29 October 2019

U.S. Meets China, Russia and Pakistan to Talk Peace in Afghanistan

by Kathy Gannon

Representatives of Russia, China, the United States and Pakistan have agreed that negotiation is the only road to peace in Afghanistan, including an early resumption of direct U.S. talks with the Taliban.

The day-long talks in Moscow on Friday came ahead of an intra-Afghan dialogue to be hosted by China. The Beijing talks, which initially were to be held next week, have been postponed, according to officials familiar with the talks. Speaking on condition they not be identified because of they were not authorized to talk about the subject, they said the postponement would be brief but no new date was given.

When the China talks take place, they will be the first face-to-face discussions between Afghan warring sides since July. Even President Ashraf Ghani, who has objected to any talks not led by his government, said late Friday that he would send representatives.

There has been no official announcement of a postponement, but previous intra-Afghan talks have been delayed while both sides squabbled over participants…

In 6 charts, see what Americans really think about US policy toward Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan

Shibley Telhami

The following is based on new findings from two consecutive University of Maryland Critical Issues Polls, conducted September 3-20, and October 4-10. The full results can be found here, and the methodology and questionnaire here.

1From the day President Trump announced his decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria, which we started measuring on October 7, support for his move was low, with only 27% of respondents saying they supported it (including fewer than half of Republicans). Within two days, as criticism mounted against the decision, including by GOP Senators such as Lindsey Graham, support for the decision declined further to 21%, and opposition increased from 42% to 46%. At the same time, it is notable that, overall, fewer than half of respondents opposed the move outright by the time we closed the poll on October 10, which was prior to the overwhelming bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives to oppose the Syria withdrawal.

How do you feel about the recently-announced move to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria?

The Middle East’s Lost Decades

By Maha Yahya 

Since the 9/11 attacks, the Arab world’s relative economic, social, and political underdevelopment has been a topic of near-constant international concern. In a landmark 2002 report, the UN Development Program (UNDP) concluded that Arab countries lagged behind much of the world in development indicators such as political freedom, scientific progress, and the rights of women. Under U.S. President George W. Bush, this analysis helped drive the “freedom agenda,” which aimed to democratize the Middle East—by force if necessary—in order to eradicate the underdevelopment and authoritarianism that some officials in Washington believed were the root causes of terrorism. Bush’s successor, Barack Obama, criticized one of the cornerstones of the freedom agenda—the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003—but he shared Bush’s diagnosis. In his first major foreign policy speech as president, delivered in Cairo in 2009, Obama called on Middle Eastern governments to make progress in democracy, religious freedom, gender equality, and “economic development and opportunity.” Implicit in his remarks was a widely shared view among Western observers of the Middle East: that the Arab world’s dysfunction was a product of social and political arrangements that thwarted human potential, furthered inequality, and favored a small elite to the detriment of the broader population.

During the first decade of this century, progress was slow. Under the surface, however, discontent was rising. This discontent culminated in the protests of 2010–11, commonly known as the Arab Spring. In countries as diverse as Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Tunisia, ordinary citizens took to the streets to challenge their authoritarian rulers and demand dignity, equality, and social justice. For a moment, it seemed as if change had finally arrived in the Middle East.

Inside Hong Kong’s Leaderless Uprising

By Magnus Ag

HONG KONG — The desperation and contempt of the authorities are rising after close to five months of mass demonstrations and escalating violence. 750 children have been arrested. Many young Hong Kongers face a terrifying choice: Continue a grotesquely uneven battle against a superior power or acknowledge that the rest of their lives are going to be without civil liberties, without democracy and under Beijing’s strict and brutal control.

“In 10 years, I hope Hong Kong is a place with freedom of democracy instead of more and more crackdowns. That is the reason for us to keep on our fight,” 23-year-old Joshua Wong, one of the pro-democracy movement’s most prominent young voices, told me over the phone on his way between meetings in another part of town

Wong started his political activism as a 15-year-old when his initiative brought 100,000 Hong Kongers to the streets. His defining role in the 2014 protests known as the Umbrella Movement is captured in the Netflix documentary Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower. 

