30 April 2020

How Can Indians Secure ‘Direct’ Welfare in a Pandemic?

By Mohammad Hamza Farooqui and Avantika Shrivastava

The government of India last month promised a relief package of about $22.6 billion to weaken the blow from COVID-19. Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT) will be the mainstay mechanism of Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana’s disbursal announced as part of the package. As per a tweet by the Ministry of Finance on April 19, over $1.3 billion has already been deposited in the bank accounts of about 200 million women beneficiaries. Yet, with the coronavirus pandemic placing severe restrictions on people’s movement, and overstretching administrative capacities, the DBT machinery is likely to be tested. We explore the challenge of intended beneficiaries being able to safely access funds. 

A look at the DBT mechanism reveals its usefulness. Launched in 2013, DBT is new relative to other longstanding welfare programs and appears innovative in its use of e-governance measures. DBT transfers are usually in cash, in-kind, or in other forms such as honorariums and incentives (we will focus on cash-based transfers). As per the government’s website, in FY 2019-20, 427 schemes under 56 ministries made use of DBT (full list here). In total, $34 billion in funds were transferred via more than 4 billion transactions. During the country-wide lockdown, over $4.8 billion has been transferred (from March 24-April 17, 2020). 

Pakistan Gets Unexpected Economic Relief in a Time of Global Crisis Will Pakistan find some respite from the effects of COVID–19 outside its borders?

By Umair Jamal

For months, Pakistan has struggled to find an opportunity that could ease the country’s balance of payments crisis. From imposing a stricter tax regime to scaling up its interest rates, the current government has done it all to increase its revenue. Despite all these efforts to uplift the economy, the indicators of Pakistan’s economic growth have remained dismal. 

However, that may not be the case anymore if Pakistan’s economic planners realizes the significance of the opportunity that is being offered to them by global financial markets and other prospects emerging from the COVID-19 crisis. 

The COVID-19 crisis has sent shockwaves when it comes to the pandemic’s economic impact globally. Countries across the world have been forced to recalibrate their financial targets for the coming years as the majority of growth indicators hew negative. 

Pakistan too has been on the same path with a difference that the country didn’t have much to offer to its populace simply due to the existing economic constraints. However, with the COVID-19 situation developing, this means that the loans that the country worked hard to earn from international donors to avoid bankruptcy couldn’t be paid back according to negotiations done during tough circumstances

Missile Investments Are Needed to Meet China’s Nuclear Challenge

By Richard D. Fisher, Jr.

Prior to the COVID-19 global pandemic, President Donald Trump made clear his intention to engage China and Russia to seek new agreements limiting theater- and intercontinental-range nuclear missiles. 

However, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership’s long-standing refusal to join nuclear limitation negotiations, its People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) current overwhelming superiority in theater nuclear and nuclear capable systems, and its broad investments in new intercontinental nuclear systems and new strategic missile defenses, require that Washington also place a high priority on developing new strategic nuclear capabilities and making additional investments in missile defenses to counter this aggression. 

The logic for pursuing negotiations is compelling: there is a good chance that China is seeking nuclear parity, if not superiority, versus the United States. Yes of course, China regularly denies that it seeks a large strategic nuclear force. But perhaps such statements, combined with China’s abhorrence of nuclear transparency, reflect its deeper history of strategic deception. 


By Victor Davis Hanson 
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The world was a dangerous place before — and will be after — the coronavirus pandemic.

While Americans debate the proper ongoing response to the virus and argue over the infection’s origins, nature and trajectory, they may have tuned out other, often just as scary, news.

Many Americans are irate at China for its dishonest and lethal suppression of knowledge about the viral outbreak. But they may forget that China has other huge problems, too.

Its overseas brand is tarnished. Importers can never again be sure of the safety or reliability of Chinese exports. They will know only that their producer is a serial falsifier that is capable of anything to ensure power and profits.

Even China’s vaunted propaganda machine that slanders its critics as racists and xenophobes no longer works. The sheer number of countries that have suffered huge human and financial losses from Chinese lying won’t believe another word from Beijing.

How will China collect its Silk Road debts from now-bankrupt Asian and African countries? Most of them are accusing China of being racist and responsible for the global epidemic that wrecked the very economies from which China planned to harvest profits.

