8 September 2019

India’s abrogation of Article 370 is an opportunity for Pak to redefine its nationalism

by Tilak Devasher
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Counter-intuitive and strange it may seem, but the events of August 5, 2019, when the Narendra Modi government revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir provided by Article 370, could be a game-changer for Pakistan. Whatever Pakistan may continue to claim, the fact is that the Indian Jammu and Kashmir is no longer a bilateral issue. As Pakistan gets used to the new reality, it could have a huge opportunity.

Kashmir has been the bedrock of Pak nationalism for decades with slogans such as “Kashmir banega Pakistan”, “unfinished agenda of Partition”, “Pakistan’s jugular”, “core issue with India”, reminding Pakistanis of its centrality. Kashmir acquired greater salience after the creation of Bangladesh shredded the two-nation theory.

Pakistan needed another crutch and that crutch became the “nazaria-i-Pakistan” (Ideology of Pakistan) of which Kashmir was an integral part. As L Ziring puts it: “All of Pakistan was made hostage to the Kashmir conundrum.” The Kashmir card became, and continues to be, an industry in Pakistan and many have thrived on it, developing a vested interest in its continuation. It enabled the Pakistan army to dominate the polity, it allowed the politicians to burnish their nationalistic credentials, the religious lobby could fan anti-Hindu sentiments, and the hapless Pakistani got a break on the various “Kashmir Solidarity Days”.

U.S.-Taliban Negotiations: How to Avoid Rushing to Failure

By James Dobbins

This is a collaborative product of former U.S. diplomatic officials who have worked on Afghanistan.

We strongly support a negotiated peace in Afghanistan, a limited force drawdown as part of getting peace negotiations going, and the substantial force drawdown later that peace would allow. 

Equally strongly, we believe that U.S. security and values, including support for women, require that a full troop withdrawal come only after a real peace. How our troop presence is managed will have a critical influence on the chances for successful peace negotiations, the future of the fight against the Islamic State, and the chance for Afghans to pursue representative government.

A few critical guard rails stand out in order to avoid the risk of Afghanistan becoming a new center of terrorism harboring groups dedicated to attacking the United States and to avoid betraying our own values by depriving Afghans of the chance to determine their own future.

Pompeo Declines to Sign Risky Afghan Peace Deal

by Kim Dozier

The U.S. is closing in on a deal with the Taliban that is designed to wind down America’s 18-year war in Afghanistan, but the best indication of how risky the pact may be is this: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is declining to sign it, according to senior U.S., Afghan and European officials.

The “agreement in principle” that U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has hammered out in nine rounds of talks with Taliban representatives in Qatar would take the first tentative steps toward peace since U.S. and allied forces deployed to Afghanistan following the attacks on 9/11, according to senior Afghan and Trump Administration officials familiar with its general terms. Defense Secretary Mark Esper was scheduled to discuss the closely held details of the deal with President Donald Trump in a Sept. 3 meeting, according to senior administration officials. If Trump approves and a deal is struck, it could begin a withdrawal of some 5,400 U.S. troops, roughly a third of the present force, from five bases within 135 days…

Afghanistan: A War in Crisis

By Anthony H. Cordesman

The U.S, has announced a potential peace agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Many of the details are still secret or undecided, and the Administration has sent mixed signals about the timing and scale of U.S. force cuts. President Trump announced shortly before reports the U.S. had agreed to the basic structure of a peace deal that he would cut U.S. forces.

He described these cuts as follows in an interview on Fox News on 29 August, “we're going down to 8,600 and then we make a determination from there as to what happens. We'll make a determination, but we're going down to 8,600, we're bringing it down. We have it very well controlled. You know, we're not fighting a war over there, we're just policeman over there. We could win that war so fast — if I wanted to kill 10 million people, Brian, which I don't. I'm not looking to kill a big portion of that country. I'm not looking to do that.”

On September 2nd, in the middle of new Taliban attacks, the U.S announced a draft peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban that withdraws 5,400 U.S. troops from five bases in Afghanistan within five months – or 135 days – after the deal was signed. U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad described the proposed plan in a broadcast on TOLO News as “an agreement with the Taliban in principle” although he cautioned that “it is not final until the president of the United States also agrees to it.” He stated that such a withdrawal would depend on the Taliban meeting the terms of the agreement, ending its ties to Al-Qaida, and provide clear guarantees to support counterterrorism activities.

