14 February 2020

The Swami and the Mahatma

Anirban Ganguly

louise Burke noted that Vivekananda wanted to spread the Master's message not only to Europe and Asia but also to South Africa, where an Indian community lived

In her path-breaking multi-volume study, Swami Vivekananda in the West — New Discoveries, one of the few encyclopaedic works on Swami Vivekananda's actions in the West, Marie louise Burke (Sister Gargi) of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Order, drew attention to an interesting and a deeply symbolic detail.

louise Burke noted how Swami Vivekananda wanted “to spread the Master's message not only to Europe and Asia but also to South Africa, where an Indian community was living on uneasy terms with the British”. On the request from a ‘Bombay friend’ to send someone to look after the religious needs of the Indian emigrants (there), Swami Vivekananda considered for a while sending one of his young brother monks to give succour to the community. “The work will not be congenial at present, I am afraid”, he wrote to this brother-disciple, adding, “but it is really the work for a perfect man. You know the emigrants are not liked at all by the white people there. To look after the Indians, and at the same time maintain cool-headedness so as not to create more strife — is the work there. No immediate result can be expected, but in the long-run it will prove a more beneficial work for India than any attempted.”

Will Rising U.S.-Iran Tensions Spark Afghan Proxy War?

Belquis Ahmadi, Barmak Pazhwak and Michael V. Phelan
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For 40 years, Iran has built ties with an array of Afghan forces that could be mobilized to attack American interests.

Rising tensions between the United States and Iran—illustrated and exacerbated by the January 3 assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani—are rippling out beyond the Middle East. Now, American officials are voicing growing concern about Iranian activities in Afghanistan. In recent weeks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Iran is supporting militant groups in the country and seeking to undermine the peace process between the U.S. and the Taliban. A top U.S. general for the region, meanwhile, warned that Iranian actions in Afghanistan pose a risk to the approximately 14,000 American troops deployed there.

They are right to be worried. While Iran’s strategy of standing up proxy forces in the Middle East is well understood, the Shiite power also has a long, lesser-known history of engagement in Afghanistan.

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has involved itself with a shifting array of forces operating in its neighbor to the east. It has mobilized Shiite fighters at some junctures, allied with Sunni Taliban insurgents at others, and currently maintains ties with both. Through payoffs, pressure and trade, it has influence over the U.S.-backed government in Kabul. While the rationale for such influence is clear, how it will be used, especially in the wake of the Soleimani killing, is less evident. In this fluid and volatile environment, Tehran has many levers available to achieve its preferred outcome, ranging from sabotage of a peace process aimed at facilitating U.S. withdrawal to orchestrating terrorist attacks on Americans and their interests virtually throughout the country.

But while Iran's capacity to make trouble is worrisome, its overarching strategy most likely pulls in the other direction. Despite a declared passion to avenge the drone strike that killed Soleimani, Iran's primary and patient goal for its neighborhood is to eject American influence as quickly and cheaply as possible. On this objective, Washington and Tehran appear to be in some agreement.

Four Factors that Could Shape Southeast Asia in the Coming Decade

By Amitav Acharyais

Southeast Asia is witnessing major changes to its political, strategic and economic fabric. Some of these, such as the rise of China, have been anticipated for some time, while others, such as the US-China trade dispute, the growing prominence of the Indo-Pacific as a strategic concept, and the Trump administration’s retreat from liberal internationalism, have unfolded rapidly and disruptively during the past few years.

This brief analysis examines the four factors that will shape the security of Southeast Asia in the coming decade (1) great power geopolitics; (2) intra-regional relations and domestic politics; (3) non-traditional challenges including economic, environmental, demographic and technological issues; and (4) the role of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including the future of ASEAN centrality.

In terms of great power geopolitics, China’s rise dominates the security landscape of Southeast Asia. However, concerns that Southeast Asian states will collectively bandwagon with China have proven to be unfounded. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has encountered resistance, with Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand maintaining cautious approaches towards it. Moreover, while China’s economic and military powers in the region grow, it suffers from a serious soft-power deficit.