China was beginning to lose the trade war with the United States even before the virus struck. Americans think that China is huge, powerful and rich. In truth, Chinese per capita income is about a sixth of America’s.

The Coming China Backlash

by Richard Javad Heydarian

“Ageneration has died in just over two weeks. We’ve never seen anything like this and it just makes you cry,” lamented a funeral director in northern Italian city of Bergamo, the epicenter of a coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in recent months. As a testament to the scale of a historic tragedy unfolding at the heart of Europe, the city’s local newspaper, L’Eco di Bergamo, dedicated ten pages to obituaries on March 13. The head of respiratory unit of the city’s Hospital Papa Giovanni XXIII, Dr. Fabiano Di Marco, put it this way: “It’s like a war.” In fact, the Italian armed forces have been reportedly deployed to assist in the burial of countless victims across the country.

In an even more bizarre turn of events, China is now imposing strict restrictions on tourists and citizens returning from Europe and elsewhere. Instead of Beijing’s much-vaunted “One Belt, One Road,” what the world is confronting a “One Belt, One Plague” reality across the Eurasian landmass, stretching from China’s east coast to the Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean, if not the North Sea. The question, therefore is: What’s next? 

With clear evidence of systematic cover up by Chinese authorities in the early stages of the emerging pandemic, a growing number of people around the world are seeking criminal accountability. A recent expose by the Associated Press, based on internal Chinese documents, shows that for almost an entire week in mid-January Beijing withheld information even when the true extent of the pandemic threat became crystal clear. 

Battling Fake News and (In)Security during COVID-19


From the start of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic the global spread of the virus has been mirrored by a global “infodemic” of false information and fake news spread across new media platforms. Months before mobile phone masts were attacked in the UK, the French ministry of public health tried to refute a rumour that cocaine could cure the virus after this rumour spread across social media in France. This rapid emergence and spread of false information demonstrates worrying connections between public health, security and the prominence of fake news on social media that has long alarmed scholars. Survey results from IPSOS and BuzzFeed News showed that close to 75% of Americans surveyed believed fake news during the 2016 presidential election . While it is not possible to generalise from this specific context such publications demonstrate the dangerous persuasiveness of fake news during important political events. In the UK, during the Grenfell fire (as with the current 5G and COVID-19 conspiracy theories) celebrities and politicians have been means by which rumours have been spread. This is a remarkable volte-face within academia where new media platforms had initially been hailed as a panacea of democratisation and the spreading of liberal freedoms during incidents such as the Arab Spring and the early days of Wikileaks.

However, it has been shown that we should not take claims about the ability of social media to translate into direct action in the real world on face value. Rather than social media activity leading to direct, “real world” action scholars have argued for the inverse relationship – that it is real world action that causes a ripple effect across social media. From the perspective of security studies this has long been an important tension within the field between theories of the constructivist persuasion and the more “material” schools of thought. This tension can be expressed here in thinking further about the complexities of causality – do constructions of (in)security on social media lead to material forms of (in)security?

Gilpinian Realism and Peaceful Change: The Coming Sino-American Power Transition

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Realist interpretations of the coming United States (US)-China power transition have been dominated by Mearsheimer’s (2014b) offensive realist argument that China cannot rise peacefully. However, there has also been a resurgence in interest in Gilpin’s (1981) account of international political change, because his theory of hegemonic decline seems to aptly describe the US case, while his characterisation of rising powers can be applied to China. This essay defines ‘peaceful change’ as ‘a process whereby a hegemon cedes its dominant geopolitical role to a challenger in one or more regions’ in the absence of significant military conflict (Taliaferro, Lobell & Ripsman, 2018, p.283). The region concerned is the Asia-Pacific.

This essay is cautiously optimistic about prospects for peaceful change. In Section 1, it outlines Gilpin’s realist framework and distinguishes it from neorealists and roots it in classical realism. In Section 2, this essay argues that narratives of China’s ‘new assertiveness’, as either (i) a function of its increasing relative power or (ii) driven by rising nationalism and its increasing influence over Chinese foreign policy, are unconvincing. Rather, China is a reluctantly assertive power, acting understandably in response to unnecessary US encirclement. In Section 3, it is argued that the key to peaceful change is concessions made by the dominant power, in the form of retrenchment. The US suffers from hegemonic decline and imperial overstretch, and it is turning inwards, retreating from global leadership. Thus, imperatives for retrenchment are present, with two important qualifications that the essay will note. On balance, this essay concludes that the US is likely to cede influence to China in the Asia-Pacific, and that the historic cycle of hegemonic war will be broken.

