19 January 2020

The Retreat of the Data Localization Brigade: India, Indonesia and Vietnam

By Arindrajit Basu
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2019 saw a major global tussle come into view over the regulation of cross-border data transfers, with a number of emerging economies taking measures to exercise greater sovereign control over their data. Contention on this issue is a product of a desire among emerging economies to push back against exploitative economic systems adopted by U.S.-based technology companies and mend a cumbersome process for law enforcement agencies seeking to access data stored in the United States. A key strategy adopted by these countries has been data localization mandates — a range of measures providing for mandatory storage or processing of data within the territory of a given country.

A major stakeholder in the political ecosystem surrounding data localization debates has been the Western lobby representing the interests of technology companies based in the United States. Through concerted efforts made in conjunction with both industry-led lobbying groups and state-backed diplomatic efforts they have managed to push emerging economies into diluting the scope of their data localization mandates and easing the restrictions on the free flow of data.

How US-Iran Tensions Could Upset American Interests in Northeast Asia

By Francesco Sassi

Rising tensions in the Middle East after the killing of General Qassem Soleimani by a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad and Iranian retaliation against two Iraqi bases housing American troops early Wednesday sparked fears over the unpredictable actions by Washington and Tehran or their proxy allies in the region.

In particular, military escalation has affected commodity markets, with oil prices running up as much as 4 percent in the immediate aftermath of the ballistic missiles attack and Brent crude busting through the $70 threshold. As soon as President Donald Trump declared the United States’ readiness “to embrace peace,” U.S. crude futures erased the recent gain and ended below their January 2 value, logging their biggest percentage drop since late November in just one day.

Energy is central in Trump’s Middle East strategy, and this has was confirmed by his Wednesday speech. As Trump affirmed, the United States achieved “energy independence” and is now “the number-one producer of oil and natural gas,” thus allowing Washington to change its strategic priorities in the region and daringly challenge Iran in its near-abroad.

Trump’s Gift to China

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CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA – US President Donald Trump’s decision to order the assassination of Qassem Suleimani, Iran’s most powerful military commander, has raised the specter, albeit still distant, of all-out war between the United States and the Islamic Republic. There is only one winner in this situation: China.

With Trump’s latest blunder, history may not be repeating itself, but it is certainly rhyming. When George W. Bush began his presidency in January 2001, his neoconservative advisers identified China as the biggest long-term threat to the US. So his administration labeled China a “strategic competitor” and set to work on containing America’s Asian rival.

In April 2001 – the same month a US Navy spy plane accidentally collided with a Chinese fighter jet while on a routine surveillance mission over the South China Sea – the US announced the sale of a weapons package to Taiwan over Chinese protests. Bilateral relations plunged to their lowest point since the normalization of diplomatic ties in 1979.

Everything changed on September 11, 2001, when the US was struck by the single deadliest terrorist attack in history. The Bush administration became so preoccupied with retaliating against al-Qaeda – an objective that led to the catastrophic decision to invade Iraq two years later – that it all but forgot the distant specter of an Asian superpower.

Hong Kong repression pushes Taiwan away from China

The arrangement — which theoretically allows a ‘local government’ to retain its political and economic autonomy — was first promulgated by Deng Xiaoping. In January 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping made it clear he intends to push Taiwan towards unification under this framework.

Hong Kong is experimenting with the viability of ‘one country, two systems’ — and the aggressive government response to civilian protests has made many in Taiwan worry that the system is simply a facade of Chinese authoritarianism. The Taiwanese public is growing unsupportive of such a political arrangement as well as other proposals for unification with China. An October 2019 poll conducted by the Mainland Affairs Council in Taiwan found that nearly 90 per cent of respondents opposed the ‘one country, two systems’ formula.

What is telling is that the percentage of disapproval had increased by almost 15 percentage points over the same poll in January 2019. More than half of respondents also believed that ‘one-country, two systems’ had failed in Hong Kong.