Lebanon, Hezbollah and the danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater

After weeks of increasing threats between Israel and Hezbollah, including a retaliatory attack from the militia in response to an apparent Israeli drone strike, Lebanon has dodged a bullet. The fact there were no casualties allowed both sides to claim victory and wind down tensions, averting what many had feared would be an all-out war.

However, that is little reassurance for Lebanon as it faces a number of major challenges. The country now appears to be squarely in the crosshairs as regional tensions between the US and Israel on the one hand, and Iran on the other, continue to rise. The economy is in a dire state as Lebanon is struggling with an enormous public debt that threatens the national currency.

Last week the Trump administration sanctioned Jammal Trust Bank, accusing it of enabling Hezbollah’s financial activities. This was a rare US foray against a Lebanese bank, raising fears that further such steps might undermine international confidence in the banking sector. That would have grave repercussions as banking remains the pillar of Lebanon’s economy.

That the US-Iranian confrontation is having a greater impact on Lebanon than it did previously is not surprising. Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, witnessed a more hard-nosed response when he visited Washington recently. In Congress and the US think tank community, there are voices calling for a cut to military aid for the Lebanese army, which critics regard as being too close to Hezbollah.

Talks ‘Still Ongoing’ to End Afghanistan War, Says Defense Secretary Esper

by Robert Burns

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday he’s not ready to publicly discuss how a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan would begin under a peace deal with the Taliban.

"Negotiations in some ways are still ongoing," he told reporters traveling with him to Europe.

"I don't want to say anything that gets in front of that or upsets that process," he said.

Esper said he planned to meet for dinner Thursday in Stuttgart with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to discuss Afghanistan and give him “a sense of where I think things are” in the push to close a peace deal.

Citing “sensitive negotiations,” Esper in the inflight interview declined to talk about specifics…

Life under the Taliban shadow government

Ashley Jackson

Based on first-hand interviews with more than 160 Taliban fighters and officials, as well as civilians, this paper examines how the Taliban govern the lives of Afghans living under their rule. Taliban governance is more coherent than ever before; high-level commissions govern sectors such as finance, health, education, justice and taxation, with clear chains of command and policies from the leadership based in Pakistan down to villages in Afghanistan. 

Where the government and aid agencies provide public goods and services, the Taliban coopt and control them. Health and education in Taliban areas are a hybrid of NGO and state-provided services, operating according to Taliban rules. The Taliban also regulate utilities and communications, collecting on the bills of the state electricity company in at least eight of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and controlling around a quarter of the country’s mobile phone coverage.

Justice provision has also become increasingly far-reaching. Taliban taxes either coopt Islamic finance concepts or mimic official state systems.

Afghan government has concerns about U.S.-Taliban peace deal

KABUL (Reuters) - The Afghan government has concerns about the draft peace agreement reached between U.S. and Taliban negotiators and wants further clarification, President Ashraf Ghani’s main spokesman said on Wednesday.

A member of the Afghan security force stands in front of a poster of Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani in Kabul, Afghanistan September 2, 2019.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

The deal, which would see around 5,000 U.S. troops withdrawn and five bases closed in exchange for guarantees that Afghanistan would not be used as a base for militant attacks on America, was presented to Ghani this week by the special U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad.

However, with the Taliban stepping up attacks in the capital Kabul and provincial centers across the country, the agreement has faced scepticism from several sides, including a number of former U.S. officials and politicians.

“The Afghan government is also concerned and we, therefore, would like further clarity on this document to completely analyze its dangers and negative consequences and avoid the dangers,” Ghani’s spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, wrote on Twitter.

War-weary Afghans have little voice in their country’s fate

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — For almost a year, Afghanistan’s more than 30 million people have been in the awkward position of waiting as a United States envoy and the Taliban negotiate their country’s fate behind closed doors.