Guest post: Andrés Munoz Mosquera’s and Nikoleta Chalanouli’s essay: “China, an active practitioner of legal warfare”

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Today’s post comes to us from international scholars Andrés B. Munoz Mosquera and Nikoketa Chalanouli. They explore China’s increasingly formalized and well-resourced effort to instrumentalize law into a form of “warfare” to advance its interests. It examines the contemporary implications of the provocative 1999 essay “Unrestricted Warfare” by two Chinese military officers. In a real way, Munoz Mosquera’s and Chalanouli’s work builds upon Dean Cheng’s seminal 2012 monograph, Winning Without Fighting: Chinese Legal Warfare (which you may want to read first as an intro to this piece).

Mr. Munoz Mosquera is a veteran of the Spanish Armed forces, and is now one of the three NATO senior legal advisors. He joined NATO in year 2000 as a civilian and has been the NATO Commander’s Legal Advisor (Director of the ACO/SHAPE Office of Legal Affairs) since 2014. He holds a honoris causa Master in International Relations from the Universidad Iberoamericana de Ciencia y Tecnología (UNICIT). He is also a Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts) graduate, and has graduated from the NATO Defence College (GFOAC).

The Coronavirus Is a Stress Test for Xi Jinping

By Elizabeth Economy 

On February 4, Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the United States, prepared to address an audience of students, scholars, and businesspeople in San Diego, California. Before the ambassador could speak, a young Chinese man stood up and yelled, “Xi Jinping, step down!” Security quickly whisked the man away, and the event went on. 

A handful of similar calls for the resignation of Chinese President Xi Jinping have popped up on the Chinese Web in recent weeks, from citizens who accuse the country’s leadership of bungling the state’s response to the deadly coronavirus that has spread throughout the country. Like the protester in San Diego these critical posts have disappeared almost immediately. 

The coronavirus outbreak is on track to become the worst humanitarian and economic crisis of Xi’s tenure, but the Chinese president is certainly not likely to resign. In fact, Xi has spent seven years in power building a political system designed to withstand just such a crisis. He has centralized authority in his own hands, enhanced top-down state control, limited the free flow of information within and across the country’s borders, and adopted an assertive foreign policy designed to cajole and coerce other countries into doing as China says. For now, at least, the epidemic has brought into sharp relief the extent of Xi’s power. But the very existence of the crisis points to gaping contradictions and weaknesses at the heart of his regime. The longer Beijing takes to contain the virus, the wider and more consequential those cracks will become.


What You Need to Know About the Coronavirus Outbreak

by Claire Felter and Lindsay Maizland

A new coronavirus first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 has begun to spread worldwide, reaching at least two dozen countries within weeks. By early February 2020, it had infected tens of thousands of people and killed hundreds, mostly within China.

The Chinese government has struggled to quell the outbreak. At the same time, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the crisis a public health emergency in order to boost the international response, and governments around the globe have ramped up efforts to prevent the virus’s spread within their borders, including quarantines, border closures, and intensified medical research. Scientists warn that the outbreak could soon grow to the level of a pandemic, and analysts say the world should brace for a sizable economic impact.

What are coronaviruses?

They are a family of viruses common in animals, including bats, camels, and cows, and can sometimes be transmitted to humans. They are named for the crown-like spikes on their surface, which scientists believe the virus uses to enter cells and delay the immune system’s response. Coronaviruses can lead to fever, cough, and shortness of breath, and in more severe cases, kidney failure, acute respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia, and even death.

China Hopes To Blind America's Eyes Early On In A War

by Harry J. Kazianis 

We all know that the chances of a U.S.-Sino war in Asia are remote— thank God. With hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade, the strong possibility that such a conflict would draw in most of Asia’s big geopolitical players, as well as the very real eventuality that such a conflict could go global (and nuclear), is enough to shut down such apocalyptic thoughts. However, as I have discussed in the past, there is enough pressure points between the two superpowers that sudden tensions could spark a crisis— a crisis that could spiral out of control if cooler heads don’t prevail.

