18 February 2020

3 things to know about India’s space programme

Douglas Broom

India’s bid to join a select group of nations who have landed on the moon has taken off.

The country’s Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft has successfully launched from the Sriharikota space centre – a giant leap in its increasingly ambitious space programme.

If it succeeds, India will become the fourth nation to achieve what’s known as a “lunar soft landing”, following the former Soviet Union, the US and China.

Pakistan’s Efforts to Silence Dissenters Amplifies Their Causes

By Daud Khattak

The colonial-era relic of “sedition” is being used in present-day Pakistan to whip dissenting politicians, outspoken journalists, writers, poets, artists, lawyers and rights activists. 

The offense is defined in section 124-A of the Pakistan Penal Code that charges citizens with jeopardizing safety and stability of the state, spreading hatred and feelings of disloyalty among the people, and creating public disorder. 

This section, which India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had once termed “highly objectionable and obnoxious,” should have been scrapped after the end of the colonial era that paved way for the emergence of two independent states of India and Pakistan out of British India in 1947. But the legacy, among many others, lingers on to silence opponents and tame the forthright and undaunted.

Charging political opponents with “sedition” by labeling them “ghaddar” (traitor), anti-state, and foreign agents to suppress their voices is an old tactic in Pakistan. But it has touched new heights over the past year due to its arbitrary use to silence the critics and opponents. 

How Afghans Can Secure a Peace Deal With the Taliban

Candace Rondeaux 

By all accounts, the U.S. and the Taliban are poised to sign the initial stage of a peace deal in Afghanistan, and it may only be a matter of weeks before President Donald Trump takes the first serious step toward ending America’s longest war. But can a White House this mercurial really usher in a sustainable political settlement in Afghanistan? The short answer is no. Under the right circumstances, however, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his administration may be able to get the job done.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed that Trump has signaled his approval for an agreement that calls for a gradual American military withdrawal from Afghanistan in exchange for a Taliban commitment to forsake al-Qaida, fight transnational terrorists and agree to a “reduction in violence.” The potential deal comes only a few months after Trump scuttled plans to ink an accord with the Taliban at Camp David in September. Public details of the agreement remain scant, but if the plan adheres to a tentative framework sketched out late last year, then the U.S. would aim to withdraw at least 4,000 or at most 5,500 troops after the Taliban demonstrate their adherence to an initial cease-fire. There are currently about 13,000 U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan.

US, Taliban Close to ‘Reduction in Violence’ Agreement

By Kathy Gannon and Deb Riechmann

The Taliban have issued an ultimatum to Washington after weeks of talks with a U.S. peace envoy, demanding a reply on their offer of a seven-day reduction of violence in Afghanistan, or they would walk away from the negotiating table, two Taliban officials said Wednesday. 

A reduction in violence deal for a very short period is sought by the Taliban because they don’t want to commit to a formal cease-fire until other components of a final deal are in place. They have previously said a cease-fire could blunt their battlefield momentum if the U.S. or Kabul renege on their promises.

The development comes as Washington said late Tuesday that an agreement on the insurgents’ “reduction of violence” offer was days away. Also, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani tweeted that he had received a phone call from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo telling him of “notable progress” in the talks with the Taliban. 

China's lead in the global solar race - at a glanc

Charlotte Edmond

In the space of 25 years, China will have gone from having virtually no solar panels to leading the world by a margin of more than 100%.

Estimates from market intelligence business Wood Mackenzie sees China’s photovoltaic panel installations hit a cumulative total of 370 GWdc by 2024 - more than double the US’s capacity at that point.

As Numbers Soar, Here’s Everything We Don’t Know About the Coronavirus

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Questions about the coronavirus are coming thick and fast—but not answers. Today China reported a startling leap in cases, adding over 14,000—a third of the existing number—to the total in Hubei, the central Chinese province where the virus started. This seems to be in part the result of a broader methodology that has moved many cases from the suspected column into being clearly counted as confirmed—but much remains uncertain. As the death toll reaches over 1,300, the virus remains wrapped in a cloud of doubt. Some of these issues will eventually become clear. Many won’t.