An agreement on ending America’s longest war, which the U.S. once hoped to reach by Sunday, could set a timeline for U.S. troops’ withdrawal but also nudge aside this month’s presidential election and open the way for a Taliban return to power. The militants continue their attacks, again invading a major city, Kunduz, on Saturday and the city of Puli Khumri on Sunday.

Without a say in their own future, Afghans’ frustration is clear. “We don’t know what is going on but we are just so tired,” said Sonia, a teacher in the capital, Kabul, who like many people goes by one name.

Reflecting the helplessness, a new television ad shows residents of all 34 provinces holding up pieces of paper that simply say “Peace.” An art group in Kabul has begun painting concrete blast walls with tens of thousands of tulips, the national flower, as symbols of the civilians killed in nearly 18 years of fighting.

I was ambassador to Afghanistan. This deal is a surrender.

By Ryan Crocker
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Ryan Crocker is diplomat in residence at Princeton University and a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon.

January 2002. I arrive in Kabul to reopen the U.S. Embassy. Destruction is everywhere. Kabul airport is closed, its runways cratered and littered with destroyed aircraft. The drive south from the military base at Bagram is through a wasteland. Nothing grows. No structures stand. In the city itself, entire blocks have been reduced to rubble, recalling images of Berlin in 1945.

More than two decades of almost constant war left a terrible legacy. The damage was not only to the physical infrastructure. The Afghan people had suffered enormously through the civil war that began in the late 1970s and the tyranny of the Taliban that followed. None had suffered more than Afghan women and girls.

After the U.S. invasion in October 2001 ousted the Taliban for harboring the al-Qaeda planners of the 9/11 terrorist attack, the human toll from the Taliban rule is why the United States’ initial assistance efforts focused on people rather than things.

Why America Doesn't Want to Admit That it Failed in Afghanistan

by Daniel R. DePetris 

After nine rounds, ten months of direct negotiations, and a whole lot of squabbling, the United States and the Taliban have finally reached an agreement in principle. According to the terms that have been reported so far, Washington would swap an initial U.S. troop reduction in exchange for a Taliban commitment to reduce violence, a pledge to enter into political talks with the Afghan government on a future political settlement, and an assurance that Taliban-controlled areas will not be used by transnational terrorists to plot attacks against Americans. Zalmay Khalilzad, a former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and the Trump administration’s point-man on the Afghan conflict, explained to TOLO News that over five thousand U.S. troops would depart from five bases within 135 days of the agreement’s signing. Assuming that Taliban fighters decrease violence at the same time American soldiers pack up and leave, President Donald Trump would be on his way toward extricating the United States from the longest conflict in its history. 

A majority of Americans tuned out the war a long time ago, viewing it as a futile and expensive conflict with little to show for all of the investment poured into the endeavor across three successive U.S. administrations. But there is a significant portion of the Beltway that simply can’t envision a full U.S. military departure from Afghanistan, and most of them buy into the conventional wisdom that successful counterterrorism policy is impossible without boots on the ground. Others turn to simple phrases and buzzwords, dumbing down a complicated war into winners and losers in order to influence a president who considers the word “loser” the ultimate insult. Brit Hume of Fox News labeled the agreement with the Taliban a humiliation, and you can bet that Trump heard about a high-profile figure on his favorite news network sounding off in the studio. "This is called losing,” Hume told anchor Chris Wallace on September 1. "We completely—ultimately abandoned that situation over there,” as if the United States was some paper tiger who simply threw up its hands in despair when the situation got too tough.

One can only hope that Khalilzad, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Trump are prepared for the fuselage of invective coming their way as more details of the U.S.-Taliban deal emerge in the days ahead. Columns will be written in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the Atlantic criticizing whatever arrangement is made between Washington and the Taliban. Such criticism is warranted because there are legitimate concerns about the Taliban’s willingness to implement its promises and because U.S. soldiers have been stationed in Afghanistan for such a long period of time that, for some people, anything different is psychologically deeply uncomfortable. Scholars and analysts in Washington who have been following the conflict for years will jump on television and warn Trump that he is making a fatal error by trusting the very same insurgent group that once housed Osama bin Laden—conveniently ignoring that the Taliban has an incentive to avoid learning the same lesson twice after watching its Islamic emirate go up in flames two months into the U.S. operation. Sen. Lindsey Graham, true to form, can be expected to call Trump on his cellphone to try to frighten him into staying the course, as if staying the course is not the literal definition of insanity. The president, who at times takes outside advice more seriously than the recommendations provided by his official advisers, may very well buckle to the pressure. Indeed, when his political allies in Congress and former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis vocally protested the decision last year to withdraw all U.S. forces from Syria within months, Trump changed his tune pretty quickly. If it can happen in Syria, then it can happen in Afghanistan as well.