How COVID-19 changes the game for biopharma in ChinaApril 2020 | Article

By Sizhe Chen, Franck Le Deu, Gaobo Zhou, and Josie 

The COVID-19 crisis is fundamentally changing how biopharmas operate in China. It has put short-term pressure on budgets, reduced treatment of non-COVID-19 patients, and undermined market fundamentals. Equally, it has revealed a number of new focus areas, amid expectations for rising investment and a supportive policy agenda as the economy recovers. The urgent task for biopharmas is to mitigate the short-term impacts of the outbreak and prepare for a reformed landscape once normality returns.

China is the world’s second largest pharmaceutical market and a strategic priority for most global players. The market is complex, and has become more so as the crisis has played out. Expectations for economic growth and healthcare spending have been revised downward and companies have struggled to deliver normal levels of patient impact. Product approvals have continued, but launches have faced challenges, reflecting fewer diagnoses as hospitals have seen constrained capacity and fewer patients. Chronic therapies have been affected to a lesser extent, with patients able to secure longer prescriptions and obtain medicines through retail pharmacies and online platforms.

Who Killed More: Hitler, Stalin, or Mao?

Ian Johnson
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Chairman Mao attending a military review in Beijing, China, 1967

In these pages nearly seven years ago, Timothy Snyder asked the provocative question: Who killed more, Hitler or Stalin? As useful as that exercise in moral rigor was, some think the question itself might have been slightly off. Instead, it should have included a third tyrant of the twentieth century, Chairman Mao. And not just that, but that Mao should have been the hands-down winner, with his ledger easily trumping the European dictators’.

While these questions can devolve into morbid pedantry, they raise moral questions that deserve a fresh look, especially as these months mark the sixtieth anniversary of the launch of Mao’s most infamous experiment in social engineering, the Great Leap Forward. It was this campaign that caused the deaths of tens of millions and catapulted Mao Zedong into the big league of twentieth-century murders.

But Mao’s mistakes are more than a chance to reflect on the past. They are also now part of a central debate in Xi Jinping’s China, where the Communist Party is renewing a long-standing battle to protect its legitimacy by limiting discussions of Mao.

The immediate catalyst for the Great Leap Forward took place in late 1957 when Mao visited Moscow for the grand celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the October Revolution (another interesting contrast to recent months, with discussion of its centenary stifled in Moscow and largely ignored in Beijing).

Great Power Relations: What Makes Powers Great and Why Do They Compete?

The US national security community is in the midst of a renewed examination of great power competition (GPC) and its role in strategy. GPC already predominates as a strategic term inside the Department of Defense (DOD) and it has rapidly spread in the national dialogue on foreign policy. Yet there remains notable ambiguity regarding what GPC actually implies. What does the concept mean? Why it is happening now? How can we answer these questions authoritatively? 

This paper aims to produce a more engaged debate on the subject of great power competition by considering what it means to be—and to compete as—a great power. 2 Most observers of international affairs make sense of the complexities of global politics with the help of theories that simplify the world and make it comprehensible. These theories are not just abstract concepts; they serve as frameworks that represent what factors analysts believe are most significant in describing how the world works. Consequently, they offer a valuable lens for us to think about GPC and assess its application to national strategy. Our objective in this paper is to elaborate on relevant parts of international relations (IR) theories on the structure of global power and thus inform leaders on how to understand great power relations and then develop and advance appropriate, effective, and coherent policies. Readers will benefit from an exploration of GPC and its relationship to the ways that policymakers interpret global events for four main reasons:

The Perfect Storm

by Dimitri K. Simes
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IF EVER the modern world faced a “perfect storm,” this is it. The combination of a deadly and highly infectious virus, an emerging worldwide economic depression, the collapse of global governance, and an absence of a coordinated and effective international response—all have contributed to a tragedy of historic magnitude, one that will not be easily overcome. While quarantines and self-isolation have helped mitigate the crisis, few believe that these measures alone can solve it, let alone provide a roadmap for the future.