Outfoxed and Outgunned: How China Routed the U.S. in a U.N. Agency

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In mid-January, Kevin Moley, the senior State Department official responsible for overseeing U.S. relations with the United Nations and other international organizations, issued a stern command to a gathering of visiting U.S. diplomats in Washington: China was on the rise, and America’s diplomatic corps needed to do everything in its power to thwart Beijing’s ambitions. 

China’s bid to place one of its own top officials at the head of the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which helps direct agricultural and food security policies worldwide, offered an early test, Moley noted. The election was still some five months away. But Moley, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, made clear that defeating China would become a key U.S. foreign-policy goal. 

“It was all China, China, China,” recalled a source familiar with the exchange. “‘We have to do anything to beat the Chinese,’” the source recalled Moley as saying.

Competition Without Catastrophe

By Kurt M. Campbell and Jake Sullivan 

The United States is in the midst of the most consequential rethinking of its foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. Although Washington remains bitterly divided on most issues, there is a growing consensus that the era of engagement with China has come to an unceremonious close. The debate now is over what comes next.

Like many debates throughout the history of U.S. foreign policy, this one has elements of both productive innovation and destructive demagoguery. Most observers can agree that, as the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy put it in 2018, “strategic competition” should animate the United States’ approach to Beijing going forward. But foreign policy frameworks beginning with the word “strategic” often raise more questions than they answer. “Strategic patience” reflects uncertainty about what to do and when. “Strategic ambiguity” reflects uncertainty about what to signal. And in this case, “strategic competition” reflects uncertainty about what that competition is over and what it means to win.

Xi's in Charge: What the Fourth Plenum Tells Us about Xi Jinping's Hold on Power

By Jude Blanchette

On October 24, the Political Bureau (Politburo) of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Central Committee announced that the long-awaited Fourth Plenum of the Nineteenth Party Congress would commence on October 28 and conclude four days later. Taking place nearly 600 days after previous plenary session—the longest gap since the start of the post-Mao era—the meeting comes amidst mounting internal and external challenges for the Party’s leadership including unrest in Hong Kong, the upcoming election in Taiwan, growing hostility with the United States, and an economy growing at the slowest pace in three decades. These difficulties have prompted speculation that Chinese leader Xi Jinping is facing a growing backlash amongst the Party elite, but the focus of the upcoming plenum on a key element of “Xi Jinping Thought” indicates that he remains firmly in power.

Q1: Who attends the plenum, and where is it held?

A1: As discussed in a previous post, a plenum (“plenary session”) is the mandated annual convening of the CCP’s Central Committee where the Politburo proposes policies for review or approval. Outside of the quinquennial Party congresses, a plenum is the most important meeting on Beijing’s political calendar, and for the general secretary of the CCP—Xi Jinping—they are critical moments for consolidating the “party line” on important political and economic policy debates.

‘No Regrets’: Hong Kong’s Protesters Test China’s Limits

By Andrew Jacobs and Tiffany May

HONG KONG — Fat Boy is a college dropout with a youthful blush of acne who excels at playing video games and lives with his mother. He is also a wily commander who leads a ragtag band of protesters willing to risk injury and arrest as they face off against the police.

Fat Boy oversees 50 or so Hong Kong protesters, ages 15 to 35, who focus their attacks on the police, government offices and Chinese-owned banks or other businesses they view as hostile to their movement. Their weapons — bricks, poles and Molotov cocktails — are often met with tear gas and rubber bullets. Occasionally, the police have responded with live fire.

They are part of a core of combative young agitators, garbed in black, who have come to define the antigovernment protests that have convulsed this semiautonomous territory for more than four months and that have posed a bold challenge to the authority of China’s ruling Communist Party.

TOBIAS ELLWOOD: China is winning in its war on the West from cyber space to the dark side of the moon

When the Chinese Communist Party celebrated its 70th birthday last month, it did so with a jaw-dropping display of armaments, the size and scale of which has never been seen before.

