19 September 2019

Saudi oil refinery attack unites China with India, other Asia rivals worried about war

If anything could distract Asia’s top powers from sparring over disputed territory and crimes committed during World War II, it’s the need for cheap oil. Asia accounts for more than 70 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s crude exports, with the four biggest economies — China, Japan, India and South Korea — leading the pack, according to consultancy Wood Mackenzie. That leaves them particularly vulnerable to rising geopolitical tensions in the Middle East that are now causing global crude prices to soar.

With the U.S. already blaming Iran for a devastating drone strike on a key oil facility in Saudi Arabia, American allies in the region like Japan and South Korea — as well as emerging partners such as India — may find themselves under pressure to go along with whatever President Donald Trump decides to do next. But their main goal will be to ensure any response is measured.

“The governments of China, India, Japan and South Korea are certainly united in their dependence on Saudi exports and will wish to avoid any escalation of the crisis,” said Miha Hribernik, head of Asia Research at Verisk Maplecroft, which advises companies on risk.

Afghan Govt Firmly Focuses On Election For Now: Sediqqi

Presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said on Saturday that the Afghan government has suspended the peace efforts and has prioritized the election to make it happen on 28 September.

Mr. Sediqqi says there will be a “big change” in the country’s security within the next 10 days.

“Nothing will impede the presidential election from happening on September 28,” he said.

Mr. Sediqqi said the next government will work on peace which will be established after the presidential election.

He said that the Taliban is the main reason for cancelation of the peace negotiations and the group is still continuing its violence in Afghanistan.

“We believe that the key to the legitimacy of peace is in holding the [presidential] election and peace cannot be held without legitimacy,” he added.

Afghans Want Peace, but Not Like This

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KABUL—Sakhi Murad Sadar, his wife, and their two children were asleep in the family’s living room on Sept. 2 when a car bomb was detonated on the street nearby, ripping the house apart, smashing its windows, and almost killing the family.

The explosion, targeting an international residential and office compound across the street, killed at least 16 people and injured more than 100.

Yet despite a rise in violence in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul—and across the country—Sadar, 28, said that while he wants the violence to stop, he’s glad a long-negotiated peace deal between the Taliban and the United States fell through.

His view is shared by many who see the deal as unfit for a country that has seen decades of war and is on the verge of another presidential election, scheduled for Sept. 28, with President Ashraf Ghani seeking a second five-year term.

Two senior Taliban leaders killed by Afghan, US fighters


U.S. and Afghan forces launched joint airstrikes that killed two senior Taliban officials and nearly 40 members of the militant group, officials reported Sunday, according to Reuters.

A senior security official said the strikes, concentrated in northern and western Afghanistan on Saturday night, were intended to prevent planned Taliban attacks on the country’s security forces, which have escalated since talks broke down between the U.S. and the militant organization.

In a statement, the Afghan Ministry of Defense said the operation had killed Mawlavi Nooruddin, the Taliban’s shadow governor for Samangan province in northern Afghanistan, as well as four fighters in the Dara-e-Soof Payeen district, according to Reuters.

Separately, Mohibullah Mohib, a spokesperson for Farah provincial police in western Afghanistan, said Mullah Sayed Azim, the Taliban's shadow governor for Anar Dara district, had been killed in a raid.

Coming Soon to the United Nations: Chinese Leadership and Authoritarian Values

By Kristine Lee 

For many years, the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September was a centerpiece of U.S. global leadership. President Barack Obama’s administration, for example, used the occasion to galvanize international action on issues such as climate change and refugee resettlement.

But when presidents and prime ministers gather in New York starting this week, they will do so under the auspices of an organization that is undergoing a profound transformation. The United States has let go of the wheel, and Beijing stands poised to take hold of it.

Eager to expand its influence on the world stage in ways that serve its interests, China has placed considerable resources behind an effort to present its leadership at the UN as a nimbler, more dynamic alternative to that of the United States. In the past few years alone, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has positioned its officials to head up four of the UN’s 15 specialized agencies, while the United States leads only one. It has also advanced more than two dozen memorandums of understanding in support of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and mobilized a consortium of illiberal states to tamp down international criticism of its repression of ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang Province.