How this storm will end remains unknown, beyond the virtual certainty that the world will eventually weather it. Eventually, a satisfactory remedy will emerge through some combination of vaccines, improved treatment methods, social distancing, and new mechanisms of international trade. Exactly when and how this solution will be arrived at is difficult, if not impossible, to predict. But it is clear that the internecine political feuding that has consumed America and diverted its attention from dangerous threats must come to a halt. The costs have been enormous.

Opinion – Coronavirus: Beyond Europe’s North-South Divide


As the coronavirus crisis unfolds, many European policy-makers and political observers have resorted to the traditional north-south divide and its related vocabulary to frame EU member states’ disagreements. Following the virtual European Council held in late March, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte highlighted differences of opinion between “a number of more northern and a number of southern countries along the known dividing lines”. Similarly, in a short op-ed the former European Commissioner and Prime Minister of Italy Mario Monti framed the debate on EU coronavirus response by depicting two geographical camps divided by profound issues. “Europe is divided and it’s north versus south, as in the 2012 financial crisis.” In Monti’s view, only understanding the other’s ideas and positions and avoiding stigmatisation in national debates can overcome this geographical divide.

Perhaps the clearest example of this frame can be found in Foreign Policy, presenting the debate as a “nasty north-south divide”, which “is tearing Europe apart”. This confrontational stance was reinforced through an image of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final, pitting Spain against the Netherlands. The football imagery sought to oversimplify the European clash: on one side of the pitch stand great-hearted but unproductive southerners, who call for more solidarity; on the other side are highly functional but poorly flexible northerners, arguing that rules and schemes matter more than good feelings. As in war, and more crucially in a world cup final, the story teaches us that there can be only one winner.

Opinion – Lessons America’s Adversaries Can Learn from the Covid-19 Pandemic


The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted many state systems, but it seems to have been particularly troublesome for Western democracies. These highlighted differences between state systems not only allows Western democracies a glimpse into their own potential shortfalls but it also allows the enemies of western democracies to learn some interesting strategic lessons. As the United States was hit particularly hard by the pandemic, this paper will explore a few of the key lessons America’s adversaries may be learning and the security dilemmas these lessons may pose for America in the future.

The Covid-19 crisis began in Wuhan, China in late December or early January. It quickly spread and began producing an initially reported death rate of about 3.5 percent in China. The death rate coupled with the rapid spread, frightened the global community. China acted quickly to the novel corona virus, quarantining Wuhan and many other affected areas. China was uniquely positioned as an autocratic regime to respond. China already utilized an invasive surveillance system that could identify almost any citizen and, to help enforce the quarantine, China used Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to monitor compliance further. Anyone caught breaking the quarantine was punished severely.

When It Comes to Global Governance, Should NGOs Be Inside or Outside the Tent?


The current “global governance architecture” has been described as including multi-lateral intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) such as the United Nations and its specialised agencies, the Bretton Woods organisations, and regional bodies such as the Council of Europe – together with national governments[1]. In recent years this architecture has been supplemented by a growing panoply of non-state actors – including Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

This enquiry will consider whether it is better for NGOs to operate on the ‘inside’, or the ‘outside’ of formal governance structures with specific reference to the process of governance and their own effectiveness, sustainability and mission achievement.

Firstly, our narrative arc will broadly define NGOs in terms of their values and functionality, before describing both the pros and cons for NGOs (and their beneficiaries) of proximal relationships with governance bodies. Having surveyed the options open to NGOs ‘within the tent’ of global governance, we shall then turn to an assessment of those organisations that choose to stay ‘outside’ in order to directly challenge the extant governance order. Finally, and briefly, we will consider those NGOs that occupy a middle ground, able to mobilise IGO and state resources, whilst remaining resistant to being strategically subsumed by their more powerful partners.

Opinion – Compromising US Energy Security for International Oil Market Stability


As the dust settles on the end of an oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, the United States of America (US) appears to have been politically outplayed. To assist in bringing about the end of the oil war, President Trump leveraged his existing relationships with both President Vladimir Putin and Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman in order to get them to meet and negotiate. Any agreement needed to stipulate new oil production targets, but had to be commensurate to global demand and membership status of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). In the past, President Trump has been criticised for his overly friendly relationships with the world’s autocrats and being out of step with previous American administrations, especially with regards to Russia and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. However, in the effort to end the oil price war, these unorthodox relationships appear to have aided President Trump. He did not act alone, however.

