13 November 2017

Why the Time Is Right to Talk to the Taliban

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A peace process with the Taliban is almost certainly the best way to end the war in Afghanistan, and arguments for postponing efforts to get one underway overlook the costs of prolonging the conflict. October marked the sixteen-year anniversary of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. President Donald J. Trump’s announcement of a new South Asia strategy in August 2017 affirmed an open-ended U.S. military commitment in Afghanistan, raising questions about ending the United States’ longest war. Meanwhile, the Taliban has increased its territorial and population control in the past year; the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reported [PDF] in October that the Taliban influences or controls more than 13 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts and contests another 30 percent.

Afghanistan: A Practical Way To Fight Back

November 8, 2017: The Taliban and drug gangs have, after two years of strenuous efforts come to control six percent of Afghan territory and about two percent of the population. The gangs and Islamic terrorists are a growing presence in another 14 percent of the territory (containing about nine percent of the population).

All this presence and control is in rural areas important to the production and movement of heroin and opium. Thus most of the enemy controlled or influenced areas are in the south (Helmand and Kandahar, where most of the heroin is produced), the east (where many Pakistan/ISI supported Islamic terrorist groups operate) and the ancient northern trade routes (that go through Kunduz).

We're Losing Afghanistan By Every Metric That Matters

By Joe Pappalardo

The national conversation has been focused on North Korea and Russia lately, while talk about counterinsurgency tactics has centered on fighting the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria, and northern Africa. Meanwhile, you hardly hear anything about the centerpiece of the counterinsurgency strategy that kicked off this Global War on Terror: Afghanistan.

Chinese theft of sensitive US military technology is still a 'huge problem,' says defense analyst

Jeff Daniels

One of the reasons China is narrowing the military-technology gap with the U.S. is because of the theft of designs and other sensitive data, analysts say resident Donald Trump may bring up China's theft of American intellectual property during his talks with his Chinese counterpart this week U.S.-China cyber-warfare truce is in place, but experts say it's likely Beijing isstill up to its old tricks and using various ways to "camouflage" it 

Xi’s newfound strength obscures China’s internal risks


China, the world’s communist behemoth, is at a turning point in its history, one that will have profound implications for the rest of the world, but especially for Asia. Neighboring countries, from Japan to India, are already bearing the brunt of China’s recidivist policies. The just-concluded 19th Chinese Communist Party congress put its imprimatur on President Xi Jinping’s centralization of power by naming no clear successor to him and signaling the quiet demise of the collective leadership system that has governed China for more than a quarter century. The congress, in essence, was about Xi’s coronation as China’s new emperor.

Chinese “KeyBoy” hacking group returns with new tactics for espionage campaign

A Chinese hacking operation is back with new malware attack techniques and has switched its focus to conducting espionage on western corporations, having previously targeted organisations and individuals in Taiwan, Tibet, and the Philippines.

Dubbed KeyBoy, the advanced persistent threat actor has been operating out of China since at least 2013 and in that time has mainly focused its campaigns against targets in South East Asia region.

The last publicly known actively by KeyBoy saw it target the Tibetan Parliament between August and October 2016, according to researchers, but following that the group appeared to cease activity – or at least managed to get off the radar.

Has Xi Jinping Become “Emperor for Life”?

By: Willy Wo-Lap Lam

The just-ended 19th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress has confirmed Xi Jinping’s status as China’s “Emperor for Life.” The 64-year-old “core leader” has filled the country’s highest-ruling councils—the Politburo and the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC)—with his cronies and loyalists. No cadres from younger generations were inducted to the PBSC, lending credence to the widely held belief that the 64-year-old Xi will remain China’s top leader until the 21st Party Congress in 2027 or beyond (Apple Daily [Hong Kong], October 26; HK01.com, October 25). Moreover, the fact that “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” has been enshrined in the CCP Constitution has buttressed Xi’s status as a Mao-like “Great Helmsman” for the Party and country. Projects planned for the “New Era” run into the 2030s and 2040s, which could provide Xi with a rationale to stay at the helm beyond the usual ten years. In a startling parallel to French King Louis XIV’s famous pronouncement that “I am the state” (“l’etat, c’est mois”), Xi’s near-total command of the levers of power is his way of telling all Chinese that “The Party? It is me!”

