20 February 2020

President Trump’s Visit to India: Need to Focus on the Strategic Context

Arvind Gupta

President Trump is visiting India on a state visit on 24-25 February 2020. The Indian government will no doubt lay out the red carpet for the visiting President. This is President Trump’s first visit to India as President. Although the visit comes late in his presidency, Prime Minister Modi can take credit for securing Trump’s visit. A massive public reception, which in scale and grandeur will match the “Howdy Modi” show in Texas, awaits the president when he visits Gujarat. The expectation in India is that the visit would lead to further cementing of strategic relations between the two countries. At the same time, given President Trump’s unpredictable nature, there are anxieties how the visit may pan out.

While visiting India, Trump would be in a celebratory and triumphant mood. After having been impeached by the Congress, he has been acquitted by the Senate. The Democrats are in a disarray. The American economy is doing well, creating jobs. Trump would be confident about the prospects of his winning a second term as President.

On the foreign policy front, Trump has humbled China. The China-US phase one trade deal is almost entirely one-sided, in favour of the United States. China is grappling with the coronavirus outbreak which has raised concerns about Xi’s leadership. The Chinese economy is in trouble. There are question marks about social and political stability in the country.

What Exactly Is in the Details of the Taliban Truce?

By Eli Lake 

In the last year, Congress has begun to claw back its constitutional power to declare war. A possible U.S. truce with the Taliban will show whether the legislative branch is willing to reassert its peace-making power as well.

The latest example of Congress’s renewed interest in its war-making authority is its 55 to 45 vote last week in the Senate limiting the president’s ability to attack Iran unless he gets explicit authorization from Congress. This followed a vote last year to end U.S. military participation in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

These votes are important correctives to decades of Congress abdicating its war-making power to presidents of both parties. News that the U.S. and the Taliban are close to reaching a seven-day truce and a possible agreement for the withdrawal of most forces from Afghanistan presents an opening for Congress to exert some control over the peace process — which in this case amounts to a dangerous foreign policy.

The first step is not necessarily asserting the Senate’s right to approve an eventual peace treaty. Rather, it is to gain access to the entire agreement that is now being negotiated in Doha between U.S. Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and representatives of the Taliban.

Why the Taliban Won’t Cut Ties with Iran

By Kashif Hussain

Last week, the Taliban cautioned the United States to refrain from making further demands, reservations and excuses. A few days earlier, the insurgent group expressed frustration with what they described as “additional U.S. demands” — a key U.S. demand from the Taliban has been the group’s disallowal of the use of Afghan territory for attacks against the United States by groups like al-Qaida. The Taliban showed a willingness to offer this guarantee in exchange for a timeline and eventually a complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. Unable to announce a timeline due to disagreement within its own government and with Kabul, the United States stressed a need for the insurgents to strike a cease fire deal and start intra-Afghan talks. While the Taliban have been hinging on their key demand of an announcement of a timeline for a complete troop withdrawal before considering any of Washington’s demands, the latter asked the insurgent group to cut ties with Iran after the recent deterioration in Washington-Tehran relations. 

A few days after the assassination of Iran’s top general Qasem Soleimani, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of undermining the Afghan peace process by using militant groups in the country, and cautioned the Taliban to disengage themselves from the Islamic republic. He emphasized that “the Taliban’s entanglement in Iran’s dirty work will only harm the Afghan peace process.” Pompeo, however, provided no details to support his charge. 

Europe Needs a China Strategy; Brussels Needs to Shape It

By Julianne Smith and Torrey Taussig

Europe’s momentum in developing a clear-eyed approach toward China has stalled. In March 2019, the European Commission issued a white paper naming China a systemic rival and economic competitor. That publication marked a fundamental shift in how far European institutions were willing to go in raising the challenges China poses to Europe’s openness and prosperity. It also reflected shifts that were occurring in capitals across Europe. Just as the European Union was rolling out its white paper on China, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was arguing that Europe should view China as a competitor as much as a partner, and French President Emmanuel Macron warned China that “the period of European naivety is over.”