South China Sea: Malaysia, Indonesia And Vietnam Beat China At Its Own Game

Panos Mourdoukoutas

Malaysia has joined Indonesia and Vietnam to beat China at its own game in the South China Sea (SCS): The use of lawfare to settle disputes.

That's according to Dr. Namrata Goswami, the Senior Analyst, and Author.

Goswami is referring to Malaysia's decision last December to extend its continental shelf by submitting a petition to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS).

"I believe Malaysia took China by strategic surprise when it submitted a legal petition to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, aimed primarily at staking its sovereign claims to the northern portions of the disputed SCS water," she says. "Malaysia, at present occupies about five of the Spratly (islands) and lays claim to 12. Any claim on the SCS and its islands is challenged by China as per its unilaterally imposed nine-dash line, that stretches nearly 2, 000 km from its shores, close to the 200 nautical miles territorial waters of Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines."

The Importance of Being China

by Richard Javad Heydarian
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“China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that's just a fact,” thundered China’s then Foreign Minister Yang Jiechie almost a decade ago during a high-stakes security forum in Vietnam. This was the beginning of a new, assertive China, openly and coercively carving out a new regional order with Chinese characteristics.

During his visit to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) rotational chairman, the Chinese chief diplomat, and former ambassador to the United States, directed his remark threateningly at smaller neighboring states, specifically Singapore. Only earlier, Hillary Clinton, who was the U.S. Secretary of State at the time, upended regional diplomatic affairs by directly injecting the United States to the intensifying South China Sea disputes. “The United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons and respect for international law in the South China Sea,” Clinton said.

Incensed by a large number of attending nations, at least twelve out of twenty-seven, including Singapore, openly backing up Clinton’s statement, Jiechie characterized the affair as a conspiracy and staged a diplomatic coup, which is tantamount to “an attack on China.” Over the next decade, an epic battle ensures in the South China Sea, the world’s maritime artery, as China, in defiance of international law and everyone’s expectations, and embarks on a massive geoengineering campaign, which upends the regional strategic landscape.

Here's How China And America Would Fight Over The Senkaku Islands

by Chen Pokong
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Editor’s note: The following is a translation of Chapter 7 of the book If the U.S. and China Go to War《假如中美开战》 by the author and analyst Chen Pokong. The current volume was published in Chinese in 2013 and was later translated to Japanese. It presents a range of potential conflict scenarios between China and the United States, including what may trigger conflict, and what the order of events may be.

For a time, there was tranquility around the Senkaku Islands—Chinese maritime police boats or surveillance aircraft were nowhere to be found. The serenity persisted for several months. During this period, Chinese media carried articles by scholars urging a maintenance of good relations between China and Japan, and a cooling of tensions. Chinese government officials also adopted a milder stance when discussing Sino-Japanese relations in public.

Worries in the Japanese public about a potential Sino-Japanese conflict gradually dissipated and the general mood was one of overflowing optimism. To improve Sino-Japanese relations, the Japanese government even ordered that the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) cut exercises and activity in the vicinity of the Senkaku Islands, or Diaoyu Islands to the Chinese.

Constant Warfare Once Exhausted the Chinese Army

Key Point: It's not easy taking on the British empire in three separate wars.

The Qing originally sprang from the Juchen peoples, hard-riding tribesmen who occupied the territory north of Korea. In the 17th century Nurhachi of the Ansin Gioro clan united the Juchen tribes under his leadership. He created military units called “Banners,” each distinguished by a colored flag.

Eventually there were eight banners; the list including bordered yellow, plain yellow, plain white, bordered white, plain red, bordered red, bordered blue, and plain blue. Eventually the Jurchen tribes became known as the “Manchu,” and their territory “Manchuria.” Nurhachi laid the foundation of Manchu greatness, but it was his sons Abahai and Dorzon who really created the Qing dynasty. The Manchu army became multiethnic, welcoming Mongols and Chinese into its ranks. In time, eight banners of Chinese and eight banners of Mongols were formed, joining the original Manchu formations for a total of 24 banners.