The vast parade in Tiananmen Square included 15,000 troops, 580 pieces of tracked, wheeled and towed weaponry, including dozens of DF-41s, the world's fastest and most powerful inter-continental missiles.

China's leaders are increasingly happy to show off their new military hardware, but that is only one part of the story.

The country's rise as a military superpower is matched by investment in diplomacy and technology – all backed by the vast power of its economy. For the People's Republic aims not merely to challenge the dominance of the US but to place itself at the heart of a global sphere of influence with different and disturbingly authoritarian rules. And it is time the West woke up.

A new study tracks the surge in Chinese loans to poor countries

Loan talks with Belarus; funding for bridges in Liberia; a possible gas project in Timor-Leste; accusations of exploitation in Tanzania; a corporate dispute in India; pledges to support the Rwandan private sector. And that was just the past few weeks. Such is the frenetic pace of China’s overseas lending that its outstanding loans have risen from almost nothing in 2000 to more than $700bn today. It is the world’s largest official creditor, more than twice as big as the World Bank and imf combined. Yet tracking the money is hard because of limited transparency in its disclosures.

A new study by Sebastian Horn and Christoph Trebesch of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy and Carmen Reinhart of Harvard University offers the most comprehensive picture yet of China’s official credit flows (including state-owned banks). It adds to concern about whether China has sowed the seeds for debt problems abroad. They find that nearly half of China’s lending to developing countries is “hidden”, in that neither the World Bank nor the imf has data on it.

Nowhere left to run: how the US finally caught up with Isis leader Baghdadi

by Martin Chulov 

Cornered in a dead-end tunnel, with a robot creeping towards him, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had nowhere left to run. Dogs barked in the darkness, a US soldier called out … and then came the thundering explosion that killed the world’s most wanted man – together with three terrified children he was using as human shields.

The US military finally caught up with the Islamic State leader in a remote hamlet of northwestern Syria, but not before he detonated a suicide vest strapped to his body as special forces troops disgorged from helicopters and crouched near the frugal stone house in which he was hiding.

Forensic specialists stood by, carrying samples of Baghdadi’s DNA and the means to compare it with remains at the scene. They quickly matched what they had with what soldiers retrieved from the underground blast. Two hours into the raid, the attackers were able to confirm that they had indeed found their man. Some soldiers secured what remained of Baghdadi in sealed bags, another group ushered 10 children to the home of a bewildered neighbour, and yet more carried bits and pieces from the home they had destroyed to eight waiting attack helicopters.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Is Dead (But His Legacy Lives on)

by Michael Rubin

Baghdadi’s death is certainly a victory, although it does not affirm Trump’s reasoning for his precipitous withdrawal from much of northeastern Syria nor his abandonment of the U.S. partnership with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Indeed, SDF commander Mazloum Abdi said in an email shortly after confirmation of Baghdadi’s death that the operation against the Islamic State leader was the result of five months’ “joint intelligence work” between the SDF and U.S. forces.

Nor does Baghdadi’s death mean the threat posed by the Islamic State is over.

In 2006, Matthew Philips—at the time a reporter for Newsweek (he currently is an editor at CNN)—wrote a contemptuous essay entitled “Bush’s New Word: ‘Caliphate’” in which he castigated the president for even citing the term. “The beauty of ‘caliphate’ is that no one but students of Islamic history have much more than a vague idea of what it means,” Philips wrote. Not only did the president err by dredging up a historical term with little relevance to the present day, he implied, but Bush was also wrong to ascribe a negative to a concept with roots in the golden age of Islam.

With Islamic State’s Al-Baghdadi Dead, Where Does Jihadist Terrorism Go? – Analysis

By Clint Watts*

(FPRI) — The complex heliborne raid occurring yesterday killed the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The long sought after terror leader’s death marks a milestone for the U.S. campaign to defeat the Islamic State, particularly at a time when the U.S. has precipitously drawn down its forces in Syria. What should we make of al-Baghdadi’s death?