There are several reasons for this. One is the novelty of the coronavirus, which like any new disease will take months to fully detail through hard and tentative scientific work. Another is the sheer scale of the disaster; there are roughly 1.4 billion people in China, all of whose lives have been touched by the disease or the measures around it. As would happen anywhere, the situation on the ground is chaotic, and much goes unreported or exaggerated.

New Warnings Over China's Efforts in Quantum Computing

By Sintia Radu

Just days after officials in China announced the completion of building in a single week a new hospital for patients infected with the coronavirus and begin building a second one, Google engineering director Hartmut Neven warned that the Asian giant's ability to quickly devote massive resources to a single task poses a new technological challenge to the U.S. and other countries. Speaking at an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., Neven, who is tasked at Google with researching and developing the world's fastest supercomputers, says the Chinese might soon make tremendous progress that could compromise the U.S. leadership position in this field.

"We are indeed most worried (about) an unknown competitor out of China to beat us in the race to (such a) machine because China as a society just has the ability to steer enormous resources in the directions that are deemed strategically important," Neven says.

Trump's Nightmare Is Here: Is ISIS Making a Comeback?

by Daniel R. DePetris
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The Islamic State, a terrorist organization that once ran a fiefdom across the heart of the Middle East as large as the United Kingdom, is now a largely decentralized and homeless movement of ideologies, criminals, and social misfits. In the 10 months since ISIS lost control of the last sliver of its caliphate in the plains of Eastern Syria, its fighters have transformed into a band of insurgents taking potshots at Iraqi and Syrian government troops and associated militias. 

ISIS may be down but it’s not out. The Iraqi-Syrian border remains highly porous, which provides the militants with the space to move back and forth with relative ease. The group continues to recruit, even if their social media presence is a far cry from the past. As Mike Giglio and Kathy Gilsinan wrote in the Atlantic, “Even after America spent billions of dollars during two presidencies to defeat ISIS, deployed troops across Iraq and Syria, and dropped thousands of bombs, ISIS persists.”

But it’s important to keep a cool head when we read alarmist reports about ISIS conducting attacks in Iraq at a heightened pace. You can find the “ISIS is newly resurgent” narrative in a lot of news stories, U.N. Security Council reports, and Pentagon documents. But all of them need to be digested in their proper context—a context that is often buried under a pile of popular myths about terrorism in general and ISIS in particular.

75 years after a historic meeting on the USS Quincy, US-Saudi relations are in need of a true re-think

Bruce Riedel

On Valentine’s Day 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Saudi King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud on an American cruiser, the USS Quincy, in the Suez Canal. It was the dawn of what is now the longest U.S. relationship with an Arab state. Today the relationship is in decline, perhaps terminally, and needs recasting.

FDR and Ibn Saud, as they were known popularly, could not have been more different. FDR was in his fourth term as the elected president of the most powerful country in the world, and on the eve of winning World War II. He had traveled the world and was returning from the Yalta summit with Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin. He was gravely ill and had only weeks to live. His blood pressure was 260 over 150. But he was convinced that Saudi Arabia would be crucial to America in the post-war world, thanks to its oil.

Ibn Saud had never been to sea before, or outside the Arabian Peninsula except for a brief trip to Basra, Iraq. He was a warrior who had created the modern Saudi kingdom through endless battles. He had little experience in international diplomacy. He was an absolute monarch backed by the fanatical Wahhabi clergy. But he had sent two of his sons, Faisal and Khaled, to America in 1943 to meet Roosevelt, tour across the country, and report home that America was the strongest and most advanced country in the world.

