6 February 2020

Where Is the Afghan Peace Deal Now?

By Catherine Putz

In recent days, both U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have made comments that, at the very least, appear to temper expectations for an Afghan peace deal after weeks of unfulfilled rumors that a ceasefire was looming. This comes as recent report found that violence is at a high in Afghanistan despite the ongoing negotiations. Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s September presidential election results remain unfinalized and its top leaders at odds.

On Saturday, Khalilzad arrived in Kabul after various meetings in Doha, Brussels, and Islamabad. He met, separately, with President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. 

The two Afghan leaders remain in contention over the results of last September’s presidential election. Preliminary results, announced in December, pegged Ghani as the winner by a tiny margin (50.6 percent). Khaama Press reported this week that the Independent Election Complaints Commission (IECC) had announced it would put out official results within the week. From Khaama Press:

What Kind of Government Do Afghans Want?

By Yaqub Ibrahimi

The current conflict in Afghanistan is not only being fought on the battlegrounds, but also presents as a political rivalry over regime type between the government and the Taliban. The government emphasizes extending the political system that emerged in the aftermath of the 2001 U.S. invasion, which is theoretically based on electoral democracy, to the post-conflict Afghanistan. This means the government and its partners seek to maintain the current electoral system as the main mechanism for the distribution and balance of power. Furthermore, the government, referring to the constitution, claims itself as the sovereign authority in the country, one that is directly elected by the people and therefore represents the nation.

By contrast, the Taliban broadly presents their Islamic Emirate brand, which is principally a closed autocracy ruled by Islamic laws, as “the Islamic solution” to the country’s problems. The group, highlighting the government’s ineffectiveness in both governance and law enforcement in the past two decades, advertises its Islamic emirate as a religious-political entity that represents God’s sovereignty on earth and therefore an acceptable rule for the Muslim nation.

Afghan Casualties and Attrition are Outpacing Recruitment and Retention

by Shawn Snow

The endless slog of peace talks to shutter the 18-year long war has precipitated a tit-for-tat escalation in violence between Taliban and U.S. and Afghan forces resulting in one of the bloodiest years of the conflict.

A Dec. 2019 Defense Department report cautioned that “sustained levels of violence” and Afghan security force casualties on the battlefield was impacting attrition and “outpacing recruitment and retention.”

It’s a worry metric for Pentagon planners seeking to reduce America’s nearly 13,000 troop footprint in the country. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has oft voiced that the U.S. may draw down U.S. forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 troops with or without a deal with the Taliban.

Violence has skyrocketed in the country as the U.S. has opted for the hammer to push the Taliban to make a deal and reduce hostilities in the country…

How China can win a trade war in 1 move

Jeff Spross

China will not be easily cowed in a trade dispute. Chinese President Xi Jinping is now exchanging threats of tit-for-tat tariffs with President Trump, who announced Thursday he's considering raising the stakes another $100 billion. China vowed to defend itself "at any cost."

Compared to the scale of the U.S. economy, the numbers are still relatively trivial and mostly theoretical. But if things do spiral into all-out trade war, it's worth noting China has a nuclear option.

I'm referring to rare earth metals.

These are elements like dysprosium, neodymium, gadolinium, and ytterbium. They aren't actually rare, but they do play crucial roles in everything from smart phones to electric car motors, hard drives, wind turbines, military radar, smart bombs, laser guidance, and more. They're also quite difficult to mine and process.

It turns out the United States is almost entirely dependent on foreign suppliers for rare earth metals. More importantly, it's almost entirely dependent on China specifically for rare earth metals that have been processed into a final and usable form.

Basically, if China really wanted to mess with America, it could just clamp down on these exports. That would throw a massive wrench into America's supply chain for high-tech consumer products, not to mention much of our military's advanced weapons systems.