Beijing’s South China Sea Aggression Is a Warning to Taiwan


China’s increasingly assertive actions in the South China Sea have drawn plenty of attention. But its moves are important not just for Beijing’s ambitions there, but for its wider playbook for wielding power and influence in the Indo-Pacific—and what it might have in store for Taiwan.

Beijing has set out expansive territorial claims in its “nine-dash line,” which lays claim to virtually all the South China Sea, and advanced them through an integrated, whole-of-government approach, including the use of aggressive diplomacy and quasimilitary as well as military forces. China has also gradually militarized several islands it has occupied (despite an earlier promise to never do so), denounced the July 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling dismissing the validity of many of its claims, and demonstrated a willingness and ability to continue pressing these claims over the long term, regardless of any damage to its reputation. Significantly, it has also taken similar assertive actions to pursue other claims in the East China Sea, over the Senkaku Islands.

Observers typically characterize China’s approach to the South China Sea (and the East China Sea) as a “salami-slicing” or “gray-zone” strategy. By employing a series of incremental actions, none of which by itself justifies war, this strategy seeks to gradually change the status quo in China’s favor. Maj. Gen. Zhang Zhaozhong of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) once named it a “cabbage strategy” because it wraps the islands, like the concentric leaves of a cabbage, in successive layers of occupation formed by Chinese fishing boats, Chinese Coast Guard ships, and Chinese naval ships.

The Great Anti-China Tech Alliance

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In these early days of the regulatory renaissance for digital technologies, China, Europe, and the United States are competing over whose image will be most reflected in market-defining rules and norms. Despite new lows in the trans-Atlantic relationship in the era of Trump, Europe and the United States still have far more in common with each other about how technology should be developed, deployed, and regulated than they do with China. With China pulling into the pole position in this race, it is time for the United States and Europe to forge a digital governance alliance.

The regulatory renaissance has many dimensions: data protection, cybersecurity, antitrust, and tax, to name a few. European initiatives in these domains—such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and antitrust investigations of major technology platforms—are relatively notorious and reasonably well understood. Their effects also reverberate well beyond Europe: GDPR, for example, is rapidly becoming a model law for other governments to follow for their own privacy regulatory measures. Europe has similar ambitions with respect to artificial intelligence governance.

Dangerous Demographics: China's Population Problem Will Eclipse Its Ambitions

by Anthony Fensom

Government researchers have predicted that the world’s largest population will peak at 1.4 billion people in 2029. However, it will then experience an “unstoppable” decline that could see it drop to 1.36 billion by 2050, reducing the workforce by as much as 200 million.

Should fertility rates remain unchanged, then China could even shrink to 1.17 billion people by 2065, according to the China Academy of Social Sciences.

“From a theoretical point of view, the long-term population decline, especially when it is accompanied by a continuously aging population, is bound to cause very unfavorable social and economic consequences,” the report said.

Introduced to slow population growth, China’s one-child policy that included heavy fines, forced abortions and sterilizations proved far too successful, cutting the birth rate per family from 2.9 children in 1979 to 1.6 in 1995.

China strikes back

Munir Akram

THE Petroleum Economist of Sept 3 reported that China has agreed to invest up to $290 billion in the development of Iran’s oil, gas and petroleum sectors, and another $120bn in its transport and manufacturing infrastructure. This is a calculated kick aimed at America’s strategic objectives.

According to the report, China will have the first right of refusal on all projects in Iran and a 12 per cent guaranteed discount on energy imports from there. China will provide the “technology, systems, process ingredients and personnel required to complete such projects” including “up to 5,000 Chinese security personnel on the ground to protect Chinese projects….”

China’s agreement to so massively finance Iran’s development is an extension of its Belt and Road Initiative. It is also an ‘in your face’ response to America’s aggressive trade, technology and military moves against China over the last year. It will prick the balloon of the US strategy of ‘maximum pressure’ against Iran designed to bring the latter to its knees economically and oblige it to accept additional constraints on its nuclear and missile programs (beyond the JCPOA) and curb its politico-military ambitions in the Middle East. In entering this agreement, China has announced that it is not intimidated by the “secondary sanctions” which the US has threatened to impose on companies and countries which continue economic relations with Iran in defiance of America’s unilateral sanctions against Iran.