The American Congress revived the debate on the ‘No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act’ (NOPEC). This bill would allow the US Department of Justice to bring anti-trust legal action against OPEC countries and any affiliated business operating within the US. Together, and alongside an increasingly turbulent global energy market, President Trump had the soft power to bring Saudi Arabia and Russia to the negotiating table. However, while the oil price war came to an end, President Trump appears to have jeopardised America’s energy independence and placed US energy producers at the whims of the OPEC+ cartel and their price-fixing policies.

Where Trump Went Wrong on North Korea Nuclear Diplomacy

After more than two years at the forefront of the international agenda, North Korea denuclearization efforts have faded from view, leaving little progress to show for it. Critics say the Trump administration took a flawed approach to the negotiations—and the U.S. trade war with China didn’t help. Meanwhile, North Koreans continue to suffer.

Ending North Korea’s nuclearization efforts moved to the forefront of the international agenda soon after U.S. President Donald Trump took office in 2017, and stayed there for more than two years. But despite a period of improved relations between North and South Korea and two unprecedented face-to-face meetings between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, no clear progress was made toward denuclearizing North Korea.

Trump framed the meetings and his personal relationship with Kim as a promising start to a potential breakthrough, and more recently claimed that he single-handedly avoided war with North Korea. But critics point to the lack of headway in the failed talks, which they blame on the Trump administration’s flawed approach to the negotiations. For his part, Kim has refused to even begin drawing down the program that is essentially his regime’s only bargaining chip unless the international community drops its sanctions. Hard-liners in Washington, on the other hand, would like to see meaningful steps toward denuclearization before they lift any restrictions.

‘Instead of Coronavirus, the Hunger Will Kill Us.’ A Global Food Crisis Looms.

By Abdi Latif Dahir

NAIROBI, Kenya — In the largest slum in Kenya’s capital, people desperate to eat set off a stampede during a recent giveaway of flour and cooking oil, leaving scores injured and two people dead.

In India, thousands of workers are lining up twice a day for bread and fried vegetables to keep hunger at bay.

And across Colombia, poor households are hanging red clothing and flags from their windows and balconies as a sign that they are hungry.

“We don’t have any money, and now we need to survive,” said Pauline Karushi, who lost her job at a jewelry business in Nairobi, and lives in two rooms with her child and four other relatives. “That means not eating much.”

The coronavirus pandemic has brought hunger to millions of people around the world. National lockdowns and social distancing measures are drying up work and incomes, and are likely to disrupt agricultural production and supply routes — leaving millions to worry how they will get enough to eat.

Officials probe the threat of a coronavirus bioweapon

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Defense and intelligence officials are throwing more resources at the possibility that adversaries will deploy the virus against U.S. targets.

The Defense Department, overseen by Secretary Mark Esper, has recently shifted its focus toward monitoring the possibility of bad actors weaponizing the coronavirus. | Alex Brandon/AP Photo

The Pentagon and the intelligence community are more forcefully investigating the possibility that adversaries could use the novel coronavirus as a bioweapon, according to defense and intelligence officials, in a shift that reflects the national security apparatus’ evolving understanding of the virus and its risks.

Officials emphasized that the change does not mean they believe the virus was purposefully created to be weaponized—the intelligence community is still investigating the virus’ potential origins, but there is currently no hard intelligence or scientific evidence to support the theory that it spread from a lab in China, people briefed on the matter said.

Amid Rumors About Kim’s Health, What Would North Korea Look Like Without Him?

Steven Metz 

On April 15, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un failed to make his annual visit to Kumsusan Palace in Pyongyang to celebrate the birthday of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, who is interred there. In North Korea’s dynastic cult of personality, it was a shocking break from tradition, and sparked reports that Kim had undergone major heart surgery and might even be near death. .

How will COVID-19 change our schools in the long run?

Douglas N. Harris

In the midst of an unprecedented crisis, it can be hard to see more than a few days into the future. It’s as if we were wandering around in a dense (and deadly) fog.

Some commentators are predicting that this will change the way we live; one even predicts that it will “change us as a species.” Perhaps, but in what way? We will certainly remember this time for the rest of our lives. At least briefly, we will appreciate the smaller things in life a bit more. But will it really change anything fundamentally, for the long-term? If so, how?