A Partnership at Risk

by Simon Serfaty
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IT IS no secret that the transatlantic partnership is at risk. Admittedly, this condition may seem neither new nor unusual. Ever since the United States assumed, on behalf of the West, a leadership it had earned the old-fashioned way—one war at a time—its main European partners have questioned its goals, methods, and even its values. Similarly, ever since the states of postwar Europe began their mutation into a European Union (EU), their ultimate goals, singular methods, and even some of their values have been cause for concern or occasional hostility, not just ambivalence, in the United States—one president and one issue at a time. 

Yet, for both the United States and the states of Europe, the crisis is different this time—certainly critical, difficult to contain, and possibly existential.

The difference can be explained in many ways. For one, the crisis is unusually complete, as it combines a full range of overlapping strategic, economic, and political issues that involve the EU and NATO as well as each of their thirty-five members. These issues transcend the personalities of their leaders or the specificities of any one state’s policy. Even absent Donald Trump, Brexit settled, and Vladimir Putin gone, the EU and NATO, the two main institutional pillars of the transatlantic partnership, would face a consequential agenda: engaging Russia, managing the Greater Middle East, responding to China, controlling the spread of nuclear weapons, ending the wars of 9/11, sustaining a rules-based commercial order, addressing the urgency of climate change, sharing the impact of a growing migrant crisis, regulating the cyber anarchy, digging out of massive imbalances, and more. These highly complex issues are the known knowns of the post-war, post-secular, and post-national agendas of the decade ahead. For many of these issues, the long term is running out of time. This is a time for more unity, not less—if not now, when? As Angela Merkel poignantly reminded Harvard’s new graduates in May 2019, “Anything that seems set in stone or inalterable can indeed change,” whether for better or for worse.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Santos stands pensively in a steep, vibrant field of sorghum in Guaymango, in jeans, a t-shirt, and a brown pair of sneakers. This is 2019, a Thursday in November. The stalks tower above him, but they do not move much in the humid morning. In the distance are hilly patches of tropical dry forest, sugar cane plantations, maize, fog, smog, and a high blue crust scraping the horizon—El Salvador’s noble, ancient volcanoes.

The handsome, soft-spoken farmer looks at a clutch of grass he is holding in his hand, leaning against his back leg. Neil, our videographer, is up the hill a few feet away, squatting.

It’s not that I wanted to leave, Santos explains. This is my family’s land.

But the yields from my farm got lower and lower as the soil deteriorated.

The increased intensity of rain over shorter periods made things even worse.

There was erosion. There was not enough food to provide for my wife and children.

We were going to have to leave.

The Complex Relationship Between Coal and Gas in Europe

Coal-fired generation in the European Union fell by 24 percent in 2019, leading to a sharp fall in CO2 emissions. The decline in coal consumption coincided with a surge in both renewables as well as natural gas, whose prices fell to new lows in 2019. There is a tendency to cheer the role that gas has played in reducing coal use, but that might oversimplify the forces at play. Gas is playing a role in reducing coal consumption in Europe, but that role is neither simple nor straightforward.

In 2019, coal-fired generation fell by almost 150 terawatt hours (TWh), while gas grew by 73.5 TWh—so roughly half the coal displacement came from gas (all data from this joint publication between Sandbag and Agora Energiewende). If one looks at a longer time period, from 2014 to 2019, the rise in gas (+242 TWh) covers almost three-fourths of the decline in coal (-330 TWh). But if one goes back further, to 2010, the picture is less clear. Coal has fallen 349 TWh from 2010 to 2019, while gas has also fallen by 65 TWh—in that time horizon, there is no observable switch from coal to gas.

The year-on-year changes in generation provide a clearer picture. In some years, coal and gas both declined (in 2009, 2013, 2014, and 2018). Occasionally, coal and gas both rose (in 2006, 2007, and 2010). Sometimes, coal rose but gas fell (in 2011 and 2012). And in other years, gas rose at the expense of coal (2005, 2008, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2019). It is hard to look at the experience of the past 15 years and conclude that there is a systematic and steady relationship between coal and gas in Europe.

Is the EU tough enough to stand up to digital giants like Amazon and Google?