Attacks imperil Saudi image as reliable oil supplier

Attacks imperil Saudi image as reliable oil supplier Threats to Middle East crude production ‘highest since Gulf war’ An Aramco oil facility near al-Khurj area, just south of the Saudi capital Riyadh © AFP Share on Twitter (opens new window) Share on Facebook (opens new window) Share on LinkedIn (opens new window) Save David Sheppard and Anjli Raval in London SEPTEMBER 15, 2019Print this page25 The attacks on Saudi Arabia’s most important oil facility have exposed the soft underbelly of the global energy market, knocking out more than 5 per cent of global crude production and denting the kingdom’s reputation as the most reliable supplier of last resort. 

The immediate questions are just how long it will take Saudi Arabia to return to full capacity after the attacks and whether it can push its energy system hard enough in the meantime to make up most of the 5.7m barrels a day of lost supplies. Initial assessments are that it could take weeks to get back to full strength. Oil prices are expected to jump when markets reopen on Sunday night, even if the kingdom can tap into oil held in storage or ramp up spare production capacity. But the bigger issue for oil traders and the wider economy is whether Saudi Arabia’s image of invincibility has been shattered by the attack on the Abqaiq facility, which processes almost 70 per cent of crude output in the world’s largest oil exporter. It follows a string of other assaults on the kingdom’s energy infrastructure but is the most significant in almost 30 years. 

US Military Options in Iran

By George Friedman 

The United States has openly accused Iran of being behind the drone and cruise missile attacks on Saudi Arabia’s largest oil refinery. Now the question is what the United States will do in response.

The U.S. is in a difficult position. The attacks did not directly affect the U.S., save for the spike in oil prices, which actually helps the American oil industry. There is a temptation to let the attacks slip into history. But the United States has formed an anti-Iran alliance in which Saudi Arabia is a key (though weak) player. Saudi Arabia is under internal pressure from members of the royal family who oppose Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and low oil prices have undermined the kingdom’s political cohesion. Doing nothing would call the U.S.-sponsored coalition into question. Saudi Arabia is an important player in the Sunni Arab world – and that world is the main threat to Iranian expansion. Failing to respond to an Iranian attack on a vital Saudi facility could help Iran increase its power throughout the region. During Donald Trump’s presidency, the United States’ inclination has been to avoid initiating direct military action in favor of applying economic pressure instead. He has maneuvered to minimize and halt active military engagement. Military action against Iran, therefore, would both endanger the alliance structure and cut against U.S. strategy.

Middle East Mystery Theater: Who Attacked Saudi Arabia's Oil Supply?

by Matthew Petti 

The explosions tore apart a processing facility in Abqaiq, halting over half of Saudi Arabia’s daily oil exports and one twentieth of all oil production in the world. The price of both crude oil and consumer gasoline jumped by around 10 percent in the United States.

Houthi rebels in Yemen, whom Iran supports in the war against the Saudi-backed government, claimed to have carried out the attack with drones. If so, then the attack may have been retaliation for a Saudi airstrike on a Houthi prisoner of war camp two weeks ago, which killed dozens of people, observed Trita Parsi, executive vice president at The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

“U.S. media doesn’t cover this stuff, so whenever the Houthis do something, it sounds like an escalation,” Parsi told the National Interest.

Trump says he does not want war after attack on Saudi oil facilities

Steve Holland, Rania El Gamal

WASHINGTON/DUBAI (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday said it looked like Iran was behind attacks on oil plants in Saudi Arabia but stressed he did not want to go to war, as the attacks sent oil prices soaring and raised fears of a new Middle East conflict.

Iran has rejected U.S. charges it was behind the strikes on Saturday that damaged the world’s biggest crude-processing plant and triggered the largest jump in crude prices in decades.

Relations between the United States and Iran have deteriorated since Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear accord last year and reimposed sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic programs. Washington also wants to pressure Tehran to end its support of regional proxy forces, including in Yemen where Saudi forces have been fighting Iran-backed Houthis for four years.