Coronavirus Grown In Lab Outside China For First Time, Aiding The Search For Vaccine

by Ian Christopher Davis
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Scientists at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne, Australia, announced Jan. 29 that they were able to grow the Wuhan coronavirus from a patient sample in the laboratory. This was the first time the virus had been grown in a lab outside China.

This is good news, since it will allow researchers to quickly develop new diagnostic tests for the virus, which will be essential if scientists want to be able to track its spread across China and the rest of the globe. There is so much we scientists still do not understand about this fast-moving pathogen.

A lab in Melbourne, Australia, grows coronavirus in a lab, which could help expedite the development of a vaccine.

I am a veterinary researcher, and I study how respiratory viruses such as influenza cause lung disease in animals and humans. I see this development as an encouraging sign.

Expanding Influence: China’s Evolving Trade Agreements in the Asia-Pacific

By Michael Sampson

While recent attention has focused on direct U.S.-China trade tensions, the more subtle but potentially more significant long-term strategic trade competition in the Asia-Pacific continues. Aside from deepening economic cooperation resulting from its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China has concluded and extended a number of important regional trade agreements in the last two decades. Both these developments, along with the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), have been widely interpreted as indicating China’s growing regional influence. Crucially, however, the ways in which the design of China’s regional trade agreements may serve to buttress its regional position have not been fully appreciated.

It has long been suggested that China’s regional trade agreements are more political than economic, or at least have a more significant political dimension than trade agreements concluded by other major economic powers. One reason for this is the limited nature of many of these agreements, both in terms of economic sectors covered, and the levels of tariff reduction entailed. Another reason is the unusually generous terms China has sometimes offered its regional trade partners, allowing, for example, more junior partners to liberalize tariffs at a slower rate than China. Beijing’s regional agreements have often therefore been seen as a tool by which it has sought to increase its regional influence, or even begin to establish a new regional order. But China is of course not the only country to link trade with geopolitics, and almost all trade agreements are driven by both political and economic considerations.

Competitive Climate: America Must Counter China by Investing in Economic Intelligence

by Anthony Vinci

In an expanding competition with China for global leadership, economic threats will become more important than military ones. America is currently unprepared to confront these threats and just as we evolved to confront new threats after 9/11, our national security apparatus must now evolve. Two actions are needed for our national security to succeed in this economic competition. First, the intelligence community must make a significant investment in economic intelligence. Second, America must invest in a National Economic Defense Center modeled after the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which would compile, analyze and coordinate responses to economic threats. 

There is widespread recognition that the current national security competition with China is as much about the economy as it is about the military. Chinese gross domestic product (GDP) is on track to surpass America’s GDP. Moreover, the Chinese are better able to orchestrate their economic instruments for geopolitical purposes because they hardly recognize the public-private distinction. Chinese economic threats range across a spectrum from traditional economic competition, such as Made in China 2025, to geopolitical power plays like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), to the outright systematic theft of U.S. intellectual property. 

The B-21 Raider Will Be Everything (And Hell for China and Russia)

by Kyle Mizokami
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Key point: In the nuclear mission, the Air Force will arm the B-21 with the Long-Range Stand-Off (LRSO) missile, the next-generation stealthy nuclear cruise missile.

On October 27, 2015, nearly thirty-four years to the day after Northrop Grumman was awarded the contract to develop the first stealth bomber, the U.S. Air Force awarded Northrop a contract for a new bomber: the B-21 Raider. While many of the details of the Raider are shrouded in mystery, we do know a few things about it, and can infer others.

The B-21 Raider bomber takes its name from both the twenty-first century and the legendary 1942 raid by Gen. James “Jimmy” Doolittle’s force of B-25 Mitchell bombers against targets in and around Tokyo, Japan. In invoking the Doolittle Raid, the Air Force is drawing attention to attack’s audacious nature, the strategic and tactical surprise, and the epic distances General Doolittle and his “raiders” flew to accomplish their mission.