How much does Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death matter?

The death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may be a bigger victory for the U.S. than the defeat of the Islamic State. Killing the Islamic State’s leader obviously offers a hard-won victory for the U.S. coalition which has chased the elusive leader for years. There had been more than a dozen claims of his demise in previous years and this decisive action will finally bring a close to this elusive terrorist leader’s legend.

But 18 years into the War on Terror, things have changed in terrorist circles. al-Baghdadi never reached the status of a Bin Laden, even though his terror group arguably achieved more than its forefather al Qaeda by declaring – and momentarily achieving – a caliphate. al-Baghdadi’s public presence has always been limited, as he was not particularly charismatic and in recent years had rarely been seen or heard from. Moreover, coalition pressure on the Islamic State allowed rival group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to gain in strength and in, recent times, outshine the Islamic State. Formerly known as Jabhat al Nusra, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham is al Qaeda’s group in Syria and is led by al-Baghdadi’s former deputy and long time rival Abu Mohammad al-Julani, who has seen a revival during the Islamic State’s retreat.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi killed himself during raid, U.S. says


Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, is dead, according to the White House. President Donald Trump announced Baghdadi’s death earlier today, saying “U.S. Special Operations forces executed a dangerous and daring nighttime raid into Northwestern Syria to accomplish this mission.” The Islamic State leader blew himself by igniting his suicide vest, “while a large number of Baghdadi’s fighters and companions” were also killed, Trump added.

Baghdadi was reportedly killed in Barisha, a somewhat surprising choice of hiding spot. Barisha is in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, not far from the Turkish border. Baghdadi’s jihadists rivals in Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and other groups control much of Idlib. HTS and its predecessor groups have been central to rivalry between the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Indeed, HTS regularly claims operations targeting Islamic State cells throughout Idlib province.

Baghdadi’s jihadist career began years before the rise of his self-declared caliphate.

Al-Baghdadi's Death a Blow, But IS Has Survived Other Losses

by Joseph Krauss

The death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi marks the demise of one of the most brutally effective jihadist leaders of modern times — a man who commanded tens of thousands of fighters from around the world, carved out a territorial caliphate in the Middle East and refined a horrific ideology that survives him.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced Sunday that al-Baghdadi died in a U.S. raid in Syria after he was chased into a tunnel with three of his children and set off a vest of explosives. IS lost its last foothold of territory earlier this year to U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces, but al-Baghdadi had continued to exhort remnants of the group to carry out attacks.

His death is a major blow, but the extremist group has survived the loss of previous leaders and military setbacks going back to the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq…

Trump and America Rightly Dance on Baghdadi's Grave, but the Fight Against Terror is Never Over

by Tiana Lowe 

In a stunning success for both President Trump and the nation at large, American forces killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Well, technically we didn't kill Baghdadi. After clearing out the slain terrorist's remaining compound in northwestern Syria, dozens of Americans from the Army Delta Force and Rangers chased him down to the end of a tunnel, where Baghdadi brought three of his children to use as human shields as he blew themselves up.

"He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way," the president told a safer nation today. "He died like a dog. He died like a coward."

The late-night raid, not unlike that of the successful raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound, was a targeted success, though one contingent on clandestine travel and the utmost secrecy. Trump first credited the Russians glowingly and Turks (slightly less so) for allowing American forces to make the hour-and-a-half-long flight to the compound despite not disclosing the purpose of the mission.

Lastly, earning tepid plaudits from the president was the one force that seemed to have deserved more, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. According to the U.S. officials, while the Turks did nothing — except as Trump noted, refuse to shoot down American aircraft — to assist the raid, the Syrian Democratic Forces had spent months providing intelligence on what they considered a joint mission with the U.S. The Syrian Democratic Forces' leader confirmed the reports and Trump's tenuous thanks…

RIP, Iran: Could the Regime Fall?

by Michael Rubin
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Iran and the United States are as close to direct conflict as they have been for three decades, since Operation Praying Mantis in 1988 which was, at the time, the largest surface naval engagement since World War II.