The United States was still investigating if Iran was behind the Saudi strikes, Trump said, but “it’s certainly looking that way at this moment”.

Saudi oil attacks: US says intelligence shows Iran involved

Image copyrightUS GOVERNMENT / DIGITAL GLOBEImage captionOne of the US government's satellite images showing apparent damage at the world's biggest oil-processing facility

Threat Assessment High: The Attack on Saudi Arabia's Oil Supply Signals a New Danger

by Seth J. Frantzman

Abrazen attack on key Saudi Arabian oil facilities on September 14 marks an escalation in the drone wars that have tormented the kingdom over the past few months. The attack struck Abqaiq’s large Aramco oil-processing facility and another site at the Khurais oil field. This is the third round of long-range drone or cruise-missile attacks that have struck Saudi Arabia since May. They come in the context of rising tensions between the United States and Iran, as well as Israel and Hezbollah. Saturday’s attack is a game-changer in significance and its proximity to U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf point to a growing threat.

There was video footage of explosions, fire and smoke rising from Abqaiq in the early hours of September 14. Hours later the fires were under control and Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed that ten drones carried out the attack. Iranian media have highlighted the attack amid assertions that it cut half of Saudi oil capacity. Some of that output will be restored this week but restoring the damage and full capacity will take time. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran for the attack and claimed that Tehran was behind another one hundred attacks on Saudi Arabia. He didn’t specify that the attacks were mostly carried out by Iranian-allied Houthis in Yemen, but the implication is that they were. Pompeo said there was no evidence the September 14 attack came from Yemen—a key assertion that makes the Abqaiq attack a turning point. It means the assault may have come from closer to the oil fields, either from Iraq, directly from Iran or other sources. The investigation into the attack has cast a shadow over the Persian Gulf and ratcheting up U.S.-Iran tensions and representing a strategic escalation.

Gulf Wealth: All That Glitters Is Not Gold

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Little suggests that fabulously wealthy Gulf states and their Middle Eastern and North African beneficiaries have recognized what is perhaps the most important lesson of this year’s popular uprisings in Algeria and Sudan and the 2011 Arab revolts: All that glitters is not gold.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and to a lesser extent Kuwait have in the last decade invested billions of dollars in either reversing or hollowing out the revolts’ achievements in a bid to ensure that political change elsewhere in the region does not come to haunt them.

Qatar, in a counterintuitive strategy that has earned it the ire of the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, has sought to achieve the same goal by attempting to be on the right side of the region’s forces of change.

The irony is that both approaches, despite also involving huge investments at home in economic diversification, education, and healthcare, could produce the very result Gulf states seek to avoid: a region that has many of the trappings of 21st century knowledge states but that is incapable of catering to the aspirations of a youth bulge expected to annually increase the work force by a million people over the next 12 years.

Yes, Iran Was Behind the Saudi Oil Attack. Now What?

By Eli Lake – Bloomberg

Following the Houthi attack on Saturday on Saudi Aramco’s crude-oil processing facility, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an obvious and necessary point: Blame Iran.

It is obvious because the Houthi rebels in Yemen lack the drones, missiles or expertise to attack infrastructure inside Saudi Arabia. In 2018, a United Nations panel of experts on Yemen examined the debris of missiles fired from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen into Saudi Arabia and concluded there was high probability the weapons were shipped in components from Iran. As one Hezbollah commander told two George Washington University analysts in 2016: “Who do you think fires Tochka missiles into Saudi Arabia? It’s not the Houthis in their sandals, it’s us.” Hezbollah, of course, is a subsidiary of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Exploring the Complications of Counting Casualties After Natural Disasters

By Stephanie Miceli 

There are many gray areas when collecting data on how and why people died in a disaster.

A National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine study that is now underway aims to identify best practices for collecting, recording, and reporting death and illness data during and immediately after large-scale weather disasters.

Sometimes, it can take months or even years for a disaster death toll to become fully known. Death counts can include drowning, or factors like disruptions to medical care, infections from contaminated water, or an injury from hurricane-proofing the roof in the days before the storm.

