24 July 2019

Why Afghanistan peace talks between the Taliban and U.S. have promise — but more potential pitfalls

By Michael O’Hanlon

The Korean War is sometimes called America’s forgotten war — but that title really now belongs to the Afghanistan conflict, soon to be 18 years old. Several hundred thousand Americans have served there since October 2001; more than 2,000 have died. The war has cost the United States roughly $1 trillion, and the Department of Veterans Affairs’ costs for the injured will add several hundred billion dollars more in the decades to come.

About 15,000 Americans (and another several thousand foreign troops, most from NATO nations) still serve in uniform in Afghanistan, with an estimated additional annual cost to the American taxpayer of some $20 billion. We have been suffering 10 to 20 fatalities annually in recent years, as well.

Do these talks have a serious chance? Alternatively, is apparent progress in the negotiations taking place in Doha, Qatar, a mirage in the Arabian desert?

Are Russia and the US Finally on the Same Page in Afghanistan?

By Samuel Ramani

From July 11 to 12, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad met with senior diplomats from Russia, China, and Pakistan in Beijing to discuss the resolution of the war in Afghanistan. U.S. officials viewed the summit favorably, and Khalilzad stated that the outcome of the negotiations was “very positive.” After the conclusion of the talks, all four countries reached an agreement on the need for “a permanent ceasefire that starts with intra-Afghan negotiations.”

As Russia and the United States have clashed over Afghanistan due to Moscow’s alleged arms provisions to the Taliban and the Kremlin’s willingness to host peace negotiations that excluded Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government, the productive dialogue between American and Russian diplomats in Beijing was a significant milestone. In spite of these talks and recent statements from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russian President Vladimir Putin that acknowledge the value of U.S.-Russia dialogue on Afghanistan, substantive cooperation between the two countries on ending the war remains elusive. 

The United States Is Going After China’s Banks


In the ongoing U.S.-China trade war, the treatment of Chinese tech giants such as Huawei and the plight of U.S. soybean farmers headlines the news. But the impact of a recent court ruling in Washington could open an expansive new front: China’s banks, and the thousands of businesses that depend on them.

On March 18, a federal court in Washington ordered Chinese financial giant Shanghai Pudong Development (SPD) Bank and two other Chinese banks to comply with a subpoena issued under the USA Patriot Act, and hand over to U.S. authorities bank records of a Hong Kong company linked to violations of U.S. sanctions on North Korea.

On June 25, the court found the banks in contempt for refusing to comply. The contempt order empowers the U.S. treasury secretary and the attorney general to terminate SPD Bank’s U.S. correspondent accounts. That step, pursuant to Section 319 of the Patriot Act, would end SPD Bank’s ability to conduct U.S. dollar-denominated transactions. In a global financial system still dominated by the almighty U.S. dollar, that sanction is known as a financial “death penalty.”

Islamic State: Its Agility To Reinvent Persuasive Narrative – Analysis

Muhammad Saiful Alam Shah Bin Sudiman*

Last month, the Singapore authority issued an Order of Detention (OD) under the Internal Security Act (ISA) to a 40-year-old unemployed Singaporean. Another two, a 39-year-old man and a 62-year-old woman were issued with Restriction Orders (RO) under the ISA for their involvement in terrorism-related conduct. These development proves that just like IS persuasive narratives, the support for the false IS caliphate is still lurking large.

Eleven months ago the self-proclaimed IS caliphate Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi delivered an audio speech which was made accessible on the Internet on 22 August 2018. 1 The speech was designed to boost IS supporters’ fighting spirits amid coalition forces massive military operations against them in their controlled land in the Middle East. As the territorial defeat of the so-called Islamic State was inching closer, the self-proclaimed caliph was quick to reconstruct new narratives.

'Ulcer' Strategy: How Iran Can Wage War Against America On the Cheap

by James Holmes

That chronic pain gnawing at officialdom’s guts is bipartisan. Presidential administrations, Republican and Democratic alike, keep trying to draw down the U.S. military presence in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf region in particular, to attend to more pressing priorities. Back in 2012 the Obama administration vowed to “pivot” or “rebalance,” from the Middle East to the Pacific theater to counterbalance China. President Donald Trump and his lieutenants proclaimthat an age of great-power competition is upon us. Like their Democratic forerunners, they have signaled their desire to reapportion finite U.S. diplomatic and military resources elsewhere around the Eurasian perimeter—say, to the South China Sea or Baltic Sea.