Power Flows Downstream: Sino-Vietnamese Relations and the Lancang-Mekong River

China’s international rivers are becoming a focal point for contests over control of natural resources—and potentially international conflict. China, in its powerful position as headwater nation, continues to actively promote hydropower development domestically and internationally. When downstream nations rely on un-dammed rivers for fisheries and irrigation, this puts pressure on an increasingly strained natural resource and introduces additional potential for tension into bilateral relations. Nowhere is this more clear than in the relationship between China and Vietnam, the nations that bookend the flow of the Lancang-Mekong river.

Reckoning in Saudi Arabia

Aaron David Miller Richard Sokolsky

Pundits are describing recent events in Saudi Arabia as a Saudi version of Game of Thrones; and King Salman’s bloodless purges—orchestrated by his son Mohammed bin Salman (MBS)—have many of the hallmarks of palace and royal intrigue; a kind of Shakespearean trifecta of Hamlet, Lear and Macbeth without the blood and gore. But the purges conducted in the Saudi style (the reported use of the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh as a venue for house arrests is one of the lighter aspects of the affair) should not mask its deadly seriousness. A young thirtysomething with limited experience in governance is making an unprecedented bid for control. And if he succeeds, which is impossible to know at this point, the impact could very well change Saudi Arabia and its regional role for years to come. Still, the United States would be wise not to attach itself to MBS like a barnacle to the side of a boat lest its own Middle East policy goes down with the ship.

The FBI Blindly Hacked Computers in Russia, China, and Iran

By Joseph Cox

During a hacking operation in which U.S. authorities broke into thousands of computers around the world to investigate child pornography, the FBI hacked a number of targets in Russia, China, and Iran, The Daily Beast has learned.

The news signals the bold future of policing on the so-called dark web, where investigators are increasingly deploying malware without first knowing which country their suspect is located in. Legal experts and commentators say the approach of blindly kicking down digital doors in countries not allied with the U.S. could lead to geopolitical fallout.

Russia’s Changing Military-Strategic Perceptions of Kaliningrad Oblast Between 2013 and 2017

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By: Sergey Sukhankin

Last September’s massive strategic-level Zapad 2017 exercise provided analysts and observers with a number of important conclusions about the state of Russia’s military readiness, capabilities and Russian military thought (see EDM, September 14, 20, October 3, 6); though the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is reportedly still parsing through the lessons learned (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, October 26). Yet, relatively little attention has focused specifically on the role, place and perception of Kaliningrad Oblast in Russian military strategy, which has undergone at least three important changes between Zapad 2013 and Zapad 2017.

A Grand Tour of the Crisis in Europe


The collapse of the Soviet Empire left Europe more united than ever before. Most of its countries shared a political (democratic) and economic (capitalist) system; Germany and Russia — the great powers that had caused so much instability in the past — were no longer threats, and the European Union was on the verge of incorporating much of Eastern Europe and creating a single currency. At the end of the 20th century, the view that a “united Europe” was on its way to becoming “the next global superpower,” and the West was at the dawn of a new golden era, was widespread.



In the 2010 review of U.S. nuclear posture, President Barack Obama’s administration, based on advice from military commanders and the extant global threat environment, concluded that the United States could ensure effective nuclear deterrence without fielding new nuclear warheads or warheads with new military capabilities. But even while foreclosing such options for the Obama administration, the 2010 review made clear, as did the nuclear posture reviews of the two previous administrations, that the nation must retain a capability to develop and field such warheads if they are required in the future.

What Russia’s Middle East Strategy Is Really About

By Xander Snyder

A new balance of power is solidifying in Syria. Iran, Turkey and Russia have all played a role in the conflict there – jockeying for position and even agreeing in September to set up zones of control. But Russia in particular has deftly managed the game up to this point, and it is emerging from the Syrian civil war with a strong hand. Ultimately, Russia’s goal is to parlay its position in the Middle East into advantages in areas that matter more to Moscow. To some degree, it has achieved this, but it’s still unclear whether its strategy will be successful enough to score Russia an advantage in the area it cares about the most: Ukraine.