Stuck in the middle: Iraq and the enduring conflict between United States and Iran

Vanda Felbab-Brown
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Last weekend’s rocket attacks on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, which injured one person, and the 200,000-strong demonstration demanding the departure of U.S. military forces from Iraq, led by the anti-U.S. cleric-politician Muqtada al-Sadr, are merely some of the manifestations of this severe destabilization. Although the United States and Iran managed to avoid an escalation to full-blown war — which would be very costly for both sides — a wide set of U.S. interests in Iraq has been seriously undermined, likely in a long-term way.

At a moment of intense crisis earlier this month, both the United States and Iran pulled back. Iran’s retaliatory ballistic missile strikes against two U.S. bases in Iraq on January 8 did not result in any U.S. or Iraqi casualties. That was not incidental, likely owing much to U.S. advance intelligence and preparedness, and to Iran’s choices. The retaliation allowed the Iranian leadership to demonstrate resolve domestically following Soleimani’s death. It also allowed Tehran a level of control over the results of the strike that could not have been assured if it relegated the reprisal attack to pro-Iranian militias in Iraq.

In turn, President Trump avowed to double down on economic sanctions on Iran, but indicated a desire to deescalate and did not take any further military action. In repeating his hope for a new deal with Iran, Trump essentially embraced a desire to return to the pre-Christmas status quo ante. With its economic pressure on Iran, that status quo ante is deeply threatening to Iran, but lacks the dangers of open warfare. Two weeks later, though, he rejected Iran’s overture for new negotiations.


By Adam Entous and Evan Osnos

When nation-states engage in the bloody calculus of killing, the boundary between whom they can target and whom they can’t is porous. On January 3rd, the United States launched a drone strike that executed Major General Qassem Suleimani, the chief of Iran’s élite special-forces-and-intelligence unit, the Quds Force. He was one of Iran’s most powerful leaders, with control over paramilitary operations across the Middle East, including a campaign of roadside bombings and other attacks by proxy forces that had killed at least six hundred Americans during the Iraq War.

Since the Hague Convention of 1907, killing a foreign government official outside wartime has generally been barred by the Law of Armed Conflict. When the Trump Administration first announced the killing of Suleimani, officials declared that he had posed an “imminent” threat to Americans. Then, under questioning and criticism, the Administration changed its explanation, citing Suleimani’s role in an ongoing “series of attacks.” Eventually, President Trump abandoned the attempt at justification, tweeting that it didn’t “really matter,” because of Suleimani’s “horrible past.” The President’s dismissal of the question of legality betrayed a grim truth: a state’s decision to kill hinges less on definitive matters of law than on a set of highly malleable political, moral, and visceral considerations. In the case of Suleimani, Trump’s order was the culmination of a grand strategic gamble to change the Middle East, and the opening of a potentially harrowing new front in the use of assassination.

Lessons from the 2005 Iranian Nuclear Crisis

by Omer Carmi Itamar Lifshitz
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The Iranian nuclear program is coming back to the center of international attention. Last week, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif threatened that if the Iranian nuclear issue will be referred to the United Nations Security Council, Iran will withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The threat came following the E3 (France, Germany and the United Kingdom) activation of the mechanism in the nuclear deal that could potentially lead to the reimposition of UN sanctions on Iran. This is just the latest in the long process of the deal’s dissolution. Looking back, the same threats were posed the last time a nuclear agreement involving Iran was falling apart. Analyzing the dynamics that unfolded back then can teach us much about the potential Iranian nuclear challenge ahead.

The Collapse of the Paris Accords

In 2004, following the exposure of Iran’s secret nuclear activities, several rounds of sisyphic negotiations resulted in an interim agreement between Tehran and the E3 (backed by the United States). Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, who was Iran’s chief negotiator at the time, later famously stated that “interacting with Europe and not with the United States was like a poor man who can’t afford to buy a Mercedes, so he instead chooses a Paykan,” an indigenous and cheap Iranian car—a quote he probably continues to endorse. The “Paris Accords” dictated an Iranian “voluntary” suspension of enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, in return for a set of economic and political incentives. The sides reached a deadlock on a long-term settlement as Iranian nuclear and economic ambitions did not meet Western demands. 

