15 November 2019

North Koreans behind Indian nuclear plant hack


There is now compelling evidence that a shadowy cyber group from North Korea was behind the cyberattack on an Indian nuclear power plant as reported last week, Asia Times has learned. A detailed analysis by South Korean cybersecurity researcher Choi Sang-myeong of Seoul-based Issue Maker Lab shows North Korean fingerprints all over the attack.

Issue Maker Lab is a group of experts working in the cyber-security field, whose members have won commendations from South Korea’s Defense Ministry and taken part in conferences and events hosted by the (South) Korea Information and Security Agency. Much of the group’s research deals with North Korean capabilities. Choi leads the group as a founder and principal researcher.

Worryingly, the analysis also shows that the North Korean hackers have now been tasked with either disrupting atomic plants or stealing atomic technologies – for India is not only a nuclear power operator but also a nuclear-armed state. This is a major upgrade of North Korea’s cyberattack capabilities, which used to be deployed against civilian targets.

Top sources in the Indian government have confirmed to Asia Times that the hackers were trying to access information about India’s nuclear fuel yields at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant. India is known for its work on thorium-based reactors. Its nuclear program has deeply interlinked civilian and weapons projects.

India's doomed moon mission was hacked by North Korea, cyber experts believe

India's space agency was attacked by North Korean hackers while it was trying to land a spacecraft on the Moon, it is feared. 

Cyber experts said the Indian Space Research Organisation was one of five government agencies to come under attack. 

Employees are feared to have opened phishing emails from North Korean spammers, accidentally installing malware on to their systems.

Officials have denied that the cyber attack affected the Moon mission, which ended in failure after India lost contact with the spacecraft. 

However, the revelation is likely to cause further alarm just days after India's largest nuclear power plant admitted it had similarly been attacked. 

Blast-off: India's Chandrayaan-2 moon mission launches earlier this year. Cyber experts believe the space agency was hacked by North Korean spammers 

India: Igniting The Tinderbox In Manipur – Analysis

By Giriraj Bhattacharjee

On November 8, 2019, State Deputy Chief Minister Yumnam Joykumar Singh declared that the Naga peace deal in its current form was not be suitable for Manipur, as it only catered to Naga demands. On the other hand, the current administrative arrangements for the hills within Manipur caters to “…a mixed population of Nagas and Kukis”. Singh emphasised, “Manipur is different from other northeastern states like Meghalaya, which have homogenous populations. An autonomous council comprising only Naga’s will not work for Manipur.” Currently, Manipur’s Hill Districts are administered by Six Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) formed under the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Act, 1971 Chandel ADC, Churachandpur ADC, Sadar Hills ADC, Manipur North ADC, Tamenglong ADC and Ukhrul ADC.The rumour of a Territorial Council for the Nagas was reported after a ‘breakthrough’ was reached between the Government of India and Naga armed groups on October 31, 2019.

In an interview published on November 6, 2019, NNPG ‘co-convenor’ and ‘chairman’ of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Reformation (NSCN-R), W. Wangtin Naga, had disclosed that each of the Naga groups in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur would be governed by Territorial Councils. Wangtin Naga’s interview confirms earlier reports of submissions made by the Government’s interlocutor for Naga talks before the Parliamentary Standing Committee in 2018. The Interlocutor, R. N. Ravi, when questioned about the status of the framework agreement, had informed the members of the Committee that a “special status” would be offered to the Naga people by extending Article 371 (A) to Naga-inhabited areas.

Afghan president: 3 Taliban released for held US, Australian


KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday announced that his government has released three prominent Taliban figures in an effort to get the insurgents to free two university professors — an American and an Australian — they abducted three years ago.

At a press event broadcast live on state television, Ghani told the nation that the “conditional release” was a very hard decision he felt he had to make in the interest of the Afghan people.

The announcement comes at a sensitive time for Ghani, as President Donald Trump halted talks between the U.S. and the Taliban in September, after a particularly deadly spate of Taliban attacks, including a Kabul suicide bombing that killed a U.S. soldier. Also, the future of Ghani’s government is in doubt as the results from the Sept. 28 presidential elections have not been released yet. Preliminary results are expected on Thursday.