A lot of ink has been spilled and oxygen expended discussing the matter, some of it good and some of it simplistic. Here a few thoughts, informed by being lucky enough to spend close to seven months studying in the Islamic Republic while finishing a doctorate in philosophy on Iranian history. I worked on the Iran desk at the Pentagon during the George W. Bush administration, frequently visit the Persian Gulf, and have followed Iran almost continuously for a quarter century.

1) Pressure can work on Iran. There has been, for more than a decade, a curious line of argument that pressure upon Iran is counterproductive. The Century Foundation’s Dina Esfandiary, for example, tweeted that “#Iran won’t talk as pressure increases because it would be suicide for the government. They will talk when they can get something tangible in return for concessions.” And, using numbers of centrifuges as a metric, Wendy Sherman, an Obama administration negotiator, has repeatedly argued that conciliation trumps coercion on Iran.

Iran Is Losing the Middle East, Protests in Lebanon and Iraq Show

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In less than a month, demonstrations against corruption and a lack of economic reform erupted in both Iraq and Lebanon. In both countries, the unprecedented protests, which rocked Shiite towns and cities, have revealed that Iran’s system for exerting influence in the region failed. For the Shiite communities in Iraq and Lebanon, Tehran and its proxies have failed to translate military and political victories into a socioeconomic vision; simply put, Iran’s resistance narrative did not put food on the table.

Since the very beginning of the Islamic Revolution, the Iranian government and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have had a clear, long-term, and detailed policy on how to export its revolution to the region, mainly in countries with a substantial Shiite majority. Iran had been very patient and resilient in implementing its policy, accepting small defeats with eyes on the main goal: hegemony over Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen.

Russia Will Test Its Ability to Disconnect from the Internet

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Russia will test its internal RuNet network to see whether the country can function without the global internet, the Russian government announced Monday. The tests will begin after Nov. 1, recur at least annually, and possibly more frequently. It’s the latest move in a series of technical and policy steps intended to allow the Russian government to cut its citizens off from the rest of the world.

“On Monday, the government approved the provision on conducting exercises to ensure the stable, safe and holistic functioning of the Internet and public communications networks in the Russian Federation,” notes an article in D-Russia. (The original article is in Russian. We verified a translation with the help of a native Russian speaker.) “The exercises are held at the federal (in the territory of the Russian Federation) and regional (in the territory of one or more constituent entities of the Russian Federation) levels.” 

The word “holistic” shows that the exercises follow April’s passage of the sovereign internet law that will require all internet traffic in Russia to pass through official chokepoints, allowing the government to shut down outside access, block websites that they don’t like, and monitor traffic. 

25 years on, remembering the path to peace for Jordan and Israel

Bruce Riedel

The 1990s were a decade of intensive peace process negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbors. In Madrid and Oslo and Shepherdstown and Camp David, two American presidents tried to bring peace to the Middle East.

In the end it was mostly a failure, with one exception: the Jordan-Israel peace treaty of October 26, 1993. Twenty-five years ago, the treaty was signed in the Wadi Arava along the border between the two countries with President Bill Clinton as the witness. It has endured because it has strategic value to both countries and the United States.


The treaty is very much a derivative of the Oslo process. When the secret talks between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) were divulged in 1993, Jordan’s King Hussein felt betrayed. For years he had been secretly meeting with the Israelis to broker peace; now he discovered that they were secretly meeting with the Palestinians and making a deal without consulting him. The PLO, fellow Arabs, had not consulted the king either. He was devastated.U.S. President Bill Clinton looks on as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat shake hands after the signing of the Israeli-PLO peace accord at the White House in this September 13, 1993. 

The US no longer matters in Syria

Ranj Alaaldin

Turkey’s military incursion into northeast Syria last week set into motion a humanitarian crisis that was effectively enabled by the United States, after President Trump green-lit the Turkish operation and then withdrew 1,000 U.S. troops from the area. It constituted a betrayal of Syria’s Kurds, who have been critical to the war against jihadi groups like the Islamic State and have lost 11,000 fighters in the war effort against the jihadis.