However, since those March proclamations, neither the EU nor individual European leaders have taken the meaningful steps needed to close existing vulnerabilities in Europe’s relationship with China, stand up for European values of democracy and human rights, or strengthen Europe’s resolve against Chinese economic and political pressure. Certainly, the EU had significant distractions in the second half of 2019, as it managed a leadership transition and negotiated the Brexit arrangement, but EU leaders also had opportunities to press China on these key issues. During Merkel’s visit to China last September, she raised her concerns about Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement but failed to bring up Chinese human rights abuses against Muslims in Xinjiang. Macron was even more reserved on human rights in his visit to China in November. He made no public mention of Chinese human rights abuses in Xinjiang, nor did he call on President Xi Jinping to respect China’s commitment to Hong Kong people’s rights.

Chinese Coercion in the South China Sea: Resolve and Costs

Ketian Zhang

A reputation for resolve. China uses coercion in the South China Sea primarily to establish a reputation for resolve for defending its sovereignty.

Economic costs of coercion. China coerces only countries whose markets or resources it does not need.

Sensitivity to geopolitical cost. When deciding whether to use military coercion, China considers the likely geopolitical backlash from the United States or its allies.

China has used coercion in its disputes in the South China Sea since the 1990s. In some cases, particularly in the mid-1990s, this has involved the use of the Chinese military. In 1994, for example, China deployed naval ships to blockade a Vietnamese oil rig operating in waters claimed separately by China and Vietnam as an exclusive economic zone (EEZ). In 1995, China’s military seized and occupied Mischief Reef, an atoll contested by China, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

How the Coronavirus Impacts China and its Foreign Policy

Jacob Stokes; Rachel Vandenbrink; Paul Kyumin Lee

China hit a grim landmark earlier this week when the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak surpassed 1,000 with over 40,000 recorded cases of infection—and those numbers are rising every day. The outbreak, which originated in Wuhan, China, has rattled global markets and catalyzed concern over a widespread epidemic beyond China’s borders. The suffering has been immense, and people in China and those with family or friends there are frightened about what’s next. Meanwhile, there are shortages of masks and supplies and hospitals are overrun, with rising anxiety due to travel restrictions and quarantine policies.People wear face masks at the Central MTR station in Hong Kong on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. (Lam Yik Fei/The New York Times)

There are many questions about what led to the outbreak and how it spread, but Chinese officials have been characteristically wary of sharing information. USIP’s Jacob Stokes, Rachel Vandenbrink and Paul Kyumin Lee discuss explain how the outbreak has impacted U.S.-China relations, how Beijing’s closest partners have responded and the impact on Hong Kong and its protest movement.

How has the coronavirus outbreak impacted U.S.-China relations?

Did the World Health Organization Totally Fail to Fight the Coronavirus?

by Roger Bate
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A recent article by the Wall Street Journal documents the pushback it has received. The specific concern is that WHO was too friendly and laudatory of the Chinese Government in its dealings with Beijing and didn’t declare a public health emergency quickly enough. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Ethiopian head of WHO, gushed that “China is actually setting a new standard for outbreak response”.

The Journal’s case is mixed, as only time will tell whether the WHO should have declared an emergency faster, right now it looks plausible. But what is certain is that the WHO is susceptible to such pressure.

Tedros, as he is widely known, downplayed his own country’s cholera epidemics when he was its health minister between 2005 and 2012. Lawrence Gostin, a public health expert at Georgetown University, says that some of the cover-ups in 2006, 2009 and 2011 occurred on Tedros’ watch, whereas Tedros says it wasn’t cholera but just “acute watery diarrhea”. But cholera was found in stool samples.

'Century of Humiliation': How the Opium Wars Made China What It Is Today

by Sebastien Roblin

Key Point: When the Qing sued for peace in 1842, the British could set their own terms.

In 1839, England went to war with China because it was upset that Chinese officials had shut down its drug trafficking racket and confiscated its dope.

Stating the historical record so plainly is shocking — but it’s true, and the consequences of that act are still being felt today.

The Qing Dynasty, founded by Manchurian clans in 1644, expanded China’s borders to their farthest reach, conquering Tibet, Taiwan and the Uighur Empire. However, the Qing then turned inward and isolationist, refusing to accept Western ambassadors because they were unwilling to proclaim the Qing Dynasty as supreme above their own heads of state.

Foreigners — even on trade ships — were prohibited entry into Chinese territory.

The exception to the rule was in Canton, the southeastern region centered on modern-day Guangdong Province, which adjoins Hong Kong and Macao. Foreigners were allowed to trade in the Thirteen Factories district in the city of Guangzhou, with payments made exclusively in silver.