DIA Says ISIS Took Advantage of Turkish Invasion of Northern Syria, Baghdadi Death Did Not Degrade Jihadi Group

by Shawn Snow 

The Defense Intelligence Agency said that ISIS took advantage of Turkey’s October 2019 invasion of northern Syria and increased attacks by nearly 20 percent, according to an inspector general report.

Officials from Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group, pushed back on that, saying that DIA based its information on propaganda. There is agreement, however, on one thing: The death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi did not degrade the jihadi group.

The DIA said in the IG report, that following Turkey’s military operation to rout out Kurdish militants in northern Syria, ISIS self-claimed actions rose from a monthly average of 55 attacks to 66 attacks.

The DIA detailed in the report that the figures of ISIS claimed attacks were pulled from the group’s online claims…

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same: The Failure of Regime‐​Change Operations

By Benjamin Denison

The United States has, at various times in its history, used military force to promote regime change around the world in pursuit of its interests. In recent years, however, there has been a growing scholarly consensus that these foreign regime‐​change operations are often ineffective and produce deleterious side effects. Whether trying to achieve political, security, economic, or humanitarian goals, scholars have found that regime‐​change missions do not succeed as envisioned. Instead, they are likely to spark civil wars, lead to lower levels of democracy, increase repression, and in the end, draw the foreign intervener into lengthy nation‐​building projects.

Even after high‐​profile failures in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, some in the policy community still call for ousting illiberal regimes. Regime‐​change advocates claim that this tool can achieve objectives more cheaply and quickly than sustained diplomatic pressure and engagement, and that such operations will not expand into broader military action. When presented with such claims, policymakers should consider the empirical record, which clearly reveals that a regime‐​change operation is more likely to fail than to succeed. Different polities around the world have different political priorities, and attempting to change these priorities by simply removing the regime is more difficult than typically imagined. Instead of promoting more democracy and advancing American security, the overuse of regime change undermines the effectiveness of other foreign policy tools that are more successful at enhancing freedom and improving human rights around the world, and therefore ultimately harms America’s ability to achieve its policy goals.


There are fewer wars when you take power away from men in big castles

Those who have power want to be told they have it and how to keep it. Those that don't have power want someone to envy. As a result, the audience for books on power is seemingly endless.

So I was initially cautious about another one released this week – but New Power by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms turns out to be a nifty guide to the 21st century that is genuinely new. Instead of one more catchy way of describing how the world works, they have written a manifesto for organising that world with more humanity and purpose.

Ultimately you'll either hate it or wish you had written it, depending on whether you believe in old or new power.

But what does that actually mean? For Heimans and Timms, old power is closed, inaccessible, top down and spent carefully. Think of a traditional currency. Old power values are more formal and managerial. Old power thrives on competition, confidentiality and exclusivity. You can picture the colleague. Donald Trump's "I alone can fix this" is the motto of this power model. It has dominated history.

Goodbye Europe, Hello America?


‘The previous administration took the view that if the United Kingdom made this decision they’d be at the back of the line,” said Mike Pompeo, on a recent trip to London. “We intend to put the United Kingdom at the front of the line.” The secretary of state was referring to Obama’s remarks in 2016, when, threatening to make a post-Brexit trade deal difficult, he attempted to dissuade Brits from voting to leave the European Union. Pompeo said that he expects a U.K.–U.S. trade deal to commence by November. Which is quite the contrast with the feet-dragging Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission’s president, who said it would be “impossible” for Britain to get a trade deal by the end of 2020.