The three members of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network that Ghani said were being released include Anas Haqqani, Haji Mali Khan and Hafiz Rashid. Ghani added that they are being released “conditionally in exchange” for the two professors.

By mid-afternoon, no visuals had emerged of the three figures. It was not immediately clear if they were still in Afghanistan, on their way or had already been sent — for example — to Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office.

Will China Confront a Revolution of Rising Expectations?


Amid much discussion of the challenges facing the Chinese economy, the line-up of usual suspects typically excludes the most worrying scenario of all: popular unrest. While skeptics would contend that widespread protest against the regime and its policies is unlikely, events elsewhere suggest that China is not immune.

ZURICH – For over a decade, China has accounted for a quarter or more of global economic growth. With its economy currently navigating a rough patch, the question is whether this impressive performance will persist.

Cassandras pointing to the possibility of a Chinese growth slowdown regularly invoke the specter of a middle-income trap. Now that China is no longer poor, they warn, growth rates will fall, just as they have in all but a handful countries that have reached the same income level. Growth is harder, they observe, when it can no longer be based on brute-force capital accumulation. Now, it must be based on innovation, which is difficult to bring about in an economy that is still centrally directed.

In Central Asia, Can China Really Compete With Russia?

By Ekaterina Zolotova

Chinese influence in Central Asia has increased markedly in recent years. For Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and even the relatively more closed-off Turkmenistan, China is becoming not only a major supplier of loans and investment but also a key trading partner. Some may interpret this as an indication that the influence of Central Asia’s historical benefactor, Russia, is diminishing. It seems, however, that Russia isn’t too alarmed by China’s growing influence in the region. That’s because, unlike China, Moscow’s interests in Central Asia are not just economic. Indeed, Russia has historical links to the region and security and political interests there, which will ensure that Moscow will be the dominant player in the region for years to come.

For Russia, maintaining influence in the post-Soviet Central Asian states is critical. These countries form a key buffer zone for Russia, separating the country from unstable areas of the Middle East and terrorist elements. Russia is concerned that terrorist and extremist influences could spread to its southern border and into the Caucasus through Central Asia and threaten to destabilize its southern and eastern regions.

Chinese Firms Can’t Avoid Being Party Tools

British Steel has often served as a window onto the prevailing political landscape in Britain as a commodity that once forged the empire became a symbol of national decline. As part of attempts at revival in 1988, the Conservatives turned the British Steel Corporation—originally the product of an ambitious nationalization scheme in 1967—into British Steel PLC as part of the great push toward privatization that still reverberates through the U.K.’s industries and infrastructure. On Monday morning it was announced that the Chinese conglomerate Jingye would rescue the stricken steelmaker, saving thousands of jobs—mainly in northern England. Underpinning this development is another seismic shift in British society—albeit one less noticed.

There’s no doubt the deal is good for British Steel’s workers in the depressed town of Scunthorpe, who have labored under uncertainty and, until recently, the flawed leadership of a private equity group. There is still caution and perhaps even a degree of skepticism about the promised 1.2 billion-pound investment, about $1.5 billion, but the future looks far brighter than it did only days earlier.

Yes, China Is Now a Major Modern Military Power

by Sebastien Roblin

On January 12, 2019, the Defense Intelligence Agency released an annual report highlighting the radical reorganization of China’s People’s Liberation Army to become faster-responding, more flexible and more lethal than ever before.

The PLA was formed in 1927 as a Communist revolutionary force to oppose the Nationalist Kuomintang government and (later) invading Japanese forces. Unlike Western militaries, the PLA remains loyal to the Chinese Communist Party, not a theoretical independent Chinese state. A cadre of political officers (commissars or zhengwei) still operate at every level of the command structure to ensure loyalty and manage personnel.

Even after securing the mainland in 1949 and sprouting Navy and Air Force branches, the PLA adhered to a defensive “People’s War Strategy” which assumed that technologically superior foreign invaders (the United States or Soviet Union) would need to be lured deep into Chinese territory to be worn down by guerilla warfare and superior numbers.

