24 May 2017

*** Beating the Islamic State Selecting a New Strategy for Iraq and Syria

by Ben Connable, Natasha Lander, Kimberly Jackson

The U.S.-led strategy to defeat the Islamic State (IS) — a hybrid insurgent-terrorist group that as of mid-2016 controls territory in both Iraq and Syria — has been criticized for a lack of clarity, overemphasis on tactical objectives, and insufficient attention to the underlying causes of the greater civil conflict across both Iraq and Syria. This report assesses the current strategy and presents three options for a new strategy. Each of these options, derived from subject-matter-expert input, represents a broad strategic approach to defeating IS. Continuous counterterror focuses on containing and suppressing IS while accepting ongoing instability in Iraq and Syria. Practical stability seeks to reestablish the pre–Arab Spring order in Iraq and Syria, building stable states at the probable expense of democracy and human rights. The report recommends the third option: Legitimated stability. This approach pursues a long-term strategy that seeks to address the root causes of the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, reconciling the disenfranchised Sunni Arab populations with their governments, and thereby removing the conditions that allowed IS to emerge and thrive. Other alternatives that fail to address root cause issues are likely to condemn the U.S. and its allies to continual crisis and unpredictable and unending reinvestment of resources, with little real gain in security or reduction in international terror.


Andrew Korybko

The Russian capital has already hosted three rounds of negotiations on this topic in the past couple of months, signaling that Moscow is very serious about getting more actively involved in resolving this issue. The US feels that Russia’s positive and constructive inroads are threatening its long-standing interests, and that’s why a flood of fake news about Russia’s relationship with the Taliban has been disseminated all across the Mainstream Media. These two developments – Russia’s renewed focus on Afghanistan and the US’ indirect soft power pushback – speak to the seriousness and relevance of what I’ll be briefly discussing today. 

I conceptualize Russia’s peacemaking efforts as constituting two interlinked and parallel processes, external and internal. The first one deals with the international environment, both the larger global strategic context and the more regional one directly relevant to Afghanistan. About the first, we see how the US has militarily overstretched itself across Eurasia and seems unlikely to return to its mid-2000s troop levels in Afghanistan, even if it eventually decides upon a so-called “troop surge”. This has created space for regional powers to fill the leadership void left by the US’ refocused priorities in West and East Asia, dealing nowadays with Iran and China, respectively, and including pressure against them in “Syraq” on one hand, and North Korea and the South China Sea on the other. These priorities appear to be much more urgent for the US nowadays, and that’s a good thing in this context because it facilitated Russia’s visible efforts in rounding up all of Afghanistan’s regional stakeholders in commencing a new round of Moscow-mediated peace talks. 

** Inside Russia’s Social Media War on America

by Ben Wiseman
On March 2, a disturbing report hit the desks of U.S. counterintelligence officials in Washington. For months, American spy hunters had scrambled to uncover details of Russia's influence operation against the 2016 presidential election. In offices in both D.C. and suburban Virginia, they had created massive wall charts to track the different players in Russia's multipronged scheme. But the report in early March was something new. 

It described how Russia had already moved on from the rudimentary email hacks against politicians it had used in 2016. Now the Russians were running a more sophisticated hack on Twitter. The report said the Russians had sent expertly tailored messages carrying malware to more than 10,000 Twitter users in the Defense Department. Depending on the interests of the targets, the messages offered links to stories on recent sporting events or the Oscars, which had taken place the previous weekend. When clicked, the links took users to a Russian-controlled server that downloaded a program allowing Moscow's hackers to take control of the victim's phone or computer--and Twitter account. 

** Trump gets it right in Saudi Arabia


For all the sound and fury over his public remarks and tweets in Washington, President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia has been a very different story. The president gave the right speech in the right place at the right time. There will still be critics on issues like human rights and Yemen, but the president had a different focus — and almost certainly the right one.

First, he needed to reassure the Saudis, the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and the other leaders of the 50 some Islamic countries meeting in the Kingdom that he was not anti-Islamic and did not see Islam as an enemy. He did just that — and in ways far more suited to the culture of his audience than the take-no-prisoners rhetoric he often employs in the U.S.

The first three paragraphs of his speech thanked his hosts, and talked about “the splendor of your country and the kindness of your citizens.” He mentioned the meeting between President Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz, and then went on to “extend my deep and heartfelt gratitude to each and every one of the distinguished heads of state who made this journey here today. You greatly honor us with your presence, and I send the warmest regards from my country to yours. I know that our time together will bring many blessings to both your people and mine.”