President Obama saw Britain’s continued membership in the European Union as a worthy enterprise: one that secured peace, freedom of movement, and a common market. But despite the best efforts of liberal globalists in the House of Commons, on Friday the process of Brexit officially began.

At the dawn of a decade, as Great Britain heaves its ancient head from east to west, we enter a new chapter of the Anglo–American alliance.

Who Needs the Russians?


You may be wondering if the Iowa caucus chaos is a hit job by election-meddling Russians. The morning after caucus-goers filed into high-school gyms across Iowa, the state’s Democratic Party is still unable to produce results. The app it developed for precisely this purpose seems to have crashed. The party was questioned before by experts about the wisdom of using a secretive app that would be deployed at a crucial juncture, but the concerns were brushed away. Troy Price, the state party’s chairman, claimed that if anything went wrong with the app, staffers would be ready “with a backup and a backup to that backup and a backup to the backup to the backup.” And yet, more than 12 hours after the end of the caucus, they are unable to produce results. Last night, some precinct officials even waited on hold for an hour to report the results—and got hung up on.

If the Russians were responsible for this confusion and disarray, that might be a relatively easy problem to fix. This is worse.

It appears that the Iowa Democrats nixed the plan to have precincts call in their results, and instead hired a for-profit tech firm, aptly named Shadow, to tally the caucus results. (As if the name weren’t enough to fuel conspiracies, the firm is run by an alum of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.) The party paid Shadow $60,000 to develop an app that would tally the results, but gave the company only two months to do it. Worried about Russian hacking, the party addressed security in all the wrong ways: It did not open up the app to outside testing or challenge by independent security experts.

The Wuhan Coronavirus Poses Three Tests for Global Public Health

Stewart M. Patrick 
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The rapid spread of the Wuhan coronavirus, which the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency last Thursday, is immediately testing the multilateral system’s capacity to respond to a pandemic. As of Jan. 31, the virus had infected a reported 9,720 people in China and around 100 more in 20 other countries and territories, killing at least 213. The deepening health crisis underscores that we live in an epidemiologically interdependent world, in which outbreaks anywhere can hopscotch around the world at jet aircraft speeds.

Preserving global public health depends in large part on three things: timely and credible action by governments where outbreaks occur; firm direction and leadership from the WHO in coordinating international responses; and responsible behavior by other nations that naturally want to protect their own citizens from disease. Previous pandemics, including of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, in 2002 and 2003 and of Ebola in West Africa in 2014, show that these three things cannot be taken for granted. The coming weeks will reveal whether China, other governments and the WHO have learned their lessons from those past pandemics and implemented needed reforms. ...


By Carolyn Kormann

In a mansion built by the heir of an oil tycoon on New York’s Upper East Side, a group of financiers, philanthropists, and corporate executives recently gathered to discuss the climate crisis. The occasion was a new report, co-authored by an unlikely combination of McKinsey consultants and scientists from the Woods Hole Research Center (W.H.R.C.), on how physical climate risks will affect socioeconomic systems in the next few decades. During a presentation on the report’s findings, much of it in the preening language of fixed assets, liability risk, and flow charts, Spencer Glendon, an economist and senior fellow at W.H.R.C., was especially blunt with the crowd. He said that he tells decision-makers things such as “ ‘You know how many people in India are going to die from this, if you do nothing? Ignoring that now is on you.’ ” If investors and business leaders don’t account for these risks, “that will be unforgivable,” he said. “Because everyone knew they were coming.”

Glendon had spent the majority of his career working in finance, but he makes a point to stand out slightly, with spiky gray hair, a yellow plaid bow tie, and rectangular brown-and-red glasses. He grew up outside Detroit, in the nineteen-seventies, where he became “familiar at a very young age with things going badly,” he told me. “I became fascinated by the question: Why does that happen in some places and not in others?” Early in his career, he moved back and forth between places that worked well and places that worked poorly: he was an engineer in an auto factory in Detroit and a banker on the South Side of Chicago before moving to a small-business lending program in Russia; then he got a Ph.D. in economic history at Harvard. He joined the investment firm Wellington Management in the late nineties, first as a researcher trying to understand what might become of Asia after the financial crisis. He eventually became a partner. Seven years ago, he started asking questions about climate change.

