In the Tigray crisis, the Biden Administration and its European allies – with generous support from Egyptian, Tigrayan, Sudanese, and Kenyan military and intelligence institutions – have managed to bleed Ethiopia of financial and human resources; and then secure the withdrawal of the Ethiopian military from large swathes of Tigray region. This validated the utility of an integrated political-military strategy that has been used against Xi Jinping and Bashar al-Assad, though it failed against the former and achieved limited success against the latter.
This integrated strategy combines information warfare (through media campaigns propagated by mainstream media), propaganda war (using non-media outlets like pundits and research institutes to show that a government is weak and the nation is about to fall unless the current leader is ousted), economic warfare (through withdrawal of international aid and threats of sanctions), and diplomatic warfare (which uses coercive diplomacy to cause isolation of a nation regionally and supra-regionally), as well as kinetic operations (using armed actors that are supported — and even supplied — by the West) to weaken a government and seed domestic uprising. Basically, this integrated political-military strategy is augmented political warfare that can be used to weaken the resolve of the targeted population, delegitimate its civil bureaucracy, and prime the targeted polity for regime change.
In Ethiopia and Syria, this strategy has succeeded in forcing the national governments to cede control of Tigray and Idlib to non-state actors. In China, it failed as the strategy departments of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) came up with an ingenious counter-strategy rooted in political warfare and integrated defensive-offensive realism. This counter-strategy baited Americans to reveal their (anti-CCP) collaborators inside China, as well as tricked Americans to pay the Chinese to defeat Islamists in Xinjiang, along with helping CCP eradicate extreme poverty in China in 2020. By late 2020, CCP had blunted the American enhanced political warfare as confirmed by the fact that China continued (unhindered) to build its navy, the People’s Liberation Army Navy, which is now the largest in the World.
So, how did the Americans deploy this augmented political warfare?
Unexpected Outcome in Syria
The Arab Spring reached Syria in 2011 and the Democrat-led Obama administration and the State of Israel saw an opportunity to kill 2 birds with one stone, i.e oust the secular Bashar al-Assad from power and break up the northern trunk of Iran’s Shiite bloc. Their plan was to arm so-called moderate Sunni militants and isolate Syria regionally and internationally through sanctions and diplomatic warfare, as well as create rebel zones out of reach of the Baath regime where American troops can be hosted to train, arm, and fight alongside local armed groups. Additionally, the plan called for Syrian soldiers to be enticed to defect and fight against the government. The plan did not succeed fully as only Idlib in Northern Syria was ceded to the Syrian Salvation Government, which is an alliance of Turkish-backed Islamist militants, including the AlQaeda-affiliated Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) that boasts of Uyghur Salafists.
For Iran, it can boast of a victory as it has consolidated the Shiite bloc after gaining the upper hand in Iraq and Syria (with Russian military support), thus completing the northern Shiite land trunk that stretches from the Persian Gulf to Tartus. Most importantly, Iran now can deploy its expeditionary forces to the borders of Israel. Though this plan had limited success in Syria, it would later be used in Ethiopia, but the focus would be on the Northern region of Tigray, not the entire nation.
A Strategy Officialized but Jinping Discredits it
The strategy of using armed non-state actors — whose actions are approved and backed by official statements from the United States Government (USG) and European governments — to bleed money and blood from a government, and then force the withdrawal of government institutions, including military and civil bureaucracies, from an area of interest was initially developed by the American Department of Defense (DoD) and Intelligence Community (USIC) to undermine Baathists in Syria. It was then retooled to undermine the Chinese government led by Xi Jinping.
In China, the strategy requires the overt use of international institutions (including humanitarian agencies and democracy advocacy institutions), Western mainstream media agencies, and armed Uyghur Islamists to force the PLA to cede areas in Xinjiang. On the covert front, it allows DoD and USIC to seek corrupt PLA officers who can be bribed, or co-opted, to undermine Beijing’s authority. Both the covert and overt fronts are to be supported with sanctions against Chinese officials and companies, as well as diplomatic maneuvering to get the European Union (EU) to reduce trade with China and instead push for sanctions against China at the United Nations (UN).
However, this strategy has been failing as the Communist Party of China (CPC) led by Xi Jinping came up with an ingenious counter-strategy. Among other things, the implementation of this counter-strategy in 2020 has led to imprisoning of Uyghur Islamists, unmasking of DoD-USIC agents in China, enticement of American firms to invest in Xinjiang, retribution against Australia through bans and tariffs, and imposition of export controls to limit the transfer of rare earth materials to the US, as well as leveraging of CCP’s influence in Wall Street to promote cash inflow into Beijing (from the US) so as to shore up Chinese industrial capacity and reduce extreme poverty, while reducing (American) investments at home (the US). Additionally, starting in 2012, Xi Jinping started military reforms that strengthened party control over military affairs, and purged the military of disloyal elements, while several generals have been executed for disloyalty and corruption.