Anwar Aridi and Urška Petrovčič

The proliferation of data into different fields of the economy presents opportunities for economic growth sorely needed in the European Union (EU). Better use of data permits firms to improve the quality of their products, increase efficiency, lower prices, and develop new products and services that bring enormous benefits to consumers. But with these opportunities comes a problem: how to protect competition in digital markets?

There is a growing concern that the tools used to identify anticompetitive practices in traditional industries will not work well when applied to the data economy. Tim Wu, Professor at Columbia Law School, for example, argues that the reason for the emergence of highly concentrated markets—in which a small number of tech companies holds significant market power—lies in the weak enforcement of antitrust law that has failed to keep up with the developments brought by digitalization.

As part of the ongoing World Bank Industry 4.0 Flagship Report, our background paper looks into the challenges of applying antitrust law to digital markets. Our objective was to identify policy directions that could foster the development of a competitive data economy in the EU.


What the Trump Defense Budget Gets Wrong About the Future of War

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The massive 2021 Department of Defense budget that the White House sent to Congress clocks in at $740.5 billion, with $705.4 billion earmarked for the Pentagon – the remainder to the Department of Energy and other government agencies for national security projects. As always, the preparation of the request to Congress was a long and tortuous project, spearheaded by the Secretary of Defense and his team through an interminable series of reviews. Each of the services fought hard for its share of “topline” (a Pentagon term for the entire U.S. defense budget) in an annual ritual that at times can resemble a circular firing squad. The theme of this year’s exercise was to reshape the military for combat with Russia and China (so-called “peer competitors”) and prepare for a “new era of great power competition.” The Joint Staff’s leading “budget” officer, Vice Admiral Ron Boxall, said that we are “now looking forward to a higher-end fight against an adversary that will have a higher capability.”

There is some cutting of older force structure (planes, tanks, ships) in order to ensure higher levels of readiness (the ability of the platforms to actually get underway and perform operationally). The Air Force, for example, says it wants to cut some of its older planes and drones (B-1 long-range bombers; A-10 tactical attack planes; F-16 and F-15 fighters; C-130 cargo planes; and some of the high-flying Global Hawk spy drones). [Disclosure: I consult for defense contractor Northrop Grumman.] The other services will make similar cuts, which makes sense to open up funding for both readiness and new systems.

Europe Puts What Remains of the JCPOA in Limbo

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About a year and a half after the United States left the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the agreement is nearing collapse. For months after U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to depart, the remaining parties to the JCPOA tried to keep it alive. But it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to do so.

One sign came on Jan. 14, in the form of a joint statement from three European signatories to the JCPOA—France, Britain, and Germany. Together, they announced that they had formally activated the deal’s dispute resolution mechanism, the process through which a complaint about a potential violation of the deal would be resolved. According to the text of the JCPOA, the dispute could end up at the U.N. Security Council, which could decide to place international sanctions back on Iran. The whole process takes about two months.

The Approaching Debt Wave


The first of these happened in the early 1980s. After a decade of low borrowing costs, which enabled governments to expand their balance sheets considerably, interest rates began to rise, making debt-service increasingly unsustainable. Mexico fell first, informing the United States government and the International Monetary Fund in 1982 that it could no longer repay. This had a domino effect, with 16 Latin American countries and 11 least-developed countries outside the region ultimately rescheduling their debts.

In the 1990s, interest rates were again low, and global debt surged once more. The crash came in 1997, when fast-growing but financially vulnerable East Asian economies – including Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, and Thailand – experienced sharp growth slowdowns and plummeting exchange rates. The effects reverberated worldwide.

But it is not only emerging economies that are vulnerable to such crashes, as America’s 2008 subprime mortgage crisis proved. By the time people figured out what “subprime” meant, the US investment bank Lehman Brothers had collapsed, triggering the most severe crisis and recession since the Great Depression.