On Afghanistan, however, Trump would have public opinion on his side. A Pew Research Center survey conducted from May 14–June 2 couldn’t be any clearer; Americans are tired of the war and frankly find the whole thing absurd. About 59 percent of American adults and 58 percent of veterans no longer see the war in Afghanistan as being worth the effort. This is the end result of a generation-long social science experiment that has cost nearly a trillion dollars in taxpayer money and been defined by troop deployments that go on and on and on. Meanwhile, the Taliban controls about half of country, nonchalantly preying upon Afghan cadets at their isolated checkpoints and executing bomb operations deep into the heart of Kabul. U.S. troops are sitting ducks in such an environment, and there is very little they can do but help the Afghan government manage what seems like a continuous stalemate. 

While nobody in a position of power likes to admit it, the United States has done all it can for Afghanistan. The roads, schools, hospitals, security forces, and ministries constructed, and supported courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer are ineffective bureaucracies susceptible to corruption, a sad omen to the nonsensical assumption that Uncle Sam could play the “white knight” and build a Western-style order in a disorderly country at war continuously for forty years.

First Continental Congress assembles in Philadelphia.

Jochen Rindt becomes the only driver to posthumously win the Formula One World Drivers' Championship (in 1970), after being killed in practice for the Italian Grand Prix.

The people who need a reality check are not those pining for a U.S. withdrawal, but those who insist on staying indefinitely. Many of the same people who now vociferously protest against a political deal with the Taliban are some of the very same geniuses who believed that enough airpower and time could sway the insurgency into watering down its demands or defeat them outright. Forgive those of us who are unwilling to buy the same horse a third time.

Let there be no mistake: if the Taliban is stupid enough to allow Al Qaeda or the Islamic State to plan terrorist attacks against the U.S. homeland or U.S. interests overseas, they can expect a tenfold military response. The United States will always reserve the right to defend its people, just as it has the right to use its military capacity and capability in the event a plot is imminent. There is nothing in the agreement that prohibits Washington from exercising the right of self-defense, and the Taliban should be under no illusions about the willingness of Trump—or any future U.S. president—to authorize the full weight of the U.S. military if the situation requires it.

But stretching out Washington’s participation in a never-ending civil war any longer, as if this is the most efficient way to keep the American people safe, is foolish. One could even call it a dereliction of duty.

Dan DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities as well as a columnist for the Washington Examiner and the American Conservative. You can follow him on Twitter at @DanDePetris.

This Is How a War With China Could Begin

By Nicholas Kristof

TAIPEI, Taiwan — If the United States gets embroiled in a war with China, it may begin with the lights going out here in Taipei.

Tensions are rising across the Taiwan Strait, and there’s a growing concern among some security experts that Chinese President Xi Jinping might act recklessly toward Taiwan in the next few years, drawing the United States into a conflict.

Xi’s hard line toward Hong Kong is alarming Taiwanese and further reducing the chance, if there ever was any, of a peaceful unification of China. China seems to be abandoning its effort to win hearts and minds on Taiwan, and it has steadily improved military capabilities — thus prompting the fear that Xi might eventually use them.

“We are very concerned,” Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, told me. He said that one concern was that a slowing economy and other troubles in China might lead Xi to make trouble for Taiwan as a distraction. “This is the scenario that is constantly playing in the minds of the key decision makers” on Taiwan, he said.

Another China Round

Having not focused exclusively on China for several weeks, it is now time to return to it. Too many things have happened in the past few weeks to ignore it. Most of the events did not fundamentally alter the situation, although there does appear to be a change of thinking on both sides that will make resolution more difficult.