The Complicated Geopolitics of U.S. Oil Sanctions on Iran

Amy M. Jaffe

It is often said, perhaps with some hyperbole, that Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers was the best hope for conflict resolution in the Middle East. Its architect John Kerry argues instead that the 2015 deal’s limited parameter of closing Iran’s pathway to a nuclear weapon is sufficient on the merits. The Trump administration is taking a different view, focusing on Iran’s escalating threats to U.S. allies Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Those threats, which have included missile, drone, and cyberattacks on Saudi oil facilities, are looming large over the global economy because they are squarely influencing the volatility of the price of oil. One could argue that the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Iranian deal, referred to as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has injected an even higher degree of risk into oil markets, where traders now feel that the chances of Mideast conflict resolution are lower.

But, the Trump administration could argue otherwise. From its perspective, the United States extended to Iran $6 billion in frozen funds, opened the door for a flood of spare parts to be shipped into Iran’s suffering oil and petrochemical sector, and looked the other way while European companies rushed in for commercial deals. In exchange, it’s true, Iran began to implement the terms of JCPOA, but as Secretary of State Pompeo laid out in a major speech on the subject, the nuclear deal has failed to turn down the heat on the wide range of conflicts plaguing the Mideast region.

The World Is Fighting More Than ISIS

By Jessica Stern

The death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, is profoundly important. He was a powerfully inspirational figure, more formidable and perhaps more evil than Osama bin Laden.

He was an Islamic scholar who claimed to be a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. He built on the apocalyptic ideology and extraordinary cruelty of his mentor, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq (the predecessor organization to ISIS).

Importantly, Mr. al-Baghdadi managed to recruit former Iraqi Baathist military and intelligence personnel, hugely strengthening his capacity for insurgency. And he took advantage of Syria’s civil war to create a first in the history of modern terrorism: a proto-state able to seize and control territory, amass possibly billions of dollars and organize a major military force.

Under Mr. al-Baghdadi’s leadership, ISIS became the richest and most powerful terrorist group in contemporary history.

He promised his global followers a five-star jihad — to include free housing, cars, even wives. His adherents flocked to his “caliphate” from all over the world, the most effective recruitment drive to a jihadi organization that the world has ever seen.

The Ayatollah’s Den of Espionage

By Maysam Behravesh

Forty years ago last week, a group called Muslim Students Following the Line of the Imam stormed the American embassy in Tehran and took its staff hostage. Iran’s new revolutionary government, under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, dubbed the embassy the “den of espionage.”

The ensuing hostage crisis cast a long shadow over Iran’s relations with the United States—one still visible today. Perhaps less remarked upon in Washington, however, is the lasting influence of the event and its symbolism on the Iranian government’s view of intelligence and counterintelligence.

From the time of the embassy takeover, the Islamic Republic would spend decades looking for spies and infiltrators wherever there was a strong trace of the West. The mentality, which revolutionary ideology served to bolster, was one that ultimately directed the suspicions of the security apparatus toward individuals and institutions associated with the elected components of the postrevolutionary state—the “republic” part of the Islamic Republic, which derived its power from mechanisms that looked uncomfortably similar to those that prevailed in Western democratic states.

Understanding Russia's Intervention in Syria

PDF file 0.5 MB 
Russia's 2015 military intervention in Syria's civil war took many by surprise and raised questions about the potential for similar actions in other conflicts outside of post-Soviet Eurasia. The authors of this report assess where and under what conditions Moscow could intervene again by analyzing the factors that drive Russian decisionmaking on intervention. In addition to the 2015 intervention in Syria, they examine four smaller-scale interventions in conflicts outside of Russia's immediate neighborhood: Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria itself before 2015.

The analysis demonstrates that Moscow's decision to intervene in Syria in 2015 resulted from an extraordinary confluence of political drivers and military conditions. This set of circumstances is very unlikely to be replicated elsewhere. Indeed, the drivers for an intervention on a scale comparable to the 2015 action in Syria are absent in any of the other three countries examined in the report. However, the other cases that were considered in this report suggest that the conditions for intervention short of direct, overt use of the military, but greater than mere diplomacy, are more commonplace: The conflict in question presents a high level of threat to Russian security (as in Afghanistan), promises a high level of geopolitical benefit for Moscow (as in Libya), or demonstrates moderate levels of both (as in Syria pre-2015). That threshold could plausibly be met in a variety of country settings, which suggests that there are likely to be more of these smaller-scale interventions in the future.