Brexit Still Hasn’t Solved the Problem of Northern Ireland

Peter McLoughlin 
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BELFAST, Northern Ireland—The two main political parties in Northern Ireland announced a deal last month to restore the region’s power-sharing government, which had ceased to function three years ago. Within 24 hours of the announcement of the deal on Jan. 10, which was brokered by the British and Irish governments, Northern Ireland’s institutions of devolved government were back up and running. Yet while many in Belfast are breathing a sigh of relief, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent Brexit deal has created a host of new problems for the region that the reopened Northern Ireland Assembly will need to confront.

After years of deadlock, the catalyst for the recent accord was the U.K. general election in December. Both the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein and the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party, or DUP, suffered significant losses at the hands of voters frustrated by their unwillingness to compromise. If they did not find common ground, they faced the prospect of new regional polls for the Northern Ireland Assembly to break the stalemate. Rather than fight another election where they were likely to see further losses, they agreed to compromise on key issues that had bitterly divided them in the past. ...

US Confirms Fielding of New Low-Yield Nuclear Warhead on Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles

By Ankit Panda

On Tuesday, John Rood, the U.S. under secretary of defense for policy, confirmed that a new low-yield nuclear warhead had been fielded by the U.S. Navy on board certain Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines.

“The U.S. Navy has fielded the W76-2 low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) warhead,” Rood said in a statement. The W76-2 is a new modification of the W76-1 that was called for by the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, which was released two years prior, in February 2018.

“In the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, the department identified the requirement to ‘modify a small number of submarine-launched ballistic missile warheads’ to address the conclusion that potential adversaries, like Russia, believe that employment of low-yield nuclear weapons will give them an advantage over the United States and its allies and partners,” Rood said in his statement.

US-Malaysia Security Cooperation in the Headlines with Aircraft Mission Systems Transfer

By Prashanth Parameswaran

Last week, details emerged regarding the transfer of aircraft mission systems from the United States and Malaysia. The development spotlighted an aspect of cooperation between the two countries in the defense realm amid wider challenges in the broader bilateral relationship.

As I have observed before in these pages, while the relationship between the United States and Malaysia has seen its share of challenges since the coming to power of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government in a shock election in May 2018, functional cooperation in certain areas has nonetheless continued to take shape. This includes the security side, where the two countries have continued to work on issues such as counterterrorism, human trafficking, and immigration.

Last week, this aspect of U.S.-Malaysia relations was in the spotlight with suggestions that Malaysia would be receiving aircraft mission systems from the United States. Affendi Buang, the chief of the Royal Malaysia Armed Forces (RMAF), told defense outlet IHS Jane’s on January 31 that the mission systems on the two aircraft would be provided by the United States via the Pentagon’s Maritime Security Initiative (MSI) as Malaysia seeks to convert two PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PTDI) CN-325 transports into maritime patrol aircraft (MPAs).

Russia Losing Information War to the West, Moscow Experts Say

By: Paul Goble
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Apocalyptic predictions have become a familiar feature of news and analysis because often only the most extreme views have a chance of breaking through the media fog. But not only do such immoderate narratives distort reality, they can also obfuscate what actions may be needed to actually cope with the situation (Mnews.world, January 29). This apocalypticism is frequently exemplified in Western coverage of the supposedly unchallenged success of Russia’s information wars against other countries; however, it is worthwhile to follow discussions among Russian experts who are convinced that Moscow is actually losing the current information war.

