1 October 2018

India fumbles against a rogue neighbour

Brahma Chellaney

Pakistan has turned into the Mecca of international terrorism even as its new prime minister, Imran “Taliban” Khan, has promised to make his country a Medina-like welfare state. Pakistan, however, is battling a deepening financial crisis, largely exacerbated by its “all-weather” ally, China. Beijing has imposed unfair deals on, and stepped up capital-goods exports to, Pakistan under its so-called Belt and Road Initiative.

The military-manipulated election that brought Khan to power, instead of providing much-needed stability to Pakistan, is likely to inject more turmoil. A supporter of the military-backed jihadists and a religious zealot himself, Khan in February married his burqa-clad “spiritual guide”, who now also serves as his political guide.

Beijing loses a battle in the Maldives — but the fight for influence goes on

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Brahma Chellaney

The Indian Ocean nation of the Maldives, comprising 1,190 coral atolls, has been roiled by a deepening national crisis since its first democratically-elected president was forced to resign at gunpoint in 2012.

This week’s surprise defeat of authoritarian President Abdulla Yameen in a national election opens the path to stability and reconciliation under the leadership of the winning opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

Yameen’s defeat, despite the jailing of opponents and Supreme Court justices and efforts to manipulate the election, shows how autocrats can be swept out of office by a voters’ backlash. And that even in a country with weak democratic traditions.

China steps up spying on U.S. military

By Bill Gertz

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is stepping up open-source spying on the U.S. military and other foreign militaries that will utilize artificial intelligence means.

According to a procurement notice from China’s Central Military Commission, the new database is a six-month project to set up an “Open Source Intelligence Database on Foreign Militaries.”

The revealing notice was published by the commission’s PLA Equipment Development Department, whose director, Lt. Gen. Li Shangfu, was slapped with U.S. sanctions this week for buying arms from Russia.

Is the Beijing Exception Finally Crumbling?

By Arch Puddington

China’s oppression of Muslims is cracking its de facto immunity from international criticism on human rights issues.

For the first time since China emerged as a global power, there is evidence that the “Beijing exception” is under threat.

In recent years, China has largely escaped the world’s opprobrium for actions that would have led to sustained condemnation and even sanctions for virtually any other country. Among other abuses, the Communist Party regime has crushed reformist movements and protests, jailed anti-corruption activists, paraded critical journalists and publishers on television for coerced confessions, persecuted religious and ethnic minorities, cracked down on dissent on social media, straitjacketed civil society groups, locked up human rights lawyers, and controlled the number of children couples are allowed to have. But given its enormous economic clout, other governments have continued to treat Beijing as a valued partner and even as a mentor and leader on the international stage.

Post-Brexit UK-China Relations: Impact on the US

By Mercy A. Kuo

Trans-Pacific View author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject-matter experts, policy practitioners, and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into the U.S. Asia policy. This conversation with Dr. Yu Jie – head of China Foresight at LSE IDEAS, who teaches at the London School of Economics – is the 157th in “The Trans-Pacific View Insight Series.”

How might a hard or soft Brexit impact post-Brexit UK’s China policy?

Beijing was perplexed by the UK’s vote to divorce the EU. Historically, even in the eyes of Mao Zedong, the Founding Father of the People’s Republic, Britain was seen as the sort of advanced industrial economy that China aspired to become in 1958. China requires three “wants” from the UK, irrespective the nature of the Brexit.

Chinese Tourists Are Beijing’s Newest Economic Weapon

By Nithin Coca

In early 2017, South Korea decided to deploy the U.S.-made THAAD missile defense system, designed to protect against possible attacks from its northern neighbor. That didn’t make a much larger—and usually friendlier—neighbor happy. China saw THAAD as a potential threat to its own security and reacted swiftly and strongly. Alongside the expected reactions—restrictions on South Korean businesses and trade and the cancellation of K-pop shows—came a new response: restricting tourists. In the months after the THAAD launch, South Korea saw a sudden 40 percent plunge in Chinese tourists—who, previously, accounted for nearly 50 percent of all arrivals into the country, severely impacting the tourism industry.

“The Chinese government threatened tour agencies that booked package tours to South Korea with fines, to great effect,” said Evan Rees, an Asia-Pacific analyst at Stratfor.