This is sound strategy. Strategy is about setting and enforcing priorities. Lesser priorities must yield to greater lest a competitor exhaust itself trying to do everything, everywhere. Not even superpowers are exempt from this iron law of world politics.

Iran’s Eye-for-an-Eye Strategy in the Gulf

By Robin Wright

On July 4, 1982, a car with diplomatic plates carrying senior Iranian envoys was stopped outside of Beirut by members of a right-wing Christian militia. Among the four passengers was Ahmad Motevaselian, the military attaché at Iran’s Embassy in Lebanon and a well-known hero of Iran’s war with Iraq. He had also overseen the deployment of more than a thousand Iranian Revolutionary Guards, in response to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon four weeks earlier. Their car was later found abandoned. Iran appealed for international action—especially from the Christian militia and its U.S. and Israeli allies—to find the Iranian hostages. Nothing happened. On July 19th, gunmen abducted David Dodge, the acting president of American University of Beirut, from the campus grounds, overlooking the Mediterranean. Dodge was the first American hostage in Beirut. He spent exactly a year, to the day, in an Iranian prison. Syria intervened to help free Dodge, partly to curry favor with the United States at Damascus’s own moment of weakness.


Patrick Hilsman

LAST SUMMER, ISRAEL shot down yet another military drone near the line that separates the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights from the rest of Syria. The confrontation would have been business as usual, if not for a twist: Images of the destroyed drone showed Cyrillic tail markings and other identifiable components of a Forpost belonging to Russia. The findings presented an awkward geopolitical moment: Syria and Russia are allies, and Syria and Israel are bitter enemies — but the Russian Forpost shot down by Israel was designed in Israel itself.

How Israeli-designed drones ended up supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a case study in the complicated relationship between Israel and Russia. Though Russia has been instrumental in protecting the Assad government, which appeared to be on the brink of collapse four years ago, it has also carefully cultivated a military relationship with Israel over the past decade.

How Israeli-designed drones ended up supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a case study in the complicated relationship between Israel and Russia.

Iran: The IRGC's Bold Seizure of a British Tanker Pushes the Risk of Escalation

Iranian responses to the intensifying U.S. sanctions campaign are pushing the risk of a military confrontation between the two higher than ever. While conflicting signals have emerged from both sides regarding a desire to negotiate, the escalating incidents involving the pairs suggests the standoff will deepen before they can find any resolution.

The most significant in a series of events involving Iran during the week occurred July 19 with an announcement from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps that it had seized a British tanker — and briefly halted the progress of another — in the Persian Gulf. The tanker's capture adds yet another layer of stress atop already tense relations between the Islamic republic and the United States and its allies.

Iran’s Miscalculation in the Strait of Hormuz

By Jacob L. Shapiro

On Friday afternoon, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized two U.K.-affiliated oil tankers – the British-flagged Stena Impero and the British-owned Mesdar. After a couple of hours – and, according to Iran, a warning about environmental regulations – the Mesdar was released. The Stena Impero has not been so lucky. An IRGC statement on the Stena Impero said the ship had switched off its GPS system, was moving in the wrong direction in a shipping lane and had ignored repeated Iranian warnings. The statement stretches the bounds of credulity, considering that the Stena Impero was en route to Saudi Arabia and that maritime tracking data showed the ship making an abrupt change in course toward the Iranian island of Qeshm before its transponder was turned off at 4:29 p.m. U.K. time.

But a flexible sense of credulity is necessary in attempting to understand why Iran and the U.S., neither of which has an interest in fighting a war against the other, seem intent on hurtling down that path anyway.

The EU Has Destroyed Greece Beyond Repair – OpEd

By Dr. John C. Hulsman*

On paper, the just-concluded Greek parliamentary elections were a triumph for investors. The leftist, populist Syriza party of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has been replaced by the far more acceptable (in investors’ eyes) center-right New Democracy (ND) party of Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

The ND won an impressive 40 percent of the overall vote, and a dominant parliamentary majority of 158 of the 300 seats in the new Greek Parliament, even as Tsipras and Syriza slumped to 32 percent and 86 seats in total. This dominant victory — at least at first glance — would seem to give Mitsotakis the electoral mandate he needs to desperately remake a Greek society that has endured nothing less than an economic nightmare for the past decade.