People wondered the same after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Life here is defined as “before Katrina” and “after Katrina.” No one in New Orleans would claim that the city hasn’t changed. The city is better protected now from improved levees and other water management. The population is smaller (and whiter).

But when people suggest “things will never be the same,” they’re talking about something deeper, about how we live—about our habits, norms, and ways of living. For parents, teachers, and students, it’s possible that some aspects of schooling might not go back to the way they were before.


Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Crackdown Is Creating New Coronavirus Hotspots

Adam Isacson 

Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump has complained that on immigration, the United States has “the worst laws of any country in the world,” which constrain his anti-immigrant agenda at the border with Mexico. He hasn’t been able to convince Congress to change those laws, or even to pay for a wall along the southern border, even after instigating the longest government shutdown in history just to pressure Congress.

Trump’s administration has instead sought to chip away at immigration statutes and bend them almost to their breaking point, in order to make it harder for all immigrants, but primarily asylum-seekers, to enter the United States. This campaign, led by White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, has included controversial measures like “Remain in Mexico,” which forces 60,000 non-Mexican asylum-seekers to await their U.S. asylum hearings in Mexican border towns. Last summer, the administration banned asylum for anyone who traveled through another country and didn’t seek it there first. As a result of these policies, the rights of most individuals to seek asylum at the U.S. border have been effectively abrogated, pending the outcome of legal challenges that are slowly winding their way through the appeals system.

COVID-19 and climate: Your questions, our answers

Pablo Vieira, Stéphane Hallegatte, Ingrid-Gabriela Hoven, and Todd Stern

The year 2020 was always going to be critical for climate change, but the coronavirus pandemic dramatically altered the picture in some respects. Earlier this week, Brookings hosted a virtual event on COVID-19 and climate change, moderated by Samantha Gross, and featuring Brookings Senior Fellow Todd Stern, Ingrid-Gabriela Hoven of the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Stéphane Hallegatte of the World Bank, and Pablo Vieira of the NDC Partnership Support Unit. 

The panel explored what lessons might be learned from the global pandemic that may inform response to other global issues, such as climate change. 

We fielded several questions from viewers but didn’t have time to get to everyone. So here are answers to some of the questions we didn’t get a chance to answer. 

Question: Do you think people’s behavior will change as a result of the current pandemic in ways that positively or negatively impact the environment? 

Answer from Pablo Vieira: People will learn a lot from this experience, and it will demonstrate different ways in which behavioral changes can have a positive impact on the environment. People have been forced to master the art of meeting virtually, and ideally this will result in reduced travel and more working from home, which will have a permanent, positive impact. People are also temporarily experiencing cleaner air and water. Even though this is not the result of advancing clean solutions, it will at least show people how much their quality of life improves with clean air and water. People have also learned to live with a lot less, and hopefully this will result in a permanent reduction in the level of consumption. 

Reconceptualizing Cyber Power

1. Introduction

The internet has changed the way power is perceived, built and projected (1). It has changed the way countries make decisions, create policy and interact with one another. The physical world is increasingly enmeshed with cyberspace. This brings innovations, efficiencies and conveniences; however, the greater our dependence on cyberspace, the more our daily lives can be disrupted and our identities usurped by malicious actors online (2).

Cyber capabilities are increasingly woven into the traditional tools of statecraft (3). A country is able to enhance the power of its military and security organizations through cyber means. Indeed, non-state actors have been empowered too, with companies such as Microsoft and Google seeking to set global cybersecurity and artificial intelligence norms and principles (4).

It is not clear how exactly cyber has altered the global balance of power, but there is general agreement that the balance of power has been altered (5). Offensive cyber capabilities—in contrast to traditional tools wielded by states—are cheaper, harder to track and exploit vulnerabilities to inflict significant harm on the victim. The asymmetric nature of cyber capabilities means smaller countries can punch above their weight, exerting more influence using cyber means than with traditional tools (6). Despite this, the overall trend has been the consolidation of power in all its forms, traditional and cyber, in favor of traditionally more powerful players.

Militarization in the Age of the Pandemic Crisis


We live at a time when the terrors of life suggests the world has descended into darkness. The COVID-19 crisis has created a dystopian nightmare which floods our screens and media with images of fear. Bodies, doorknobs, cardboard packages, plastic bags, and the breath we exhale and anything else that offers the virus a resting place is comparable to a bomb ready to explode resulting in massive suffering and untold deaths. We can no longer shake hands, embrace our friends, use public transportation, sit in a coffee shop, or walk down the street without experiencing real anxiety and fear. We are told by politicians, media pundits, and others that everyday life has taken on the character of a war zone.