** The Scramble for Post-ISIS Syria Has Officially Begun


On Thursday, the United States deepened its involvement in the Syrian Civil War in ways that may only gradually become apparent. In targeting a convoy that Secretary of Defense James Mattis said included Iran-backed militiamen as well as Syrian regime forces, the U.S. apparently, for the first time since the conflict began six years ago, attacked foreign fighters allied to the Syrian government. The same incident also represented the second time the U.S. military has deliberately targeted Assad’s own forces, which the Trump administration struck last month in retaliation for the Syrian government using chemical weapons against civilians. Under Barack Obama, U.S. military operations in Syria were directed at ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates. Now two additional factions in the multifaceted civil war are in America’s crosshairs.

The development is in part a reflection of the fact that Donald Trump, who as a presidential candidate promised to focus solely on ISIS in Syria, has as president taken a surprisingly hard line on the Assad government. But it’s also reflective of a broader dynamic: As ISIS loses strength and territory in Syria, the endgame of the civil war is drawing nearer and the various powers engaged in that struggle are shedding a common enemy. The result is a race to carve out spheres of influence—and the United States under Trump appears to be getting in on the action.

How Blue Ocean Diplomacy Can Help India Do More Than Just Counter China’s OBOR

Jay Srinivasan

Ambrose Bierce, American Civil War soldier, writer, wit and someone who was considered as one of the country’s foremost satirists of his century, once described diplomacy as “the patriotic art of lying for one’s country”. China’s grand inauguration of its gigantic ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) project fits neatly into Bierce’s definition. They lied. OBOR is nothing short of war at a global scale, without a single shot having to be fired.

AIIB Makes Its First Loan to India, the Bank's Second-Largest Shareholder

By Ankit Panda

Earlier this month, the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) approved its first-ever loan for a project in India. The AIIB will lend $160 million to back a power project in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. India is a founding member of the AIIB, where it is the second-largest shareholder, behind China.

The AIIB is a development bank first announced by China in October 2013, at the same time Chinese President Xi Jinping introduced the Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road initiatives — the two pillars of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The bank began operations in January 2016.

According to a release by the AIIB, the $160 million loan will go toward the 24×7 Power for All initiative “with the objective to strengthen the power transmission and distribution system in the State of Andhra Pradesh.” The Power for All initiative was launched in 2014 by the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make the establishment of power supply infrastructure across the country a priority.

Post OBOR, Should India Relook Its Neighbourhood Policy?


Questions are being raised about India’s neighbourhood policy after the majority of its neighbours participated in China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) summit held on May 14-15. Representatives from 60 countries, including six South Asian countries, participated in the meeting, which India excused. 

A large section of the country’s strategy experts felt the move has left India in isolation, and its position as a regional power has been challenged.

However, such events should not disturb India’s ties with its neighbours. Contrarily, India needs to enhance its engagement with the neighbours to fulfil its vision for shared growth and prosperity – a key mantra of the nation’s neighbourhood policy.

The OBOR or Belt Road Initiative (BRI) is a major initiative by China that stresses on improving connectivity and cooperation among Asian countries, Europe and Africa. The project is a strategy to boost China’s economy since it has been excluded from the G7.

Is America losing to China in a new Great Game?

Noah Millman

Just this month, The New York Times published two major stories sounding the alarm, one about China's burgeoning investments in Africa, the other about China's massive investments in infrastructure in Southeast and Central Asia. As the Trump administration slips further into solipsistic delusion, starving its own diplomatic corps and boasting about trade deals in which America got badly outmaneuvered, China's potential moves on the global chessboard only multiply. Alarm would seem to be justified.

But what game is China actually playing? Is China constructing a 21st-century version of a colonial empire? If so, is that something America ought to be concerned about? And what should — what can — we do about it?

On one level, the answer to the key question is obviously yes. China's economic model is state-led, and its large infrastructure projects overseas, whether nominally private (as with the stalled plan to build a canal across Nicaragua) or not, are understood by all parties to be undertaken in coordination with the regime, and with a view to serving the regime's interests. China's interests, likewise, are close kin to those of 19th-century colonialists: control of access to key natural resources and the opening of markets for Chinese manufactures.

Will China and India Lead The Next Wave of Globalization?

By Monish Tourangbam and Pawan Amin

On May 14, while addressing the gathering of 29 heads of state and other high level representatives attending the Belt and Road summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping projected the Belt and Road as a “road of opening up.” He went on to stress that “opening up brings progress while isolation results in backwardness.” Whether this was a jibe at the current protectionist dispensation in the United States or not, Xi did not hold back in comparing the initiative to the Western model of development assistance. While making it clear that China does not intend to interfere in other country’s internal affairs, export its social system or development model, Xi laid out the plan for a new model of win-win cooperation. He also announced new projects in the area of emergency food aid, poverty alleviation, health care and more; areas traditionally the mainstay of development assistance provided by the United States and other western countries. While there remains an ambiguity in the shape of things to come, it is largely acknowledged that Xi’s China has come out of the era of “hide and bide” to an era marked by a “New Type of Great Power Relations,” as Beijing phrases it, when China realizes the “Strong Army Dream.”


