11 January 2020

The Hambantota Port Deal: Myths and Realities

By Umesh Moramudali

In an interesting turn of events, newly elected Sri Lankan President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has raised concerns about the Hambantota port lease agreement with China, signed in 2017 by the previous government. During his very first interview as the newly elected president, Rajapaksa said that he will revisit the Hambantota port lease agreement and renegotiate it.

However, during a meeting with foreign correspondents based on Colombo, Rajapaksa clarified that his government is not hoping to amend the commercial terms of the agreement and is only looking at potential changes regarding the security of the port.

The Chinese government soon welcomed the statement from the Sri Lankan president. Issuing a statement, the Chinese embassy stressed that they respect the sovereignty of Sri Lanka and that the security of the port is in the hands of the Sri Lankan government and navy.

U.S.-China Trade War: Shifting To Importing From Other Nations

by Subhayu Bandyopadhyay

The recent U.S. tariffs on China are expected to reduce economic efficiency. First, the higher tariffs will render some of China’s exports to the U.S. uncompetitive, thus reducing imports. The move from a more efficient producer in China to a less efficient domestic source is an efficiency loss.

Second, the tariffs could lead to what trade economists refer to as “trade diversion." A less efficient producer in, say, Vietnam may become competitive relative to a more efficient Chinese producer due to tariffs, incentivizing the U.S. to switch imports from China to Vietnam. This would also be an efficiency loss for the U.S. as imports would be sourced from a less efficient nation.

While higher tariffs on China are dampening U.S.-China trade, effects on other nations through trade diversion are less clear. The remainder of this piece focuses on this issue.
Evidence of Trade Diversion

The figure below considers year-over-year changes in U.S. imports from China and two of its prominent neighboring nations - Taiwan and Vietnam - for the 2016-2019 period.

As We Enter the 2020s, How Many Aircraft Carriers Will China Have?

by Kyle Mizokami
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The People’s Liberation Army Navy—more commonly known outside of China as the Chinese Navy—is modernizing at a breakneck pace. Chinese shipbuilders have built more than one hundred warships in the past decade, a build rate outstripping the mighty U.S. Navy. Most importantly, China now has two aircraft carriers—Liaoning and a second ship under sea trials—and a third and possibly fourth ship under construction. With such a massive force under construction it’s worth asking: where does PLA naval aviation go from here?

For most of its modern history China has been the target of aircraft carriers, not an owner of one. The Imperial Japanese Navy’s carriers conducted strikes on the Chinese mainland in support of ground campaigns in the 1930s, strikes that went a long way toward honing the service’s legendary naval aviation record. U.S. naval power protected nationalist Chinese forces at the end of the Chinese Civil War, and U.S. Navy carriers conducted airstrikes on Chinese “volunteers” during the Korean War. In 1996 during the Third Taiwan Crisis, the United States deployed a carrier battle group near Taiwan as a sign of support against Chinese military actions. It could be fairly said that aircraft carriers made a significant impression on China.

Studies in deterrence: Why killing Iran’s Qasem Soleimani doesn’t do it

By John Krzyzaniak

Early Friday morning, Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force, was killed on the drive back from the international airport in Baghdad, Iraq, in a US drone strike authorized by President Trump.

Soleimani has been at the helm of the elite Quds Force since 1998, and it’s difficult to overstate his importance. In the Atlantic, Andrew Exum, former US deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy, wrote that “from a military and diplomatic perspective, Soleimani was Iran’s David Petraeus and Stan McChrystal and Brett McGurk all rolled into one”—referring to two former US military generals and a former special presidential envoy.

Some had speculated that Soleimani, given his popularity in Iran, might one day run for president. But that would have arguably been a demotion; as leader of the Quds Force, Soleimani reported directly to Iran’s Supreme Leader, commanded more than 10,000 troops, and essentially set Iran’s Middle East policy. Indeed, after the assassination, US Sen. Chris Murphy referred to Soleimani as the “second most powerful person in Iran.” In the Senator’s estimation, then, Soleimani ranked in power above the Iranian president, the speaker of the parliament, the head of the judiciary, and even the chief of staff of the armed forces in Iran.