Collecting this information is critical for informing recovery efforts and for preparing for the next disaster. However, the challenges have become ever apparent in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. First responders have to balance addressing people’s fundamental needs (food, water, shelter, and clothing) with counting fatalities - often in vast areas of devastation.

Integrating National Defense and Security Strategies to Win Complex Wars

Thomas A. Drohan

To win complex wars, we need to have better strategies than those of our opponents.

As a follow-on to The US National Security Strategy Needs Combined Effects, this paper shows how combinations of US National Security Strategy (NSS) effects can integrate US National Defense Strategy (NDS) objectives to create strategically significant advantages.

As in our previous combined-effects application to the National Security Strategy, we use the joint doctrinal language of operations design. Its basic logic is to align activities to produce effects to achieve objectives to realize goals.

We start by identifying key assumptions and logic in the National Defense Strategy.

Identifying Assumptions and Logic

Repeated throughout the NDS is the basic function of the Department of Defense (DoD): to deter war and protect security. This purpose makes sense from a mindset of, prepare for war. Today however, complex configurations of highly interactive systems, and the explosion of available tools in the hands of more actors seeking hostile ends, constitute epic change. Effectively, we are at war and peace all of the time. Neither national strategic document recognizes this fact.

Preventing Cold War II

Kemal Derviş

When world leaders gather in New York later this month for the annual United Nations General Assembly meetings, they will have much to discuss besides climate change and sustainable development. In particular, the escalating superpower rivalry between the United States and China poses a growing risk to the world. The U.N. must therefore make helping to avoid another Cold War central to its mission today.

Amid all the debate regarding the demise of multilateralism and the emergence of a G-2 world dominated by America and China, it is easy to forget that a similar system–featuring the U.S. and the Soviet Union – existed for decades after World War II. Only in the late 1970s and 1980s did it become evident that the Soviet system could not compete with market capitalism. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent Soviet collapse, that G-2 world gave way to a G-1+n order in which all other countries (n) were unable to rival America as the sole global superpower.

The ensuing quarter-century was a period of liberal rules-based multilateralism. Democratic and market-based capitalism had seemingly triumphed in what Francis Fukuyama called “the end of history.” The U.S. broadly championed this order–the 2003 Iraq War being a clear exception–and, like most countries, benefited enormously from globalization and the emergence of new complex value chains.

Pentagon’s Former Top Hacker Wants His Startup to Inject Some Silicon Valley into the Defense Industry


"If the nerds don’t show up and work on the mission of national defense...then I’m not sure who will," says Chris Lynch, of Rebellion Defense.

Chris Lynch arrived at the Pentagon as an exotic outsider — the department’s resident hoodie-wearer, as Ash Carter put it. Now he and two co-founders have a defense-software startup with its own exotic aims. 

Then-SecDef Carter hired Lynch in 2015 to start up the Defense Digital Service and infuse the Pentagon with some Silicon Valley-style agility and innovation. At DDS, Lynch attacked longstanding bottlenecks with a “SWAT team of hackers” who ran successful bug bounty programs and helped reshape IT policies — including helping DOD leaders to launch the gigantic Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, cloud program. 

Now Lynch, who left DDS in April, has launched Rebellion Defense, a D.C.-based firm that seeks to sell software for defense and national security applications. It has financial backing from an array of Silicon Valley stars, including former Google chairman Eric Schmidt and Founders Fund, the venture capital outfit of PayPal founder Peter Thiel and Facebook co-founder Sean Parker.

Trump says US locked and loaded in response to drone attack


WASHINGTON (AP) — Tensions are flaring in the Persian Gulf after President Donald Trump said the U.S. is “locked and loaded” to respond to a weekend drone assault on Saudi Arabia’s energy infrastructure that his aides blamed on Iran.

The attack, which halved the kingdom’s oil production and sent crude prices spiking , led Trump to authorize the release of U.S. strategic reserves should they be necessary to stabilize markets.

Trump said the U.S. had reason to believe it knew who was behind the attack his secretary of state had blamed on Iran the previous day and said his government was waiting to consult with the Saudis as to who they believe was behind the attack and “under what terms we would proceed!”

The tweets Sunday followed a National Security Council meeting at the White House and hours after U.S. officials offered what they said was proof that the attack was inconsistent with claims of responsibility by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels and instead pointed the finger directly at Tehran.