Banner Units: Military and Civic Functions

Iran and Saudi Arabia are locked in a Cold War-style stand-off – but the situation is even more volatile

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In his 2016 book, The Iran Wars, Jay Solomon reported that “US intelligence officials describe [Qasem] Soleimani as a Persian version of Karla, the Soviet spymaster depicted in John le Carré’s Cold War novels”. “Like Karla,” the American journalist added, “Soleimani’s endgame has always been to blunt the West’s advances and to cement ties with Washington’s adversaries, using any means possible.”

The observation sums up the significance of the leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force, who helped reshape the Middle East in the years before his killing by an American drone strike on 3 January. But it also evokes the parallels between the Cold War world and today’s Middle East, where Iran and Saudi Arabia face each other in a manner reminiscent of the US-Soviet stand-off. Like the two superpowers in the postwar years, Riyadh and Tehran are split by a major ideological divide (Sunni versus Shia branches of Islam) and are relatively evenly matched economically and militarily. The parallels are not perfect. But they offer a reference point for the increasingly fragile geopolitics of the region.

For Turkey, a New Chapter in an Old Rivalry

By Caroline Rose
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Turkey and Greece, two of the Mediterranean’s greatest rivals, have long sparred over dominance of the region. The center of gravity of this competition has been Cyprus, an island split between its Greek and Turkish occupants. The island has immense geostrategic value, sitting at the crossing of the Eastern Mediterranean’s main sea lanes, regional energy markets and trade routes. Control of Cyprus would give a country access to the island’s valuable natural gas reserves and exploratory drilling rights, helping it project itself as the dominant Eastern Mediterranean power. It’s for this reason that Turkey and Greece have accelerated their push to defend their maritime claims in the region. They have done so by employing two competing concepts that attempt to revive their imperial pasts: the Blue Homeland, a notion that harkens back to the Ottoman Empire’s glory days and that Turkey has used to justify expanding its reach farther into the Mediterranean Sea; and the Megali Idea, which implies Greek reestablishment of the old contours of the Byzantine Empire. These concepts are not just rhetorical; they are part of one of the most complex, entangled geopolitical rivalries today.

But the dynamics of the Eastern Mediterranean are also complicated by other factors. Russia, Syria, Iran and Libya all have interests there. And the growing competition in the region has increased paranoia among Mediterranean powers over sea lanes, navigation and energy resources. The end result has been a rush to delimit exclusive economic zones (regardless of legal parameters), formation of tighter alliances, escalation of the crisis in Libya and an emerging risk of military confrontation. The last time the Eastern Mediterranean was under such strain was in 1967, when the Soviet Union formed the 5th Mediterranean Squadron, causing an escalation in tensions between the Soviets and NATO member navies. With such significant geopolitical shifts emerging in the region, it’s necessary to take stock of its naval landscape: the players involved, their capabilities, their restraints and, most important, their intentions.

An Emerging Naval Power

Despite electoral landslide, 'new era' of Sino-Japanese ties strikes fear into the hearts of Taiwan's leaders


TAIPEI – The re-election of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, whose party favors independence from China, comes at a time when Japan has recently pledged to open a “new era” of ties with the Communist-ruled mainland.

Following the outcome of Saturday’s presidential election, Tsai of the Democratic Progressive Party is expected to push policies countering the “one country, two systems” framework that Beijing is threatening to impose on the self-governing island.

The Central Election Commission said Tsai received almost 8.2 million votes, a record high since the island’s first democratic presidential election in 1996, while Han Kuo-yu, of the pro-unification Kuomintang (KMT) garnered around 5.5 million votes.

In the legislative election, the DPP secured 61 seats, retaining its majority in the 113 chamber, while the KMT won 38 seats.

Japan expects Taiwan will continue to “contribute to the peace and stability in the region,” Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said in a statement Saturday, adding “Taiwan is an important partner and a precious friend of Japan.”


by Claire Felter, Jonathan Masters, and Mohammed Aly Sergie

Al-Shabab, or “the Youth,” is an Islamist insurgent group based in Somalia. It once held sway over the capital of Mogadishu and large portions of the Somali countryside, but in recent years an African Union–led military campaign has pushed it back from major population centers. However, the insurgency remains the principal security challenge in war-torn Somalia, and continues to mount lethal attacks against Western forces and civilians in the region.