A sleeping dragon rises: China’s military buildup


For nearly 10 years, Beijing has been tightening its grip on strategic zones within its sphere of influence, notably in the South China Sea. Now, according to the Pentagon’s 2018 annual report on China’s military power, that buildup is coming of age: the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has ramped up not only its land army but also its naval and other capabilities to the extent that it could “degrade core US operational and technological advantages.” As a result, the PLA has the capacity to control these contested and strategically important waters in almost every scenario, barring all-out war with the US.

Though Chinese military might still does not match America’s, Beijing has caught Washington and its allies on the back foot and shifted the balance of power in the Pacific. There are now major implications for US interests in the open seas, where American warships have moved unrivalled since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

How Jack Ma Changed the Chinese View of Entrepreneurs

When Alibaba co-founder and chairman Jack Ma announced earlier this month that he was stepping down as head of the Chinese e-commerce giant, the move reverberated in multiple directions. The 54-year-old Ma has not only taken Alibaba to a market capitalization of around $430 billion over a span of 19 years, but also inspired a wave of entrepreneurship in China. He especially demonstrated a knack for finding ways to both cultivate the government and to circumvent stringent laws.

CEO Daniel Zhang will succeed Ma as chairman in September 2019, but Ma will stay on the company’s board until 2020, when his term ends. Trained as a teacher, Ma said he has “lots of dreams to pursue,” including returning to education and continuing as a founder of the Alibaba Partnership, a group made up of founders and company managers.

“The growth of Alibaba from tiny start-up to New York Stock Exchange darling depended on its strategic agility above all else,” said Wharton management professor Michael Useem, who is also faculty director of the Wharton Center for Leadership and Change Management and the McNulty Leadership Program.

How to make Russia back off in the Middle East

By Daniel Shapiro

For the first time in decades, Israel finds itself on the receiving end of Russian threats. The tensions follow the downing last week of a Russian Ilyushin IL-20 military aircraft, and the deaths of its 15 crew members, by Syrian air-defense batteries responding to Israeli airstrikes on Iranian weapons shipments in Syria.

A crisis like this one cries out for US diplomacy to help manage it. So far, there’s no sign of it.

Two things have facilitated Israel’s campaign against Iranian weapons in Syria: the careful, professional approach of the Israeli Air Force, which hits its intended targets and avoids collateral damage; and Israel’s deft management of its relationship with Russia, since the Russian military deployed to Syria in 2015.

Reforming Southern Europe: What's Next?

Italy will likely respect the European Union's deficit limits in its new budget, but the change of direction from deficit reduction to deficit increase could frighten financial markets about the sustainability of the country's debt.

A controversial pension reform proposal in France will create temporary economic disruptions as different groups protest the measure, but Paris will likely push ahead with its plans regardless.

The new Spanish government will aim to reverse some of the austerity measures of its predecessor, although the administration will face the constant risk of collapse.

Resetting the Terms of North Korea Talks

By Phillip Orchard 

The Pyongyang Declaration changes little but hints at a path forward. 

Roughly thirteen years ago, in a joint statement released at the conclusion of the fourth round of six-party talks on North Korea’s budding nuclear program, Pyongyang pledged to “abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs.” Less than a year later, the North tested its first nuclear device. In 2008, to revive the diplomatic process and ease Western sanctions pressure, the North Koreans blew up a cooling tower at the Yongbyon nuclear reactor complex under the watchful eye of international inspectors and provided the U.S. what they claimed was a full inventory of their nuclear activities. Since then, of course, the North has tested five additional nukes, each larger than the last, plus three intercontinental ballistic missiles (albeit with only partial success).

Europe Finally Has an Excuse to Challenge the Dollar

Leonid Bershidsky

With more and more European companies fleeing Iran following the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions, it may be tempting for Americans to write off Europe’s efforts to save the Iran nuclear deal. It would be wiser to resist the temptation. A new plan by Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia to create special financial infrastructure to work with Iran could be a credible challenge to the U.S. dollar’s long global dominance. 

Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s top foreign-policy official, said in New York on Monday that the plan to create a “special purpose vehicle” for trade with Iran “will mean that EU member states will set up a legal entity to facilitate legitimate financial transactions with Iran, and this will allow European companies to continue trade with Iran.” The technical details are still to be worked out, but her wording provides some useful hints on how the scheme will work.

US Sanctions reach a Turning Point


A defining moment for the US sanctions regime

Each year, the USA finds a new country or group of countries to target with sanctions. Each year the USA adds about 1,000 individuals to its ever longer sanctions list. Now, US sanctions are coming to a turning point.

Up till now, the EU – representing around the same percentage of the world economy as the USA – was sitting put, as the USA grew its sanctions regime to ever more bizarre proportions. Together, the USA and the EU constituted nearly half of the world economy, and US sanctions previously “only” used to target the other half of the world’s economies. Hitherto, the EU had no compelling reasons to strain is relations with the USA because of US sanctions not affecting themselves. 

The US cyberspace commission is taking shape ... slowly

By: Brandon Knapp 

The new U.S. Cyberspace Solarium Commission was created to answer just that.

"We lack a doctrine that defines how, when and where we play offense and defense. We don’t have a playbook. It’s time to draft one,” said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who is credited with developing the commission to help contextualize cyber in the broader national and economic security discussion.

The Cyberspace Solarium Commission, modeled after President Eisenhower’s Project Solarium, was established by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019. The purpose of the commission, according to the legislation, is “to develop a consensus on a strategic approach to defending the United States in cyberspace against cyberattacks of significant consequences.”

The Global Trade System Could Break Down


Because the World Trade Organization tends to operate beneath the surface of the global rules-based trading system, it is easy for people to forget the indispensable role that it plays. But now that the Trump administration is waging a quiet war on the institution, the international community must stop taking it for granted.

WASHINGTON, DC – Ten years after the failure of Lehman Brothers, we know that multilateral action was crucial in preventing the so-called Great Recession from becoming even worse than it was. Back then, it was the global financial system that was tottering. Today, it is the global trade system that is in jeopardy.

Over the past 70 years, multilateralism has served the world well. Much to its credit, the United States eschewed retribution and reparations after World War II. Instead, it led the way in establishing the three major economic institutions – the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization (formerly the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, or GATT) – that form the basis of the international economic order that is still in place today.

The United States’ Divide and the Future of the World Order

Zorawar Daulet Singh

Over the last year there has been an animated debate in the United States (US) over the meaning of the world order and the US’s role in it. This struggle for ideas has not left other countries unscathed. In India, the response to these American contestations has been a mix of astonishment and fear, and policymakers and analysts appear to be clasping at binaries rather than unpacking the forces at play. Yet, there are no easy binaries to make sense of this phase of history, when the dominant power is struggling to establish a legitimate consensus on the nature of its relationship with the rest of the world and, indeed, on how world politics itself should be regulated.

China And US Perceptions Of Each Other’s Intentions In South China Sea – Analysis

By Mark J. Valencia*

The visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month to Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia signals a new era of competition between the United States and China in Southeast Asia and the South China Sea. China critics in the U.S. frequently warn of what they assume are China’s dangerous intentions regarding the South China Sea – and what it may do to achieve its goals. They say it wants to dominate the sea militarily as part of its ambitious and aggressive expansionism and that therefore it will continue to militarize the features it occupies and undertake major naval exercises there. They say China may interfere with freedom of commercial navigation and essentially control all activities there including fishing and oil and gas exploration and development. To accomplish this, it will continue to intimidate its rival claimants, coerce them via economic aid and ‘debt traps’, and defy – and change – the existing applicable intentional rules.

$100 Oil Is A Distinct Possibility – Analysis

By Nick Cunningham

West Texas oil pumpjack. Photo by Eric Kounce, Wikipedia Commons.An oil price spike is starting to look increasingly possible, with a rerun of 2008 not entirely out of the question, according to a new report.

The outages from Iran are worse than most analysts expected, and bottlenecks in the U.S. shale patch could prevent non-OPEC supply from plugging the gap. To top it off, new regulations from the International Maritime Organization set to take effect in 2020 could significantly tighten supplies.

Put it all together, and “the likelihood of an oil spike and crash scenario akin to the one observed in 2008 has increased,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch wrote in a note. BofAML has a price target for Brent at $95 per barrel by the end of the second quarter 2019. In 2008, Brent spiked to nearly $150 per barrel.