Mean Streets

By Janette Sadik-Khan 
Some causes of death have little trouble catching the public’s attention. Avian flu, Ebola, and Zika have dominated news cycles and prompted international travel advisories. Plane crashes interrupt broadcasts and lead to thorough government investigations. Cancer, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS now attract billions of dollars of research. But one of the biggest killers of all gets little attention from governments, the media, or the general public. Car crashes killed 1.35 million people in 2016—the last year for which World Health Organization data are available—a grisly 3,698 deaths a day. Traffic injuries are now the top killer of people aged five to 29 globally, outpacing any illness and exceeding the combined annual casualties of all of the world’s armed conflicts. And the toll continues to rise: it grew by 100,000 in just three years, from 2013 to 2016. This does not include the up to 50 million people who are hit and injured by motor vehicles each year, some grievously, but who nonetheless survive. The economic losses are estimated at three percent of global GDP.

The New Spheres of Influence

By Graham Allison 
In the heady aftermath of the Cold War, American policymakers pronounced one of the fundamental concepts of geopolitics obsolete. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described a new world “in which great power is defined not by spheres of influence . . . or the strong imposing their will on the weak.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that “the United States does not recognize spheres of influence.” Secretary of State John Kerry proclaimed that “the era of the Monroe Doctrine is over,” ending almost two centuries of the United States staking claim to its own sphere of influence in the Western Hemisphere.

Such pronouncements were right in that something about geopolitics had changed. But they were wrong about what exactly it was. U.S. policymakers had ceased to recognize spheres of influence—the ability of other powers to demand deference from other states in their own regions or exert predominant control there—not because the concept had become obsolete. Rather, the entire world had become a de facto American sphere. Spheres of influence had given way to a sphere of influence. The strong still imposed their will on the weak; the rest of the world was compelled to play largely by American rules, or else face a steep price, from crippling sanctions to outright regime change. Spheres of influence hadn’t gone away; they had been collapsed into one, by the overwhelming fact of U.S. hegemony.

Scholars examine cyber warfare in new book

Clifton Parker

War is changing, and the U.S. military can now use cyber weapons as digital combat power.

When and how that’s done is the subject of a new book, Bytes, Bombs and Spies: The Strategic Dimensions of Offensive Cyber Capabilities, edited by Herb Lin and Amy Zegart at the Center for International Security and Cooperation and the Hoover Institution.

US military doctrine defines offensive cyber operations as operations intended to project power by the application of force in and through cyberspace. This is defined as actions that disrupt or destroy intended targets.

At a time when US cyber policy is taking a new direction, Bytes, Bombs and Spies is one of the first books to examine strategic dimensions of using offensive cyber operations. With chapters by leading scholars, topics include US cyber policy, deterrence and escalation dynamics, among other issues. Many of the experts conclude that research, scholarship, and more open discussion needs to take place on the topics and concerns involved.

AI looks set to disrupt the established world order. Here’s how

Sean Fleming

Artificial Intelligence could radically reshape geopolitics, according to a new report from Tortoise Intelligence.

Smaller economies that have talent in abundance and excel at research could start to challenge larger ones.

China’s centralized AI strategy means it will likely dominate the AI world.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is shaking up the global pecking order, allowing many smaller countries to stand tall in a new competitive landscape. Established metrics such as gross domestic product (GDP) can tell you at a glance which are the world’s largest economies. But, according to a new report, they won’t tell you which ones are most likely to succeed in a new AI-driven world.

That prize is likely to go to the country, or countries, that are making the right strategic investments now. Those investments are focused on equipping their citizens, businesses and institutions with the tools, technology and training needed for AI. And while the world’s two largest economies - the United States and China - look likely to dominate the AI race, some smaller nations could start to make an impact on the global AI stage.

AI a new and ‘frightening’ battlefield in cyber war, experts warn


Unbeknownst to the CEO of a company who was interviewed on TV last year, a hacking group that was trailing the CEO taped the interview and then taught a computer to perfectly imitate the CEO’s voice — so it could then give credible instructions for a wire transfer of funds to a third party.

This “voice phishing” hack brought to light the growing abilities of artificial intelligence-based technologies to perpetuate cyber-attacks and cyber-crime.