The purpose of this article is straightforward and scary enough: what if Beijing found itself in a situation where it felt war was inevitable with Washington (a crisis over Taiwan, a crisis in the East or South China Seas etc.)— how would it procede? While there are many different ways China could strike America— many of which would be non-kinetic and could even deny like a cyberstrike from a third party country or actor— Beijing has the means to do incredible damage to U.S. interests and alliance networks throughout Asia and even in the wider Indo-Pacific. Much of Washington’s “pivot” or “rebalance” is certainly based on such a fact: a realization that U.S. military primacy is no longer guaranteed thanks to a slick Chinese counter-intervention based military modernization (despite what others may think).

Setting the Scene for War:

How Xi Jinping’s “Controlocracy” Lost Control


BERKELEY – In his 2016 book The Perfect Dictatorship: China in the 21st Century, Norwegian political scientist Stein Ringen describes contemporary China as a “controlocracy,” arguing that its system of government has been transformed into a new regime radically harder and more ideological than what came before. China’s “controlocracy” now bears primary responsibility for the coronavirus epidemic that is sweeping across that country and the world.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet the heads of state and government of the 27 EU member states at the EU-China summit in Leipzig in September. Europeans need to understand that they will hand him a much-needed political victory unless he is held accountable for his failure to uphold human rights, particularly in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong.

Over the past eight years, the central leadership of the Communist Party of China has taken steps to bolster President Xi Jinping’s personal authority, as well as expanding the CPC’s own powers, at the expense of ministries and local and provincial governments. The central authorities have also waged a sustained crackdown on dissent, which has been felt across all domains of Chinese social and political life.

The Coronavirus Will Not Cripple China’s Economy


SHANGHAI – Just five days before the Chinese New Year, the authorities in Beijing finally declared the coronavirus epidemic that originated in Wuhan to be a major public health emergency. Because Wuhan’s municipal government had initially withheld information and failed to control the virus effectively, about five million residents and temporary workers left the city for the Lunar New Year holidays before the city was officially closed off on January 23. As a result, the virus spread rapidly throughout China and beyond, leading to the current high-profile international health emergency.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet the heads of state and government of the 27 EU member states at the EU-China summit in Leipzig in September. Europeans need to understand that they will hand him a much-needed political victory unless he is held accountable for his failure to uphold human rights, particularly in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong.

Unsurprisingly, China’s economy is slowing down. The services sector, which includes retail, tourism, hotels, and transportation, and accounts for more than half of the country’s GDP, is suffering severely. Disruption in this sector will in turn affect manufacturing. And growing international concern at the continued spread of the virus might further strain trade and limit the movement of people. But the key question is whether we believe it will last longer.

China, Ultra-Competence and Coronavirus

By George Friedman

The Communist revolution brought to power Mao Zedong. It created a state based on ideology, the belief that what would emerge from the long revolution would be a nation based on communism, and that with that China would experience both a prosperity and community it had never had. But the price that had to be paid to reach that goal would be ruthless oppression and suffering. This was designed both to build communism and expunge the anti-communist habits that were ingrained in the Chinese people. Mao was the prophet of this transformation of the human condition, and the Communist Party would be his instrument. But since bad habits were to be found in the Communist Party as well as among workers and peasants, the party itself had to be periodically and ruthlessly cleansed.

China experienced multiple campaigns for purification, each more intense, and these outlived Mao himself. The Chinese people endured them for two reasons. First, they, or at least their children, would enter the new world. Second, the Chinese Communist apparatus and the forces it mobilized were pitiless and powerful. They could not be defeated.