What are the origins of al-Shabab?

One of the most impoverished countries in the world, Somalia has seen militant groups come and go in its decades of political upheaval. Analysts say the forerunner of al-Shabab, and the incubator for many of its leaders, was al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI, or “Unity of Islam”), a militant Salafi group that peaked in the 1990s, after the fall of Said Barre’s 1969–1991 regime and the outbreak of civil war. AIAI’s core was a band of Middle East–educated Somali extremists that was partly funded and armed by al-Qaeda’s chief, Osama bin Laden.


By Philip Kowalski

Before Gen. Qassem Soleimani was killed by a drone strike outside Baghdad’s international airport in the early hours last Friday, he was hardly a household name in the United States. The White House — which had ordered the killing — immediately set about framing the assassination along the same lines as the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi a few months previously, or that of Osama bin Laden in 2011. America had just defeated one of its greatest enemies, officials said.

But that Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force — the country’s elite external military wing — was a relatively unknown figure among the American public not only attests to his skill as an officer of clandestine warfare, but also the extremely complicated relationship he had with the United States. Just a few years earlier, Soleimani had been an indispensable figure in the fight against the Taliban and ISIS. 

Soleimani’s ability to be both foe and occasional ally to the U.S. was part of his trademark style of warfare — which was so successful that it led many commentators to brand him the most skilled officer operating in the Middle East. According to Dr. Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, a world politics professor at SOAS University of London and author of the forthcoming book What Is Iran? Domestic Politics and International Relations in Five Musical Pieces, Soleimani created “a regional axis that is both institutionalized and ideological,” which could “translate into versatile military and political action whenever necessary.” Soleimani could simultaneously fight Israeli forces in Lebanon through Hezbollah (to the detriment of Washington) while conducting operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan (to Washington’s benefit).

How countries in conflict, like Iran and the US, still talk to each other

Klaus W. Larres

Richard M. Krasno Distinguished Professor; Adjunct Professor of the Curriculum in Peace, War and Defense, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Disclosure statement

Klaus W. Larres does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Even countries that have broken ties with each other need to communicate in times of crisis and war.

That includes the U.S. and Iran, which have not had an official way to talk directly to each other since President Jimmy Carter cut off diplomatic and consular relations in April 1980, as part of the Tehran embassy hostage crisis. The link has never been restored.

But international diplomacy has found an ingenious solution to the problem of communication between countries that have broken ties.


Iran’s Smart Strategy

Tom Nichols

The immediate crisis with Iran is over. The United States acted against an Iranian general, Iran responded, and both sides have stepped back from further open hostilities. Now the argument is under way about who won this round in a 40-year conflict.

The Americans hit the Iranians hard, but Iran’s response on the night of January 7 was calibrated and smart, which suggests that Tehran is better at the game of deterrence than Donald Trump or his advisers (or many other Americans) might want to admit. In fact, while Trump has claimed that the Iranians stood down, it is not clear at this point who was more deterred by whom.

To recap, a violent protest in front of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, which was sure to trigger American memories of the 1979 hostage taking in Tehran, led to the American strike on Qassem Soleimani, which led, in turn, to the Iranian missile strikes on American bases in Iraq.

Israel Wants to Kill Rockets and Drones with Lasers

by Seth J. Frantzman
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Israel has been working on using lasers to confront rocket and drone threats. Israel’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development announced a new breakthrough in the use of lasers earlier this month. “We are entering a new age of energy warfare in the air, land and sea,” Brig. Gen. Yaniv Rotem, the head of the Directorate said.