First, a lot has happened since President Trump's temper tantrum announcing the imposition of tariffs on an additional $300 billion in Chinese goods effective September 1 (first tranche) and December 15 (second tranche). Apparently, the assessment was divided in order to prevent a big consumer impact at Christmas. (See last week's column for a discussion of the hypocrisy of claiming the Chinese are paying the tariffs while delaying them to avoid consumer impact.). That was followed immediately by a sinking renminbi, the United States declaring China a currency manipulator, Chinese retaliation for the new tariffs, and Trump increasing the amount of the existing tariffs and issuing a tweet ordering U.S. companies to leave China. China subsequently announced it would not immediately retaliate further, thus at least temporarily calling a halt to what risked becoming an increasing cycle of tit for tat retaliation.

Emerging Technologies and Managing the Risk of Tech Transfer to China

There are deep interconnections between the U.S. and Chinese economies, and China has built its technology base on what it has acquired from the West. China’s government and some Chinese companies will use any means, legal or illegal, to acquire technology. The United States’ relationship with China cannot continue unchanged, but given the interconnections, change must be managed carefully. New restrictions are needed, but counterintuitively, these should be shaped by recognizing that being open makes the United States stronger than being closed. The best approach is an incremental and flexible approach to technology transfer centered on the need to avoid harm to the U.S economy. This report outlines the policy tools that the United States can use to mitigate risk while maintaining the openness that is a hallmark of the U.S. economy.

This report is made possible through general support to CSIS. No direct sponsorship has contributed to its publication.

American–European Unity against China Is Indispensable


It is obvious where the impetus for the new European Commission to spend €100 billion on “European Champions” through the European Future Fund comes from. Europeans are at the end of their tether with President Trump and U.S. threats to impose tariffs on imports from the E.U.

Industrial policy, furthermore, seems to be regaining its intellectual legitimacy on the political left and right. Why should scruples hold Europeans back in the global economic competition?

To be sure, there is a legitimate debate to be had about how innovative and job-creating industries ought to be supported by public policy, including at the European level. However, a growing frustration with the United States is unlikely to be a good guide to such action. Reciprocating possible U.S. tariff hikes with European ones, or making large amounts of funding available to firms that are perfectly capable of securing private investment only to give them an edge over their U.S. competitors, is tantamount to cutting one’s nose off to spite one’s face.

Influence Power: How China Covertly Operates in the U.S.

Bill Gertz
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The following is excerpted from Deceiving the Sky: Inside Communist China's Drive for Global Supremacy (Encounter, September 2019) the latest book by Free Beacon Senior Editor Bill Gertz.

Chinese influence operations in the United States are pervasive and include the use of covert operations to support the objectives of the Communist Party of China in silencing critics of the regime in Beijing.

China's targeting of billionaire Chinese dissident Guo Wengui is a case study in the use of these covert methods.

A conspiracy was launched by the People's Republic of China that involved a $3 billion scheme to lobby the Trump administration to force Guo's return to China. The operation involved Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho, known as Jho Low, and rapper Prakazrel "Pras" Michel, who also is a record producer, songwriter, and actor and one of the founding members of the hip-hop group, the Fugees.

Unlocking the Gates of Eurasia: China’s Belt and Road Initiative and Its Implications for U.S. Grand Strategy

Thomas P. Cavanna

What is the Belt and Road Initiative and what implications could it have for America’s grand strategy? As many observers have pointed out, China’s Belt and Road suffers from a number of problems and ambiguities. However, it is a much more coherent, potent, and resilient endeavor than many experts believe. Belt and Road is deeply grounded within Chinese grand strategy and strategic culture, helps protect the foundations of China’s national power, and allows Beijing to project influence across and beyond the Eurasian continent. If left unchecked, it could erode the foundations of America’s post-World War II hegemony. However, provided U.S. leaders respond the right way, it could offer important benefits to Washington.