Insecurity and political values in the Arab world

Melani Cammett Ishac Diwan

Within a few years of the historic Arab uprisings of 2011, popular mobilization dissipated amidst instability in many Arab countries. We trace the relationship between shifting macro-political conditions and individual-level political values in the Middle East, demonstrating that a preference for democracy and political trust are not fixed cultural features of populations but rather can shift rapidly in the face of perceived insecurity. Our empirical analyses employ longitudinal data from the Arab Barometer covering 13 countries and data from the 2015 World Values Survey, which includes both Arab and non-Arab countries in order to benchmark regional developments against global patterns. Our findings contribute to the growing body of research on the political effects of insecurity and oppose culturalist depictions of fixed political attitudes among Muslims in narrow perspectives on the relationship between Islam and democracy.

Turkey’s unpalatable choices in Syria

Galip Dalay

Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib is experiencing a deepening humanitarian crisis. As the Russia-backed Syrian regime pushes to retake this last major enclave of the Syrian opposition, hundreds of thousands of people have fled towards Turkey’s borders. According to the United Nations, 700,000 people have fled Idlib since December 1.

As the main backer of the opposition in Syria, Ankara has desperately tried to convince Moscow to halt the Syrian regime’s offensive, but to little avail. Aggravating the matter, the Syrian regime killed 13 Turkish soldiers in two deadly Russia-backed attacks in the past week.

These developments contrast with the emerging picture of Turkish-Russian relations in the last few years, which were fast improving (drawing much international scrutiny). Indeed, that relationship has led many in the West to believe that Turkey is moving further away from the West and closer to Russia. Much to the dismay of its NATO allies, Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s sophisticated S-400 missile system has further contributed into this perception. The purchase was the outcome of a cooperative process that was born within the context of the Syrian imbroglio. Whereas differences between the U.S. and Turkey over the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), particularly in northeastern Syria, drove them apart, Russian acquiescence to Turkey’s military operations against the SDF in northwestern Syria brought them closer.

Hackers Join Forces Against U.S. And Israeli Targets: This Is What An Iranian Cyber Attack Looks Like In 2020

Davey Winder

Ever since the 2010 Stuxnet worm attack on the Natanz nuclear plant that was eventually attributed to the U.S. and Israeli governments, Iran has been taking "cyber" seriously. Although the notion of Iran initiating a cyberwar scenario has been largely dismissed, there has been no shortage of cyber muscle-flexing from the Iranian regime. While the cyber-attack that took down 25% of the Iranian internet on February 8 has not been attributed to U.S. threat actors, let alone state-sponsored ones, it is unlikely to calm the anti-West cyber-rhetoric. Or, indeed, the cyber-espionage campaigns originating out of Tehran. Much of this activity is aimed at the U.S. and Israel, and much of it has been attributed to state-sponsored hacking groups. Newly published research has now revealed that an ongoing Iranian offensive campaign, active for the last three years, is likely the result of some of these so-called Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups working together.

The fictional James Bond character became famous for his range of, frankly, quite ridiculous technological aids from the cigarette gun in Casino Royale to the tracking nanoparticles injected into Bond's bloodstream in Spectre. Back in the real-world and state-sponsored espionage has increasingly relied upon far-from fictional technologies. I recently reported how the CIA enabled the U.S. to spy upon more than 100 foreign governments across decades by secretly building backdoors into the encryption equipment they used. Iranian state-sponsored hackers have not had the luxury of such near-ubiquitous infiltration, nor are they traditionally thought to be that advanced when compared to their Chinese or Russian contemporaries. However that hasn't prevented Iranian hacker groups from conducting highly successful cyber-espionage campaigns.

Israel's new strategy in the war with Iran

Yochanan Visser

Last week, two important events regarding Israel’s struggle against Iran occurred.

The first was the roll-out of the Israel Defense Forces new multi-year strategic plan dubbed ‘Momentum’, and the second was the announcement that the IDF now has a special Iran Command that will focus on detecting and analyzing threats posed by the Islamic Republic.

The plan was drawn up by Aviv Kochavi, the IDF’s Chief of Staff, and approved by Defense Minister Naftali Bennett. It is now awaiting final approval by the Israeli cabinet.