After Mao’s death there was a political struggle, and Deng Xiaoping emerged. He was an enemy of Maoism when Maoism was gone, and he took a different approach to the future of China. It would be a state still ordered by the Communist Party, but its ends would not be millenarian. His goal was simply prosperity, achieved by empowering entrepreneurs to become rich. They would become rich because they would be free to employ their competence, and their competence would cascade on the Chinese people. He gave the Chinese people not only hope in a real future, but also the opportunity to exploit their talents. The Communist Party was still there, guaranteeing stability and practicing a systemic corruption in which the party and its senior members benefited disproportionately, but it was a small price to pay for a competent regime.

Reformists Are Dispirited and Hard-Liners Resurgent Ahead of Iran’s Election

Ellie Geranmayeh 

Ahead of parliamentary elections later this month, there is widespread disillusionment among Iranian voters. The nuclear deal that Tehran concluded with world powers in 2015 is hanging by a thread, and the economy is being throttled by unprecedented American sanctions. Across the country, security forces have clashed with protesters disgruntled at economic and political conditions. And while Iran and the United States have pulled back from the brink of war, tensions remain high.

All of this has fueled the more hard-line factions in Tehran who blame President Hassan Rouhani, a centrist politician first elected in 2013 promoting an agenda of economic reforms and potential détente with the United States, for the country’s ills. By contrast, supporters of Rouhani, who include both moderate conservatives and reformists, are exhausted, frustrated and increasingly hopeless. Many of them may well decide to stay home rather than participate in the upcoming ballot on Feb. 21, when all 290 seats in Iran’s parliament will be up for grabs. ...

Will Iran and the US Engage in a Cyberwar?

by Vasileios Karagiannopoulos

The world shook at the news in early January that a US drone strike had killed Iran’s top military general, Qassem Soleimani, outside Baghdad’s airport. According to the Pentagon, the attack was conducted as a decisive defensive action at the direction of President Donald Trump to protect US personnel abroad.

The supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for “severe revenge” for Soleimani’s death and on January 8, Iran launched missiles against US military bases in Iraq in retaliation.

There are widespread concerns that these events might fuel further conflict between the two countries. Considering the importance of information networks and cyberspace for our everyday lives, there is also concern that this conflict might not only take place in the physical world but could take the form of cyber-attacks. These could have serious consequences, particularly since Iran has demonstrated an increase in its cyber-capability in the past decade.

Cyber capabilities

Yemen: World's biggest humanitarian emergency nears breaking point

Lyse Doucet

A crisis within the world's greatest humanitarian emergency could be reaching breaking point over the control of lifesaving aid millions of Yemenis need to survive.

Major donors and some of the world's biggest aid agencies will meet in Brussels on Thursday in an effort to forge a collective response to what is being widely described as unprecedented and unacceptable obstruction by Houthi authorities who hold sway over large swathes of northern Yemen.

The lives of millions of Yemenis depend on it. A recent Yemen briefing to the UN Security Council underlined that access constraints were affecting 6.7 million Yemenis who needed assistance - a figure which it noted has "never been so high."

"Humanitarian agencies must operate in an environment where they can uphold humanitarian principles," says Lise Grande, the UN's Resident Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen.

"If we reach a point where the operating environment doesn't allow us to do that, we do everything we can to change it."

Global Food and Water Security in 2050: Demographic Change and Increased Demand

Key Points

A larger global population, rising incomes and the global shift towards a “Western diet” are likely to be the main drivers of increased food and water demand in the years up to 2050.

Without sustainably intensifying food production and reducing food wastage, it is likely that agriculture will have a greater impact on the natural environment.

It is possible to feed the estimated population of about ten billion in 2050 using current agricultural techniques. That will probably require most people to accept radical dietary changes, however, which are unlikely to be popular.

The sustainable intensification of agricultural production, lifting food production in under-utilised regions, reducing food waste and adopting new technologies, such as precision agriculture, are likely to play a larger role in increasing the global food supply.