Iranian Stakes in Syria

Ephraim Kam

Against the backdrop of its military involvement in Syria, Iran has taken a series of steps since 2014 to reinforce its standing in Syria and Lebanon and enhance its military preparedness there, as well as that of its proxies – first and foremost Hezbollah. These steps are of two types. One consists of steps designed to influence Syria’s internal situation and bind it to Iran for the long term, including economic agreements on reconstruction, resettlement of Shiites in Syria, introduction of Iranian religious and cultural values into the country, and establishment of Syrian Shiite militias modeled on Hezbollah in Lebanon. These steps are of great importance to Israel because they entrench and empower Iran’s position close to Israel’s border. The second type is of even greater significance for Israel, because they are meant inter alia to amplify the direct Iranian threat against it. Steps include the construction of strategic axes, e.g., the improved land corridor through Iraq that connects Iran with Syria and Lebanon; the convergence of Iranian, Iraqi, and Syrian railroad tracks that will link the Persian Gulf with the Mediterranean; and the use of the Syrian seaport in Latakia, which will represent an Iranian foothold on the Mediterranean shore. Other steps of this type include the manufacture of high quality weapon systems for Hezbollah and their transfer to the organization. Any external entity trying to stop Iran’s penetration of the domestic Syrian arena will encounter great difficulty. At the same time, Iran has yet to find an effective response to Israel’s aerial attacks on Iranian and Shiite targets in Syria and Iraq aimed at blocking the construction of the land corridor. Nonetheless, Iran is liable to craft a response with enough deterrence to be of concern.There is no doubt that for the long term, Iran hopes that the military forces it sent to Syria remain there, including Hezbollah and other Shiite militia units, as well as the Revolutionary Guards and Quds Force personnel that oversee them. The ongoing Iranian/Shiite military presence in Syria is of great strategic importance to the Islamic Republic. First, and most importantly, while Bashar al-Assad’s regime may have stabilized, its survival is by no means guaranteed, and the Islamic State is liable to return and endanger Iran’s interests in Syria and Iraq. Therefore, leaving troops in Syria under Iranian command is intended to preserve and reinforce the Assad regime’s connection with Iran and its dependence on Tehran in future challenges to its stability. In addition, Iran seeks to protect its standing in and around Syria should the Assad regime be replaced.

The Road to Four Months That Changed the World

By George Friedman

Thirty years ago, on Nov. 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. This was the beginning of a period that would change the world. When the last remnants of the wall came down in November 1991, it began four months that transformed all that had gone before. On Dec. 31, 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist; then on Feb. 7, 1992, the Maastricht Treaty was signed, creating the European Union. Like 1918 or 1945, this four-month period marked the end of one era and the beginning of another. It is 30 years since the beginning of this transition and its meaning is only now becoming visible.

Turning Points of the 20th Century

Europe in the 20th century had four turning points. The first came in 1918 with the end of World War I. It was also the end of Imperial Europe. The German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman empires all collapsed after the war, and the British Empire was not far behind. Nations like Poland that had been buried within one or more empires emerged as independent republics, some for the first time in centuries. Some were forged together into multinational states, like Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia. The borders of others, like Hungary, were dramatically changed. Defeated Germany survived. Throughout Europe, the republican form of government took hold and, with it, supposedly liberal democracy. Emperors did not reemerge, but liberal democracy took hold only intermittently.

Europe on a Geopolitical Fault Line


MADRID – Two months ago, in his address to the United Nations General Assembly, UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed his fear that a “Great Fracture” could split the international order into two “separate and competing worlds,” one dominated by the United States and the other by China. His fear is not only justified; the fissure he dreads has already formed, and it is getting wider.

After Deng Xiaoping launched his “reform and opening up” policy in 1978, the conventional wisdom in the West was that China’s integration into the global economy would naturally bring about domestic social and political change. The end of the Cold War – an apparent victory for the US-led liberal international order – reinforced this belief, and the West largely pursued a policy of engagement with China. After China became a member of the World Trade Organization in 2001, this process accelerated, with Western companies and investment pouring into the country, and cheap manufactured products flowing out of it.