The Mideast Just Turned More Dangerous

By Steven A. Cook

The killing in Baghdad of Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani escalates an already tense contest in Iraq between U.S. and Iran-backed forces, makes the battle against the Islamic State more difficult, and is likely to feed further regional upheaval.

Will the killing of Soleimani trigger broader U.S.-Iran clashes and more upheaval across the region?

It seems more than likely that the Iranians will respond to this attack. That said, they will not want to confront the United States head on, especially since they have a range of asymmetric options that Iran’s leaders can employ over time. For example, Iran could ramp up its nuclear program and target U.S. interests in Iraq relatively quickly. It could also stir up more violence in Afghanistan, where thousands of U.S. forces remain deployed, and target Americans abroad. Tehran is also active in the cyber world. Additionally, there is the possibility of violence along the Israeli-Lebanese border stirred up by the Iran-allied Hezbollah militia. Such responses are likely to come at different times and in ways that are intended to drive home the point that even with Soleimani gone, Iran can cause great damage.

Trump’s Iran Policy Is Brain-Dead

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Well, that didn’t take long. 2020 is less than a week old, and U.S. President Donald Trump has managed to stumble into another pointless and dangerous crisis with Iran. It is the near-inevitable result of his myopic approach to the entire Middle East (and especially Iran) and another demonstration of Washington’s inability to formulate a coherent and effective policy toward any important global issue.

When did this country get so bad at strategy?

In fairness, the problem predates Trump, although his own incompetence, impulsiveness, indifference to advice, and uncanny ability to pick third-rate advisors has made the problem worse. The end result may be more innocent lives lost—some of them American—and a further erosion in the United States’ global position. And that’s assuming that Trump’s ordering of the killing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qassem Suleimani doesn’t lead to all-out war.

Suleimani’s death is a huge blow to Iran’s plans for regional domination

Hassan Hassan

The killing of the Iranian general Qassem Suleimani could prove to be the most consequential US slaying of an enemy operative in recent memory. It will eclipse in its significance the killing of Osama bin Laden almost a decade ago or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October. Not because it might spark another Middle East war, as many have warned, or merely because Suleimani was irreplaceable. Rather, his killing came at a time when the project he had led – to create an Iranian hegemony in the region – is facing unprecedented challenges in Iraq and Lebanon, through cross-sectarian and grassroots protests, while in Syria the project is still in its infancy. One can add to this picture a more aggressive policy adopted by the US.

Indeed, Suleimani was killed while he was trying to deal with these very challenges. His successor is unlikely to be able to complete that mission and contain the spiral of events in countries where, only a year ago, Iran declared major victories – in Syria against the rebels, in Lebanon through a Hezbollah-friendly government and in Iraq and Syria against Isis. 

In all of the countries where Iran has built deep influence, its allies are left exposed and vulnerable

Waist deep and sinking in the Middle East: We're now at war with Iran


The question of war with Iran is now settled. With President Donald Trump’s decision to authorize the U.S. military to execute Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iranian forces throughout the Middle East, the United States is at war with Iran, whether the White House acknowledges it or not. It’s the equivalent of Iran killing the commander of U.S. Central Command.

Without a doubt, Iran will respond to the execution of Soleimani with deadly force. The question will be where and when?

The Iran-sponsored attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the military attack that killed Soleimani are acts of war that make the nature of the relationship no longer an issue. This war is not — and is unlikely to be in the future — a conventional war as American political and military authorities would prefer. It will continue to be internationally political, unconventional and asymmetric.

In Iraq alone, the Trump administration will be fighting this war in a vulnerable position with 5,000 isolated American troops on the ground, supported by air and naval power in the region, and an embassy fortress in Baghdad surrounded by Iranian and other enemies. But that vulnerability does not mean the war will be centered in Baghdad.

Today, the U.S. is at war with a capable and difficult adversary that has options to attack Americans and U.S. interests in unexpected ways around the world. The United States is not tiptoeing into a Middle Eastern quagmire. It is waist deep and sinking.

War With Iran Is Not Inevitable

Hussein Ibish

Now that the U.S. has taken out Qassem Soleimani, arguably the most important military figure in the 40-year history of the Islamic Republic, conventional wisdom holds that Tehran must respond with extreme prejudice. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has promised “severe retaliation,” and his regime is putting out videos of thousands of Iranian mourners demanding vengeance.