Yesterday, Washington purportedly signed a ceasefire agreement with Ankara that requires the Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) to pull back from Turkey’s proposed 20-mile deep “safe zone” on its border. But it is an agreement that is underpinned by an extremely fragile foundation and premised on deeply flawed assumptions. Fundamentally, it assumes the U.S. still matters in Syria. It does not.

Fundamentally, [the ceasefire] assumes the U.S. still matters in Syria. It does not.

Although the agreement has been celebrated by the White House, the Turkish government has already dismissed the idea that it has agreed to a ceasefire. Turkey’s foreign minister has said the agreement merely results in a suspension of hostilities. Indeed, it is the Turkish government’s interpretation that is more appropriate: The provisions of the so-called ceasefire do not explicitly stipulate the scope of the area that will be under Turkish control, notwithstanding the fact that there are Russian and Syrian regime forces already present in the 20-mile zone announced by the U.S. administration.

No going back: How America and the Middle East can turn the page to a productive future

Hady Amr

Ever since President Trump abruptly decided to withdraw troops from northern Syria, there’s been growing debate about the role of America in the Middle East. And there should be. This is a region that about 400 million souls call home. And it’s right on Europe’s doorstep. If we’ve learned anything since 9/11, it should be that, as Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere….Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” In other words, anger on one side of the world can strike at the hearts and lives of us here in America.

So what injustices are making folks angry in the Middle East today?

From sea to shining sea (in this case from the Mediterranean to the Arabian seas), the Arab world — with few exceptions — either sees citizens rising up in protest, citizens who are suffering from government repression, or citizens living through civil war. Although each country is unique, the core complaints across them are some combination of poverty, corruption, and an absence of freedom.


The stress test: Japan in an era of great power competition

Richard C. Bush

With a dramatic power shift in the Indo-Pacific, the intensification of U.S.-China strategic rivalry, and uncertainty about the United States’ international role, Japan confronts a major stress test. How will Tokyo cope with an increasingly assertive China, an increasingly transactional approach to alliances in Washington, and a growing nuclear and missile capability in North Korea? Will it double down on the alliance with the United States to confront China’s provocations? Will it aim for greater independence in its foreign policy and expand military capabilities accordingly? Or will it seek some form of accommodation with China?

In September 2019, Brookings Vice President and Director of Foreign Policy Bruce Jones convened seven Brookings scholars and affiliates — Richard Bush, Lindsey Ford, Ryan Hass, Adam Liff, Michael O’Hanlon, Jonathan Pollack, and Mireya Solís — to discuss Japan’s present and future path in this era of great power competition. The edited transcript below reflects their assessment of the current state of Japanese strategic choices.

The highlights:

American decision-makers need to remember that the Japan alliance is an indispensable feature of America’s wider international strategy. The American forward presence in Japan supports U.S. national interests across the entire region and will be critical in addressing potential contingencies in the Korean Peninsula or the East or South China Seas, and perhaps even in the Middle East.

The Syrian Withdrawal: Where Things Stand

by James Dobbins and Jeffrey Martini

There are two distinct grounds to criticize President Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria.

One is the opening the withdrawal provides for Russia, along with the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the government of Iran, to displace the United States in eastern Syria.

The second criticism relates to the sudden and unprepared nature of the pullout, which abruptly left the Kurds—an American partner—to fend off a Turkish assault.

These errors are owed to the Trump administration's inability to transition from a military mission of defeating the ISIS terrorist group to a mission designed to forge a political accommodation in northeast Syria.

The American partnership with the Kurds was always transactional—the least bad of several alternatives. No other regional force was willing and able to work with the United States to eliminate the ISIS territorial base—its so-called caliphate.

Russia’s Unusual Role in the Global Order

Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has demonstrated that it has the capacity to destablize the international order, but not the capacity to fill the vacuum it is creating. Learn more when you explore WPR's coverage of Russia.

