31 December 2019

Good news for climate change: India gets out of coal and into renewable energy

By Tim Buckley

In the often grim world of climate reporting, there is at least one upbeat story: India has been aggressively pivoting away from coal-fired power plants and towards electricity generated by solar, wind, and hydroelectric power. This means that the amount of carbon dioxide the country emits into the atmosphere should come down dramatically.

The reasons for this change are complex and interlocking, but one aspect in particular seems to stand out: The price for solar electricity has been in freefall, to levels so low they were once thought impossible. For example, since 2017, one solar energy company has been generating electricity in the Indian state of Rajasthan at the unheard-of, guaranteed wholesale price of 2.44 rupees per kilowatt-hour, or 3 US cents. (In comparison, the average price for electricity in the United States is presently about 13.19 cents per kilowatt-hour, and some locations in the country pay far more. As recently as 2008, the average homeowner on Block Island, Rhode Island, paid a staggering 61 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity, before any other fees or charges—which can nearly double the price. And businesses had it even worse, with some business owners reporting electric bills of as much as $30,000 per month.)


John Ciorciari, Phil Potter, Javed Ali and Ryan Van Wie 

Historical analogies, particularly to Vietnam, are risky and imperfect, but there are elements of the United States’ drawdown in Afghanistan that feel like a redux of Saigon in 1975. As the United States explores options to bring an end to its nearly two-decade military presence in the country, there is a mounting danger that domestic political considerations will supersede national security. Particularly in light of the recent revelations in the “Afghanistan Papers,” published by the Washington Post, this deserves critical attention, lest we see a parallel to 1975, with the Taliban sweeping into Kabul close on the heels of a US withdrawal. Such an outcome would be calamitous for both the people of Afghanistan and US interests in the short term. Even over the much longer term, a Taliban-dominated Afghanistan is unlikely to evolve into a stable country and potential US strategic partner in the way that Vietnam has.

While a settlement with the Taliban that avoids this outcome is possible, a US/NATO military withdrawal must be managed responsibly to conserve the hard-earned gains on issues like civil liberties and women’s rights made over the past eighteen years. This is not only right, but is also crucial for preserving America’s reputation in the international system. To accomplish this, US officials need to focus now on cultivating diplomatic and economic levers of influence to help enforce a settlement and promote long-term stability in Afghanistan.

The Pressure to Withdraw

Four Scenarios for Belarus in 2025–2030

By: Artyom Shraibman

At least three trends will define the future of Belarus until 2025. The role of the state in the economy will continue to decrease. Belarusian foreign policy will continue to become more sovereign. And, unless he drops his widely announced plans, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka will amend Belarus’s constitutional framework so as to prepare for a smooth transition of power. However, in the long run (2030 onward), a lot may depend on two key factors, the development of which is hard to predict today: Russia’s policy toward Belarus, and the Belarusian regime’s capability to weather economic woes while avoiding domestic political turbulence and serious repressions. This study considers four possible future scenarios, examining various combinations of these two variables.

Introduction: The Kingdom of Stability?

Starting from the early 21st century, most of the former Soviet republics of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus have experienced a series of headwinds—pivots of foreign policy, revolutions and even wars—all of which have changed the face of the region. Seemingly, only Belarus, according to its own strong truism, could boast a level of enduring stability. However, this impression is only partly true.

China in the 2020 Campaign: Missing in Action

It has long been a truism in American politics that elections focus almost entirely on issues of domestic policy while foreign policy is barely mentioned. As a result, we elect presidents with hardly a clue as to how they will handle their international portfolio. It is remarkable when you think about it because the US has long had the largest influence, the heaviest responsibilities (and costs), and the most complex policy agenda of any country in the world. There is an obvious risk associated with putting an unknown quantity in charge of the most powerful foreign/security policy apparatus the world has ever known. For most of our history, one could say we have been lucky — many of the strategic amateurs turned out to be quite capable. In the last election, however, our luck ran out — in spades.