What might that mean? Many commentators—and not only in Iran or the U.S—are suggesting that a new war in the Middle East is inevitable. Some liken Soleimani’s killing to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and on Twitter the hashtag #WWIII has been trending.

Not so fast. Iran may have many options for unleashing mayhem against American interests and allies in the Middle East, and plenty of allies and proxies through which to do so. But it also has a powerful reason to stop and reconsider. Beyond the expressions of outrage in Tehran—and alarm elsewhere—lies the cold reality that Iran cannot afford a war with a far more powerful opponent.

America’s Failed Strategy in the Middle East: Losing Iraq and the Gulf

By Anthony H. Cordesman

It is all too tempting for the United States to focus on the current crisis over the clash between Iran and the United States in Iraq. Events have steadily escalated since late December. Iranian has sponsored attacks by Iraqi Popular Militia Forces on U.S. forces and facilities. The U.S. has launched retaliatory attacks on these PMFs. This has been followed by well-organized demonstrations and attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and then by U.S. drone strikes that killed Qasem Solemani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the head of Al-Hashd al-Shaabi, an Iraqi militia group tied to Iran that had been linked to attacks on U.S. targets.

Moreover, the Iraqi central government had virtually collapsed even before these events. Its corruption, ineffectiveness, and failed economic policies had led to massive popular demonstrations. Its legislature virtually disbanded, and legislation was passed calling for a different, locally elected and more representative system. Prime Minister Mahdi had resigned and then stayed on in an uncertain “acting’ capacity. The Kurdish regional government remained divided, and the government failed to effectively aid the Sunni cities in the West that had been shattered in the fight with ISIS.

Iran Ends Nuclear Limits as Killing of Iranian General Upends Mideast

By Alissa J. Rubin, Ben Hubbard, Farnaz Fassihi and Steven Erlanger
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BAGHDAD — The consequences of the American killing of a top Iranian general rippled across the Middle East and beyond on Sunday, with Iran all but abandoning a landmark nuclear agreement and Iraqi lawmakers voting to expel American forces from their country.

Steeling for retaliation from Iran, an American-led coalition in Iraq and Syria suspended the campaign it has waged against the Islamic State for years, as hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the street to mourn the general, Qassim Suleimani.

“Iran’s nuclear program will have no limitations in production, including enrichment capacity,” the Iranian government said in an announcement Sunday that seemed to signal the de facto collapse of the 2015 agreement.

Warning Iran not to attack, President Trump said the United States had pinpointed 52 targets in Iran — including cultural sites. The sites, he said, represented the 52 American hostages held at the United States Embassy in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Where Will U.S.-Iran Tensions Play Out? An Interview with Iraq’s President

The U.S. assassination of Qassem Suleimani, the mastermind of Tehran’s foreign military operations, in Baghdad last week, suddenly made Iraq the front line in tensions between the United States and Iran. Barham Salih, a British-educated Kurd who spent years representing his party in Washington, was elected President of Iraq in 2018. Salih has been increasingly concerned about Iraq’s vulnerability since the Trump Administration blamed Iran for an air strike that damaged more than a dozen strategic oil installations in Saudi Arabia, in September. I’ve known Salih for more than a quarter century, including when he was in Washington and later when he became the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq. We began a conversation in September, at the U.N. General Assembly, about the danger that Iraq will become a war zone—again—only this time between the United States and Iran. I checked in with him again on Sunday to update our conversation.

Iraq has struggled to balance ties with both Washington and Tehran since the U.S. invasion, in 2003. “The United States is our ally. Iran is our neighbor,” Salih told me. The U.S. attack on Suleimani—which was carried out without informing the government in Baghdad—challenged Iraqi sovereignty and triggered unprecedented political fury at the United States within the country. On Sunday, the parliament of Iraq voted to require the government to “end any foreign presence on Iraqi soil and prevent the use of Iraqi airspace, soil and water for any reason” by foreign troops. The United States has more than five thousand troops in Iraq; it leads a multinational coalition that is still fighting isis and training the Iraqi military. The vote in the parliament, which has three hundred and twenty-eight seats, was 170–0. It was carried largely by Shiite lawmakers; many Sunnis and Kurds did not vote. The measure will not go into force until signed by Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, but Mahdi drafted its language. And, in any case, he has been only a caretaker of the government since he resigned, in November, after weeks of protests.