Israel already has a multi-layered air defense system consisting of Iron Dome, David’ Sling and Arrow 3, designed to stop threats from low-level mortars to ballistic missiles. All of these systems have been used in the last several years with Iron Dome being the workhorse of Israel’s air defenders. In the last two years, Israel was pounded by more than 2,600 rockets from Gaza and Iron Dome has either intercepted most of them or used its complex radar and algorithms to determine where they will fall harmlessly.

However, Israel knows that the next conflicts it faces in the north against pro-Iranian groups like Hezbollah, will involve more complex threats. With U.S.-Iran tensions growing in the wake of the killing of Qasem Soleimani Israel has announced not only new advanced tests of Iron Dome on January 12 but also its laser breakthrough on January 8. The research and development investments at the Ministry of Defense and with Israel’s defense companies now place Israel among the “leading countries in the field of high-energy laser systems. Throughout the year 2020 we will conduct a demo of our capabilities,” the Ministry says.

Europe’s Dangerous Irrelevance in Washington and the Middle East


The decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to assassinate Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s ruthless Quds Force, has shaken the leaders of the biggest European countries.

Their attempts to salvage the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 landmark nuclear deal, are in tatters after Iran said on January 5 it was abandoning all limitations on uranium enrichment. It’s unlikely the accord could have survived once Trump pulled out of it in 2018. Soleimani’s death has strengthened the hand of hardliners in Tehran. They disliked the nuclear deal.

As for the Europeans’ reaction to the decision by Iraq’s parliament to order American troops out of the country, coupled with Iran’s growing influence in Baghdad, they amounted to handwringing and the ritual rhetorical statements.

Britain, France, and Germany, signatories to the JCPOA, called for a special meeting of EU foreign ministers, stressing the need to “de-escalate” and emphasizing their “deep concern”—an expression that has zero meaning.

But the potential conflagration unfolding in front of their eyes is symptomatic of a much more profound malaise, and its consequences will either shake Europe out of its strategic helplessness or reduce it to a mere object of external influences, benign or destructive.

John Kerry: Diplomacy Was Working Until Trump Abandoned It

By John Kerry
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President Trump says that on his watch, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. But if he had wanted to keep that promise, he should have left the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement in place. Instead, he pulled the United States out of the deal and pursued a reckless foreign policy that has put us on a path to armed conflict with Iran.

After Mr. Trump authorized the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani last week, Iran announced it was no longer obligated to follow the agreement, which had reined in its nuclear ambitions, and it launched ballistic missiles at two Iraqi bases housing American troops, to little effect. Adding to the turmoil, the Iraqi Parliament approved a largely symbolic resolution to expel American troops who have been fighting the Islamic State.

Though Mr. Trump has since walked back from the brink of war, I can’t explain the chaos of his presidency as it lurches from crisis to crisis, real or manufactured. The president has said he “doesn’t do exit strategies.” Clearly he doesn’t do strategies, period.

This moment was nothing if not foreseeable the moment Mr. Trump abandoned the 2015 agreement, which was working, and chose instead to isolate us from our allies, narrow our options in the region and slam shut the door to tackling additional issues with Iran through constructive diplomacy.

The World’s Next Energy Bonanza

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The fracking of shale gas may have substantially shifted the global energy landscape, but another hydrocarbon resource—oceanic methane hydrates—has the possibility to do even more to change the picture. Formed only under the unusual combination of low temperatures and high pressure under the ocean subsurface and in permafrost regions at high latitudes, the potential of these hydrates is truly extraordinary. Depending on economics and technology, they could potentially supply the world with more than 1 million exajoules of energy, equivalent to thousands of years of current global energy demand. And they are nearing commercial production, with some ventures looking to be only half a decade away. That’s why it is time now to think about how to govern their use.

Ocean hydrates consist of methane—essentially natural gas—trapped in icelike cages called clathrates on the ocean floor. Originally discovered in the mid-20th century, the hydrates have long been a focus of national energy research programs. Recently, key demonstration projects have shown that producing natural gas for energy use from hydrates is technically feasible. And Canada, China, Japan, and the United States have all begun testing extraction processes. The race is on.