The Obama Administration Destroyed Libya. Could Trump Make It Worse?

by Ted Galen Carpenter
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The Western-created disaster in Libya continues to grow worse. Fighting between Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) and the even more misnamed Government of National Accord (GNA) has intensified in and around Tripoli. The LNA boasted on September 11 that its forces had routed troops of the Sarraj militia, a GNA ally, killing about two hundred of them. That total may be exaggerated, but there is no doubt that the situation has become increasingly violent and chaotic in Tripoli and other portions of Libya, with innocent civilians bearing the brunt of the suffering.

An article in Bloomberg News provides a succinct account of the poisonous fruits of the U.S.-led “humanitarian” military intervention in 2011. “Libya is enduring its worst violence since the 2011 NATO-backed ouster of Muammar el-Qaddafi, which ushered in years of instability that allowed Islamist radicals to thrive and turned the country into a hub for migrants destined to Europe. Haftar had launched the war as the United Nations was laying the ground for a political conference to unite the country. It is now more divided than ever.” The country has become the plaything not only of rival domestic factions but major Middle East powers, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Those regimes are waging a ruthless geopolitical competition, providing arms and in some cases even launching airstrikes on behalf of their preferred clients.

The economic policy at the heart of Europe is creaking

The health of the single market is vital for the future of Europe’s economy
Hello kitty, a Japanese cat-girl with a bright pink bow, is an unusual mascot for European integration. But in July the cartoon character inadvertently became one. Sanrio, Hello Kitty’s owner, admitted to the European Union (eu) that it had granted trademark licences to business partners on the condition each would sell the ensuing Hello Kitty merchandise—from school bags to pencil cases and duvet covers—only in specified eu states. This attempt to treat Europe as a disjointed bundle of countries breaches an article of economic faith: that the eu’s 28 members are one single market. The European Commission doled out a €6.2m ($6.8m) fine.

Interview with Alex Wellerstein on NUKEMAP VR

By Alex Wellerstein, John Krzyzaniak

It is no exaggeration to claim that, since it first went online in 2012, Alex Wellerstein’s original NUKEMAP tool has enabled millions of people all over the world to fathom the effects of a nuclear explosion. Now, together with fellow collaborators at the Stevens Institute of Technology, Wellerstein is working on a new project that combines the information base of NUKEMAP with the immersive first-person experience of virtual reality (VR). In this interview, Wellerstein discusses the first prototype of NUKEMAP VR, the possibilities it unlocks, and the feedback he has received so far.

John Krzyzaniak: What is NUKEMAP VR?

Alex Wellerstein: NUKEMAP VR is a collaboration between me and my colleague, Christopher Manzione, who is a virtual reality artist. Our aim is to translate some of the goals and even code of the NUKEMAP project into a virtual reality experience, in order to help people visualize and personalize the effects of a nuclear weapon.

It’s also an experiment to see whether or not this approach changes how people think about nuclear weapons. We have found that different types of representations of nuclear weapons can really change how people think of them. The effects of nuclear weapons are pretty hard for most people to conceptualize in their day-to-day life—for good reasons!

JK: Where did the idea come from?

Trump Tells the World He’s Desperate to Play Dealmaker

By Heather Hurlburt

President Trump has not given up on his idea that the week marking the 18th anniversary of 9/11 should also be let’s-make-deals-with-thugs week. He used a press availability on the afternoon of the anniversary to suggest that Kim Jong-un’s displeasure had been part of his thinking in firing national security adviser John Bolton. And apparently the last straw for Bolton was his strenuous objection to Trump’s plan for a secret Camp David summit with Taliban and Afghan leaders — and making the media aware of his position after the president announced the meeting’s existence and cancellation on Twitter Saturday night.

Trump has proclaimed peace talks with the Taliban “dead as far as I’m concerned,” and now seems to be full steam ahead on his efforts to meet Iranian leaders at the United Nations later this month and rekindle his Pyongyang bromance. But those regimes won’t forget the aborted Taliban summit — and the lessons it provided on Trump’s negotiating tactics — so easily.