U.S.-Iraq Relations at a Crossroads: Policy Options

Michael Knights

Washington should smartly employ tougher love in the coming months, working with other nations and Iraqi moderates to improve the country’s chances of recovery from militia rule.

In recent days, U.S. officials have repeatedly indicated that the relationship with Iraq is at an inflection point, but the current crisis has been a long time coming. Iran-backed militias, most prominently Kataib Hezbollah, have effectively taken over key areas and responsibilities, including the prime minister’s office, the government center/diplomatic district, Baghdad airport, various highway routes connecting Iran and Syria, and management of the country’s airspace. Meanwhile, the government allowed militias to kill scores of Iraqi protestors last year to stop them from reaching the Iranian embassy, yet stood aside when militias attacked the U.S. embassy on December 31.

If U.S. policy toward Iraq is in fact at a crossroads, what are the potential paths Washington might take?

Does Soleimani’s Death Matter? Findings from a 2019 Workshop

Michael Knights

Last year’s Washington Institute forum on post-Soleimani succession suggested that the IRGC would lose a unique coordinating capability and its most important totem once he left the scene.

Last April, The Washington Institute held a closed-door roundtable to discuss the potential impact if Qassem Soleimani no longer commanded the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force. Governed by the Chatham House rule, participants discussed how succession might work in the Qods Force and what Iran would lose if Soleimani became permanently unavailable, reaching consensus on many key issues. Now that the commander is indeed gone, their conclusions can help policymakers navigate the stormy seas ahead, though some aspects of his importance remain a matter of heated debate.


Workshop participants agreed that Soleimani had become a very valuable strategic asset to the IRGC-dominated Iranian government because of his unique blend of four characteristics:

U.S. Should Boost Deterrence Against Iran

James Phillips
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Iran has responded to the Trump Administration’s “maximum pressure” sanctions policy with a policy of maximum blackmail—defiantly escalating its nuclear efforts, stepping up attacks on Arab oil exports, and intensifying its proxy war against Israel. U.S. economic sanctions are powerful but slow-acting tools. As the cumulative effects mount, Tehran has become more aggressive in lashing out against U.S. allies, particularly Israel. To buy time for sanctions to work; prevent an Iranian nuclear breakout; and discourage attacks on American interests, Israel, or other allies, the U.S. needs to augment its deterrence of Iran by maintaining a favorable regional balance of power and strengthening U.S. allies against Iran.

The Soleimani Killing: An Initial Assessment

Hillel Frisch, Eytan Gilboa, Gershon Hacohen, Doron Itzchakov, and Alexander Joffe

The Targeting of Soleimani Is a Major Blow to Iran Hillel Frisch Executive Summary: The targeting of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force and arguably the second most powerful man in Iran after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is a major blow to the Islamic Republic of Iran. His death will likely result in a devastating chain of suspicion and insecurity in Iran’s nodes of power. At first glance, one might think otherwise. The Islamic Republic and its proxies in Iraq and Lebanon have been, in the past two months, the target of massive demonstrations against the Iran-backed militias. Iranian consulates have been burned in, of all places, the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala in Iraq. Instead of “Yankee Go Home”, the protesters chanted “Iran, bara, bara”—“Iran Go Home” in Arabic. To deflect popular anger away from Iran, Kata’ib Hezbollah, a major militia in the larger pro-Iranian Hashd militia conglomerate, killed an American contractor. 

The intention of this killing was presumably to goad the US into a retaliatory strike that would defuse the anti-Iranian demonstrations in Iraq. Prof. Hillel Frisch is a professor of political studies and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. 6 I The Soleimani Killing: An Initial Assessment The US did indeed retaliate, and its attack was no doubt a good deal more than the militia had bargained for. In a devastatingly precise helicopter strike, at least 25 militia fighters were killed and twice that number wounded. Even less did the militia or its Iranian patron anticipate that Washington would keep going. In a far more dramatic move, the US killed Qassem Soleimani as well as Kata’ib Hezbollah commander Abu Hadi al-Muhandis, together with 13 others, in a targeted drone strike on Soleimani’s car and an accompanying minibus as they left Baghdad airport. 