Study of industry capabilities could reshape national security investments

by Sandra Erwin 
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The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center earlier this month hosted one-on-one meetings with executives from 30 companies from across the space industry. This was the start of a multiyear market study that will influence Air Force (and Space Force) spending on private sector technologies and services over the coming decade.

The market study is titled National Security Launch Architecture (NSLA). “This is a foray into exploring new concepts,” Air Force Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), told SpaceNews.

The companies invited to Los Angeles to brief SMC submitted white papers in response to an Oct. 25 request for information, or RFI. They included a mix of established launch providers and startups, satellite operators and emerging suppliers of in-space logistics and transportation services.

The NSLA is not a traditional launch market study but a more comprehensive look at what capabilities commercial players could bring to the military for future space operations.

Eastern Promises: Our German Problem

It’s comforting to believe that frequently rocky US-German relations over the last three years have been due largely to President Trump’s personal approach — and will therefore be solved the moment he exits the White House. That belief is mistaken. America’s broader “German problem” is very much grounded in German choices and German conditions predating the current US administration, and will likely outlast it. 

The Berlin republic’s overall foreign policy since the end of the Cold War has centered on an admirably skillful promotion of specifically German economic interests, cocooned within a smothering verbal commitment to multilateral conflict resolution. There’s no doubt this verbal commitment is heartfelt. Still, for Berlin’s Western allies, that’s exactly the challenge. A pressing problem for NATO today isn’t German militarism; it’s German anti-militarism. This is particularly true among Social Democrats, on whose coalitional support Chancellor Angela Merkel depends. 

To Berlin’s credit, there have been some encouraging signs. Bundeswehr troops have been deployed on important missions with Western allies in Lithuania, Afghanistan, and the Sahel. While the process is slow, and combat-readiness outside of elite forces is often substandard, Berlin’s defense spending has increased. Public opinion polls reveal – perhaps surprisingly – that German citizens are roughly divided between those who favor increased military spending and those who favor existing levels. Very few support defense cuts. The underlying politics of the issue may be more fluid and open to serious leadership than in recent memory. And on that exact point, German defense minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer — also known as “AKK” — has been refreshingly honest and straightforward. In an underappreciated November address before the Munich Bundeswehr University, AKK agreed that the United States has contributed “more than its fair share” to European defense “for the longest time,” noting that “we Germans are often better at declaring our good, even morally motivated intentions, placing high demands on ourselves and others, than at actually proposing measures and implementing them.” She called on her fellow citizens to significantly increase defense spending in the coming years, thus meeting obligations dating back to 2014. Still, given Germany’s complex coalitional politics these days, it’s unclear whether AKK will succeed Angela Merkel as originally planned. 

Russia’s ‘Data Localization’ Efforts May Guide Other Governments

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Cyberspace, as many liberal democratic governments see it, is inherently free and open, a boon to democracy that states should not control. Russia, which does not share this view, worries that information flowing into the country may bring malign foreign influence, while data flowing out may provide leverage to its enemies. So the government is expanding “data localization”: rules and infrastructure to help the state keep data on home soil. These efforts will have repercussions far beyond Russia’s own borders: they will be closely studied by other authoritarian states keen to adopt new mechanisms of control — and by liberal democracies that may be rethinking their own rejections of the notion of cyber sovereignty. 

Fending off foreign influence is a centuries-old obsession of Russia’s leaders, who began to formally organize their concerns about the internet in 2000’s Information Security Doctrine of the Russian Federation. At the time, the government was already reassembling a Soviet-like control of print and TV media outlets, yet Russian citizens freely used the internet to share their thoughts and concerns with each other and the world.