In a recent article for Svobodnaya Pressa bluntly entitled “The Information War: Why We Are Losing to the West,” Yury Piskulov, who has worked on trade between Russia and Finland for 15 years, says that whatever successes Moscow has had in the information competition with the West, it has suffered far more losses and must address its shortcomings because “the fourth estate” is an ever more important player in international competitions. He suggests that Russian media officials have been aware of the imbalance against Russia for some time and hopes that the new Russian government will address it lest their country pay a high price for failing to do so (Svobodnaya Pressa, February 1).

You're So Dead: The Marines and Army Now Have Anti-Ship Missiles

by David Axe
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Key point: Washington wants to ensure it can sink enemy warships even when its own Navy is unable to fight back. That means having mobile land units armed with anti-ship weapons.

U.S. Army soldiers and U.S. Marines need to become ship-killers, one Marine Corps lieutenant argued.

With the Chinese and Russian fleets fielding more and better ships and missiles and the U.S. Navy struggling to grow its own fleet, it’s time for American ground troops to contribute to naval battles, 1st Lt. Walker Mills argued in Proceedings, the professional journal of the U.S. Naval Institute.

“Both the Marine Corps and the Army need to rapidly develop and deploy redundant land-based capabilities to strike ships in the littoral, as well as concepts for their employment,” Mills wrote.

The Army and Marines clearly agree with Mills’s assessment. "There’s a ground component to the maritime fight," Gen. Robert Neller, the outgoing Marine Corps commandant, said at a February 2019 conference in San Diego.

"We’re a naval force in a naval campaign," Neller said. "You have to help the ships control sea space. And you can do that from the land."

The Geopolitics of the Novel Coronavirus

By George Friedman

Geopolitics is a fairly slow-moving process that unfolds in predictable ways. This is usually the case. There are then moments when a wild card enters the system from the outside, unpredictable yet significant. At the moment, we can’t tell if the new coronavirus is such an event. We don’t know exactly how it is transmitted, how lethal it is, whether it causes long-term illness and so on. We know it has broken out in a Chinese city, Wuhan; that the Chinese government regards it as serious enough to impose significant controls on movement in and out of Wuhan; and that a small number of cases in China, relative to the population, and a smaller number of cases outside of China have been reported. For this we depend on media reports, since our own knowledge of viral medicine is limited.

Geopolitically, communicable disease ranges from the common cold to the Black Death. The former is ever-present but of little consequence; the latter massively disrupted European society and, in some cases, shifted the regional balance of power. There is a trigger point between these two diseases where the political system erects disruptions in everyday life and commerce designed to limit the effect of the disease. To some extent these actions are effective, and to some extent they can be sufficiently disruptive to cause economic problems. We are at the moment teetering between these points, with the consequence of the disease and the consequence of protecting against the disease uncertain.

Myanmar’s Contested Civil-Military Relations in the Spotlight With New Spat

By Prashanth Parameswaran

On Monday, reports surfaced that a Myanmar military spokesman had hit out at comments made by a minister in the country about civil-military control. While the incident may appear minor relative to wider developments in Myanmar and Naypyidaw’s broader challenges, it nonetheless served as a reminder of the complex dynamics underlying civil-military relations in Myanmar and the sensitivities in navigating them.

As I have observed before in these pages, governance in Myanmar remains a complex and contested affair, with the National League for Democracy (NLD) ruling the country but the military, known as the Tatmadaw, still exercising significant political influence in the country in official and unofficial ways, including a quota of seats in parliament and control of key ministries: defense, border, and home affairs.

Over the past week, we have seen these complex and contested civil-military dynamics at play with a spat in Myanmar’s domestic politics. The spat emerged from comments made by Myanmar’s Union Minister for Religious Affairs and Culture U Aung Ko, who suggested at an interfaith event in Yangon last month that that the military had control of the police. On Monday, in a sign of fallout from those comments, Myanmar news media outlets reported that military spokesperson Zaw Min Tun had urged the government to take action against the minister and added that the Tatmadaw would file a complaint with the government according to legal procedures.