The metaphor of war has a deep sense of urgency and has a long rhetorical history in times of crisis. Militarization has become a central feature of the pandemic age and points to the dominance of warlike values in society. More specifically, Michael Geyer defines it as the ‘contradictory and tense social process in which civil society organizes itself for the production of violence’ (Geyer, 1989: 9). Geyer was writing about the militarization of Europe between 1914-1945, but his description seems even more relevant today. This is clear in the way right-wing politicians such as Trump promote the increasing militarization of language, public spaces, and bodies. Terms such as ‘war footing’, ‘mounting an assault’, and ‘rallying the troops’ have been normalized in the face of the pandemic crisis. At the same time, the language of war privileges the proliferation of surveillance capitalism, the defense of borders, and the suspension of civil liberties.

COVID-19 and military readiness: Preparing for the long game

Thomas Burke, Chesley Dycus, Michael E. O’Hanlon, Eric Reid, and Jessica Worst

With the saga over the U.S.S. Teddy Roosevelt aircraft carrier starting to fade from the headlines, a larger question about the American armed forces and COVID-19 remains. How will we keep our military combat-ready, and thus fully capable of deterrence globally, until a vaccine is available to our troops? It will also be crucial to sustain activities like the Coast Guard’s inspections of ships inbound for U.S. harbors, Central Command’s counterterrorism operations, and the key roles of the National Guard in responding to the crisis here at home.

To date, it is reasonable to say that the U.S. military has not been severely affected by the novel coronavirus. The preponderance of uniformed personnel and their families are young, which helps of course. On top of that, most of the military is based in reasonably remote parts of the country. So far, there would appear to be some 5,000 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 among some 1.3 million active-duty troops, with a death rate an order of magnitude less than in American society writ large.

Part of the success to date in keeping COVID-19 out of the ranks is due to the prudence of commanders around the country and the world, who have been given flexibility by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to take measures they deem appropriate. The armed forces have canceled or postponed large-scale exercises that bring together thousands of people in one concentrated locale. Social-distancing protocols have been instituted on bases. Basic training was temporarily suspended or scaled back as new screening and testing protocols were put in place, much of it is already ramping back up. Some services have also suspended certain “permanent change of station” (or PCS) moves. The naval services have been particularly careful not to let sailors and Marines go to sea if sick, since as we all know, ships are the perfect petri dishes for the virus’s spread.

29 April 2020

The public policy dilemma: There is indeed tension between lives and livelihoods

by Bibek Debroy
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No country has done universal testing for a proper random sample either. The ICMR has told us more than 75 per cent of Indian patients will be asymptomatic. Who do we test? Those who show symptoms, those who have been in contact with confirmed patients and those who suffer from severe respiratory diseases. Most countries do something similar.

There is risk and there is uncertainty. Since the days of Frank Knight, economists have differentiated between the two. Risk has a known probability distribution. For uncertainty, the probability distribution is unknown. COVID-19 makes us confront uncertainty, not risk. In either event, agents maximise expected payoffs. For risk, there is a given probability distribution that can be used by everyone. For uncertainty, there is a subjective probability distribution, which can, and does, vary from individual to individual.

How do I devise this subjective probability distribution? Through information and experience I already possess. There are various rationality assumptions used by economists. They are often violated. Otherwise, behavioural economics wouldn’t have taken off. Typically, given a situation, when your decision doesn’t agree with mine, I say you are irrational. However, with uncertainty, the problem may not be with rationality assumptions, but with differences in subjective probability distributions. Because of COVID-19, there is a certain risk of getting infected. Let’s call this the infection rate — total infections divided by the total population. Do I know what this infection rate is, for India, or for any other country for that matter? I don’t. I am not being pedantic. To the best of my knowledge, no country has done universal testing.

Coronavirus lockdown has given us a blank slate. We can write a new world when it lifts


Confronted with the finality of this statement, your instinctive reaction is likely to be: “We will miss those days!” Yet, in the very next breath, you are sure to realise that you don’t miss everything about ‘those days’ as there were things you wished would change. Alongside all the dislocation and the untold suffering, the coronavirus pandemic is thus an opportunity to create a new normal that is better than the old one.

