11 November 2017

*** Saudi Arabia’s Saturday Night Massacre

By George Friedman

For nearly a century, Saudi Arabia has been ruled by the elders of a royal family that now finds itself effectively controlled by a 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman. He helms the Defense Ministry, he has extravagant plans for economic development, and last week arranged for the arrest of some of the most powerful ministers and princes in the country. A day before the arrests were announced, Houthi tribesmen in Yemen but allied with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, fired a ballistic missile at Riyadh. The Saudis claim the missile came from Iran and that its firing might be considered “an act of war.”

** Trump Angles for a Win in Asia

U.S. efforts to contain Pyongyang will be complicated by South Korea's objection to a hardline approach to dealing with the North.

Taking advantage of Seoul's perceived disquiet, Tokyo seeks a more prominent and active role in the region.

Beijing hopes to deflect U.S. demands for greater market access and structural reform with business incentives, but Washington will not skirt the issues of Chinese trade and currency practices.

ISIS Might Have One Last Escape Route: Pakistan

By Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

The fall of its de facto Syrian capital Raqqa last month signaled the death of the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Middle East. On Friday, Syrian troops retook Deir ez-Zor, the last major city with an ISIS presence, just as Iraqi forces took over the crossing in al-Qaim, near the group’s final urban stronghold.

As the group flees the Middle East, it has two obvious destinations: Central and South Asia. Central Asia has accounted for upwards of 5,000 ISIS troops, and South Asia has 40 percent of the global Muslim population – and indeed an entire dedicated ISIS faction – making the region the natural destination for fleeing militants.

Trump’s Wake-Up Call on China


With no heir apparent and his power firmly consolidated, Chinese President Xi Jinping will be at the height of his authority when U.S. President Donald Trump makes his first state visit next week. In a speech inaugurating his second five-year term on October 18, Xi’s message was clear: China is already a superpower and should begin to act like one. This should be a wake-up call for the United States. North Korea has so far monopolized the Trump administration’s attention in Asia, and it is certainly an urgent security issue that needs to be resolved. But Trump will have to widen his focus to counter China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy and address challenges to U.S. leadership in the region.

Trump Is Ceding Global Leadership to China

Antony J. Blinken

Amid the pomp that President Xi Jinping of China is bestowing upon his visiting American counterpart, President Trump, it’s hard not to see two leaders — and two countries — heading in very different directions. Mr. Xi emerged from last month’s Communist Party Congress the undisputed master of the Middle Kingdom. “Xi Jinping Thought” was enshrined in the Constitution — an honor previously granted only to Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Breaking with precedent, Mr. Xi neglected to anoint a successor — a big hint that he feels emboldened to extend his rule beyond the second five-year term he has just begun. The Economist heralded Mr. Xi with an honorific usually reserved for America’s president: the world’s most powerful man.

China’s New Aircraft Carrier to Use Advanced Jet Launch System

By Franz-Stefan Gady

The People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) next-generation aircraft carrier, designated Type 002, will likely be fitted with an advanced electromagnetic catapult system for launching aircraft, according to Chinese military experts. Chinese engineers have allegedly successfully developed a new integrated propulsion system (IPS)–“a medium-voltage, direct-current transmission network”—which would allow more power for a catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) aircraft launch system similar to the U.S. Navy’s electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) without having to resort to nuclear power, the South China Morning Post (SCMP)reported on November 1.


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China is the only nuclear weapon state recognized by the Nonproliferation Treaty that is actively expanding its nuclear arsenal. Its nuclear forces have increased modestly from an estimated 130 to 200 warheads in 2006 to an estimated 170 to 260 today. The qualitative changes to its nuclear forces have been more significant, with the introduction of more mobile solid-fueled missiles, multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs), and an emerging fleet of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs).

Arrests in Saudi Arabia: Causes and Implications

Q1: What caused the sudden arrest of dozens of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful individuals?