On the economic front, China spearheaded the formation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which gravitated key American allies like Japan, Australia, South Korea, and New Zealand, along with most South-East Asian nations towards China. RCEP is the largest trading bloc in the world and it is pillared by China. RCEP not only allows CCP to undermine American dominance in East Asia (which is now the Economic epicenter of the world), but it also allows CCP to isolate or coerce India to toe Beijing’s line. After signing RCEP, Xi Jinping proposed to Joe Biden that China would like to independently join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the economic bloc that spans East Asia and North America. If America refuses to rejoin the TPP and China joins it (TPP), then China would dominate both RCEP and TPP, effectively ending American economic dominance in China’s near abroad (i.e East Asia) and in the American heartland (of Continental Americas). This shows how the plan by the USG to undermine the anchor state of the East Asian region failed.
In China, the DoD-USIC strategy — along with other strategies including Trump’s trade war — clearly failed as CCP had even convinced European governments to not come together as a European bloc to negotiate with CCP or condemn its activities. This inability to create a European bloc allied to USG that could counter CCP really distressed some Western policymakers as they felt that the Western Alliance was tearing apart at the seams. To make matters worse for these policymakers, Xi Jinping had won the trade war by mid-2020 and Donald Trump would later lose the elections, while Hong Kong folded into CCP’s arms. However, in November 2020, a crisis in Ethiopia would salvage the alliance and make it speak in unison as a bloc.
Tried on Xi Jinping, Used on Abiy Ahmed
On the eve of the 2020 US elections, fighting broke out in the Tigray region between the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). This fighting would provide an opportunity for USG and the EU to undermine 3 governments — the Governments of Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia — using a single non-state actor, the TPLF. The strategy used against Bashar al-Assad and Xi Jinping would be retooled and be used against the Government of Ethiopia (GoE). The first salvo was a barrage of influence operations, mainly through information operations, which maligned GoE and drove a wedge between Ethiopia and the Occident.
These influence operations lanced the information dominance campaign and propaganda war that the Biden Administration would wage against the Government of Abiy Ahmed. These operations were also foundational to waging economic warfare, which has been executed through the withdrawal of international aid, disinvestments, and (threats of) sanctions. Diplomatic warfare has been more subtle so as to allow USG, EU, Egypt, Kenya, and Sudan to cooperate when trying to isolate Ethiopia and Eritrea. As expected, the key domain of this conflict has been kinetic operations where TPLF has enjoyed open support from the West — mostly in form of supportive official statements from USG, UK, and some European governments. Even so, have these operations and the overall strategy managed to weaken GoE and seed domestic uprising? This question can be related to another interesting question: Did the USG and some European governments pay off some ENDF commanders to surrender or betray their troops with a promise that their captured soldiers will be treated humanely?
If this happened, then the payment was done through third parties including remittance companies and research agencies that transferred the money through automated settlement systems to obscure paper trails. Even so, why would the West want TPLF to hold Ethiopian soldiers as Prisoners of War (PoW)? According to Geopolitics Press, TPLF needs Ethiopian PoW so as to force the Ethiopian Government to allow for aid to be flown into Tigray, or else TPLF will broadcast live video feeds of starving PoW and shame GoE, particularly when Western mainstream media beams these images and footage to a global audience. Another simpler explanation for taking Ethiopian PoWs is to use them as bargaining tools to get GoE to release Tigrayan soldiers and personalities who have been arrested since November 2020.
Command and Control Fusion Center (C2FC)
In the Horn of Africa, the strategy that had been tried on the anchor state of East Asia would be used against the anchor state of the region, Ethiopia. All the same, how has USG been able to conduct cohesive multi-pronged operations against GoE across the domains of economic, information, diplomatic, and kinetic warfare? According to Geopolitics Press, these operations are run from a single administrative node, the command-and-control fusion center (C2FC), which has delegated some of its tasks to disparate subsidiary fusion cells that enjoy some degree of operational autonomy but organizational dependence on the fusion center.
For these operations to succeed, USG would require regional buy-ins, principally due to the need of hosting fusion cells near the theater of operations and securing routes for exfiltrating agents, and sending money to allied agents and armed actors. For the war in Syria, USG and EU had Turkey, Israel, and Jordan as regional allies. For the current Ethiopian crisis, USG and EU have Kenya, Sudan, and Egypt as allies, but most of the regional fusion cells are based in Kenya, where they work with the Kenya Defence Forces and Kenyan National Intelligence Service to execute information warfare. This has caused furors in the Kenyan diplomatic community and civilian bureaucracy, which wants Kenya to maintain fraternal relations with Ethiopia, while others fear that hostility to Ethiopia is driven by pernicious interests by parties at odds with the Kenyan people. Apart from information warfare, are there other kinds of operations that are run from Kenya? The answer to this question is found in this post.
A modified and redacted version of this post was published in Medium under the title: “How a Political-Military Strategy Designed to Undermine Xi Jinping was Used to Undermine the Government of Ethiopia — Part 1“