Russia occupies an unusual position on the world stage. Under President Vladimir Putin, Moscow has repeatedly demonstrated that it has the capacity to destabilize the international order, but not the capacity to fill the vacuum it is creating. While Russia lacks the military strength to challenge U.S. supremacy, no one—particularly not the NATO alliance—is ignoring its capabilities. Moscow’s use of arms sales and military engagements to build ties to countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America has also attracted attention. And its massive, and growing, exports of fossil fuels to Europe offers Russia additional leverage.

Even as Moscow maintains an outsized influence on the global stage, discontent is brewing at home. Putin has dominated the Russian political scene for more than two decades, but his popularity is waning amid a slowing economy and a deeply unpopular pension reform effort. That may open space for his long-suffering political opponents to call attention to the corruption and violence that have marked his tenure.

How Climate Change Will Help China And Russia Wage Hybrid War

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Increased refugee flows, weather threats, and declining food security will deepen tensions already being exploited to divide and weaken the U.S. and its allies.

The Democratic debate on 16 October featured a wide range of questions, including one about Ellen DeGeneres – but none about climate change. That’s a critical miss by Anderson Cooper and his fellow debate anchors, because as the irked contender Julián Castro pointed out after the debate, climate change is an existential threat. Americans and Europeans may not notice that existential threat yet, but they had better pay attention to it. Their adversaries could use climate change as a new front in hybrid warfare.

Consider the devastating fires in the Amazon. Soon after the G7 group offered Brazil $20 million to help fight the fires, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro turned it down, accusing them of treating his country “as if it were a colony” and blaming NGOs for having started the fires. The G7 looked weak, and the fires in the world’s green lung kept raging. Bolsonaro appears to have reached his rebellious stance on his own, but outside powers can exploit such grievances in combination with climate change.

These are the top 10 emerging technologies of 2019


Which of today's technologies will shape tomorrow's world? A new report compiled by the World Economic Forum reveals some of the breakthrough innovations that are expected to radically impact the global social and economic order.

"From income inequality to climate change, technology will play a critical role in finding solutions to all the challenges our world faces today," says Jeremy Jurgens, Chief Technology Officer at the World Economic Forum. "This year's emerging technologies demonstrate the rapid pace of human innovation and offer a glimpse into what a sustainable, inclusive future will look like."

Making the list involves more than promising major benefits to the world. The emerging technologies must positively disrupt the existing order, be attractive to investors and researchers, and expect to achieve considerable scale within the coming 5 years.

These are the top 10 emerging technologies for 2019:

1. Bioplastics for a circular economy

Microsoft Wins Massive JEDI Cloud Contract

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After months of speculation, intrigue, lawsuits, and presidential leaning-in, Microsoft has won the Pentagon’s $10 billion JEDI cloud storage contract, upsetting the presumed frontrunner Amazon Web Services. 

The outcome comes as a surprise to many observers who described Amazon as the almost-certain winner of the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, program. Amazon was considered by many to be the only qualified bidder because it had the largest enterprise cloud infrastructure and already had reached the necessary highest security level, known as Impact Level 6. 

Controversy has dogged the program from the beginning. Several competitors, led by Oracle, protested the Pentagon’s original requirements for the program, arguing that the rules favored Amazon over other, smaller providers. They even took their concerns directly to President Donald Trump, who has a well-known dislike for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. At one point, the president told then-Defense Secretary James Mattis to “screw” Amazon, according to a new book by a member of Mattis’s staff. In July, the president began to publicly question the competition; shortly thereafter, new Defense Secretary Mark Esper halted the program and launched a review. Just days ago, Esper unexpectedly announced he was recusing himself from the award decision because his son worked for IBM, a bidder that was eliminated in an early stage of the competition. 

Do microwave cones have a place in the counterdrone zone?

By: Kelsey D. Atherton

With a cone pointed at the sky extending from an uncannily familiar barrel, the form factor of the microwave weapon was unmistakable.