The Computer Scientist Who Prefers Paper

John Cuneo

For years, Barbara Simons was the loneliest of Cassandras—a technologist who feared what technology had wrought. Her cause was voting: Specifically, she believed that the electronic systems that had gained favor in the United States after the 2000 presidential election were shoddy, and eminently hackable. She spent years publishing opinion pieces in obscure journals with titles like Municipal World and sending hectoring letters to state officials, always written with the same clipped intensity. Simons, who is now 76, had been a pioneer in computer science at IBM Research at a time when few women not in the secretarial pool walked its halls. In her retirement, however, she was coming off as a crank. Fellow computer scientists might have heard her out, but to the public officials she needed to win over, the idea that software could be manipulated to rig elections remained a fringe preoccupation. Simons was not dissuaded. “They didn’t know what they were talking about and I did,” she told me.

A Blessing and a Curse: The Politics of Cybersecurity in the Age of Technological Innovation

Emily Skahil

Technological advancement follows a rapid upward trajectory, and from its windfall, we are vested with an incredible and terrifying amount of power. As our capabilities continue to expand, a morbid fascination with the ‘dark side’ of technology prevails among pop culture, through media content steeped with dystopian images of society on the verge of collapse. This deep-seated fear of technological abuse is perhaps best evinced by popular TV series like Mr. Robot and Black Mirror, which portend what can happen when specialized knowledge falls into the wrong hands. As such, this sensational fixation with the coming of a ‘technological doomsday,’ so to speak, frames a collective mentality rooted in paranoia and hypervigilance. Mr. Robot, in particular, reflects a chronic and pervasive social anxiety that a massive hacking operation could lead to the breakdown of the financial system. Accordingly, popular discourse regarding cyber security revolves around identity theft and preemptive measures by responsible corporations, specifically as they relate to securing the financial industry.

Cyber and electronic warfare an increasing global challenge

by Guy Martin

Cyber and electronic attacks are increasingly factors in warfare, such as the sabotaging of Iran’s nuclear facilities and the attack on the Ukraine’s electricity grid. This, according to defence analyst Helmoed Romer Heitman, begs the question of when is an electronic attack an act of war and how should a nation respond?

Heitman, at the Aardvark Roost Electronic Warfare South Africa 2017 International Conference and Exhibition on 7 November, looked at some of the key trends in electronic and cyber warfare. He said that electronic warfare, in all its forms, from intelligence gathering through jamming to electronic or digital attack, is increasingly a factor in war. This has long been understood in the conventional warfare environment – including communications disruption and more recently jamming of GPS signals and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) command lines – but today challenges are arising from irregular forces, disabling attacks on electronic systems and remote attacks on non-military systems.

Infographic Of The Day: 63 Trillion Dollars Of World Debt

In an ideal situation, governments are just borrowing this money to cover short-term budget deficits or to finance mission critical projects. However, around the globe, countries have taken to the idea of running constant deficits as the normal course of business, and too much accumulation of debt is not healthy for countries or the global economy as a whole.

The U.S. is a prime example of “debt creep” – the country hasn’t posted an annual budget surplus since 2001, when the federal debt was only $6.9 trillion (54% of GDP). Fast forward to today, and the debt has ballooned to roughly $20 trillion (107% of GDP), which is equal to 31.8% of the world’s sovereign debt nominally.

The World Debt Leaderboard

In today’s infographic, we look at two major measures: (1) Share of global debt as a percentage, and (2) Debt-to-GDP.

How the military is making it hard to remember our wars

By John Spencer 

I often wonder what people will say about the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan decades from now. What I will tell my children when they are able to understand the answers to questions about what happened “over there.” I am afraid I will forget. As every day passes, I struggle more and more to remember all the names of the soldiers in my platoon, the hard-to-pronounce places we fought, the day-to-day things we did during my two year-long combat tours in Iraq.

But what worries me most is that we, as a nation, will forget.

The Attack on U.S Special Forces in Niger: A Preliminary Assessment

By: Jacob Zenn

Of all the potential terrorist hotspots in the world today, Niger is an unlikely country to take center stage. However, the killing of four members of U.S. Special Forces in Niger, near the border with Mali and Burkina Faso, on October 4, has forced the U.S. military, Congress and foreign policy community to ask many questions: one such question is “who did it”? This Hot Issue explores the various militant actors present in the area where the attack on U.S. Special Forces took place, assesses which actor was most likely involved in the attack, and offers an explanation as to why there has been no claim of the attack despite the high profile of the operation.