Again, on the surface, Mitsotakis is saying everything right. His electoral platform called for market-oriented structural reforms. First, the new premier pledges to cut taxes by the start of 2020. Second, the ND wants to digitize sclerotic Greek public services on the lines of Estonia’s ground-breaking reforms, making public administration faster, better and more accountable.

The Democratization of Space New Actors Need New Rules

By Dave Baiocchi And William Welser IV

Starting with the Soviets’ launch of Sputnik in 1957, early space missions were funded exclusively by national governments, and for good reason: going to space was astronomically expensive. Setting up a successful space program meant making major investments in expertise and infrastructure, along with tolerating a great deal of risk—which only the superpowers could do. NASA’s Apollo program, for instance, employed 400,000 people, cost more than $110 billion in today’s dollars, and resulted in the death of three skilled astronauts. Not surprisingly, then, the legal framework that developed as the space race intensified was government-centric. In 1967, the United States, the Soviet Union, and many other countries signed the Outer Space Treaty, which set up a framework for managing activities in space—usually defined as beginning 62 miles above sea level. The treaty established national governments as the parties responsible for governing space, a principle that remains in place today.

IMF Changing Of The Guard: Sorry Tale Of Leadership Transition – Analysis

By Jikon Lai*

An opportunity to reform the process of appointing the leadership position of the IMF has surfaced but it is unlikely to be seized. Instead, liberal values such as meritocracy, diversity and representation are likely to be sacrificed on the altar of ‘convention’.

After eight years at the helm of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde looks set to be appointed as the next president of the European Central Bank, and speculation on her successor as managing director of the IMF has begun. 

Even though this is a leadership position in an international organisation whose shareholders and stakeholders comprise countries and people from virtually all over the world, speculation on Lagarde’s potential successors have been drawn, for the most part, from individuals who hold European citizenship. This curious, if not outright discriminatory, selection process would seem to many to be anachronistic in 2019.
Changing of the Guard?

The silo problem: Connecting the UN’s efforts to promote sustainable development and prevent violent extremism

Eric Rosand and Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini

This week, diplomats and civil society activists will travel to New York to attend the annual U.N. High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development. This year’s theme is Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16, on working towards “peaceful, just and inclusive societies.” Meanwhile, the U.N. Secretary-General convenedsome 1,000 diplomats and civil society actors last week in Nairobi to discuss progress on preventing violent extremism (PVE) in Africa. The agenda was founded on the 2015 U.N. Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism.


The SDG 16 and PVE agendas have much in common. These include the emphasis on strengthening civil society, particularly women and youth, and empowering local agents of change; building social cohesion and resilience and the role that inclusive cities can play in this regard; the need for government to be responsive to citizens’ needs; and the importance of respecting human rights and addressing grievances and inequality. More broadly, the 2018 Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies’ report highlighted the need to scale up the prevention of violence (including extremist violence) for the most vulnerable segments of society if the SDG 16 objectives are to be met.

New Issue: US Army War College Quarterly, Parameters 49, No. 1-2 Spring-Summer 2019

A2/AD Myths: Chinese & Russian

Russia's A2/AD Capabilities: Real and Imagined by Keir Giles and Mathieu Boulegue

Enhancing Security & Stability

Projecting Stability: A Deployable NATO Police Command by Massimo Pani and Karen J. Finkenbinder

On Strategic Foundations

Reconsidering Sun Tzu by John F. Sullivan

U.K. Warns Iran of ‘Serious Consequences’ for Seizing Oil Tanker

by David D. Kirkpatrick and Stephen Castle 

Britain on Saturday threatened Iran that “there will be serious consequences” for seizing a British-owned oil tanker the previous evening as the government warned ships to avoid the crucial shipping lanes of the Strait of Hormuz.

The British defense minister, Penny Mordaunt, said in a television interview on Saturday that the ship had been intercepted in Omani, not Iranian, waters and called the seizure “a hostile act.”