These thoughts come to mind watching the ongoing contest among Democrats seeking their party’s nomination. Once again, domestic issues (health care, income distribution, etc.) dominate the campaign, and foreign affairs often go unmentioned except in passing. This is more than a little disturbing given the extraordinary and growing challenges that will face this country during the next presidential term. The list of threats (current and potential) is a long one but at the top (with the singular exception of climate change) lies China. Yet, listen to the candidates talk to voters or the press and China is seldom mentioned. A colleague of mine recently asked in exasperation, “I cannot understand why at least one of the candidates has not made China, and what to do about it, a centerpiece of their campaign.” 

China's Air Force Is Completely Enormous (But Can it Beat America?

by Sebastien Roblin
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The People’s Liberation Army Air Force of China and its sister branch, the PLA Naval Air Force, operate a huge fleet of around 1,700 combat aircraft—defined here as fighters, bombers and attack planes. This force is exceeded only by the 3,400 active combat aircraft of the U.S. military. Moreover, China operates a lot of different aircraft types that are not well known in the West.

However, most Chinese military aircraft are inspired by or copied from Russian or American designs, so it’s not too hard to grasp their capabilities if you know their origins.

The Soviet-Era Clones

The Soviet Union and Communist China were best buddies during the 1950s, so Moscow transferred plenty of technology including tanks and jet fighters. One of the early Chinese-manufactured types was the J-6, a clone of the supersonic MiG-19, which has a jet intake in the nose. Though China built thousands of J-6s, all but a few have been retired. However, about 150 of a pointy-nosed ground-attack version, the Nanchang Q-5, remain in service, upgraded to employ precision-guided munitions.

China Commissions Its Second Aircraft Carrier

by Felix Richter

China officially commissioned its first domestically-built aircraft carrier, the Shandong, in Hainan last week. The 55,000 ton vessel marks a significant evolution in the People Liberation Army Navy's (PLAN) ambitions and it has become the country's second carrier after the Liaoning. That vessel was originally built in the USSR in the mid-1980s before eventually being rebuilt in Dalian and commissioned into the PLAN as a training ship in 2012.

Only four countries can now boast navies operating two or more aircraft carriers and the others are the United States, the United Kingdom and Italy. The Royal Navy recently made a big leap itself by commissioning HMS Prince of Wales into the fleet. That 65,000 ton ship joins HMS Queen Elizabeth and each will be capable of carrying up to 40 F-35B Lightning II stealth fighters.

Iran Prevailing in Iraq and Lebanon

Iran is pursuing a variety of methods in an effort to preserve its influence in Iraq and Lebanon in the face of protests against existing power structures.

Iran’s allies in both countries include technocrats who might satisfy popular demands for competent governance while maintaining ties to Tehran.
Iran’s Lebanese and Iraqi allies have also accepted Iran’s playbook of confronting protesters with violence and intimidation.

Preserving influence abroad is pivotal to Iran’s grand strategy, explaining why Washington seeks to thwart Tehran from benefitting from the unrest.

Sustained protests that erupted in Iraq and Lebanon in the fall of 2019 present Iran with an unprecedented challenge in two countries that Iran depends on to accomplish its core national security objectives. Methodically, over the course of several decades, Iran has built pro-Iranian Shia movements in both Iraq and Lebanon into powerful politico-military forces that orient their countries’ policies toward Tehran and enable Iran to project power throughout the region. Iran’s regional reach now allows it to threaten the United States and Washington’s regional allies with an unacceptable kinetic capability and to deter these adversaries from attacking Iran. However, because Iran’s allies in Iraq and Lebanon have become part of entrenched power structures, these pro-Iranian movements are now associated with the widespread corruption and mismanagement that has animated protesters. The demonstrators demand fundamental change that, if implemented, would require the ceding of power by Iran’s allies – Shia factions and their militias in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon – and limitations on Iran’s ability to operate militarily in both countries.

Lebanon's Dilemma

By Dalia Tarabay

It was on the grapevine-covered terrace of my grandparents’ house on Mount Lebanon where I grew up that I first heard the question: “Are you for getting the grapes or haggling with the watchman?” It is an age-old Lebanese adage that urges the selection of the most effective means to pursue a desired end. Protesters in Lebanon forced their feckless government to resign last month following 13 days of peaceful demonstration. Their movement can gain now by testing the rest of its demands against this sage question. 

The path to the government’s resignation was marked by beatings from government-linked agitators, tear gas, and capricious arrests. The demonstrations encountered growing suppression by the government, which has refused demands to form a technocratic transition government and hold accountability trials for corrupt government officials, as well as calling early parliamentary and presidential elections.