Spain’s Socialists Lose Their Electoral Gamble, as the Far-Right Vox Gains

Alana Moceri

MADRID—Spain returned to the polls Sunday for the fourth time in four years, and just six months since its last election. After giving the center-left Socialist Party, the leftist Podemos party and center-right party Ciudadanos, or Citizens, the opportunity to form a government in April, voters punished them this time around for failing to do so. The Socialists lost three seats in parliament, again falling short of a majority despite winning the most seats. Podemos lost seven seats and Ciudadanos a jaw-dropping 47, the biggest setback yet for the centrist upstarts. While voter turnout was about 5 percent less than in April, those that did vote gave the biggest boosts to the traditionally conservative Popular Party, which gained 22 more parliamentary seats, and the far-right Vox party, which more than doubled its seats from 24 to 52, making it the third-largest party in parliament.

Voters may have given the Socialist Party the most votes and therefore a second chance at governing, but this hollow victory came with an even more fractured and polarized party system and a much more complicated path to forming a government. No one can say that there won’t be another election in six months. ...

Russia Says It Used Autonomous Armed Strike Drones in a Wargame


Russia’s massive Tsentr-2019 wargame in September included a first: a test of small drones that found and bombed their targets with minimal human guidance, Russian newspaper Izvestia reported on Thursday.

The drones were 15-kg Orlan-10s, which reportedly can carry payloads of about six kilograms, unnamed officials told Izvestia. 

“During the attack, the drone destroys objects with the help of air bombs or special guided missiles placed on board in small containers. Video cameras make sure that the target is destroyed,” Izvestia reported, adding that the drones used radar and radio find the targets “autonomously, without resorting to other weapons systems.”

Russia has been using some of its 2,000 the Orlan-10 drones in Syria for years, apparently without arming them.

Observers noted the small size of the payload. 

“The Orlan-10 only has a maximum takeoff weight of around 33 pounds, which would suggest that whatever weapons it might be able to carry are quite small. It certainly calls into question Izvestia’s description of their new arsenal as including ‘special guided missiles,’”Joseph Trevithick wrote for The War Zone on Thursday. 

Nile Basin Water Wars: One Step Closer To An Agreement – OpEd

By Emily Palios

Earlier last month during the Sochi Summit, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi agreed to resume talks surrounding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD); a project that has increased tensions and hostilities between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan since the beginning of its construction in 2011. On November 6, Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry, Ethiopian foreign minister Gedu Andargachew, and Sudanese foreign minister Asma Mohamed Abdalla attended a meeting in Washington, with hopes of easing these tensions and encouraging cooperation, in order to reach decisions regarding how the dam will function and the impact it will have on the water supply of each country. The meeting was spearheaded by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, with US President Donald Trump and World Bank Group President David Malpass also in attendance and acting as mediators for the discussions.

America’s Feeble Indo-Pacific Strategy


US President Donald Trump's administration wants to build a rules-based and democracy-led order in the Indo-Pacific, but seems to have no idea how. If it doesn't find the answer soon, and imbue its Asia policy with strategic heft, constraining Chinese aggression will only become more difficult.

HANOI – With the global geopolitical center of gravity shifting toward Asia, a pluralistic, rules-based Indo-Pacific order is more important than ever, including for America’s own global standing. So it was good news when, two years ago, US President Donald Trump began touting a vision of a “free and open” Indo-Pacific, characterized by unimpeded trade flows, freedom of navigation, and respect for the rule of law, national sovereignty, and existing frontiers. Yet, far from realizing this vision, the United States has allowed Chinese expansionism in Asia to continue virtually unimpeded. This failure could not be more consequential.

As with former US President Barack Obama’s pivot to Asia, the Trump administration’s concept of a free and open Indo-Pacific hasn’t been translated into a clear policy approach with any real strategic heft. On the contrary, the US has continued to stand by while China has broken rules and conventions to expand its control over strategic territories, especially the South China Sea, where it has built and militarized artificial islands. China has redrawn the geopolitical map in that critical maritime trade corridor without incurring any international costs.