The future is now: How oil and gas companies can decarbonize

By Chantal Beck, Sahar Rashidbeigi, Occo Roelofsen, and Eveline Speelman
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If the world is to come anywhere near to meeting its climate-change goals, the oil and gas (O&G) industry will have to play a big part (Exhibit 1). The industry’s operations account for 9 percent of all human-made greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions. In addition, it produces the fuels that create another 33 percent of global emissions (Exhibit 2).
Exhibit 1
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How American Disinformation Helped End the Cold War

by Abdul-Khakim Sultygov
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Starting in the mid-1980s, the U.S.-Soviet summits in Geneva (1985), Reykjavik (1986), and Malta (1989) have stood for a special segment of twentieth-century history—the phasing out of the Cold War. These summits helped bring to a close the unremitting competition between irreconcilable worldviews and political systems, which left not a single corner of the world untouched. 

Malta was where U.S.-Soviet relations crossed the Rubicon. The Malta summit between Mikhail Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush on storm-tossed seas stood for the end of the global communist project and the Soviet superpower. Today, looking back at the vertiginous history of the 1980s, one can trace the path toward Malta back to Ronald Reagan’s historic address on March 8, 1983, to the National Association of Evangelicals, where Reagan defined the Soviet Union as an “evil empire.” Consciously or not, Reagan was echoing his predecessor, Harry Truman, who in 1949 declared a head-on struggle against the “false philosophy” of communism, whose aims where completely opposite to those of democracy.

Reagan made a significant move on March 23, 1983, when he declared the development of a new kind of weapon capable of protecting American skies from a Soviet missile strike. Such missile defense would render Soviet nuclear capabilities and delivery vehicles useless. The principal aim of the Strategic Defense Initiative, which was known popularly as “Star Wars,” sought to demoralize the Kremlin leadership. Add to this a massive military buildup. While for America, the military expenditures on SDI represented an investment into a technological breakthrough, matters were rather different for Moscow. For the Soviet planned economy, the new arms race was an irrecoverable loss, which overlapped with a dramatic drop in oil prices. In short, Reagan imposed on the elderly Soviet leadership the excessive burden of his Cold War strategy and to a great extent helped the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev (who was the youngest member of the Politburo). 

Five Challenges for the European Union

by Joergen Oerstroem Moeller
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The European Union finds itself in the most perilous quandary sine the immediate post–World War II period. The risk is a split between the Central European and Eastern European member states and the majority of the others over a diverging interest. The changing U.S. world outlook, in particular, its European policy, may play a decisive role. To weather the storm five major challenges, calling for determined leadership, clear visions and statecraft must be overcome.

The first one is to negotiate the future relationship between Britain and the EU. The EU will reject a deal with a neighboring country using low taxes, low labor standards, lavish state aids and subsidies and a “soft” regulatory framework for the environment, safety, etc., to enhance its competitive position. In reality, access to the single market with seven of its ten top export markets requires Britain to shadow EU rules without participating in decisionmaking. That will be hard to swallow as the obvious question is “why did we leave if we have to apply the EU ruleset anyway?”

America's Secret History of Nuking Itself

by Kyle Mizokami
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Key Point: The United States did indeed learn much about how to construct safe and reliable nuclear weapons, and their effects on human life and the environment. In doing so, however, it paid a terrible and tragic price.

Nuclear weapons have a mysterious quality. Their power is measured in plainly visible blast pressure and thermal energy common to many weapons, but also invisible yet equally destructive radiation and electromagnetic pulse. Between 1945 and 1992, the United States conducted 1,032 nuclear tests seeking to get the measure of these enigmatic weapons. Many of these tests would be today be considered unnecessary, overly dangerous and just plain bizarre. These tests, undertaken on the atomic frontier, gathered much information about these weapons—enough to cease actual use testing—yet scarred the land and left many Americans with long-term health problems.

The majority of U.S. nuclear tests occurred in the middle of the Western desert, at the Nevada Test Site. The NTS hosted 699 nuclear tests, utilizing both above-ground and later underground nuclear devices. The average yield for these tests was 8.6 kilotons. Atmospheric tests could be seen from nearby Las Vegas, sixty-five miles southeast of the Nevada Test site, and even became a tourist draw until the Limited Test Ban Treaty banned them in 1963. Today the craters and pockmarks from underground tests are still visible in satellite map imagery.