The Belt and Road Initiative, an unprecedented infrastructure program that extends across and beyond the Eurasian continent, has elicited increasingly hostile reactions in the West and come to symbolize U.S. leaders’ disillusionment regarding Beijing’s growing assertiveness and authoritarianism under Xi Jinping.1 However, the initiative’s nature and its potential repercussions remain unclear. What is Belt and Road? What implications could it have for America’s grand strategy?2 This article investigates these questions with a particular focus on security dynamics, arguing that, despite multiple problems and ambiguities, Belt and Road spearheads a coherent Chinese grand strategy that could weaken the foundations of America’s post-World War II hegemony but also advance some U.S. interests.3

Testimony: China’s military modernization program

China’s military modernization program has continued apace, with defense spending growing for the 24th consecutive year, making China the second-largest defense spender after the United States. China spent an estimated $175.4 billion on defense in 2019, with funds going to personnel, training, and procurement. The increase in resources and effort has resulted in more frequent, sophisticated, and multifaceted People’s Liberation Army (PLA) presence and activities in the region and beyond. China’s main line of effort remains centered on East Asia, and its concerns are over the East China Sea, the South China Sea, and Taiwan. Below I capture the major developments in China’s regional activities with a focus on the South China Sea and China’s military presence beyond East Asia, as well as address recent developments in the SinoRussian relationship and the publication of the 2019 Chinese Defense White Paper.

The Return of ISIS in Iraq, Syria, and the Middle East

By Anthony H. Cordesman, and Abdullah Toukan

The U.S., its European allies, and its Strategic Partners in the Middle East achieved a significant victory in breaking up the ISIS protostate – or “caliphate” – in Syria and Iraq. This break up has sharply reduced the fighting against ISIS in Iraq, and in Eastern Syria.

The U.S.-led Coalition did not, however, fully defeat ISIS in either Iraq or Syria or eliminate ISIS and other forms of extremism as serious threats. It did not bring lasting stability to Iraq or end the Syrian civil war, and it did not eliminate the threat from ISIS and other extremist groups in the rest of the MENA area.

This analysis covers two important aspects of the crisis in Iraq and Syria since the break of the “caliphate.” First, it summarizes key official reporting on the resurgence of ISIS as a serious threat in both Syria and Iraq. Second, it puts ISIS in perspective – showing that it did not dominate the violence and levels of terrorism in Syria even at its peak, and noting that ISIS is only one of the major threats to stability in Iraq.
The Resurgence of ISIS

Recent Department of Defense and UN reporting has shown that ISIS has reorganized and recovered to a significant degree in both Iraq and Syria since the final battles against its “caliphate” as well as continued its operations in other countries. Other reporting by Rand indicates that ISIS faces serious financial constraints but is still able to fund significant operations.

Iran Attempts to Stand Firm in the Face of US Pressures

Sima Shine

The Iranian regime is waging a campaign on the diplomatic, economic, and nuclear fronts as it confronts the Trump administration's "maximum pressure" policy. The Iranian policy, dubbed "maximum resistance" by the regime, centers on the refusal to meet Trump and resume negotiations before the sanctions imposed on Tehran by Washington are lifted. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif is conducting a series of political visits to many countries in defiance of the sanctions imposed on him by Washington. In the economic sphere, Iran has signed agreements in principle in recent months on expanding trade, mainly with neighboring countries. But in contending with the Trump policy, Iran's focus is on a gradual erosion of Iran’s commitment to the nuclear agreement. Two stages of deal-violation have already been implemented, and on September 6 Tehran will likely announce a third step, which may include enriching uranium to higher levels (perhaps even 20 percent) and activating advanced centrifuges for enrichment at greater volumes, as well as possible measures in other areas. These moves, Iran has emphasized, are easily reversed if the American sanctions are lifted. In any event, the Iranian conduct reflects a decision not to resume negotiations without clear gains in the sanctions realm - even if it is obvious to Tehran that ultimately the current crisis will not end without negotiations.

How Special Ops Could Exploit Information People Already Sharing Online

by Meghann Meyers 

The more personal data people voluntarily broadcast on the internet, the easier it becomes to track and analyze it. That’s the premise behind a line of research of interest to U.S. Special Operations Command.

Biometric data ― like fingerprints, voice recordings or even selfies ― could be the next frontier in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, according to “Special Operations Research Topics 2020,” released in August by the Joint Special Operations University Press at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.

