship or ground. Most roads remain blocked by fallen trees and other debris, with the critical San Juanico bridge linking Leyte, where Tacloban City is located, with it’s Northern neighbor Samar, currently under safety evaluation. This vital road link between the two islands is the only way road-bound supplies can reach the impact zone. Tacloban Seaport is blocked, mostly by debris and ships wrecked and washed ashore by the typhoon’s powerful waves. The San Juanico strait is barely navigable, and the bottom which is littered with World War II shipwrecks are now further cluttered by new victims. Assuming the port can be cleared, this will force relief vessels to either pass north through the San Bernardino Straits and swing around Samar or south through the Surigao Straits into Leyte Gulf, adding miles to an already long voyage.

In a scene eerily reminiscent of the days following Hurricane Katrina, lawlessness and looting have broken out in the major population centers, with President Benigno Aquino III resisting calls to impose martial law, despite some local governments ceding effective control and operations back to Manila due to manpower shortages. Government forces are starting to arrive to deliver both aid and establish law and order. The coming weeks will be the critical time, as efforts to rebuild, restore power, establish potable water sources and housing will be racing the clock against starvation, disease and exposure to the elements.

How to help:

NBC Summary Page of Relief Operations
CNN Summary Page of Relief Operations

Juramentado is the pseudonym for Armando J. Heredia, a civilian observer of naval affairs. He is an IT Risk and Information Security practitioner, with a background in the defense and financial services industries. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, any particular nation’s government or related agency.

Events: Week of 28 October

Events Week of 28 October – 02 November 2013

29 October 2013 – Washington, DC – Disruptive Thinkers.  Execution is the new innovation.  All of our innovative ideas won’t amount to much if we can’t find a way to implement them.  And this month we get a chance to hear from Rob Holzer, someone who knows how to do just that.

29 October 2013 – Washington, DC – Heritage Foundation“Examining US – Burma Military-to-Military Relations”.  The Obama Administration has frequently expressed interest in closer military-to-military relations with Burma – despite the Burmese army’s horrendous record of human rights abuses and close relationship with rogue regime North Korea. The Administration appears reluctant, however, to share its plans publicly. Join as we try to understand the state of American military engagement with Burma and the implications for broader foreign policy objectives.

29 October 2013 – Washington, DC – Atlantic Council“Regional Cooperation: An Imperative for Transatlantic Defense”.  Please join the Atlantic Council for an address by, and discussion with, Finnish Minister of Defense Carl Haglund, who will detail the importance of regional cooperation for transatlantic security.

Building on the successes of Nordic Defense Cooperation (NORDEFCO), Minister Haglund will make a case for NATO member and partner countries to follow a similar framework to sustain present-day interoperability levels and enhance military capabilities. NORDEFCO’s five members states—Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden—use regional networking to increase their interoperability via cross-border cooperation, build-up and maintain necessary military capabilities, and provide cost-effective contributions to international efforts.

29 October 2013 - Washington, DC – AEI – “American Strategy in the Asia-Pacific: Rep. Randy Forbes on the Need for a Congressional Rebalance”.  Despite White House assurances to the contrary, the rhetoric of the Asia pivot is increasingly overshadowed by grim budgetary realities in Washington. Looming sequestration cuts over the next decade have already forced the Obama administration to scale back its economic, diplomatic, and military investments in the Asia-Pacific, exacerbating fears of disrupted trade and rising tensions in the region.

Representative Randy Forbes (R-VA) is spearheading a bipartisan House Armed Services Committee effort to educate congressional members and the public about the important shifting security dynamics in the region and to identify resource and readiness shortfalls. Join us at AEI to hear Rep. Forbes elaborate on the congressional responsibility to define a US role in Asia that convinces US allies that the pivot is more than empty sloganeering.

30 October 2013 – Washington, DC – CIMSECMonthly Gathering.  CIMSEC’s DC chapter will be heading to Maddy’s Bar and Grille, near the Dupont Circle Metro stop, for our informal October meet-up next Wednesday the 30th.  We hope you’ll join us to meet some interesting people and discuss all things maritime.

30 October 2013 – London – King’s College“Geographic Information Systems and the Geographies of War”.

30 October 2013 – Washington, DC – Foreign Policy Association“Georgetown Conference: Iran and the South Caucasus”.

31 October 2013 – London – King’s College“Terror Attacks on Energy Infrastructure – A Growing Threat?”.  The European Centre for Energy and Resource Security (EUCERS) cordially invites you to the fifth and final roundtable discussion in a series on Resilient Energy Infrastructure co-hosted by acatech – National Academy of Science and Engineering, Germany and the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation in London, in partnership with KPMG.

31 October 2013 – Carlisle, PA – CNA“Asia’s Looming Hotspot”.  Rear Admiral Michael McDevitt, U.S. Navy (Ret.) will discuss the increasingly contentious dispute between China and Japan concerning sovereignty over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea and the implications this dispute has for U.S. foreign policy. This talk is one of a series on “Hidden Dangers: Emerging Global Issues of the 21st Century” sponsored with the World Affairs Council of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. – See more at: http://www.cna.org/news/events/2013-10-31#sthash.cBXbR5bq.dpuf

01 November 2013 – Washington, DC – Atlantic Council“Tackling India’s Cyber Threat”.  India is becoming the second-largest victim of cyberattacks after the United States and earlier this year released its first national Cyber Security Policy. The purpose of this framework document is to ensure a secure and resilient cyberspace for citizens, businesses, and the government.