A part of the plan has already been carried out and it will significantly improve the capabilities of the Israel military versus the Iranian axis in the field of lethality, intelligence, cyber-warfare and, aerial superiority.

“After a thorough and in-depth process with the chief of staff, IDF commanders and the defense establishment, I endorsed the Momentum Plan that will allow the IDF to strike at the enemy faster, with greater force, with greater lethality and thus defeating the enemy and achieving victory,” Bennett said on Thursday.

Testimony of Laura Manley Before the United States House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

Laura Manley

Chairwoman Johnson, Ranking Member Lucas, and distinguished Members of the Committee, thank you for calling today’s hearing on congressional Science and Technology (S&T) expertise and for the opportunity to testify. The views I express in this testimony are my own and should not be construed as representing any official position of the Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School, or Harvard University.
Congress’s Role in Governing Emerging Technologies

We are at a pivotal moment in time. Emerging technologies are moving from research labs to store shelves faster than we’ve ever seen. In the past ten years, social media, smartphones, cloud computing, genetic editing, and other AI-fueled technologies have changed how humans live, work, eat, and interact with one another. Many of these technologies hold tremendous promise, but each has a downside, too. Protecting online privacy, combating climate change, and safeguarding elections from hacking are all examples of areas where science and technology expertise is needed by our policymakers to ensure society benefits from these new technologies while harms are minimized.

Driving much of this innovation are United States-based companies, scientists, and technologists. Eight of the ten largest tech companies in the world (including Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, IBM, and Facebook) are American and out of the top 150 largest tech companies, the U.S. is home to nearly half. The U.S. is also a global leader in creating cellular therapies and other biotechnologies, according to Deloitte, and is in a race with China for ‘biointelligence’ supremacy by combining artificial intelligence and biotechnology capabilities. And according to the World Intellectual Property Organization’s ranking of innovative countries, in 2019 the U.S. ranked first in quality of innovation and market sophistication, with the most top science and technology innovation clusters in the world.

The New Spheres of Influence

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.

How do science and policy intersect? Harvard professor explains

Sheila Jasanoff, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, speaks to TNM about the need for Science and Technology Studies, policy playing catch-up with the progress of science, data collection in democracies and more.

It’s widely accepted in India that humanities and social sciences isn’t given the same due as sciences. But the two still are linked, and the implications of humanities on the sciences are rarely studied. Here’s where Science and Technology Studies comes in. 

An academic field that sits at the intersection of these fields, it looks at how science and technology emerged from society, how it shapes society, what the risks are, etc. In a nutshell, it looks at understanding the relationship between science, politics, societal challenges and law and policy. A pioneer of the field, Sheila Jasanoff, a Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the Harvard Kennedy School, speaks to TNM about the origins of the field and the need for one, policy playing catch-up with the progress of science, data collection in democracies and more. 

Sheila, who is originally from India, says that human values are at the centre of science. “In the US, STS has grown hand in hand with engineering, which hasn’t been the case in India,” she says. 

Clausewitz and His… Singularity?

Phil W. Reynolds

Long before his famous Trinity Clausewitz had discovered the Singularity. No, no, YOU get out! It’s true! It’s not really a secret- it’s just that people who built their careers as Strategists (gasp!) get paid a lot of money to lecturing practitioners would prefer you to believe in the mystery of Clausewitz, a mystery that only Strategists (gasp!) can unravel. The strategy-industrial complex is always promising that the key to victory in the next war is just a few more classes away. A bit harsh, perhaps, but if it were found that the guy who is quoted to justify big wars and the absolute invincibility of the offensive battle actually understood that people’s war was stronger than the offensive, then a great many books would never sell and the war colleges might find themselves without a purpose. And you, SF dudes, the Infantry, and everyone that’s climbed ridges and walked through alleys, have paid the price, in long wars, with no victory, no matter how much mass and destruction is applied to the enemy. So, I present Clausewitz’ Singularity, in the hope that the last war has been blundered through, the last TICs are over, and the last pair of boots have worn out.