“The opportunity for obtaining, analyzing and utilizing information voluntarily disseminated in the public domain is improving as people’s lives become increasingly intertwined with digital devices,” according to the guide, which presents about 40 topics the organization would like to look into.

The topics are meant to inspire students, fellows and faculty members at JSOU in their professional military education, according to a SOCOM spokeswoman…

Rising to the Climate Challenge, One Step at a Time

For the first time, democratic presidential candidates will engage with a live and televised audience organized for the sole purpose of discussing climate change. It is not the official debate that many in the climate community hoped for, but it is perhaps the most in-depth coverage of the issue in a presidential campaign to date. Each candidate will have to thread an impossibly small needle—illustrating a serious-enough plan to garner support from the progressive base while also achieving a level of practicality to assuage the fears of moderate voters. In truth, some candidates will not try to accomplish this feat. The progressive wing will simply suggest that the urgency of the problem requires more drastic solutions and that the consequences of not doing so are so great that there is no other choice than to act. They have a very valid point. The moderate wing will suggest that yes, bold action must be taken, but that it must be realistic and achievable lest more time be wasted. They are probably right, too.

The entire democratic field of contenders have put out plans to address climate change. They fall along spectrums of expense and ambition and involve different mixes of government and private-sector action, including by federal or local entities at the national or international levels. The campaign cycle has re-energized the broader public dialogue about climate change but oftentimes in the same old divisive ways (Do you support a carbon tax? Will you ban fracking? How much will you spend on the issue?). Here are four themes that deserve time and attention during this campaign cycle and our public policy debate on climate change more broadly:

On Russia, Macron Is Mistaken

James Nixey
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The French president was ostensibly the ‘least apologist’ candidate of those running in the first round of the 2016 elections. Compared to the Russian-funded Marine Le Pen on one end of the spectrum, and the radical leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon on the other, Macron seemed a model of moderation.

To the Kremlin, he must have been perceived as the least desirable candidate for its interests, which is why they hacked the servers of his party, En Marche, just prior to the vote in a last-ditch attempt to derail the campaign. Moscow need not have feared.

It all started so promisingly. Even though Vladimir Putin was a worryingly early visitor to France in Macron’s first weeks as president, the French leader seemed to possess some early backbone.

At the highly-symbolic venue of Château de Versailles, standing a metre away from his Russian counterpart at a press conference, he called out Russia Today and Sputnik as agents of influence and propaganda – an unusually bold stance considering heads of state are generally more inclined to diplomatic nicety over directness when meeting counterparts. It was also impressive considering the vast difference in experience between the two men.

Japan Seeks Record Military Budget for Eighth Year Running

By Roddy Howland-Jackson

In August, Japan’s Ministry of Defense proposed a 1.2% military spending increase in 2020, taking the annual budget to a record 5.32 trillion yen (about $50 billion). If approved, the budget would mark the eighth consecutive hike in military spending since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in 2012, a clear signal that Japan is slowly abandoning the pacifism of its postwar years.

The proposal comes during a period of increased tensions in the Asia-Pacific region. Rising military spending by its neighbors has driven alarm in Japan, with Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya announcing heightened maritime surveillance in mid-August. Japan is already one of the world's biggest military spenders, in spite of its constitution, which prohibits the ownership of weapons to attack other nations.

The new budget aims to expand Japanese defense capabilities and extend the range at which the military can operate. 116.3 billion yen will be invested in the development of ballistic missile defenses, with additional funds for two ground-based Aegis Ashore radar missile tracking stations.

Insurance Companies Are Fueling Ransomware Attacks

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Even when public agencies and companies hit by ransomware could recover their files on their own, insurers prefer to pay the ransom. Why? The attacks are good for business.

On June 24, the mayor and council of Lake City, Florida, gathered in an emergency session to decide how to resolve a ransomware attack that had locked the city’s computer files for the preceding fortnight. Following the Pledge of Allegiance, Mayor Stephen Witt led an invocation. “Our heavenly father,” Witt said, “we ask for your guidance today, that we do what’s best for our city and our community.”

Witt and the council members also sought guidance from City Manager Joseph Helfenberger. He recommended that the city allow its cyber insurer, Beazley, an underwriter at Lloyd’s of London, to pay the ransom of 42 bitcoin, then worth about $460,000. Lake City, which was covered for ransomware under its cyber-insurance policy, would only be responsible for a $10,000 deductible. In exchange for the ransom, the hacker would provide a key to unlock the files.