The Russian Military: Forging a Foreign Policy Tool

By Jacek Bartosiak

Of all the military reforms Russia underwent as an empire, a Soviet Union and then a federation, none were as revolutionary as those of the late 2000s, when Anatoly Serdyukov ushered the armed forces out of the 20th century and into the era of modern warfare.

The scale of the changes is undeniable. The Russian military currently boasts some 800,000 personnel. In 1985, that number was about 5.3 million. It fell to between 3 million and 4 million in various stages of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, which retained just over half of its available equipment. The reduction owed not just to reduced state finances but to the urgent need to modernize and enhance combat readiness in the face of new threats to its new border – as well as to the fact that the population of the country had been more or less halved.

As a result, unnecessary units were to be dissolved. The old, motionless structure that sported as many as 203 divisions, some of which were just 10 percent complete, was reduced to about 83 mobile divisions. They were now fully staffed brigades, unburdened by the glut of officers that had long plagued the Russian military. The plan was to reduce the number of officers from 350,000 to 150,000, but Moscow ultimately settled on about 220,000 as a concession to those who bucked the reforms, sometimes violently.

Why the new US ICBMs would be too expensive even if they were free

By Robert J. Goldston

The proposed US nuclear modernization program includes replacing the 400 existing Minuteman III missiles with a new set of “Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent” missiles and their associated facilities. The cost for this modernization is very large, with an advertised price tag of $85 billion, and if history is any guide, a substantial cost escalation is likely. On the one hand, if these silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) deter attacks that would cost tens of millions of lives, then they are worth this much many times over. On the other hand, if they are more likely to cause massive numbers of human deaths, then they are immensely expensive even if they cost nothing.

The primary argument for silo-based ICBMs is that they would “sponge up” a large number of Russian warheads if the United States were attacked. Experts estimate that it would take two Russian warheads to destroy with high confidence one of the 400 active US ICBMs, each armed with a single warhead.

Top Energy Stories Of 2019

by Robert Rapier
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I close out every year with an examination of how my annual predictions fared, followed by what I felt were the top energy stories of the year. I then open up the new year with energy sector predictions for the upcoming year. Today, my top energy stories of 2019.

A plant manager I once worked for was fond of the saying “Perception is reality."

I hated the phrase. I am a logical math and science guy. After all, 1+1 is never 3, even if you believe it to be so. Reality is reality, regardless of what your perception may be.

But I came to understand what he meant by the phrase, even if I didn’t agree with it. How you perceive things influences your actions. It is your reality, even if isn’t objective reality.

America Can Unleash Central Europe's True Potential

by Ian Brzezinski James Jay Carafano
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In the three decades since the end of the Cold War, Central Europe’s democracies have made remarkable progress. Eleven have joined the European Union and the NATO Alliance, and including North Macedonia are on track to membership. The region today is a driving force of European economic growth.

Despite this progress, a legacy of Soviet occupation continues to restrain Central Europe’s potential and undercut its security—a dearth of cross border infrastructure. 

Western Europe boasts a spider-web of roads, highways, railroads, canals and pipelines. They span borders and have been crucial to trade and economic growth. But Central Europe’s main cross-border infrastructure remains limited to a few east-west transit routes and pipelines. There are no major north-south economic corridors. Consequently, the region operates like a set of islands with limited connectivity and economic inefficiency.

Over five years of Russian hybrid warfare against Ukraine provide lessons how to make Ukraine stronger

Using the hybrid warfare model to advance its goals, Russia exploited strategic ambiguity through a blend of soft and hard power. In particular Russia flooded the region with illegal weapons. It used mercenaries to destroy regional infrastructure. It weakened the local economy and blocked state functions such as law enforcement, justice and social welfare. It caused a refugee crisis. In particular, it exploited social media and employed information warfare. This hybrid approach has been reinforced by the threatened use of conventional and even nuclear weaponry. Russia pursued its objectives through a combination of local sympathizers and Russian troops that consisted of low-footprint special operations without insignia to keep the narrative of local resistance alive as long as possible. Obviously, this approach worked well in the Crimea as it was in part supported by local population. In the Donbass in worked less well. Ukrainian military success against the separatists needed to be stopped by Russian military. Four principal factors have contributed to the Russian efficiency. 