A1: These individuals were swept up by an anticorruption commission that King Salman had created merely hours before the arrests. Reports claim that the arrested include some of the most important economic actors in Saudi Arabia. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the world’s most prominent Saudi investor, has gotten a great deal of attention, but the sweep included other billionaires, senior royals from other branches of the family, and technocrats who began guiding Saudi Arabia’s economic reform program under King Abdullah. These include Adel Fakieh, who served as minister of labor before becoming minister of economy and planning, and Ibrahim al-Assaf, who was minister of finance. While businesspeople in Saudi Arabia complain about the problems of corruption, and some of it involves granting special favors to the royal family, the pattern of these arrests suggest that they were intended to consolidate power and loyalty behind Crown Prince Mohammed and his ambitious plans to move the kingdom forward economically and socially. The arrests of two of the late King Abdullah’s sons, Prince Miteb and Prince Turki, suggest a strategic political calculus. Miteb commanded the National Guard, which was an armed force separate from the army to protect the royal family and could have blocked some of Mohammed’s moves against the family; Turki was governor of Riyadh, which gave him a political role building support among royals, a job King Salman himself used to great effect for decades.

Saudi Arabia has united with Israel against Iran – and a desert storm is brewing

John R. Bradley

Mass arrests are the Crown Prince’s opening salvo in a fight against corruption and an embrace of moderate Islam

Until last weekend, the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh’s exclusive Diplomatic Quarter was colloquially known as the Princes’ Hotel. It was a luxurious retreat from the heat, where royals could engage in the kind of wheeling and dealing with the global business elite that had made them millionaires on the back of the 1970s oil boom. No deal could be brokered without paying a bribe to at least one prince. Last Saturday that era of boundless opportunity and total impunity came to a dramatic end. The VIP guests were booted out, the front doors were shuttered, and heavily armed security forces took up positions around the perimeter.

The cancer of Islamist extremism spreads around the world

By Fareed Zakaria 

This week’s tragic terrorist attack in New York was the kind of isolated incident by one troubled man that should not lead to generalizations. In the 16 years since 9/11, the city has proved astonishingly safe from jihadist groups and individuals. And yet, speaking about it to officials in this major global hub 10,000 miles away, the conclusions they reach are worrying. “The New York attack might be a way to remind us all that while ISIS is being defeated militarily, the ideological threat from radical Islam is spreading,” says Singaporean Home Minister K. Shanmugam. “The trend line is moving in the wrong direction.”

A Strategy for the Post-ISIS Middle East

Suzanne Maloney and Michael O’Hanlon
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The stakes are highest, and the current dilemmas most acute, in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan.

With Islamic State nearly vanquished in Syria and Iraq, it’s time for a serious debate about the broader U.S. security strategy in the Middle East. Leaving aside the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and its unpromising near-term prospects, this debate must address the array of issues affecting American interests in the region: violent conflict, alliances, political and economic reform, and the central challenge of dealing with Iran.

The New Testament of Strategic Innovation

By J. Wellington Brown

Now, we are pleased to present one of the essays selected for honorable mention, from J. Wellington Brown of the U.S. Air Command and Staff College.

Technology and military organizations exist in a paradoxical relationship. The relentless march of science creates pressure on strategists and their organizations to adopt novel technology and adapt their doctrine. This pressure can derive from technological innovation by one’s own scientists as well as the fear of what a potential enemy is developing on its side. Yet, as political scientist Stephen Rosen points out, organizations, and especially military organizations, have difficulty changing because “they are designed not to change.”[1] A bureaucracy is organized to perform established tasks with uniformity and regularity. This inherent attribute presents the strategic innovator with a dilemma; a military organization must innovate to survive, but it resists innovation by its very nature. This problem is exacerbated by the reality that the direction and timing of optimal innovation is often ambiguous in the moment and only clear in hindsight.

Inside story: How Russians hacked the Democrats' emails

By: Raphael Satter , Jeff Donn , and Chad Day  

It was just before noon in Moscow on March 10, 2016, when the first volley of malicious messages hit the Hillary Clinton campaign. The first 29 phishing emails were almost all misfires. Addressed to people who worked for Clinton during her first presidential run, the messages bounced back untouched. Within nine days, some of the campaign’s most consequential secrets would be in the hackers’ hands, part of a massive operation aimed at vacuuming up millions of messages from thousands of inboxes across the world.