To understand this crisis, one must trace the current political system back to the Taif Accord. This agreement brought 19 years of sectarian strife and civil war in Lebanon to an end in 1990 by crafting a principle of "mutual coexistence" between Lebanon's different sects. It declared their "proper political representation" as the main objective of post-civil war parliamentary electoral laws. It also restructured the National Pact political system. The accord transferred power away from the Maronites, who had held privileged political status and the presidency during French rule, and vesting it in a cabinet equally divided among the country’s three major sects: Sunni, Shiite, and Maronite Christian. Many of the prominent lords of the Civil War era went on to hold these cabinet positions.

Opinion: The Muslim World's Nightmare Decade

Kareem Shaheen
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As the US prepared to invade Iraq in the winter of 2003, my father and I were in Mecca, taking part in the annual hajj pilgrimage. We surged with a great mass of humanity in the millions to pray atop Arafat, the mountain of mercy. We slept under the open sky on the pebbles strewn throughout Muzdalifa, a plain near the holy city. Before the hajj we had taken evening strolls in Medina, the Prophet Muhammad’s city, often walking by Shia worshippers chanting mournful hymns by the resting places of his family and companions in the Baqi’ graveyard.

I was 17 at the time, and I am still bewildered at how quickly it all unraveled, how thoroughly that momentary sense of unity and fraternity was destroyed in my mind in the immolation that followed. Throughout the Arab world, and in the Muslim world beyond it, the 21st century — and particularly its second decade — will be remembered for the litany of catastrophes that devastated entire nations and struck at the very idea of the moral arc of the universe.

Israel's Latest MAGNI Drone Is A Total Game Changer

by Seth J. Frantzman
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Elbit Systems in Israel unveiled its MAGNI, a micro unmanned aerial system, that weighs 2.5 kg and is a multi-rotor VTOL so it can be launched from a vehicle and give platoons or squads situational awareness. “We wanted to give infantry a tactical eye-in-the-sky,” says Erez Meir of Elbit’s Multi-Rotor business unit. It is a “revolution” for armed soldiers and their vehicles operating in convoys for instance, which will now have the ability to launch numerous micro-drones to conduct surveillance day or night. 

MAGNI is the smallest of five drones that are made by Flying Production in Rosh HaAyin Israel. Elbit, one of Israel’s largest defense companies, acquired Flying Production earlier this year. Designers got to the MAGNI after producing a slightly larger small drone called THOR that has a range of 10 km and weighs 10 kg. Militaries have been consuming drones at a rapid pace in the last few years as technology outpaces what defense companies have been able to provide. That means commercial drones, like DJI quadcopter UAVs were being used by the U.S. Air Force and other branches. This is despite the concerns about security that come along with Chinese-made commercial drones.

Europe’s Reluctance to Take Back ISIS Supporters Could Lead to a New Crisis

Pilar Cebrián 
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ISTANBUL—A German woman suspected of supporting the Islamic State was repatriated from Syria along with her three children last month, in the first case of an adult European ISIS member brought home through official channels. On Nov. 22, the family was released from the overcrowded detention camp in northern Syria where they’d lived for almost a year and transferred to the Iraqi city of Erbil, where they boarded a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt.

The mother, known only as Laura H., had her passport confiscated upon arrival. She cannot leave Germany, as she is being investigated for belonging to a terrorist group.

Cases like this one are notable but rare, as most European countries resist taking back their citizens who joined the Islamic State, concerned about potential security risks and a political backlash. As a result, hundreds of Europeans remain in detention in Kurdish-controlled camps in northern Syria and in Iraqi jails, where many European officials would prefer they stay. Whether such a policy is consistent with international law is questionable, especially given the deplorable conditions in those Syrian and Iraqi detention facilities. From a security standpoint, too, the camps are hotbeds of radicalization that are creating fertile conditions for the growth of another international terrorist movement.

Infographic Of The Day: Top 20 Most Valuable Companies Of All Time

Saudi Aramco finally went public with the world's largest IPO on December 11th. However, from a historical perspective, Saudi Aramco would still not be the world's largest company ever. This infographic looks at the most valuable companies of all time, measured by their market capitalization.