• Thorough conceptual and operational preparation to include respective training and exercises; 

• The lack of respective preparation, capabilities and resilience on the Ukrainian side; • A lack of trust in the own government (due to corruption and weak governmental performance) and consequently a lack of societal resilience on the Ukrainian side; 

• The strategic surprise of the Russian intervention and respective unpreparedness of international partners to support the Ukraine with adequate means. In my judgement, all four factors apply until today. Of course, the surprise is gone. But not the insufficient international preparedness. 

From Oil Rents to Inclusive Growth: Lessons from the MENA Region

Hassan Hakimian

A copious literature on resource curse correlates oil rents with poor economic outcomes in resource-rich economies. The common yardstick for evaluating economic performance in these countries is generally GDP growth rates. This paper focuses on the broader question of whether the oil-exporters in the MENA region in general and in the GCC states in particular have been successful in turning their hydrocarbon wealth for the benefit of their population at large. To find out if their experience has been conducive to ‘inclusive growth’, we compute a novel Inclusive Growth Index and its associated rankings for 154 countries to shed light on their performance both over time and in a comparative context. The results show a marked deterioration in the case of MENA’s oil-exporting countries over the period 2001-5 and 2006-10 particularly marred by a poor record in job creation, especially for their young population.

Hypersonic Missile Nonproliferation

by Richard H. Speier, George Nacouzi, Carrie Lee, Richard M. Moore
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What are the implications of the proliferation of hypersonic missiles to additional nations? That is, why should the United States and the rest of the world be concerned with such proliferation, and why should it be addressed now?

What are the possible measures to hinder such proliferation? That is, is it feasible to hinder the spread of this technology, and who should buy into such an objective and with what measures?

Which specific hypersonic technologies could be subject to export controls?

What are the technical barriers to mastering hypersonic technologies?

What are the economic barriers to mastering hypersonic technologies?

Hypersonic missiles — specifically hypersonic glide vehicles and hypersonic cruise missiles — are a new class of threat because they are capable both of maneuvering and of flying faster than 5,000 kilometers per hour. These features enable such missiles to penetrate most missile defenses and to further compress the timelines for a response by a nation under attack.

The US Made Great Strides in Quantum Computing in 2019

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Strategic focus and investments across government and industry catalyzed monumental leaps in quantum and high-performance supercomputing over the course of 2019.

In a recent conversation with Nextgov, the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s Assistant Director for Quantum Information Science Jake Taylor reflected on America’s investments and achievements across quantum computing over the past year, how U.S. efforts measure up on the global landscape and the supercomputing strides the government aims to accomplish in 2020.

“It’s actually a little bit funny right, because we hear a lot in the press about the ‘global race,’” Taylor said. “But it’s not a race at the present time—it’s a quest to try and be able to build these things.”

While traditional computers use inputs, instructions and outputs that are all sequences of 1s and 0s and individually called “bits,” quantum computers use “qubits,” which can take on other complex computing values, and offer an advanced set of calculation possibilities. At the end of 2018, the president signed the National Quantum Initiative Act into law, dedicating more than $1 billion to bolster the research and development of quantum technologies in America over the next five years. The law also put forward a 10-year plan to “accelerate development of quantum information science and technology applications,” and this year, the administration saw some of those quantum aims come to fruition. 

The Geopolitics of Critical Minerals

The decarbonisation of the global economy – which is necessitated by the climate crisis – and the new wave of technological evolution featuring artificial intelligence (AI) and 5G networks, fuel the race to secure uninterrupted access to critical minerals. Traditional industrial actors (the US, the EU and Japan) are pitted against China and its global Belt and Road Initiative, that sets out to unite Eurasia and Africa and loop in South America into a seamless space of high connectivity (land, maritime, air, cyberspace) and trade. Understanding how the high geographic concentration of rare earths, lithium and cobalt often creates hotspots of contention especially in unstable parts of the world, offers instructive indications of how the race to decarbonise and digitalise the global economy will contribute to shaping geopolitics in the years to come.

Paper prepared in the framework of the IAI-Eni Strategic Partnership, December 2019