What Clausewitz Thought of On War…

In teasing out the Singularity, I am actually expanding Clausewitz’ philosophy, primarily as described in his opus, On War, to more fully account for the partisan of small wars, revolutions, internal wars, guerrilla wars and insurgencies which have increased in the post 9/11 world.[1] It was in his earliest writings and letters, after the Prussian defeat at Jena in 1806, that one finds the first fragile strands of this new theory, truncated as they are in the unfinished On War. Clausewitz himself pointed out in 1827 that On War was “merely as a rather formless mass that must be thoroughly reworked once more…”[2] Just a year before his death, he still regarded the manuscript as “nothing but a collection of materials from which a theory of war was to have been distilled.”[3] If Clausewitz himself thought something was missing, then perhaps we can allow ourselves an extended thought experiment to find this missing piece?

Yes, the Global Economy Will Slow Down in 2020

by Stratfor Worldview
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For the global economy in the year ahead, challenges won’t be far away, with uncertainty from unpredictable policymaking on trade and investment, coupled with potential geopolitical disruptions and financial vulnerabilities, leading the way. And that's not all, for there are a variety of other factors that portend a sustained period of sluggish growth, including:

Heightened policy and political risk, along with significant trade barriers, that are damaging business and investor confidence, thereby depressing world trade, investment and growth.

Geopolitical tensions such as the recent standoff between the United States and Iran, a potential technological divergence between Washington and Beijing, and the possibility of a U.S.-EU trade war.

Financial fragility related to years of accommodative monetary policy and the massive accumulation of public and corporate debt everywhere.

Country-specific issues that could affect major economies, including the anticipated slowdown in China's growth.

Donald Trump Has Made the U.S. Military Stronger

by Michael O'Hanlon
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For Fiscal Year 2021, President Trump has just requested $6 billion less for national defense than what the Democratic House and Republican Senate recently approved, and he signed into law, for 2020. The administration claims funding will actually roughly hold steady next year, since it promises not to raid the defense budget as much for the border wall. But inflation will still eat away at the new numbers. Real defense funding would decline by some 2 percent in 2020—at a time when military leaders are on record saying they need consistent annual real growth of 3 to 5 percent to carry out their plans (and independent analysts like those at CBO agree).

Yet Trump’s request of $740 billion for national defense in 2021 is still a huge amount of money. It exceeds the inflation-adjusted Cold War average (including costs of the Korean and Vietnam wars, and the Reagan buildup) by more than $200 billion. It represents nearly 40 percent of the global total; add in America’s key allies, and the West accounts for at least 2/3 of world military spending. The U.S. figure is about triple China’s budget (though in fairness, China can concentrate its efforts in the western Pacific, whereas the United States has important responsibilities in Europe and the broader Middle East as well); it is more than ten times Russia’s. It is about 15 percent, or $100 billion, more than the annual real-dollar level President Trump inherited from President Obama. 

The White Swans of 2020


NEW YORK – In my 2010 book, Crisis Economics, I defined financial crises not as the “black swan” events that Nassim Nicholas Taleb described in his eponymous bestseller, but as “white swans.” According to Taleb, black swans are events that emerge unpredictably, like a tornado, from a fat-tailed statistical distribution. But I argued that financial crises, at least, are more like hurricanes: they are the predictable result of built-up economic and financial vulnerabilities and policy mistakes.

Financial markets remain blissfully in denial of the many predictable global crises that could come to a head this year, particularly in the months before the US presidential election. In addition to the increasingly obvious risks associated with climate change, at least four countries want to destabilize the US from within.

There are times when we should expect the system to reach a tipping point – the “Minsky Moment” – when a boom and a bubble turn into a crash and a bust. Such events are not about the “unknown unknowns,” but rather the “known unknowns.”

Beyond the usual economic and policy risks that most financial analysts worry about, a number of potentially seismic white swans are visible on the horizon this year. Any of them could trigger severe economic, financial, political, and geopolitical disturbances unlike anything since the 2008 crisis.

Money and Empire


PRINCETON – Centuries are usually analyzed with reference to the great powers that dominated them. The nineteenth century was the era of Pax Britannica, although most people now realize that the “pax” in that case was not particularly peaceful. The twentieth century became the American Century, as heralded in Henry Luce’s February 1941 editorial in Life magazine. And the current century, one often hears, will belong to China (and, perhaps, to India).

How did this kind of thinking start, given that no one would characterize the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries this way? The rise of military superpowers provides part of the answer, but economic and financial domination explains much more.