The British government said in a statement earlier on Saturday after an emergency meeting that it had “advised U.K. shipping to stay out of the area for an interim period.” By Saturday afternoon, Britain had summoned the Iranian ambassador to register its protest, and a second emergency cabinet meeting was set to begin…

How to Fix America’s Absentee Diplomacy in Africa

Howard W. French

Earlier this month, The New York Timescreated a mini furor on the internet with a job listing for someone to lead its coverage of East Africa. The announcement described it as an opportunity “to dive into news and enterprise across a wide range of countries, from the deserts of Sudan and the pirate seas of the Horn of Africa, down through the forests of Congo and shores of Tanzania.” It went on to speak of the region’s “many vital story lines, including terrorism, the scramble for resources, the global contest with China,” among others. Whether as afterthought or sop, it added that the job of Nairobi bureau chief offered “the chance to delight our readers with unexpected stories of hope.” Nowhere did one get the sense that East Africa is, in fact, a highly diverse collection of countries that encompasses more than 400 million people and includes some of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

Problem: Iran Is Using Western Technology Against U.S. Drones

by Emma Scott

For years, Iran has been successful in smuggling drone parts in spite of international sanctions, and now its smuggling efforts have moved into counter-drone markets.

Iran shot down a RQ-4A Global Hawk drone last week. Several years ago, in 2011, it demonstrated its evolving capabilities at drone interception when it captured a RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone. To down the Hawk, Iran claimed to use the 3 Khordad surface-to-air missile system. Prior to that, Iran supposedly jammed the communication links of the RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone, taking control of the drone inside Iranian territory, laterreverse engineering it to produce the Shahed-171 and Saeqah drones. So, on top of drone capabilities, Iran has some counter-drone capabilities—that is the ability to detect, identify, track and/or control unmanned aircraft. It also boasts powerful cyber-attack capabilities that can be used to control enemy drones. Efforts should now focus on preventing Iran from enhancing these capabilities by countering its attempts to obtain Western counter-drone technology.

Why the U.S. Plan to Protect Tankers in the Persian Gulf Won't Deter Iran

Following a series of attacks on crude-bearing ships, the United States is looking to initiate a new program to enhance security in the Persian Gulf region with significant involvement from its allies and partners. 
The effort is reminiscent of a similar operation in the region during the Iran-Iraq War, though some key differences point to a shifting U.S. approach to the region. The White House, however, will struggle to find allies willing to lend their support out of fear of being drawn into a potential conflict between the United States and Iran. Regardless, Washington's program will ultimately prove unsuccessful in deterring future attacks because it fails to address the underlying issue propelling Iran's actions — namely, the crushing economic pressure the United States has brought to bear over the past year. 

In response to the recent spate of Iran-linked attacks in the Persian Gulf, the United States has laid out on an initiative to secure oil tanker traffic in the area, while providing better visibility and attribution for any future incidents. Coined the Sentinel program, the operation would involve deploying additional warships and maritime patrol aircraft, as well as placing cameras and other surveillance devices on crude-bearing vessels transiting through the region. 

How to protect the growing internet of battlefield things

By: Dan Goure  

The Army's new Enhanced Night Vision Goggles-Binocular uses wireless technology to merge the weapon sight with day/night vision, thermal and augmented reality to the soldier's view. The advancement will eliminate the need for soldiers to look down at a device, such as the one pictured here, to see around the battlefield. They are also an example of the Internet of Battlefield Things. (Army)

The explosive growth in the number of devices connected to defense networks has enabled the Department of Defense (DoD) to better manage information, conduct operations, manage assets, move people and supplies, and support service personnel.

Soon, everything and everyone on the battlefield will be connected, often carrying multiple sensors, computers and communications devices. This emerging internet of battlefield things (IoBT) will transform the American way of war. But at the same time, it could create enormous cyber vulnerabilities for DoD as unauthorized and insecure devices are connected to defense networks. It is imperative that the Pentagon implement a security framework that allows only authorized and properly secured devices to access defense networks.

3D printing: where next for additive manufacturing in defence?

By Grant Turnbull

The potential for additive manufacturing - also known as 3D printing - has been recognised for several years, but while printing technologies and processes continue to mature in the commercial sector, technical and institutional challenges still need to be overcome for wider adoption in defence manufacturing. Grant Turnbull finds out more.

Industry analysts have talked about the disruptive nature of 3D printing for several years, and the benefits of being able to print parts on demand for manufacturing or supply chain purposes are well documented. In reality, however, companies still mostly rely on traditional manufacturing methods for parts, particularly subtractive CNC machining, and 3D printing is so far only used for early development stages and complex parts.