The Time Integrated Gigawatt Electromagnetic Response, or TIGER, developed by Leidos, made its public debut at the 2019 meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army. Melding the stylistic choices of a 1950s sci-fi reel with color schemes and lived reality of the forever war, Leidos bills the TIGER as part of a balanced counterdrone diet.

High-powered microwaves, as a directed energy weapon, sit between the signals-interference of a jammer and the physical damage of lasers or bullets.

As the militaries of the world adjust to a range of new drone threats, finding the best way to stop them means choosing from a set of incomplete options. This can include everything from ramming interceptors, special drone detectors, and infantry-carried directional jamming antennas, to name a few. Drones, especially small and cheap drones, have spurred such a variety of responses because their small size, low cost and remotely directed nature complicate traditional anti-air defenses.

Check Point Unveils 2020 Cyber-Security Predictions, Warns of New Cyber Cold War

Check Point Software Technologies has unveiled its cyber-security predictions for 2020. They reveal the major cyber incidents and technical developments that Check Point's researchers anticipate will impact our societies and businesses in the coming year and indicate the security strategies that will help both governments and private organizations to prevent these incidents causing widespread damage and disruption.

Global cyber-security predictions for 2020:

- A new cyber 'cold war': The new cold war is intensifying and taking place online as Western and Eastern powers increasingly separate their technologies and intelligence. The ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China and the decoupling of the two huge economies, is a clear sign. Cyber-attacks will increasingly be used as proxy conflicts between smaller countries, funded and enabled by large nations looking to consolidate and extend their spheres of influence, as seen in the recent cyber operations against Iran, following attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil facilities.

- Fake news 2.0 at the U.S. 2020 elections: The U.S. election in 2016 saw the beginning of AI-based propagation of fake news. Political adversaries made huge progress creating special teams that created and spread false stories to undermine support for their opponents. In the run-up to the 2020 elections, we can expect to see these activities in full effect: it's certain that overseas groups are already implementing plans to try and manipulate voters by illicit means.

Advisory: Turla group exploits Iranian APT to expand coverage of victims


The Turla group, also known as Waterbug or VENOMOUS BEAR, is suspected to be Russia-based. Turla uses a range of tools and techniques to target government, military, technology, energy and commercial organisations for the purposes of intelligence collection.

Previous advisories from the NCSC detailed Turla’s use of Neuron and Nautilus implants and an ASPX-based backdoor alongside the Snake rootkit. This document provides an update on the reported activity, with a particular focus on how those tools were used in the period leading up to, and following, the publication of those advisories.

Since those advisories were published, the NCSC, NSA and partner-shared analysis of additional victims and infrastructure determined the Neuron and Nautilus tools were very likely Iranian in origin. Those behind Neuron or Nautilus were almost certainly not aware of, or complicit with, Turla’s use of their implants.

After acquiring the tools – and the data needed to use them operationally – Turla first tested them against victims they had already compromised using their Snake toolkit, and then deployed the Iranian tools directly to additional victims. Turla sought to further their access into victims of interest by scanning for the presence of Iranian backdoors and attempting to use them to gain a foothold. The focus of this activity from Turla was largely in the Middle East, where the targeting interests of both Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) overlap.

War Is Not Over

By Tanisha M. Fazal and Paul Poast 

The political turmoil of recent years has largely disabused us of the notion that the world has reached some sort of utopian “end of history.” And yet it can still seem that ours is an unprecedented era of peace and progress. On the whole, humans today are living safer and more prosperous lives than their ancestors did. They suffer less cruelty and arbitrary violence. Above all, they seem far less likely to go to war. The incidence of war has been decreasing steadily, a growing consensus holds, with war between great powers becoming all but unthinkable and all types of war becoming more and more rare.

This optimistic narrative has influential backers in academia and politics. At the start of this decade, the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker devoted a voluminous book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, to the decrease of war and violence in modern times. Statistic after statistic pointed to the same conclusion: looked at from a high enough vantage point, violence is in decline after centuries of carnage, reshaping every aspect of our lives “from the waging of wars to the spanking of children.”