This week in China the forum "One belt, one way" was completed, in which 28 heads of Eurasian countries took part. One of the main guests of the forum was the Russian President Vladimir Putin. China has demonstrated that it seeks to become a new pole of power in the global arena and looks forward to an alliance with Russia. The US, in turn, is restoring relations with its allies. Donald Trump on May 19 for the first time will travel outside the country as president of the United States, visiting Israel and Saudi Arabia, NATO summits and the "Big Seven" summit.

Chinese Cyber-Spies Target Asian Neighbors


It has been three years since the Obama Administration publically indicted five Chinese military officials for hacking U.S. companies, a move that prompted negotiations to halt economic cyber espionage intended to benefit Chinese economic competitiveness. The Cipher Brief spoke with John Hultquist, the Manager of Analysis at FireEye, about the current state of Chinese economic espionage and its apparent decline in the West despite being previously referred to as the most significant transfer of wealth in modern history.

The Cipher Brief: Could you describe, from a historical perspective, how Chinese cyber espionage has evolved over time? What is it primarily trying to accomplish, and where are attacks occurring?

John Hultquist: Chinese actors have relied on cyber as a tool of espionage for well over a decade now. Like most actors, national security has always been a major concern of theirs. This has consequentially resulted in them targeting both neighboring nations and internal dissident problems, such as Tibetan leaders, Falun Gong, and Hong Kong democracy activists. It has also involved targeting foreign governments with an interest in the region, such as the United States.

Geography and the Coming US-China War at Sea

By Jerry Hendrix and Robert Bateman

Soon, steel-hulled ships will clash in battle. Missiles belching fire will rise quickly from launch tubes, rapidly gathering speed and maneuverability before slamming into enemy vessels at supersonic speeds. Sailors will die, ships will sink, and nations will either rise or fall. Although the time of the battle remains hidden, the site of the battles are known all too well.

Geography is determinate in military plans, a fact that planners understand at all levels, from tactical to strategic. While tailored combat elements may traverse difficult environments on land and at sea, heavily laden logistics craft that follow and enable them can rarely do the same. This is what pushes armies and fleets toward certain immutable routes, resulting in battles occurring at the same locations, over and over, throughout recorded history. Much as the ridge at Megiddo, better known as “Armageddon,” played witness to strife no less than 13 times since the 15th century BCE because it stood astride the route from Mesopotamia to Egypt, key maritime straits such as the waters of the South China Sea and the Sunda and Malaccan Straits will provide the backdrop for future naval battles. Geography and geopolitics are intermeshed and unavoidable. Unfortunately for China, they sit upon the wrong side of the former and are rather poor at the latter. Western advantages in both must not be squandered.

China Reaches into its Cyber Toolkit to Wage Economic Warfare


When Beijing got the word that the United States was accelerating the deployment of its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to South Korea as a response to North Korea’s latest missile tests, senior Communist Party officials went, no pun intended, ballistic. The official Chinese news agency Xinhua wrote that the deployment of THAAD will lead to an increased arms race in the region and threatened that more “missile shields of one side inevitably bring more nuclear missiles of the opposing side that can break through the missile shield.”

Meanwhile, the Chinese government has increased the pressure on South Korean private firms operating in China as a punishment and warning for Seoul’s decision. Lotte, a South Korean conglomerate that sold the government a golf course to be used for THAAD, felt the pain almost immediately upon the announcement of its role in the defense battery’s positioning. Chinese authorities shuttered dozens of Lotte stores on the mainland, using the flimsy excuse that the government had just discovered that the stores did not comply with fire regulations. Beyond the closure of the physical stores, Lotte’s website was brought down and Lotte Duty Free suffered a distributed denial-of-service attack originating from Chinese internet addresses. Initial estimates of lost business and damage from these cyber attacks are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Andrew Korybko

The neoconservative Brookings Institute think tank authored a 2009 strategic publication about the most efficient way for the US to asymmetrically destabilize Iran, titling their blueprint “Which Path To Persia? Options For A New American Strategy Towards Iran”. Eurasian geopolitics has been completely upended in the 7 years since that document was first published, and many (but crucially, not all) of the precepts mentioned within it are outdated and irrelevant to the contemporary international context. That said, the concept of trailblazing the best Path to Persia still remains attractive, though no longer just for the US and this time towards completely different ends than the original idea had planned for. The rise of China and the unveiling of the worldwide One Belt One Road strategic vision have led to the People’s Republic taking a keen interest in directly connecting itself with the Islamic Republic, and herein lies the foundation for forging a different sort of Path to Persia. 