“If this process works, it would save the city substantially in both time and money,” Helfenberger told them.

US foreign aid is worth defending now more than ever

John R. Allen
Seeking solutions to tackle these trends and threats, I joined leaders from the U.S. development and foreign aid communities earlier this summer at the Brookings Blum Roundtable, or BBR. This year our focus was on “2020 and Beyond: Maintaining the bipartisan narrative on U.S. global development.

In attendance were heads of large humanitarian civil society organizations, aid innovators, and advocates for continued U.S. engagement in the world. It was a timely conversation. Just weeks after our roundtable, some of the participants helped stave off a move by the Trump administration to rescind up to $4 billion from the international affairs budget, working with bipartisan leadership on Capitol Hill to avoid the severe cuts.

While we can celebrate that we dodged the “budget axe” once again, the current U.S. administration will almost assuredly continue to favor transactional deals and brinksmanship over preserving America’s role as a transformational leader in foreign assistance. This dynamic was on full display during the G-7 summit in Biarritz as the President rattled leaders with bullying tweets, only to whipsaw again and signal that the door remains open for a U.S.-China trade deal.

10 Things You Didn't Know About Jim Mattis from His New Memoir 'Call Sign Chaos'

By Hope Hodge Seck
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Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is not talking about President Donald Trump in his new memoir "Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead," written with military author Bing West and released Monday.

But the book, styled as a three-part course in leadership tracing Mattis' 40-year career from Marine infantryman to head of U.S. Central Command, still delivers plenty of anecdotes and reflections that will satisfy admirers of the legendary general.

Some may find it too familiar: The book, which is jargon-heavy and prone to repeating phrases such as "doctrine is the last refuge of the unimaginative," riffs on speeches and letters from throughout Mattis' career (the letters are also reprinted in an appendix in the back for comparison) and enthusiastically reprises his greatest one-liners and slogans.

Of his two-year tenure as defense secretary under Trump that ended with his abrupt resignation in December, Mattis says simply, "I did as much as I could for as long as I could." He won't discuss a sitting president, he explains, although certain chapters of the book, such as the one on NATO and alliances, seem especially pointed given his public disagreement with the president on the topic.

Trouble for the Pentagon: The Troops Keep Packing On the Pounds

By Dave Philipps

The United States Navy has eliminated fried food and sugary drinks on its ships. It is keeping base gyms and fitness centers open all night. But its sailors keep getting fatter: A new Defense Department study found that 22 percent of them — roughly one in every five — now qualifies as obese.

The Navy’s figure is the highest, but the study found striking rises in obesity rates in the other armed services as well, even though the Pentagon has rolled out one strategy after another in recent years to try to keep the troops trim. And the increases have military leaders worried.

“Obesity negatively impacts physical performance and military readiness and is associated with long-term health problems such as hypertension, diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, and risk for all-cause mortality,” the study’s authors wrote in the August issue of the Defense Department’s Medical Surveillance Monthly Report, where the data was first published.

National Cybersecurity Organizations, Main Bodies and Responsibilities: Finland

Pentagon, NSA Prepare to Train AI-Powered Cyber Defenses

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The Pentagon’s newly minted artificial intelligence center is creating a framework for the military’s cybersecurity data, which will lay the foundation for AI-powered cyber defense tools. 

The Joint Artificial Intelligence Center is partnering with the National Security Agency, U.S. Cyber Command and dozens of Defense Department cybersecurity vendors to standardize data collection across the Pentagon’s sprawling IT ecosystem, according to Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, who leads the JAIC.

By creating a consistent process for curating, describing, sharing and storing information, the JAIC intends to create a trove of cyber data that could ultimately be used to train AI to monitor military networks for potential threats, Shanahan said Wednesday at the Billington Cybersecurity Summit.

Tech leaders in government and industry have long touted AI’s ability to monitor networks and detect suspicious behavior. But building those tools requires a lot of consistent training data, Shanahan said, and at least in the Defense Department, that data is hard to come by.