Using new AI-based software, hackers have imitated the voices of a number of senior company officials around the world and thereby given out instructions to perform transactions for them, such as money transfers. The software can learn how to perfectly imitate a voice after just 20 minutes of listening to it and can then speak with that voice and say things that the hacker types into the software.

Some of these attempts were foiled, but other hackers were successful in getting their hands on money.

How to Protect Democracy From Future Cyber Threats


Carnegie Europe is on the ground at the 2020 Munich Security Conference, offering readers exclusive access to the debates as they unfold and providing insights on today’s threats to international peace and stability.

The debacle during the Iowa caucus on February 3–4, when a new app designed to collect voting results malfunctioned, was a powerful reminder that it doesn’t take a nation-state to disrupt an election.

It was also a powerful reminder that while each of us carries the internet in our pockets via smartphones, the process of digitalization is by no means complete. The long-awaited advent of the Internet of Things—the extension of the internet connecting with things such as televisions and refrigerators—will lead to an exponential increase in internet-connected devices.

Even in the delicate context of elections such as the U.S. presidential primaries, the desire to go digital has not stopped.

Why more research is needed to craft good cyber policy

Mark Pomerleau
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Several academics in the cyber community working on a bipartisan commission to help craft a U.S. cyber strategy believe there isn't empirical evidence on cyber operations to understand its geopolitical dynamics. (NASA)

How cyber operations fit into geopolitics and act as a tool of statecraft is still largely not understood despite decades of cyber activity, experts said Feb. 12.

A flood of large scale hacks, data dumps, espionage, sabotage and cyber-enabled information warfare have driven academics and policy makers to better understand the nuances of cyberspace and the application of cyber tools in political affairs. But much work remains, experts said during an event hosted by the Atlantic Council Feb. 12.

“We’re trying to build a field in cybersecurity. I don’t think we’ve done that well enough,” said Brandon Valeriano, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and Bren Chair of Military Innovation at the Marine Corps University. “I don’t think we have enough empirical background. A lot of people make too many guesses. Too many claims about evidence. There’s a lot of ‘I think, I believe,’ we want to get towards some sort of version of ‘I know,’ and doing that through empirical truth claims. A way to do that is through multi-method research.”

Top 10 ERP vendors in 2020

by Hope Reese

With enterprise resource planning obstacles such as cost and lack of buy-in to consider, it's more important than ever to see how software will deliver benefits.

If you are an IT manager or executive trying to make the case for new enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, you may be facing an uphill battle, if stakeholders are cautious about getting on board. 

Many companies are concerned about hidden costs, extra services, and the internal resources involved in implementing new systems. Therefore, experts say, it's critical that your company takes a full evaluation of the resources involved in such a move.

The trend in 2020 is moving toward combining IoT with business intelligence, according to a new report––IoT can, for instance, send alerts when machinery needs maintenance. The sector is also continuing to move to the cloud.

In the report from Panorama Consulting Group, a number of software vendors were compared across functionalities to help businesses determine which is the best fit for them. The report also looks at when organizations should seek outside expertise, such as independent consultants.

The Strongest Military Is an Inclusive One

By Jason Lyall 

What makes an army successful in battle? A few factors come to mind: strength in numbers, tactical acumen, the type of political institutions at home. New technologies, including artificial intelligence, drones, and hypersonic weapons, might also tip the balance. But one of the most important determinants of battlefield performance is consistently overlooked: equality among soldiers, regardless of their ethnicity. 

How societies treat their constituent ethnic groups can make the difference between stunning success and crushing defeat once the shooting starts. As I argue in my new book, the last two centuries of warfare show that inclusive armies—meaning that all ethnic groups represented in the military are considered full citizens of the state they are serving—enjoy far greater success than non-inclusive ones. When armies are drawn from marginalized or repressed ethnic groups, by contrast, performance suffers. These divided armies typically spend as much time coercing their own soldiers to fight as they do actually waging war against the enemy.