Systems Confrontation and System Destruction Warfare

by Jeffrey Engstrom
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Research Questions

What is the concept of systems confrontation and system destruction warfare in PLA writings?

What is the template of the PLA's operational system?

What are some examples of task-organized operation system of systems?

This report reflects an attempt to understand current thinking in the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) regarding system of systems and systems warfare, as well as current methods of warfighting. It also serves as a guidebook to the already substantial number of systems and systems-related concepts that abound in PLA sources. By examining numerous Chinese-language materials, this report (1) explores how the PLA understands systems confrontation and comprehends prosecuting system destruction warfare, (2) identifies the components of the PLA's own operational system by looking at the various potential subsystem components and how they are connected, and (3) examines selected PLA operational systems identified in PLA literature and envisioned by the PLA to prosecute its campaigns, such as the firepower warfare operational system. This report should be of interest to military analysts and scholars of the PLA, policymakers, and anyone else who seeks insight into how the PLA conceptualizes and seeks to wage modern warfare.

Key Findings


Everett Spain
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What is the best way to select the US Army’s future battalion commanders? The Army Talent Management Task Force (ATMTF) has spent the past two years actively studying this critical question. In the fall of 2019, Army senior leaders directed that the highest rated officers from the recently concluded fiscal year (FY) 2021 lieutenant colonel command/key billet selection board participate in the Battalion Commander Assessment Program (BCAP), scheduled for several four-day periods across January–February 2020. The BCAP will refine the results of the traditional battalion command board by further assessing each officer’s readiness for command and strategic potential to better determine who will be the primary selectees for command, who will be the alternates, and who should not command at all.

If done well, the BCAP will have three major effects on the Army. First, it will help identify toxic leaders and screen them from command. Second, it will allow for officers who are the most deserving of command, but did not make it to the top of the selection board results, to be placed into command. Finally, it will change the culture of the Army officer corps to one that deeply values the abilities most needed by tomorrow’s strategic leaders, such as critical and innovative thinking, effective oral and written communication, strategic temperament, and an authentic respect for subordinates and peers.

The 2020s Will Change The World Submarine Balance

H I Sutton

The new decade will see seismic shifts in the world of underwater warfare. I believe that several trends will converge to change the world submarine balance. Reflecting on the decade we've emerged from, we can see that the writing is already on the wall.

Although many of the key submarines have already been designed or built, it is the next 10 years when things will shift. This is largely because there was a period of slow development following the Cold War. Successive defense cuts and a focus on low-intensity land conflicts meant that submarines were under-invested in. And many submarine building programs were plagued by delays and small orders. Now finally it feels like we are on the cusp of something new.

Russia's latest nuclear-powered Yasen-M Class submarine, Novosibirsk, being launched on Christmas ... [+]RUSSIAN MINISTRY OF DEFENSE

Why Invading Iran Would Be a Military Disaster (Worse Than Vietnam)

by Reid Pauly Daniel Khalessi
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In the wake of a rollercoaster week of escalatory and de-escalatory signaling between the United States and Iran, both sides appear to have taken a step back from the abyss. Iran’s retaliatory missile barrage did not kill any U.S. personnel and President Trump has not signaled any plans to escalate beyond the killing of General Qasem Suleimani. But the core political stakes of the contest have risen. In response to the killing, Iran sloughed off the remaining limits on its nuclear hedge. Trump reflexively tightened sanctions.

No new status quo has emerged from the latest episode that suggests the future will be more stable. Neither side may seek war, but both wish to demonstrate that they are willing to risk war over the stakes—and, most importantly, that they are willing to stomach more risk than the other. Under such circumstances, observers should brace for more of the same.

President Trump has indicated that he does not want another war in Middle East. But in the delicate dance underway of signaling intentions and resolve, neither side is in perfect control. Escalations can be miscalculated, misperceived, and accidental. The belligerents may even deliberately use such risk to communicate their resolve. In its latest attack especially, Iran embraced a certain degree of chance that its missile would kill Americans on Iraqi bases. Unless coordinated with the adversary, any attack runs some risk of casualties.