These are the actual locations for millions of Americans. At the New York Stock Exchange …

By Stuart A. Thompson and Charlie Warzel
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EVERY MINUTE OF EVERY DAY, everywhere on the planet, dozens of companies — largely unregulated, little scrutinized — are logging the movements of tens of millions of people with mobile phones and storing the information in gigantic data files. The Times Privacy Project obtained one such file, by far the largest and most sensitive ever to be reviewed by journalists. It holds more than 50 billion location pings from the phones of more than 12 million Americans as they moved through several major cities, including Washington, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Each piece of information in this file represents the precise location of a single smartphone over a period of several months in 2016 and 2017. The data was provided to Times Opinion by sources who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to share it and could face severe penalties for doing so. The sources of the information said they had grown alarmed about how it might be abused and urgently wanted to inform the public and lawmakers.

Putin’s Grand Gas Project Makes Sense Now

By Leonid Bershidsky
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In the space of just a few momentous weeks, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most ambitious projects — a Russian natural gas export system to match the new geopolitical reality rather than the Cold War-era one — has taken its final shape. It will probably last, without major change, until the end of Russia’s run as a top energy exporter. 

The finishing touches to the project, begun in 2001 with the construction of the Blue Stream pipeline to Turkey, include the launch of the Power of Siberia pipeline to China on Dec. 2, last week’s U.S. sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany, a new gas transit deal with Ukraine and the commissioning of the TurkStream pipeline, planned for January.

External pressure and market circumstances have helped shape the new Russian gas export system so that it can’t really be used as a sinister tool of Putin’s rogue foreign policy. Meanwhile, it’s structured in a such a way that post-Putin Russia will still be able to maintain its energy market share and use it as a basis for useful trade partnerships. That makes it a positive part of Putin’s legacy, if not entirely thanks to Putin.
Problems inherited and self-made

Shale's Amazing, World-Changing, Lousy Decade

Liam Denning

Liam Denning is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering energy, mining and commodities. He previously was editor of the Wall Street Journal's Heard on the Street column and wrote for the Financial Times' Lex column. He was also an investment banker.

In between dealing with margin calls, Aubrey McClendon spent some of 2009 liquidating his famously well-stocked wine cellar in the non-fun way. In vino veritas, as it turns out: McClendon’s vintage version of the financial crisis, after his meteoric rise at the helm of fracking pioneer Chesapeake Energy Corp., embodied the wild successes, excesses and lasting hangover of the shale boom.

That same year, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein published a report titled “Will Chesapeake's Board Please Stand Up?”, calling for reform of the company’s almost laughable governance. McClendon eventually stepped down (he died in 2016), and Chesapeake embarked on an effort to clean itself up. While its fortunes have waxed and waned since, they’ve mostly waned. Earlier this month, its sub-$1 stock was threatened with de-listing from the New York Stock Exchange.

Biggest military pay raise in years takes effect Jan. 1; check out the complete chart

By: Leo Shane III

For the first time since 2010, troops will see a pay raise of more than 3.0 percent. And they may not have to wait another decade before the next one arrives.

Congress and the White House signed off on a 3.1 percent pay raise for troops starting on Jan. 1, a move that will produce a significant bump to military paychecks next year.

For junior enlisted troops, the raise amounts to roughly $815 more a year in pay. For senior enlisted and junior officers, it equals about $1,500 more. An O-4 with 12 years service would see more than $2,800 extra next year under the increase.

The figure is based on the expected rise in civilian sector wages, so the extra money is designed not as a bonus for military families but instead as a calculation to keep them on pace with their private-sector peers.

Still, the 3.1 pay hike is a cause for celebration among troops because it represents more money than they are used to seeing, based on the last decade.

Inside Palantir’s support of the Army’s massive data problem

by Billy Mitchell
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Palantir recently won a $110 million prototype contract to support a massive integration of data among the Army’s far-reaching and disparate systems.

It’s not a big dollar figure, as far as defense contracts go, but officials at the company and the service say it’s the start of work that will transform the way the Army thinks about, integrates and uses its data.

The Silicon Valley data analytics software company will support Army’s Vantage program, formerly known as the Army Leader Dashboard — an ambitious attempt to bring more visibility to the service’s data — unclassified and classified, structured and unstructured — through an integration, analytics and visualization platform. The four-year acquisition could be worth more than $400 million in total.