Space War Threats From China, Russia Getting New U.S. Assessment

Anthony Capaccio

The U.S. intelligence community is updating its assessment of space warfare capabilities of Russia and China as military commanders express concerns about advances in the adversaries’ ability to jam, ram or destroy satellites in orbit.

Air Force General John Hyten requested the National Intelligence Estimate before he left his prior command at the U.S. Strategic Command, and it “is being worked by the IC at this time,” said Lieutenant Colonel Christina Hoggatt, an Air Force spokeswoman. Hyten is now the U.S.’s No. 2 military officer.

The new U.S. Space Command will use the updated intelligence estimate “alongside current operations and critical information from our international, civil, and commercial partnerships, to identify and drive” future “training and acquisition requirements,” Hoggatt said.

The actual and potential threats of space wars were used in part to justify establishing the Space Command, a new Space Development Agency and possibly a sixth service branch that would be called the Space Force.

Douglas MacArthur Is One of America's Most Famous Generals. He's Also the Most Overrated


This Veteran’s Day, as we remember those men and women we’ve sent into battle, we should also take a moment to remember the fateful decisions, sometimes tragically bad ones, our commanders made that put our fighting forces directly and often needlessly in harm’s way.

In that dubious department, few generals in modern history come close to Douglas MacArthur.

From time to time, President Donald Trump (he who pleaded the bone spurs defense to avoid service in Vietnam) has rather audaciously taken it upon himself to grade various American military figures, past and present. Most recently, he made headlines by calling James Mattis, his own former Secretary of Defense, “the world’s most overrated general.” By contrast, during the 2016 campaign, Trump repeatedly declared that Douglas MacArthur was his “favorite general.” At rallies, Trump would invoke MacArthur’s name almost as though he were in direct communication with his ghost. “General MacArthur,” Trump said, “is spinning in his grave when he sees what we do.”

While it’s preposterous to think the president reads works of biography or military history, his proclaimed affinity for the so-called American Caesar makes perfect sense: Egomaniacs tend to admire other egomaniacs. It’s well known that MacArthur was an incorrigible gloryhound, a man infatuated with the vertical pronoun. He was brilliant, yes, but usually the first to admit it. He was incapable of admitting an error or taking responsibility when things went wrong—which they often did during his watch. He loved the trappings of power and stayed eternally vigilant to the micro-nuances of publicity. (If Twitter had been around during his time, he surely would have mastered it.) MacArthur refused to listen to inconvenient information, and he seldom cultivated or appreciated experts—he was the expert. It was said that he didn’t have a staff; he had a court.

U.S. Security Policy in the Trump Era Has Been Marked by Change—and Continuity

When President Donald Trump entered office under an “America First” banner, it seemed to herald a new era of U.S. isolationism. After almost three years into his term, though, the shifts in America’s military engagements have been less dramatic. Though their numbers are down, U.S. troops are still stationed in Afghanistan. And until recently, the Trump administration had left unchanged the strategy against the Islamic State that it inherited from its predecessor.

Nevertheless, Trump’s isolationist instincts have come into regular tension with his closest advisers, many of whom espouse a more traditional view of American power projection. This was never clearer than in December 2018, when Trump ignored his aides and announced his decision to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria, prompting then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other high-ranking officials to resign in protest. Trump subsequently softened his rhetoric, without definitively articulating a final policy, contributing to the sense of uncertainty over America’s security policymaking. The entire process was repeated in October, only this time the decision triggered not resignations, but outrage among even Trump’s closest Republican supporters in Congress.

Is Economic Winter Coming?


CHICAGO – What could trigger a recession in the United States? In the past, a tightening labor market after a period of expansion served as an early warning sign. Workers would become more difficult to find, wages would start climbing, corporate profit margins would tend to shrink, and firms would start raising prices. Fearing inflation, the central bank would then raise interest rates, which in turn would depress corporate investment and spur layoffs.

At this point, aggregate demand would fall as consumers, fearing for their jobs, reduced their spending. Corporate inventories would then rise, and production would be cut further. Growth would slow significantly, signaling the beginning of a recession. This cycle would then be followed by a recovery. After firms worked down their inventories, they would start producing more goods again; and once inflation had abated, the central bank would cut interest rates to boost demand.