Russian Population Decline in Spotlight Again

Daniel Shapiro and Natasha Yefimova-Trilling

Last week, in a meeting with top advisors, Russian President Vladimir Putin lamented the population decline in the country’s Far East, saying it falls in an “alarming, red zone.” While this sparsely populated region, which shares a border with far more densely populated Chinese provinces, may raise particularly acute demographic concerns for the Kremlin, the country’s population decline more broadly—in both absolute and relative terms—is once again vexing the Russian leadership. Earlier this year the U.N. Commission on Population and Development concluded that the world’s population will grow from 7.7 billion in 2019 to 9.7 billion by 2050, an increase of some 26 percent; Russia, meanwhile, was projected to lose a little over 10 million people, shrinking by about 7 percent from 145.9 million in 2019 to 135.8 million in 2050, according to the U.N.’s World Population Prospects. Indeed, Russia’s population has dropped for the first time in a decade: According to World Bank data, this happened between 2017 and 2018 and the year-on-year drop was about 19,000; according to official Russian population statistics—which have been recalculated for 2015 and beyond to include the population of Crimea after its annexation from Ukraine—the drop happened between the start of 2018 and 2019 and was close to 100,000. While estimates of the country’s population vary from source to source (official national statistics place it at 146.8 million), the current downward trend is now undisputed. Its causes include a declining birth rate, a relatively high mortality rate and a drop in inbound migration.

Birth Rate

How 5G will reinvent “working from home”

By Omar Abbosh Paul Nunes

It’s 10:00 am. Do you know where your employee is? No doubt they are working—somewhere.

Thanks to greatly improved internet connectivity and workforce applications, employees in an increasing number of professions can work just about anywhere they want—in their home, at a coffee shop, on a plane. And chances are they’re more productive and more engaged than they would be if they were in the office. They may even be planning to stay in their job longer because of their flexible work location. In 2017, Stanford economics professor Nicholas Bloom, in a TED Talk, went so far as to call work-from-home potentially as innovative as the driverless car.

Now, work-from-home is itself about to be disrupted, by the coming of 5G and its ability to enable virtual reality (VR) anywhere through what’s known as XR, the combination of extended, augmented, virtual, and mixed reality technologies. Fifth-generation (5G) communications networks, with their exponentially faster connection speeds, capacity, and communication response times (known as latency), will make possible an astonishing range of innovative new products and services.

After 6 Years in Exile, Edward Snowden Explains Himself

Edward Snowden, arguably the world’s most famous whistle-blower, is a man who lived behind plenty of pseudonyms before putting his true name to his truth-telling: When he was first communicating with the journalists who would reveal his top-secret NSA leaks, he used the names Citizenfour, Cincinnatus, and Verax—Latin for “truthful” and a knowing allusion to Julian Assange’s old hacker handle Mendax, the teller of lies.

But in his newly published memoir and manifesto, Permanent Record, Snowden describes other handles, albeit long-defunct ones: Shrike the Knight, Corwin the Bard, Belgarion the Smith, squ33ker the precocious kid asking amateur questions about chip compatibility on an early bulletin-board service. These were online videogame and forum personas, he writes, that as a teenager in the 1990s he’d acquire and jettison like T-shirts, assuming new identities on a whim, often to leave behind mistakes or embarrassing ideas he’d tried out in online conversations. Sometimes, he notes, he’d even use his new identity to attack his prior self, the better to disavow the ignoramus he’d been the week before.

The Promise and Perils of Technology in International Affairs

Technology has the potential to dramatically improve the quality of life for the world’s populations, but there are no guarantees it will. Concerns remain about everything from how the growing digital divide risks leaving large swathes of society—and the world—behind, to questions about the security of data and its potential weaponization. And, of course, there is the ongoing debate around how technology and information platforms can be used to undermine democratic processes, including elections.

To address these concerns, a panel of experts assembled by the United Nations recently called for “multistakeholder-ism” that would convene governments, members of civil society, academics, technology experts and the private sector in an attempt to develop norms and standards around these technologies. Even they could not agree on what this structure might specifically look like, though, underscoring how difficult it will be to ensure that technology is harnessed for everyone’s benefit.