Palantir’s Doug Philippone, lead of global defense, described to FedScoop the scale of integration Vantage requires. The data comes from hundreds, perhaps thousands, of systems containing training databases, equipment inventories, personnel records and maintenance reports.

Russia Takes Over Third U.S. Base in Syria – The Moscow Times

Russian military police have taken over another base that was recently abandoned by the United States in northern Syria, the state-run TASS news agency reported Thursday.

U.S. troops reportedly held the former school building as a base north of Raqqa, the former de facto capital of the Islamic State terrorist group, until “days ago.” Russian television showed soldiers hoisting the national flag on its rooftop and armored vehicles assembling nearby.

“The unit will be deployed by day’s end and we’ll start patrols today,” TASS quoted Russian military police officer Arman Mambetov as saying.

The Defense Ministry’s TV Zvezda news channel reported that special units were the first to assume key positions at the base in the village of Tal Samin. Bomb disposal experts then inspected the site for mines before the main forces entered the territory and raised the Russian flag, the broadcaster said.

Trump is Right: America Needs a Space Force

by William Giannetti
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THERE WAS a short but solemn White House Rose Garden ceremony on a warm, late August day in 2019. In attendance was President Donald Trump; his head of the National Space Council, Vice President Mike Pence; Secretary of Defense Mark Esper; and U.S. Air Force General John Raymond. The proceedings were a “big deal,” said the president during his remarks, and a bold, “landmark moment” for America’s armed forces. And with that, the official party stood at attention as Chief Master Sergeant Roger Towberman reverently unfurled a gold crested white flag. General Raymond took charge of America’s 11th combatant command, and after some polite applause from a few onlookers, U.S. Space Command was reborn.

First established in 1982, during the days when President Ronald Reagan dreamt the Strategic Defense Initiative’s lasers would blast Soviet ICBMs from the firmament, Space Command led global space operations in the post-Vietnam era. But in 2002, the Pentagon decommissioned it following a post-9/11 consolidation of responsibilities. The then-unfurling flag, not long after Apollo 11’s fiftieth anniversary, revealed Space Command’s recycled emblem. The future of the Space Force at that moment looked uncertain. America, it seemed, had just taken a giant leap backward.

The less-hyped, but more realistic threats to US national security

Robert Turkavage

Statements by President Donald Trump and some members of Congress have caused many Americans to view unsecured borders as the preeminent threat to our nation’s security. While secure borders are important to our economic and physical security, recent information has disclosed alarming deficiencies in U.S. military capabilities. Other information has revealed inadequate cybersecurity requirements in our weapons systems and in other infrastructure systems. These vulnerabilities pose a far greater threat to our national security than our Southern Border.

Hypersonic missile threat

The U.S. missile defense system operates on the assumption that the incoming threat is a ballistic missile traveling on a predictable trajectory. To defeat these systems, Russia has developed several types of weapons classified as “hypersonic” because they travel at speeds greater than five times the speed of sound (Mach 5). Russia claims one such weapon, the Avangard, consists of a glide vehicle attached to a ballistic missile and has a range of 3,700 miles. Once launched, the glide vehicle — which can carry a conventional or nuclear payload — separates from the missile and is able to make rapid lateral and vertical movements as it travels to its target at speeds purportedly reaching Mach 20. Russia claims to possess another missile with similar maneuverability, the Kinzhal. Russia contends that this missile, which is fired from a fighter jet, has a range of 1,200 miles, and a speed up to Mach 10.

Prescription for Disaster

Antibiotics have saved untold millions of lives, but bacteria are learning to outsmart them at alarming rates. Projections show that by 2050, ten million people could die each year from antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

America Has A New Way To Kill Terrorists From Drones—With The Precision Of A Knife

by Caleb Larson
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U.S. forces reportedly killed a senior jihadist leader in Syria. While such strikes are typically carried out by drones and not so unusual, this particular strike used a new type of "ninja" missile. These missiles have been reportedly been used only a few times. Designed to minimize civilian casualties, the ninja missile is a specially modified Hellfire—without a warhead. In place of explosives, razor-sharp folding blades are used to literally chop the target to bits.