The global population is expected to increase to almost ten billion by 2050. Global wealth is also expected to increase over the next 30 years and contribute to a shift in global diets that will see increased demand for meat and dairy products, which require a greater amount of crop and water resources to produce than other food products. The world has managed to increase agricultural production without significantly increasing agricultural land use before. It is likely to be difficult to do that again, particularly with the uncertainties of climate change and much of the world’s most productive agricultural land possibly already being utilised at close to its limit. Adopting agricultural technologies and methodologies, such as precision and regenerative agriculture, could ensure that any additional pressure on the natural environment is minimal.


Strategic Choices for the 2020s

By Sven Biscop 

These past few years, the European Union (EU) has taken various decisions which, when taken together, amount to a careful repositioning in international politics. Let us be bold and call it the inkling of a Grand Strategy: an idea of the Union’s shifting place in the great power relations that determine international politics.

Yet that nascent Grand Strategy is not equally shared by all EU Member States or even by all EU institutions, nor has it yet been incorporated into all relevant strands of EU policy. If the implications are not fully thought through and the repositioning stops here, the EU as well as the Member States risk ending up in a permanently ambivalent position: more than a satellite of the US, but not a really independent power either. Such a half-hearted stance would alienate their allies and partners while tempting their adversaries. For now, the EU has done enough to irritate the US but not to obtain the benefits sought: to further the European interest and to play a stabilising role in great power relations.

Will 2020 see the EU and the Member States muster the courage to fully implement the choices that they have already started to make?

Energy and Geopolitics: A Joint Workshop of the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy and the Paris Energy Club


On November 22, 2019, the Paris Energy Club and the Center on Global Energy Policy convened a joint workshop at Columbia University’s Global Center at Reid Hall in Paris. The workshop focused on the intersection of energy and geopolitics. It provided an opportunity for a senior grouping of energy and finance executives, researchers, environmental advocates, and government officials to exchange perspectives in a not-for-attribution setting on market status and trends in conventional energy, scenarios for transatlantic energy relations, and means to close the gap between rhetoric and reality in regard to climate change policies. This summary highlights main points of the discussion, which took place under the Chatham House Rule.


Participants noted the uncertainties around the current oil market outlook and broader market narrative. In the near term, the market for crude oil appears in balance, while the market for total liquids (including both crude and natural gas liquids [NGLs]) is heavily in surplus. In the past, crude and NGL supply dynamics were closely aligned, so the difference between crude and liquids balances did not matter much. But US shale introduced a huge wave of NGL supply to the market that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cannot control, so depending on OPEC policy, crude and NGL balances can now diverge to a significant degree and muddle the market narrative accordingly. Overall, participants noted that the lower-for-longer narrative around oil prices still enjoys great currency. The back end of the futures curve appears anchored at around $55 per barrel, which may reflect either continued perceptions of supply abundance (thanks to US shale) or long-term concerns about peak oil demand amid the energy transition, or both.

Soil Carbon: The Secret Weapon to Battle Climate Change?

by Jocelyn Lavallee Francesca Cotrufo
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Human society is literally built on soil. It feeds the world and produces vital fuel and fiber. But most people rarely give soil a second thought.

Recently, though, soil has been getting some well-deserved attention from environmental organizations, policymakers and industry leaders. It has been covered in news articles, argued over in policy debates and has even received an international day of recognition.

Why all this attention? Because the world urgently needs ways to keep carbon out of the atmosphere, and to build food security for a rapidly growing global population. Soil can do both.

However, current efforts to promote carbon storage in soil miss a key point: Not all soil carbon is the same. As scientists focusing on soil ecology and sustainability, we believe that managing soil carbon effectively requires taking its differences into account.

Soil carbon is amazingly complex

Building up soil carbon can help cut greenhouse gas concentrations in the air. It also improves soil quality in many ways: It gives soil structure, stores water and nutrients that plants need and feeds vital soil organisms.

Conflict is still Africa’s biggest challenge in 2020


For the African Union, 2020 is supposed to be a landmark year. Its ‘silencing the guns’ initiative is aimed at ‘ending all wars, civil conflicts, gender-based violence, violent conflicts and preventing genocide in the continent by 2020.’ While no one can argue with that laudable goal, the continental body and its member states will have to work miracles to achieve it by the end of this year – especially when the trend seems to be heading in the other direction.