For much of the 2010s, the idea that end-users could print parts when needed – reducing the cost of storing parts and increasing availability – did not see any significant adoption beyond pilot programmes and research projects.

According to Deloitte, 3D printing entered a “trough of lowered expectations” by the mid-2010s and only began to see growth again by around 2017. Now, in its latest technology predictions report, the consultancy sees a return to healthy growth for the 3D printing market, with sales surpassing $2.7bn this year, and topping $3bn by 2020 – equating to double digit percentage annual growth.

What's keeping generals up at night? Cyber threats

By: Tom Roeder

ASPEN • The Pentagon is recruiting a new cadre of computer geeks to address a threat that the military’s top intelligence officer says keeps him up at night.

At the Aspen Security Forum, Pentagon leaders and industry chiefs said the biggest arms race that America faces might be in cyberspace, where even smaller nations such as North Korea and Iran could bring havoc to U.S. soil. The annual forum draws security experts from around America and the globe to address threats and policy conundrums during a three-day confab.

The big topic Friday was how America could be losing its lead in computer warfare.

“When people ask me what keeps you up at night, that is kind of the thing that keeps me up at night,” admitted Defense Intelligence Agency boss Army Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley.

Cyberdeterrence Needs People, Not Weapons


In April this year, Iranian operatives were reported to have launched an online assault on a string of British banks and government agencies. A couple of weeks later, Amnesty International Hong Kong was attacked by Chinese hackers, who accessed the personal information of its supporters. This wasn’t anything special, just another round of news. But it shows how endemic such attacks have become—and how much traditional deterrence has failed to deter attackers.

Just a few weeks before the attack on U.K. institutions, Iranian hackers were revealed to have targeted government agencies and companies in the United States and Saudi Arabia over the last two years. Among the other acts of cyberaggression that became public during the same brief time span: Russian separatists attacking Ukrainian government agencies, unknown hackers attacking the Finnish election registry, unknown attackers hacking the Lithuanian Ministry of Defense, and Chinese and Russian hacks on the country’s election registry.

Marine jamming jeep sends unknown drone to the deep

By: Kelsey D. Atherton  

Drone, the catch-all term for uncrewed flying vehicle, descends from a far more specific bit of jargon, once used exclusively to refer to aerial targets. Few aircraft are built for the express purpose of being destroyed, but targets are, and that more casual attitude toward the destruction of aerial robots has expanded to include the whole category of modern uncrewed apparatus. All of this is to say: through some means, forces on board a U.S. Navy vessel had an interaction with a drone, and likely sent it into the sea.

“At approximately 10 a.m. local time, the amphibious ship USS Boxer was in international waters conducting a planned inbound transit of the Strait of Hormuz,” read the statement from Jonathan Hoffman, the chief Pentagon spokesperson. “A fixed wing unmanned aerial system (UAS) approached [USS] Boxer and closed within a threatening range. The ship took defensive action against the UAS to ensure the safety of the ship and its crew”

The Decline of Our Nation’s Generals


One of the lesser, but nonetheless not inconsequential changes to the national security landscape over the past 30 years has been the marginalization of the nation’s senior military leadership.

Once upon a time, whether for better or for worse, the service chiefs wielded real clout on matters related to basic policy. Today, unless you are a serving member of the armed forces, it’s unlikely that you can even name the uniformed heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. Maybe one—but all four?

Back in the days of George Marshall or Arleigh Burke or Curtis LeMay, the chiefs mattered. Today their influence trails behind that of John Bolton’s lesser deputies. 

Just last week, the admiral tapped to become the next chief of naval operations abruptly retired, his decision apparently prompted by some oblique involvement in a sexual harassment case. The press barely took notice. After all, who cares? Another old sea dog will be found to take his place.

Trigonometry over tattoos: Why educating our enlisted troops is paramount


“I feel like Jimmy Stewart in ‘Rear Window.’”

My son, an infantry Marine, texted this to me from an undisclosed location in the Middle East. We both loved Hitchcock’s film, in which Jimmy Stewart played a photographer laid up in his Greenwich Village apartment with a broken leg who becomes convinced that the neighbor across the backyard must have murdered his wife.

“Are you watching suspicious things happening?” I texted back.

His answer gave me a new perspective on his job: “Or seeing things that aren’t anything at all, but making them suspicious.” He complimented me on my parenting skill of making him watch classic movies. And then he went silent.