Hell in a Handbasket

The Hellfire family was originally developed in the 1980s as a tank-busting, surface-to-air missile designed specifically to counter armor. Several variants are used today, including fragmentation, incendiary, and high explosive anti-tank, or HEAT. The Hellfire missiles weigh in the 100 to 110 pound range, including a 20-pound warhead and are guided through a millimeter wave radar seeker, or by laser.

America's Next Super Weapon: 'Electromagnetic' Artillery Shells?

by Michael Peck
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If the U.S. Army has its way, America’s next secret weapon may be an electromagnetic pulse artillery shell that paralyzes an enemy city.

These special shells won’t carry high explosive. Instead they will emit EMP bursts, or some other non-kinetic technology, to disrupt the computers, radio communications, Internet links and other ties that bind modern societies. And do so without creating any physical damage.

This is sort of a twenty-first-century version of the neutron bomb, that notorious Cold War weapon designed to kill Soviet soldiers through a burst of radiation, while inflicting little damage to property. Except this weapon targets the radio frequency networks that keep a nation functioning.

More than 100 people are killed when anti-government forces attack key buildings in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

A Low, Dishonest Decade


MUMBAI – I write this not as a professional economist, nor as a policymaker, but as a citizen of a tiny planet that is spinning through a vast universe that we barely understand. I write this “As the clever hopes expire / Of a low dishonest decade,” and as “Waves of anger and fear / Circulate over the bright / And darkened lands of the earth.” It was 80 years ago that W.H. Auden wrote those lines, in his poem “September 1, 1939.” We find ourselves in a similar position today.

As the current decade draws to a close, large parts of the world are mired in conflict, stable democracies have suddenly been knocked off kilter, and societies are increasingly divided by race, religion, and political ideology. And as the planet warms, millions of people are feeling compelled to move elsewhere in search of survival and opportunity. But new barriers, born of a renascent nationalism and narrow tribalism, are increasingly standing in their way.

Make Europe Relevant Again


BERLIN – It is increasingly clear that the European Union was not built to be a global actor. The EU is a strictly European idea, designed to bring peace and prosperity to a region ravaged by centuries of incessant war. It was meant to mind its own business, leaving matters of global import to the two permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, Britain and France.

Under this arrangement, the EU achieved stability for its neighborhood. While other countries have pursued global political and economic strategies, we Europeans have relied on our shared history, democratic traditions, and moral compass in the service of fitful regional integration. But these strengths will not ensure Europe’s continued relevance. Economic change and technological advances (online platforms, artificial intelligence, automation, data monopolies, zero-marginal-cost distribution) are reshaping the global economy, upending longstanding power structures, and fueling political disruption within many countries.

Russia Rubs Its Hands At The Prospect Of Profit From Climate Change – Analysis

By Michael Scollon
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When it wasn’t burning, Siberia was flooding.

The permafrost in the Far North continued to melt, and the Arctic ice kept breaking up.

But as a year that underscored the troubles in store for Russia from global warming comes to a close, Moscow is making plans to “adapt” to climate change — and seek to profit from it.

At his annual press conference, on December 19, President Vladimir Putin said that climate change poses “very serious” challenges for Russia.

“Our temperatures are rising 2 1/2 times faster than the global average,” Putin said. “We, as you know, are a northern country — 70 percent of our territory is located in the northern latitudes. We have entire cities above the Arctic Circle that are built on permafrost. If it begins to melt, just imagine what consequences may arise here for us. Very serious.”

Not A Great Year, Environmentally Speaking

Don’t Be Afraid of Political Fragmentation

Pepijn Bergsen

In recent decades, political party systems across Europe have fragmented and electoral volatility has increased. The number of parties represented in parliaments across the continent has grown and the formerly dominant mainstream parties have seen their support base collapse, forcing parties into often uncomfortable and unstable coalitions.

From the United Kingdom to Germany, politicians and commentators talk of such scenarios in often apocalyptic terms and associate it with political instability and policy paralysis.

They shouldn’t. Instead they should focus their energy on making these increasingly competitive political markets work.

The Netherlands is frequently held up as a prime example of this process, which is therefore sometimes referred to as ‘Dutchification’. Its highly proportional political system has created the opportunity for new parties and specific interest groups to win parliamentary representation, ranging from an animal rights party and a party catering specifically to the interests of the elderly.