Nowadays, a key feature of the national narratives in China and India is an effort to explain why they did not reach their current levels of regional or global influence much earlier. After all, both have long had spectacular accumulations of wealth and large populations. The problem is that both relied on institutionally flawed and militarily vulnerable imperial systems. Their national stories are thus about imperial hubris, but also about how commercial and economic calculations tore the old empires apart. That is why the Chinese still lament what they call the “century of humiliation.”

Can Sanders Do it?


AUSTIN – US Senator Bernie Sanders has emerged as a plausible Democratic nominee for president in 2020. This has been clear for some time to those paying attention to his organization and fundraising, and to the sequence of the early primaries, where small states (New Hampshire) favor him by geography and large ones (California) favor him by name recognition. The New York Times, Politico, and quotable Democratic Party insiders all now admit that Sanders may well be the party’s nominee to face President Donald Trump in November.

If nominated, Sanders has a fighting chance of being elected. In fact, his chances may be better than any of the other primary contenders, considering the states and voters that he would need to tip back into the Democratic column. According to the RealClearPolitics compilation of national polls, Sanders has held a consistent lead for nearly a year, with only a brief interruption in December 2019, when Trump benefited from a transient backlash against his impeachment. His nine-point lead over Trump in a hypothetical matchup is the largest among the remaining Democratic candidates. More important, Sanders is well positioned to take back a sufficient number of working-class voters in the critical states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Nothing Will Be the Same: 5G Will Be Everything

by Bret Swanson
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Last week, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai outlined his plan to auction a huge swath of wireless spectrum known as the C-band. It was a tricky dance because Pai had to find a compromise among satellite firms that currently (under)utilize the spectrum (to beam video and audio content to broadcasters and others) and would like to sell much of it, mobile carriers that would like to buy it for their 5G wireless build-outs, and various political factions who have their own ideas about how to manage the airwaves.

It looks like Pai’s plan has attracted enough support to auction 280 megahertz (MHz) of spectrum by December 2020. The C-band is attractive because of both its size, which offers lots of capacity, and where it sits on the frequency map, which fills a key strategic role in new 5G network architectures. The additional 280 MHz could nearly double the total existing spectrum now deployed by all major mobile carriers. This particular auction is just one part of a much larger big-bang of spectrum availability.

Are Google, Facebook and Amazon Killing off Competition?

by James Pethokoukis
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The FTC has ordered MAGA–F — Microsoft, Apple, Google owner Alphabet, Amazon, and Facebook — to provide a decade’s worth of information about acquisitions of fledgling firms. Anti–tech activists and other Big Tech critics argue that America’s tech titans are hurting competition and innovation by purchasing upstart rivals and discouraging new ones from getting funded. The first I heard of this theory was in 2018 when watching video of a University of Chicago conference on tech and antitrust. During one of the sessions, venture capitalist Albert Wenger explained how “the scale of these companies and their impact on what can be funded and what can succeed is massive …. We have an annual summit where we bring our portfolio company founders and CEOs together and last year the word that came up from [one of the entrepreneurs] is that ‘I’m only investing in things that are not in the Facebook–Apple–Amazon kill–zone, Google kill–zone.’”

The classic example is Instagram. Instead of the social media firm being a vibrant Facebook competitor, it’s “Instagram from Facebook.” The app, purchased in 2012 for $715 million when it had 13 employees and no revenue, generated some $20 billion in ad revenue for Facebook in 2019, according to Bloomberg. At a minimum, Facebook’s purchase accelerated the company’s growth. “Instagram didn’t need to build all of the infrastructure of an ad business, a considerable undertaking,” tech analyst Ben Thompson of Stratechery has noted.

Superpower Slump: Is America Technologically Stagnant?

by James Pethokoukis
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Has America been technologically stagnant for a half century? That’s apparently one of the main arguments found in New York Times columnist and AEI visiting fellow Ross Douthat’s upcoming book, The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success

Now, I haven’t read this book. But it was just reviewed by entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who quotes the following passage, I assume accurately: “Over the last two generations,” Douthat writes, “the only truly radical change has taken place in the devices we use for communication and entertainment so that a single one of the nineteenth century’s great inventions [running water] still looms larger in our every­day existence than most of what we think of as technological breakthroughs nowadays.”

So the Robert Gordon thesis, as well as Thiel’s Twitter vs. Flying Cars argument. And this stagnation is a result of, well, “decadence,” I suppose. Now since I have not read the book, I will keep my analysis general. 

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