But this description seems to apply to a bygone era. Because inflation is now persistently muted, it is no longer a reliable trigger for interest-rate hikes and the slowdowns that followed. More recent recessions have been precipitated instead by financial excesses accumulated during the expansion. In 2001, the excess was in stock-price growth during the dot-com boom; in 2007-2008, it was in financial-sector leverage following the subprime mortgage boom. And while rate hikes by the US Federal Reserve preceded these recessions, they were not responses to above-target inflation, but rather attempts to normalize monetary policy before inflation actually took off.

Automation, work, and skills: what do we know?

Marcus Casey and Sarah Nzau

What do we really know about how technology will impact employment? Which workers will be impacted most, both in terms of class and gender? What role can retraining play? These questions are addressed in a new series of three academic papers on automation published by the Future of the Middle Class Initiative (FMCi) here at Brookings.

Research Assistant - Center for Children and FamiliesConcerns about the impact of technological change on jobs, wages, and the economic security of workers are not new. Most major technological advances cause social disruptions that can often be painful for impacted workers and communities. While the long arc of history has shown that, by and large, past technological change has us wealthier and more productive, it is important to consider both the needs of people potentially harmed in the interim and potential policy choices that can mitigate the harm.

These issues are particularly salient today. Advanced robotics and other automating technologies in concert with the emergence of human-mimicking artificial intelligence (AI) protocols both have the potential to raise the productivity of workers whose skills complement them well, but also to displace workers for whom their skillset competes. While almost all jobs are likely to change to at least some degree, with a reorganization of the tasks contained within them, research suggests that concerns about widespread loss of jobs are overblown. But an important caveat is that many middle – skill jobs that pay decent wages and benefits are particularly at risk of being displaced.

Can Chipmunks Defeat Tigers?

James Andrew Lewis

Assertions that states have lost their monopoly on the use of force, at least in cyberspace, are charmingly naïve (when not driven by ulterior motives). The accuracy of these assertions depends on the existence of certain international political conditions, the most important of which is that the tigers will accept and be bound by rules that give the chipmunks equal footing in a contest. But a state not bound by the rule of law does not suffer the involvement of private actors or the multi-stakeholder community lightly.

Nonstate actors have grown in economic power—some of them immensely—and the revenues of the biggest U.S. and Chinese tech giants dwarf that of many nations. This economic strength is sometimes assumed to translate into political or military power. This has led to assertions that nonstate actors are as powerful as states, particularly in cyberspace. Usually, those who make this case have never experienced the range of destructive power available to a major state even without nuclear weapons. Email is not a weapon, and private actors are chipmunks when it comes to using force.

The High Stakes of the Coming Digital Currency War


Just as technology has disrupted media, politics, and business, it is on the verge of disrupting America’s ability to leverage faith in its currency to pursue its broader national interests. The real challenge for the United States isn't Facebook's proposed Libra; it's government-backed digital currencies like the one planned by China.

SOUTH BEND – Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was at least half right when he recently told the United States Congress that there is no US monopoly on regulation of next-generation payments technology. You may not like Facebook’s proposed Libra (pseudo) cryptocurrency, Zuckerberg implied, but a state-run Chinese digital currency with global ambitions is perhaps just a few months away, and you will probably like that even less.

Perhaps Zuckerberg went too far when he suggested that the imminent rise of a Chinese digital currency could undermine overall dollar dominance of global trade and finance – at least the large part that is legal, taxed, and regulated. In fact, US regulators have vast power not only over domestic entities but also over any financial firms that need access to dollar markets, as Europe recently learned to its dismay when the US forced European banks to comply with severe restrictions on doing business with Iran.

Diplomacy in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

The key question on the mind of policymakers now is whether Artificial Intelligence would be able to deliver on its promises instead of entering another season of scepticism and stagnation.