Patricia Danzi, Regional Director for Africa for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), recently told journalists in Johannesburg that her organisation – along with other major humanitarian organisations – was struggling to cope with existing situations that strain already limited attention and resources. More concerning still was that new situations keep cropping up.

‘Conflicts last and they don’t stop. And more are added,’ she said. She used Burkina Faso as an illustrative example: in 2019, 750 000 people were displaced by violence there, forcing ICRC to set up a new emergency response, while maintaining their operations in neighbouring Mali and Niger.

The pattern of new conflicts bubbling up alongside existing ones is likely to repeat itself

Trump’s Middle-East Mirage


NEW YORK – Enough time has passed to read and digest all 180-plus pages of what the US government calls “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People.” It is also referred to (sometimes derisively) as “The Deal of the Century.” Or, more neutrally, it is described as the latest American peace plan for the Middle East.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet the heads of state and government of the 27 EU member states at the EU-China summit in Leipzig in September. Europeans need to understand that they will hand him a much-needed political victory unless he is held accountable for his failure to uphold human rights, particularly in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong.

Except it is not. The proposal – overseen by White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, and released by Trump on January 28 – is not a plan for peace. If it were, it would not have been developed by the United States and Israel without meaningful Palestinian input. It would not have been released with a just-indicted Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu standing by Trump’s side, in the midst of the US president’s impeachment trial and a reelection campaign, in front of a staunchly pro-Israel audience. Peace is meant to be between two peoples, not two people.

Embracing Europe’s Power


BRUSSELS – The geopolitical upheavals we are witnessing today underline the urgency with which the European Union must find its way in a world increasingly characterized by raw power politics. We Europeans must adjust our mental maps to deal with the world as it is, not as we hoped it would be.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet the heads of state and government of the 27 EU member states at the EU-China summit in Leipzig in September. Europeans need to understand that they will hand him a much-needed political victory unless he is held accountable for his failure to uphold human rights, particularly in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong.

This is a world of geostrategic competition, in which some leaders have no scruples about using force, and economic and other instruments are weaponized. To avoid being the losers in today’s US-China competition, we must relearn the language of power and conceive of Europe as a top-tier geostrategic actor.

It may, at first, seem difficult to face this challenge. After all, the EU was established to abolish power politics. It built peace and the rule of law by separating hard power from economics, rule-making, and soft power. We assumed that multilateralism, openness, and reciprocity comprised the best model not only for our continent but also for the wider world.

What DoD’s weapon tester said about Army electronic warfare

By: Mark Pomerleau 

The Pentagon’s top weapons tester is worried about how the Army will integrate new electronic warfare capabilities with specific platforms.

In a Jan. 30 report, the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation office, or DOT&E, examined the Electronic Warfare Planning and Management Tool (EWPMT) and, in the process, took a broader look at the Army’s electronic warfare enterprise.

The Army needs to create more clarity on how it will use its electronic warfare forces.

Among the recommendations was that the Army should continue to refine doctrine to support the use of electronic warfare for tactical operations. It also suggested that the service improve coordination with electronic warfare and intelligence systems as a way to lead to deconfliction between friendly forces. The report noted that the Army revised the “Electronic Warfare Techniques” publication in June 2019.

Mediation Perspectives: Artificial Intelligence in Conflict Resolution

By Marta Lindström

How is artificial intelligence (AI) affecting conflict and its resolution? Peace practitioners and scholars cannot afford to disregard ongoing developments related to AI-based technologies – both from an ethical and a pragmatic perspective. In this blog, I explore AI as an evolving field of information management technologies that is changing both the nature of armed conflict and the way we can respond to it. AI encompasses the use of computer programmes to analyse big amounts of data (such as online communication and transactions) in order to learn from patterns and predict human behaviour on a massive scale. This is potentially useful for managing corporations and shaping markets, but also for gaining political influence, conducting psychological warfare and controlling populations.