The Paris Accord Won’t Stop Global Warming on Its Own

By Richard Samans

The 2015 United Nations Paris climate agreement was an important political accomplishment, but confronting climate change will ultimately require an economic breakthrough.

The Paris agreement established a consensus goal for humanity: a maximum temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius over the level prevailing before the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-1700s. It also created a universally acceptable political framework in which states make nonbinding, nationally determined contributions toward this goal, subject to periodic peer review and voluntary adjustment.

As important as this diplomatic achievement was, it represents only half the job that the international community must perform. To stabilize the planet’s warming by midcentury at levels our children and grandchildren will find manageable, the world needs a new economic framework to accelerate the propagation of low-carbon energy innovations that entrepreneurs are increasingly bringing to market on competitive terms.

How to Fix the U.N.—and Why We Should


This week, leaders from all over the world are gathering at the United Nations in New York to exchange their views on mankind’s most pressing problems. The main theme of this year’s meeting—“Making the United Nations relevant to all people”—is telling. It encapsulates the real challenges the organization is facing: Namely, despite the hard work of U.N. staff across many different agencies, the body is suffering from an unprecedented crisis of credibility.

The main reason for the U.N.’s current troubles is the Security Council’s failure to keep its promise of promoting peace and security around the world. From Bosnia and Rwanda to Syria, Yemen, and Palestine, the U.N.’s top decision-making body has neither prevented atrocities nor brought to justice those responsible for heinous crimes. On the U.N.’s watch, authoritarian regimes around the world have used conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction against innocent civilians. Some regimes have even carried out genocide without facing consequences. The U.N. has also failed the millions of children who suffer from extreme poverty and malnutrition and, as Turkey knows all too well, has been unable to take necessary steps to ease the suffering of refugees.

Get ready to ditch miles of cables ― this will give Marines a secure LTE network in the field

By: Todd South 

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. ― For decades or longer, Marines tasked with setting up a command post and ensuring that communications were encrypted faced hours, if not a day’s worth, of running cables through tents, hooking up individual crypto devices to nearly every piece of hardware and constantly reloading crypto keys.

That wasn’t only a massive time suck, it also meant that few, if any now ubiquitous civilian devices such as smartphones and tablet computers could come near the tactical network, for fear of a break in the security bubble.

In 2017 a tactical communications equipment company called PacStar showcased a Wi-Fi solution to that problem. By creating a simple user interface and hardware that incorporated a host of government-required systems, it put a 100-ft Wi-Fi bubble into the tactical mix.

Google Maps Is a Better Spy Than James Bond

By Nick Waters

Emily Thornberry, a member of the British Parliament, recently made a statement to the House of Commons that “relying on so-called open-source intelligence provided by proscribed terrorist groups is not an acceptable alternative” when it came to identifying the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Thornberry’s words betray an alarming lack of knowledge not only about the situation in Syria but also about how open-source investigation has revolutionized nation-state and commercial intelligence, journalism, and conflict monitoring. This is particularly worrying because Thornberry is the shadow foreign secretary—the opposition member charged with monitoring foreign affairs and who’s most likely to take the same office if the Labour Party forms a government in the future.

The Five Eyes Statement on Encryption: Things Are Seldom What They Seem

By Susan Landau

Earlier this September, law enforcement officials from the Five Eyes intelligence alliance—made up of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States—met in Australia and issued a Statement of Principles on Access to Evidence and Encryption. The statement is strongly worded, concluding with a warning that if industry does not make it easier for governments with lawful access to content to acquire decrypted versions, the nations “may pursue technological, enforcement, legislative or other measures to achieve lawful access solutions.” Though the statement has garnered much public attention, there are a number of curiosities about it, and I believe there is much less here than it seems.

Fighting and Winning in the Information Age

By Edwin Chua

Earlier this year, The Strategy Bridge asked university and professional military education students to participate in our first annual writing contest by sending us their thoughts on strategy.

Now, we are pleased to present a third-place essay from Edwin Chua of the United States Marine Corps’ Command and Staff College.