The quest for Artificial Intelligence (AI) has travelled through multiple “seasons of hope and despair” since the 1950s. The introduction of neural networks and deep learning in late 1990s has generated a new wave of interest in AI and growing optimism in the possibility of applying it to a wide range of activities, including diplomacy. The key question on the mind of policymakers now is whether AI would be able to deliver on its promises instead of entering another season of scepticism and stagnation. This paper evaluates the potential of IA to provide reliable assistance in areas of diplomatic interest such as in consular services, crisis management, public diplomacy and international negotiations, as well as the ratio between costs and contributions of AI applications to diplomatic work.

The term “artificial intelligence” was first coined by an American computer scientist, John McCarthy in 1956, who defined AI as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs”.1In basic terms, AI refers to the activity by which computers process large volumes of data using highly sophisticated algorithms to simulate human reasoning and/or behaviour.2 Russell & Norvig use these two dimensions (reasoning and behaviour) to group AI definitions according to the emphasis they place on thinking vs acting humanly. 3

How 'Economy of Force' warfare works and why Trump should use it

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death this week was an ongoing argument for continuing economy of force operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan, and that is something that President Trump should be emphasizing rather than using the term “endless wars.” Economy of Force is a principle of war that is not well understood. It means using the least possible manpower, firepower and risk to achieve military ends. The United States has been doing that successfully in the ongoing war on ISIS for several years. Mr. Trump’s core supporters who think that this means endless wars are misinformed. When you have an enemy that can’t be destroyed by conventional means, you employ economy of force to wear him down.

The British did this successfully against Napoleon in the events leading up to the Battle of Waterloo and the French emperor’s final defeat. ISIS and al Qaeda in their worldwide campaign of terror have failed in their objectives of creating safe havens from which to launch 9/11-type attacks in the West. Similarly, the United States has used economy of force to prevent the Taliban from re-creating radical Islamist strongholds in Afghanistan where it and ISIS are being forced to wage war against each other — thus, reducing the effectiveness of both. The majority of the ground fighting has been done by allies backed up with American support. The very small numbers of American troops waging these economy of force campaigns are highly trained professionals, and this is infinitely less expensive than trying to conduct all-out war with whole armies and fleets engaged. Mr. Trump would be better served by explaining economy of force to his base in terms of money and manpower saved than to engage in ill-conceived unilateral withdrawals.

The Slow-Boil Revolt

Here is the unenviable calculation retired senior military officials must make in this politically unprecedented moment: Say nothing as norms shatter around you, and you’re implicitly enabling a president who some of your former colleagues believe is threatening national security. Speak up, and you risk destroying the balance of power that protects American democracy. 

“For the U.S. military, being apolitical is a critical element of civilian control of the military—an absolute in a democracy,” the retired four-star general Joseph Dunford told us in his first extensive comments since leaving active duty. “The alternative is a military dictatorship.”

Dunford, who served as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff until this fall, suggests a choice that is uncomplicated. But he did feel compelled to speak out last month, when he publicly defended Alexander Vindman, the White House Ukraine specialist and a witness in the impeachment inquiry, after attacks on Vindman’s character and loyalty in the right-wing media, later echoed by the president himself. He still maintains that he will not directly comment on politics—even as other retired senior military officers have taken the rare step of weighing in on policy matters, including in some cases calling for the president’s impeachment.

Facing Sanctions, Turkey's Defense Industry Goes to Plan B

Turkey is facing significant arms embargoes from its Western partners as a result of its military incursion into northeastern Syria. 

But while Ankara's increasingly acrimonious relationship with the West will hurt the Turkish defense sector, it will not cripple it.

In the main, Turkey will weather the storm because it is better placed to rely on its growing domestic defense industry for its military needs and because it will search for alternative defense partners. 

Turkey's defense industry has taken a blow, but it's certainly not down and out. Ankara's relationship with the European Union and many of its fellow NATO members has hit a new low following Turkey's military incursion into northeastern Syria. Outraged at the Turkish operation, a large number of Western states, including key arms exporters such as France, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom, suspended their arms exports to Turkey. Meanwhile, the United States, which supplies around 60 percent of Turkey's total arms imports — the most of any country — could also turn off the taps if Congress passes a series of anti-Turkey motions. The Turkish defense sector's current pain notwithstanding, the country is not bereft of options, suggesting it will ultimately manage to push through the tough obstacles by turning to alternative exporters and relying even more on its own defense industry.