China’s Economic Reforms Have Hit a Wall

By Scott Kennedy

Scott Kennedy is deputy director of the Freeman Chair in China Studies and director of the Project on Chinese Business and Political Economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He is editor of Global Governance and China: The Dragon’s Learning Curve (Routledge, forthcoming Fall 2017). This piece is part of a special RCW series on the U.S.-China geopolitical relationship. The views expressed here are the author’s own.

By almost any measure, China’s economic performance over the past four decades is as impressive as the Great Wall is long. Since the late 1970s, the People’s Republic of China has grown faster for longer than any country in history -- ever. But just as the Great Wall wasn’t as effective as popularly imagined, the foundation of China’s economy is weak. Because of China’s sheer size and its integration into global production networks, one thing is for certain: as China’s economy goes, so goes the world’s. Furthermore, the dangers of an malfunctioning Chinese economy are monumental, not just for China but for the United States and everyone else.

Israel’s Army Goes to War With Its Politicians


TEL AVIV — IN most countries, the political class supervises the defense establishment and restrains its leaders from violating human rights or pursuing dangerous, aggressive policies. In Israel, the opposite is happening. Here, politicians blatantly trample the state’s values and laws and seek belligerent solutions, while the chiefs of the Israel Defense Forces and the heads of the intelligence agencies try to calm and restrain them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer last week of the post of defense minister to Avigdor Lieberman, a pugnacious ultranationalist politician, is the latest act in the war between Mr. Netanyahu and the military and intelligence leaders, a conflict that has no end in sight but could further erode the rule of law and human rights, or lead to a dangerous, superfluous military campaign.

The prime minister sees the defense establishment as a competitor to his authority and an opponent of his goals. Putting Mr. Lieberman, an impulsive and reckless extremist, in charge of the military is a clear signal that the generals’ and the intelligence chiefs’ opposition will no longer be tolerated. Mr. Lieberman is known for ruthlessly quashing people who hold opposing views.

Why Does Russia Still Favor China, Its More Powerful Partner?

By Stephen Blank

Bobo Lo's new Lowy Institute Paper on Russo-Chinese relations dazzles with the brilliance, clarity of thought, precision, and vigour we have come to expect from his work. This essay should be required reading for those who would seek to plumb the depths of this critical relationship and of Russian and Chinese foreign policies.

Lo is certainly right to say that the most dynamic factor in this relationship is the growing imbalance in aggregated power between Russia and China, whereby China is outstripping Russia in most if not all indices of power and capability. He argues that this dynamism and the consequences that ensue from it are placing the relationship under ever-increasing stress. Thus he sees it as a tactical rather than principled relationship or partnership, and dismisses, as do most writers, the idea of an actual alliance appearing anytime soon.

However, despite the many virtues and scintillating insights, the essay fails to answer why, if there is a power asymmetry (and most assuredly there is), the relationship has been a durable feature of world affairs for the last 25 years. Neither does his assessment explain why leaders like China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi repeatedly state that bilateral relations between them have reached 'a historic maximum', are stronger than they ever have been and are based on mutual interests and not external factors like a shared antipathy to the US. Certainly those statements are not just pro forma utterances or words spoken purely for purposes of politeness or domestic consumption. If the irritants and divergences in this relationship are as strong and widespread as Lo suggests, then its continuation is a mystery, as it would appear to be of decreasing utility or benefit to both states.

Murphy’s Law is totally misunderstood and is in fact a call to excellence

Corinne Purtill

You have likely at some point heard the saying known as Murphy’s Law: Everything that can go wrong will. The phrase has a dour fatalism to it—if everything’s bound to fail, why bother trying? But time has distorted the law’s intended meaning entirely. There really was a Murphy, and the law that bears his name is not an admission of defeat. It is a call to excellence.

Murphy’s Law originated at Edwards Air Force Base in southern California, the same place where Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947. Around that time, a team of Edwards engineers was working on Project MX981, a mission to determine the amount of force a human body could sustain in a crash. To see what happens when a human decelerates from great speeds, a human must first reach great speeds, something MX981’s engineers accomplished by repeatedly strapping a brave test subject into a rocket-propelled platform on rails, a rig known as a rocket sled. On most test runs it carried John Paul Stapp, a gregarious and witty flight surgeon who volunteered for the job.