Facing Russian threat, NATO boosts operations for the first time since the Cold War

BRUSSELS — As the specter of conflict with Russia looms over Europe, NATO defense ministers decided Wednesday to expand the alliance’s operations for the first time since the Cold War, sharpen its focus on cyber operations, and boost its capability to respond to Kremlin aggression. 

The moves came as tensions with Russia remain the highest they have been in the nearly three decades since the end of the Cold War. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis briefed fellow defense ministers Wednesday morning about Russian violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, underlining the nuclear risk that is a worst-case consequence of the bitter back-and-forth. 

Facebook Can’t Cope With the World It’s Created

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As Mark Zuckerberg returns from his latest pilgrimage to Beijing, it’s time for him to pay more attention to the countries in Asia where Facebook actually matters.The Facebook CEO has spent years courting Chinese officials in the hopes of winning admittance to the world’s largest internet market. But while he’s been beating his head against the Great Firewall, Facebook has swept like wildfire through the rest of Asia, with complicated and sometimes dangerous results.

An edge for non-state actors: AI

By: Mark Pomerleau
Commercial advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning could level the playing field and lower the barrier of entry for smaller nation states, as well as non-state actors. While highly advanced and destructive cyberspace capabilities have historically resided strictly with top-level nation states, those days may soon be over. Commercial advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning could level the playing field and lower the barrier of entry for smaller nation states, as well as non-state actors.

Chief: Commission Silicon Valley Superstars for Future Wars


The U.S. Army’s chief of staff on Tuesday appealed to young leaders as well as private industry to help the service be ready for a new age of warfare.Speaking before an audience at the 2017 International Conference on Cyber Conflict, Gen. Mark Milley it will be up to young lieutenants and captains to figure out how the Army will fight on a future battlefield that is dominated by cyber weapons, precision fires and artificial intelligence.

Army looks to its youngest soldiers, officers to lead in cyber warfare

By: Kathleen Curthoys

The fundamental character of war is changing rapidly, and it will be up to the U.S. military’s youngest leaders to figure out how to successfully fight the next wars, the Army’s top officer said.“For those of you in the military who are 25 years old or younger, captains or below, this is going to be a fundamental, significant change that you are going to have to come to grips with, and you are going to have to lead the way,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said Tuesday at the International Conference on Cyber Conflict in Washington, D.C.



As President Donald Trump arrives in Beijing on Wednesday afternoon to a red-carpet welcome from China, in the background will be simmering tensions between the world's greatest economic powers--and militaries.

While Trump is looking to befriend Beijing's economic and political leaders, China's powerful military has increasingly focused in recent years on managing its rank-and-file outside its immediate periphery, a modernization effort that could one day pose greater risks to U.S. interests in Asia and beyond.

The Death of American Conventional Warfare

By Jahara Matisek Ian Bertram

Now, we are pleased to present one of the essays selected for honorable mention, from Jahara Matisek of Northwestern University and Ian Bertram of the U.S. Air Command and Staff College. Conventional warfare is officially dead. This has become an obvious trend with innumerable adversaries engaging the American military and its allies in unconventional ways with unconventional means. The long-held notion of the decisive battle that brings the combat power of two nations against each other for a winner-take-all slugfest lies in the next grave. Even wars of attrition, in the model of the American Civil War, First and Second World Wars, and Korea are gone. If America hopes to remain strategically significant, its political and military leadership must adapt to the new reality that no adversary wants to fight the United States in a symmetrically conventional fashion.

Army: Combat and Cultural Competence Key for Future Soldiers

Army Col. Scott Jackson reaches out and grasps the hand of a male soldier. Their fingers interlaced, Jackson talks to the soldier for a few minutes and then asks if he feels uncomfortable. The soldier’s answer: “A little bit.” As the Army creates a new training brigade, military leaders like Jackson aren’t looking only at combat techniques and discipline, but also cultural biases and personality issues. The aim is to root out soldiers unfit for their unique mission. Re-enacting the test it in his Fort Benning, Georgia, office, Jackson explained how something as simple as holding hands is part of an extensive screening process for soldiers going to places like Afghanistan where they will train forces that come from cultures dramatically different from their own.