I argue that peace practitioners need to engage AI instruments proactively rather than reactively to be strategic about dealing with AI-related issues in peace processes. To the extent that peace practitioners use these methodologies, they also need to develop ethical, constructive and transparent uses of AI while constantly reflecting upon possible negative consequences of these methods. New technologies will never make the human-to-human interaction of mediation irrelevant, and their use is limited by the mediator’s need to gain the consent and trust of the conflict parties. At the same time, it is important for mediators to consider if and when AI-based technologies are being used in the environments where they operate, and how this impacts their own role and function in the wider context.

AI is Changing Conflict Dynamics

Pentagon cyber budget is flat in new request

Mark Pomerleau
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The administration requested $9.8 billion for cyber in next year's budget for the Department of Defense. (Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jesse A. Hyatt)

The president’s budget request calls for the Department of Defense to spend nearly the same amount of money on cyber activities in 2021 as it did in 2020.

The budget, released Feb. 10, recommends $9.8 billion for fiscal year 2021 on cyber activities as compared to a $9.6 billion request in fiscal year 2020.

Technology, tribalism, and truth

Tom Wheeler

The technology debacle at the Iowa Caucus reinforces a national cynicism that nothing seems to work. The Trump campaign was quick to jump on the mishap, appealing to such cynicism by asking how the Democrats can be trusted to run the country if they can’t count noses in a school gymnasium. Iowa was a digital age mishap, but the effects of the collision of digital technology and democracy extend beyond the Hawkeye state.

Problems in reporting the vote sow seeds of doubt about the functioning of democracy itself. Those seeds fall in fields already plowed by technological tumult. The digital era was supposed to open a new Golden Age—for Americans and for democracy. Instead, it has delivered job losses, privacy invasions, and a longing for the good old days.

Beyond a bad app in Iowa, digital technology is gnawing at the core of democracy by dividing us into tribes and devaluing truth.

Social media undermines what the Founding Fathers were focusing on when they wrote “We the People” and established the motto “E Pluribus Unum” (out of many, one). The concept of “We” and the formation of a “Unum” is essential for democracy to work. Humans are inherently tribal. Democracy requires us to overcome that tribalism—to find our Unum—in the pursuit of a greater good. In contrast, the business plans of the dominant digital companies are built on dividing us into tribes in order to sell targeted access to each tribe.

Protracted Great-Power War

By Dr. Andrew Krepinevich, Jr.

This study provides preliminary observations and insights on the character and conduct of protracted great-power war.1 It finds the U.S. Department of Defense is giving insufficient attention to preparing for such wars. While the probability of an extended great-power war may be low, the costs involved in waging one would likely be extraordinarily high, making it an issue of strategic significance for senior Defense Department leaders.

Arguably the best way to avoid these costs is to demonstrate to great-power rivals that the United States is capable of prevailing in a protracted conflict. Once the United States became an active world power, in the early 20th century, a great deal of intellectual effort and considerable resources were devoted to planning for an extended great-power war. The primary purpose of these efforts was not to fight such a war but to avoid one, by discouraging prospective enemies from believing they could win. Even during the Cold War, when both superpowers possessed large nuclear arsenals, successive U.S. administrations sought to demonstrate to the Soviet Union that the United States could wage an extended conventional war.

Following the Cold War, planning for protracted great-power war contingencies was essentially abandoned. Now, however, with the rise of revisionist China and Russia, the United States is confronted with a strategic choice: conducting contingency planning for a protracted great-power conflict and how to wage it successfully (or, better still, prevent it from occurring), or ignoring the possibility and hoping for the best. Should they choose the former course of action, U.S. defense leaders and planners must understand the characteristics of contemporary protracted great-power war, which are likely to be far different from those of both recent conflicts and World War II—the last protracted great-power conflict.

Why Do Great-Power Wars Become Protracted?