The Art of Strategy

In a world full of political, military, and geostrategic transitions, we feel that it is important to add two more voices to the chorus of those that intently observe world events and are concerned with the potential of future conflict. For these reasons, we will focus the blog on military and security strategy and issues related to strategic security issues. We have two decades of collective experience teaching military officers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines at the US Army School of Advanced Military Studies. Bruce is also a retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel and Dan has served in the NATO Partnership for Peace program. By focusing on the most pressing current strategic security issues we will attempt to engender a lively discussion that will inform students, academics, practitioners, and, perhaps even strategic leaders as US foreign policymakers try to navigate a complex and chaotic international system.

The Executive Officer

by Major David Chichetti 

“The XO is a systems guy.” After spending the entirety of my key developmental time as an XO at the battalion and brigade level, I can say, with a good degree of certainty, that this statement is true. Systems are everything. The deftness at which you can develop and refine these systems will be a measure of your success in this position. But before you begin to wade into the never-ending minutiae of regulations, doctrine, emails, meeting notes and random statistics, you need your own routine to manage information and sustain your professional development. Balancing all this is both a challenge and a true test. The purpose of this article is to share some techniques and resources I learned to utilize as an XO to sustain my sanity while “managing up.” Hopefully, it will mitigate the initial shell shock you receive when your inbox hits the 100(+) emails a day mark.

The Cost Of An AK-47 On The Black Market

by Niall McCarthy

Since it first entered service with the Soviet army in 1948, the AK-47 and its derivatives have become the world's most widely used assault rifles.

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In his book "AK47: The Story of The People's Gun", author Michael Hodges estimates that there are as many as 200 million Kalashnikov rifles in circulation, one for every 35 people on earth. Its popularity among soldiers, criminals and militants is primarily due to its cheap price, durability, reliability and sheer simplicity.

Cyberwar Is Officially Crossing Over Into the Real World


The devastating effects of a massive cyberattack are no more confined to a computer network than any other action carried out online. People use the computers and the internet all the time to make things happen in the physical world.
A cyberattack isn’t just a cyberattack. It’s an attack.
Hospitals, pharmacies, and major corporations like FedEx and the Spanish telecommunications giant Telefonica were among the 200,000 victims hobbled by a global ransomware attack on Friday, which locked people’s computers and demanded Bitcoin payment in exchange for access. In the United Kingdom, some hospitals canceled procedures and other appointments as a result. The software security firm Symantec found that people paid ransoms totaling about $54,000 in the attack, though officials strongly caution against paying such ransoms.

Among the many questions prompted by the fallout of the attack is an increasingly urgent one: At what point will a cyberattack prompt a more traditional form of retaliation? More importantly: When should it?

North Korea’s Unit 180, the cyber warfare cell that worries the West

SEOUL North Korea’s main spy agency has a special cell called Unit 180 that is likely to have launched some of its most daring and successful cyber attacks, according to defectors, officials and internet security experts.

North Korea has been blamed in recent years for a series of online attacks, mostly on financial networks, in the United States, South Korea and over a dozen other countries.

Cyber security researchers have also said they have found technical evidence that could link North Korea with the global WannaCry “ransomware” cyber attack that infected more than 300,000 computers in 150 countries this month. Pyongyang has called the allegation “ridiculous”.

The crux of the allegations against North Korea is its connection to a hacking group called Lazarus that is linked to last year’s $81 million cyber heist at the Bangladesh central bank and the 2014 attack on Sony’s Hollywood studio. The U.S. government has blamed North Korea for the Sony hack and some U.S. officials have said prosecutors are building a case against Pyongyang in the Bangladesh Bank theft.

No conclusive proof has been provided and no criminal charges have yet been filed. North Korea has also denied being behind the Sony and banking attacks.

Hackers hit Russian bank customers, planned international cyber raids

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian cyber criminals used malware planted on Android mobile devices to steal from domestic bank customers and were planning to target European lenders before their arrest, investigators and sources with knowledge of the case told Reuters.

Their campaign raised a relatively small sum by cyber-crime standards - more than 50 million roubles ($892,000) - but they had also obtained more sophisticated malicious software for a modest monthly fee to go after the clients of banks in France and possibly a range of other western nations.

Russia’s relationship to cyber crime is under intense scrutiny after U.S. intelligence officials alleged that Russian hackers had tried to help Republican Donald Trump win the U.S. presidency by hacking Democratic Party servers.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied the allegation.

The gang members tricked the Russian banks’ customers into downloading malware via fake mobile banking applications, as well as via pornography and e-commerce programs, according to a report compiled by cyber security firm Group-IB which investigated the attack with the Russian Interior Ministry.