Since the 1990s, the proliferation of the internet and its associated economic, social, and technological trends have had a far greater impact on our world than the industrial age of the past. These changes have led the current period of human history to be called the Information Age, similar to how the invention of the steam engine and the mechanization of human labor was the characteristic of the Industrial Age.[1] Yet, much of our world is still organized according to structures and organizations adapted to the industrial age. 

The Marines want to test all recruits for cyber skills

By: Mark Pomerleau 

The Marine Corps is aggressively trying to recruit cyber talent.

Beginning in October, all enlisted Marine applicants will be given a cyber test while at a military entrance processing station, according to Capt. Alex Ryan, operations analyst for manpower studies and analysis branch at Manpower and Reserve Affairs. Officer candidates won’t be administered the test.

Ryan said that the test doesn’t change the process of classifying occupational specialties, but, rather, provides another tool for better talent management.

Social engineering attacks skyrocket more than 500 percent

By: Justin Lynch  

Social engineering attacks ― which includes spear phishing and social media emulation ― spiked in the second quarter of 2018 thanks to new hacking methods and the World Cup, according to new research from the cybersecurity firm Proofpoint.

Attempts to trick users into giving personal information spiked more than 500 percent from the first to second quarter of 2018, researchers at Proofpoint said.

“Social engineering is increasingly the most popular way to launch email attacks,” the cybersecurity firm said in their second quarter threat report. “Criminals continue to find new ways to exploit the human factor.”

A Military Crackdown in Tajikistan Could Draw in Bigger Powers

Tajikistan's security forces could soon launch a military operation in the eastern Gorno-Badakhshan region, raising the possibility of a wider conflict.

The region's proximity to the Tajik-Afghan border could draw in Russia and China, both of which share a strategic interest in containing militancy in the area.

Military movements by Tajikistan and Russia, as well as potential militant attacks against government and security forces, will determine whether the conflict escalates.

Combat robots and cheap drones obscure the hidden triumph of Russia’s wargame

By: Kelsey Atherton 

While Russia is engaged in irregular wars in Ukraine and Syria, the nation also gathered roughly 50,000 troops to practice a conventional war in the country’s eastern military district. Some of that wargame includes new and novel uses of robots, drones, and electronic warfare. Underpinning it all is a nation practicing the logistics of modern war, in a way it hasn’t done before.

“This was also command and control exercise to see whether new Russian technologies will be utilized to properly manage these forces,” says Samuel Bendett, a research analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses. “The Russian military is in the midst of a massive shift from C2 or C3 to C4ISR technologies.”

If the defining characteristic of 20th century militaries was the mechanization of movement, then the 21st century is about the mechanization of perception, with sensors seeing everything across the electromagnetic spectrum. The greatest impact of this change is the modern command paradigm, that incorporates information gleaned from across the spectrum into new new decisions and adapts in near-real-time.

Show Me The Money: What’s Missing From The National Defense Strategy


The Trump Administration’s 2018 National Defense Strategy was remarkable for its candor in identifying China and Russia as America’s chief “strategic competitors.” But unlike earlier, relatively anodyne strategy documents from the Obama Administration, the 2018 strategy didn’t specify the forces required, let alone how much they might cost — at least, not in the unclassified summary released to the public. In this commentary, part of our continuing collaboration with the Center for Strategic & International Studies and its FY 2018 Endgame Series, CSIS scholar Seamus Daniels looks at what questions the strategy leaves unanswered.


Brandon Morgan 

It’s an early summer morning. All is quiet on the battlefield just before the battalion will rise for the next day’s preparation and movements. Soldiers on guard, sleepy-eyed and nearly dozing off hear a faint buzzing sound, and suddenly, their eyes spring wide open, their ears are perked, and adrenaline pumps with full force throughout their bodies. “Drones!” one guard shouts, as they all dive for the nearest cover. It’s too late. Within moments, dozens of rockets come screaming down from the heavens, raining a hailstorm of hell on the battalion’s positions. Cluster munitions burst, steel shredding man and machine below. Thermobaric warheads erupt with terrible concussion, the overpressure instantly killing those who sought comfort in their enclosed shelter. In just three minutes, the entire battalion lies crushed in a smoldering flame, destroyed by a concentrated barrage of rockets and missiles fired thirty kilometers away.