As a society we will have to deal with the most demanding challenges of the here and the now: of containing the spread of the coronavirus; of having to protect hundreds of millions of people whose livelihoods are tenuous; of reviving an economy that has taken a historic battering; of rebuilding a fraying social harmony; and of negotiating the balance between individual liberty and the power of the state. We have no choice but to confront these challenges — with a Stoic mindset, as I wrote two weeks ago — but we also have an unprecedented opportunity in shaping the neighbourhood, village, city, country and the world we want to live in.

No, COVID-19 Isn’t Turning Europe Pro-China (Yet)

By Erik Brattberg and Philippe Le Corre

Ever since the World Health Organization declared Europe the new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic on March 13, China has seized the opportunity to provide relief to some of the worst-hit European countries as part of a concerted PR offensive aiming at polishing up the Communist Party’s image internationally and — above all — domestically. Although China’s aid offers have generally been welcomed by those leaders struggling to contain the outbreak, it is still far too early to conclude that Beijing is actually winning over any European hearts and minds. As Chinese diplomacy in Europe is becoming more brazen — and in some cases even aggressive — the opposite may well turn out to be true.

Already dubbed by some “mask diplomacy,” the fast Chinese response to the coronavirus outbreak in Europe is an undeniable fact. Since mid-March, planeloads of Chinese medical teams, masks, and ventilators have arrived at European airports. For example, on March 13, only two days after the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Italy reached 10,000, a team of Chinese medical staff from the Chinese Red Cross landed in Rome. Also on board the plane were 30 tons worth of coveted face masks and respirators in boxes draped with the Chinese flag.

COVID-19’s Other Virus: Targeting the Financial System


“The COVID-19 pandemic provides criminal opportunities on a scale likely to dwarf anything seen before. The speed at which criminals are devising and executing their schemes is truly breathtaking,” officials from the U.S. Secret Service and the FBI warned on April 14, 2020.

A day later, the U.S. government specifically declared that North Korea’s “malicious cyber activities threaten the United States and the broader international community and, in particular, pose a significant threat to the integrity and stability of the international financial system.”

Alarm bells should go off in capitals around the world as governments free up vast amounts of money to tackle the economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. The EU has dedicated €3.2 trillion, the U.S. Congress passed a $2 trillion stimulus package, and Japan is spending nearly $1 trillion.

Financial institutions are the distribution network to get funds to companies and citizens, but during the pandemic lockdown they are particularly vulnerable and present an even juicier target not just for North Korea but for cyber criminals in general.

State Department cables warned of safety issues at Wuhan lab studying bat coronaviruses

Josh Rogin

Two years before the novel coronavirus pandemic upended the world, U.S. Embassy officials visited a Chinese research facility in the city of Wuhan several times and sent two official warnings back to Washington about inadequate safety at the lab, which was conducting risky studies on coronaviruses from bats. The cables have fueled discussions inside the U.S. government about whether this or another Wuhan lab was the source of the virus — even though conclusive proof has yet to emerge.

Do Pandemics Promote Peace?

Barry R. Posen

As the novel coronavirus infects the globe, states compete for scientific and medical supplies and blame one another for the pandemic’s spread. Policy analysts have started asking whether such tensions could eventually erupt into military conflict. Has the pandemic increased or decreased the motive and opportunity of states to wage war?

War is a risky business, with potentially very high costs. The historian Geoffrey Blainey argued in The Causes of War that most wars share a common characteristic at their outset: optimism. The belligerents usually start out sanguine about their odds of military success. When elites on both or all sides are confident, they are more willing to take the plunge—and less likely to negotiate, because they think they will come out better by fighting. Peace, by contrast, is served by pessimism. Even one party’s pessimism can be helpful: that party will be more inclined to negotiate and even accept an unfavorable bargain in order to avoid war.

When one side gains a sudden and pronounced advantage, however, this de-escalatory logic can break down: the optimistic side will increase its demands faster than the pessimistic side can appease. Some analysts worry that something like this could happen in U.S.-Chinese relations as a result of the new coronavirus. The United States is experiencing a moment of domestic crisis. China, some fear, might see the pandemic as playing to its advantage and be tempted to throw its military weight around in the western Pacific.