In particular, the policy aims to strengthen the role of the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) in coordination with crisis management efforts and awareness-raising activities on cybersecurity. Alongside protecting the country’s cyber infrastructure, the policy strengthens the significant role IT has played in transforming India’s image to that of a global player in providing IT solutions of the highest standards.

Long-Term

11 November 2013 – London – King’s College“New Nuclear Initiatives in Arms Control and Nonproliferation – Likelihood of Success?”.  President Obama’s renewed commitment to ‘a world without nuclear weapons’ along with ongoing challenges over Iran, North Korea, and within the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, have given rise to numerous new initiatives in arms control and nonproliferation. A panel will discuss four such initiatives, including the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons initiative, the ‘P5 process’ with the five NPT-recognized Nuclear Weapon States, US-Russia arms control, and developments in Chinese nuclear policy.

12 November 2013 – Washington, DC – The Atlantic Council“NATO’s Deterrence and Collective Defense”.  This event is part of the Atlantic Council and IFS project on NATO in an Era of Global Competition. This eighteen-month project examines new ways of thinking strategically about NATO’s future role in the context of emerging security challenges, global power shifts, and disruptive technologies. The first conference in this series, NATO in a New Security Landscape, which took place in June, covered emerging trends in the global security environment and identified key challenges that NATO must confront to maintain strategic relevance in the future.

13 November 2013 – Washington, DC – 10th Annual Disruptive Thinkers Technologies Conference

14 November 2013 – India – The Diplomat“International Conference on Future Challenges in Earth Sciences for Energy and Mineral Resources”.

14 November 2013 – Washington, DC – Foundation for Innovation and Discovery - “Implementing Innovation”.  This is the inaugural event for the Foundation for Innovation and Discovery (FINND), a non-profit whose center of gravity is the connection between mission users in the USG and innovators, technologists, industry providers and academics who follow those communities.

The event will showcase a FINND Talk and Mission Forum (see invite). It will also describe the Discovery Summits that the FINND will hold for the USG in 2014 and explain how the IT backbone of the FINND will serve as a resource for the USG and the FINND’s members.

Registration is required and space is limited, so please sign up per the invite (and feel free to forward this invitation to those you believe may have an interest). 

16 November 2013 – India – The Diplomat“Global Maritime International Conference”.

10 December 2013 – Washington, DC – USNI2013 Defense Forum Washington: Shaping the New Maritime Strategy and Navigating the Budget Gap Reality.

17-18 December 2013 – Washington, DC – Center for Strategic and International Studies – PONI Series: The PONI Conference Series, now in its tenth year, offers an opportunity for rising experts in the field to present findings from their research in order to advance the broader discussion on nuclear weapons issues. It also seeks to provide a venue for interaction among people from different sectors and for mid-career and senior members of the community to mentor their junior counterparts.

SC Episode 4: DEF Jam Midrats Tour

From the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum in Chicago, I speak to Eagle One and Commander Salamander on their Midrats podcast. We talk about sea swap, small ship leadership, how much I love USNI and Zumwalt, and actually mention quite a bit of game theory. It’s not exactly our typical fair of maritime policy… but seriously, I was busy disruptively ideating! SC Episode 4: DEF Jam Midrats Tour (Download)

What Does “War” Really Mean?

Tuning into the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on September 3, something Secretary Kerry said struck me as very interesting.  In response to a question, the Secretary of State said:

“We don’t want to go to war in Syria either. It is not what we are here to ask. The president is not asking you to go to war.”

This statement has received some harsh criticism.  See here and here. How we label our involvement directly affects the political perception of what that involvement will be.  I think what Secretary Kerry was trying to say was that we are not “putting boots on the ground.” But is there a difference between war and a TLAM strike into Syria?

Did you say war? Not so fast... DENNY CRANE!
Did you say war? Not so fast… DENNY CRANE!

Under international humanitarian law, or what is more commonly referred to as the law of armed conflict, there are two classifications of conflict: international armed conflict (IAC) and non-international armed conflict (NIAC). An IAC is a conflict between two or more nations. A NIAC is a conflict that only involves one nation and takes place within its own territory.  A great example of a NIAC is a civil war, which sufficiently describes the conflict in Syria at the moment.  But what happens when the United States uses military force? Does the civil war (a NIAC) evolve into an IAC?  Maybe not.

It is possible, under international law, that a TLAM strike into Syria would not be considered a trigger causing an IAC.  In the case Nicaragua v. United States, the International Court of Justice determined whether an armed attack had occurred by examining the “scale and effects” of the force used. So what are the “scale and effects” of a TLAM strike? To help determine this, it’s important to understand why the U.S. would launch the strike in the first place.

As heavily reported, the Syrian government used chemical weapons.  This is a violation of an international norm and an absence of action would undermine this important norm (notice the difference between “norm” and “law” – a topic for another discussion).  The purpose of the TLAM strike then would be to enforce the norm – not to intervene in the civil war or to topple the Assad regime.  The “scale and effects” of such a limited strike would be minimal and not likely rise to the level of “armed attack” that would trigger and armed conflict between Syria and the United States. And so long as Syria does not counterstrike, the U.S. would not be moving the conflict in Syria from a NIAC to an IAC. Hence, a “war” between the United States and Syria would still be avoided.

LT Dennis Harbin is a qualified surface warfare officer and is currently enrolled at Penn State Law in the Navy’s Law Education Program.  The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity.  They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.