Why I quit Twitter — and you should, too

By John Podhoretz
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So I haven’t posted a tweet in nine months. How am I doing? I’m still in recovery. Over the previous 10 years, I had written 180,000 tweets. Yes, I said 180,000. That’s 18,000 a year, 1,500 a month.

I was putting out an average of 50 tweets a day — while holding down a full-time job editing a magazine, with two firm writing deadlines every week, and raising three children with a wife who works full-time.

How was that even possible? Well, I’ve always written fast. And for much of my life, I’ve felt like a frustrated would-be stand-up comic. A tweet is basically a one-liner, so if you’re a compulsive quipster who never quite got up the nerve to stand in front of a brick wall doing bits, it’s the outlet you always dreamed of. Twitter worked well for me in many ways. Over the course of this decade, my follower count rose from near zero to 141,000 people. The tweets helped garner audience for my writing and for articles in Commentary, the magazine I edit.

No, The World Is Not Headed Into A Quantum Computing Future

by Subhash Kak
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Google announced this fall to much fanfare that it had demonstrated “quantum supremacy” – that is, it performed a specific quantum computation far faster than the best classical computers could achieve. IBM promptly critiqued the claim, saying that its own classical supercomputer could perform the computation at nearly the same speed with far greater fidelity and, therefore, the Google announcement should be taken “with a large dose of skepticism.”

This wasn’t the first time someone cast doubt on quantum computing. Last year, Michel Dyakonov, a theoretical physicist at the University of Montpellier in France, offered a slew of technical reasons why practical quantum supercomputers will never be built in an article in IEEE Spectrum, the flagship journal of electrical and computer engineering.

So how can you make sense of what is going on?

3-D printing is about to save the military billions of dollars

By Will Roper 

In my job, I get to see some amazing military technology: high-speed weapons that penetrate seemingly impregnable defenses and swarming microdrones dispensed from fighter jets. I keep mementos of these wonder weapons in my office. Something unusual just joined their ranks: a latrine panel from a C-5 Supergalaxy cargo plane.

It’s an odd-looking piece of molded plastic, about the size of a toaster, and its job containing wastewater is more necessary than cool. But I keep it in my office because it represents a significant advance in military parts purchasing. Using a 3-D printer, our Air Force engineers made this latrine panel for $300, saving $8,200, compared with the open market prices we once paid through the Defense Logistics Agency.

Though our military is replete with cutting-edge equipment like stealth aircraft and flying emergency rooms, there’s a side of weapons-buying that’s highlighted less often: the maintenance of older systems, like the amazing C-5, which entered service in 1969. It moves the military’s heaviest equipment, including tanks and helicopters, and must be kept war-ready 24-7. This upkeep — “sustainment,” in military parlance — accounts for about 70 percent of a weapon’s total cost of ownership according to Government Accountability Office assessments. For the 52 C-5s the Air Force operates, this amounts to about $620 million per year.

30 December 2019

10 Conflicts to Watch in 2020

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Local conflicts serve as mirrors for global trends. The ways they ignite, unfold, persist, and are resolved reflect shifts in great powers’ relations, the intensity of their competition, and the breadth of regional actors’ ambitions. They highlight issues with which the international system is obsessed and those toward which it is indifferent. Today these wars tell the story of a global system caught in the early swell of sweeping change—and of regional leaders both emboldened and frightened by the opportunities such a transition presents.

Only time will tell how much of the United States’ transactional unilateralism, contempt for traditional allies, and dalliance with traditional rivals will endure—and how much will vanish with Donald Trump’s presidency. Still, it would be hard to deny that something is afoot. The understandings and balance of power on which the global order had once been predicated—imperfect, unfair, and problematic as they were—are no longer operative. Washington is both eager to retain the benefits of its leadership and unwilling to shoulder the burdens of carrying it. As a consequence, it is guilty of the cardinal sin of any great power: allowing the gap between ends and means to grow. These days, neither friend nor foe knows quite where America stands.

All-India NRC will certainly fail. Here’s what Modi govt should do for its citizenship plan


Being able to accurately identify who is a citizen of your country is a very useful thing. From national security to public service delivery, from voting in elections to borrowing books from public libraries – having irrefutable proof of an individual’s citizenship can make the state more effective and empower the citizen in substantial ways. So, count me as among those who think that putting an unambiguous proof of citizenship in the hands of citizens is a good thing. Most developed countries have them; India should too.

I hadn’t put much thought into exactly how we could do this until ten years ago, after a debate with one of the designers of what was then called the Unique Identification (or UID) project. To my criticism that the UID design should have included a citizenship field, my friend effectively told me that proving citizenship is practically impossible because birth registration rates in some of our most populous states in 2008 were around 60 per cent. One generation ago, an even smaller fraction of the population would have registered births. In other words, when hundreds of lakhs of people in India didn’t have even a birth certificate, accurate determination of citizenship was a far cry. Creating a proof of identity for a country of 130 crore people was hard enough; creating irrefutable proof of citizenship was next to impossible.

Impossible to start from where we are now

China’s Central Asian Plans Are Unnerving Moscow

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KHORGOS, Kazakhstan—On the China-Kazakhstan border, flanked by snowcapped peaks, a highway cuts through a barren landscape to reach this terminal at Khorgos. Here, amid a collection of cranes, rail tracks, and warehouses, a growing town is poised to become a bustling inland transport hub and a vital link in China’s vast and battered Belt and Road Initiative.

Khorgos is roughly 1,550 miles from the nearest coastline, but developers have dubbed the site a “dry port,” a terminal designed to process overland cargo. It began operating in 2015 and has seen steady growth. But it is also a launching pad for Beijing’s ambitions to connect Europe to Asia through new trade and transport routes under what Chinese President Xi Jinping has called “the project of the century.”

A nearby special economic zone is already home to a few factories and boasts lofty ambitions for future investment and industry. On the Chinese side of the border, the scope and scale of the project is already visible, with a sister city of high-rises and shopping malls, also called Khorgos, home to a population of more than 100,000 people after the town was officially opened in 2014.

China hosts Japan, South Korea with eyes on nuclear North

Jing Xuan TENG

China hosted the leaders of squabbling neighbours South Korea and Japan for their first official meeting in over a year on Tuesday, flexing its diplomatic muscle with America's two key Asian allies and seeking unity on how to deal with a belligerent North Korea.

The gathering in the southwestern city of Chengdu was held with the clock ticking on a threatened "Christmas gift" from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that could reignite global tensions over its nuclear programme.

Kim has promised the unidentified "gift" -- which analysts and US officials believe could be a provocative missile test -- if Washington does not make concessions in their nuclear talks by the end of the year.

US President Donald Trump said Tuesday that "we'll find out what the surprise is and we'll deal with it very successfully," joking that "maybe it's a present where he sends me a beautiful vase as opposed to a missile test."

How Will China Act In The South China Sea? Just Ask Russia.

by Lyle J. Goldstein

The “sail by” of USS Lassen within the 12 nautical mile claim line of the new Chinese facilities on Subi reef in the South China Sea occurred without major incident last week. Despite some fiery Chinese rhetoric, war has not broken out and that is a profoundly good thing. Actually, nothing much has changed at all, so it seems. The tense stalemate persists as before. China will continue to build up its new “bases” in and among the Spratly islets. The U.S. will continue to patrol regularly and exercise with its alliance partners. Perhaps, as Xi Jinping said not so long ago, the Pacific Ocean really is big enough to accommodate the interests of both China and the U.S.?

There has been plenty of grousing in the last few months on the right and within U.S. national security circles about how excessive “kibitzing” and hand-wringing preceded the Lassen’s recent patrol. “Too little, too late” will be the inevitable critique of the Obama Administration. But perhaps the Administration that gave U.S. foreign policy the underappreciated legacy of “Don’t do stupid stuff” – an approach much criticized in the Syrian context – could be forgiven for exercising due caution when it comes to escalating a conflict with another nuclear power in that power’s backyard. Perhaps Obama’s national security advisors understand that what might begin as cutters “blasting away” with water cannons could rapidly transition to anti-ship cruise missiles sinking warships, to missile and air attacks on bases, and even to a nuclear exchange targeting cities. That escalation chain could take hours not days and would certainly constitute “stupid stuff” if such a military conflict was fought over “rocks and reefs.”