21 February 2020

Mahinda’s India Visit: Reading Between The Lines – Analysis

By Sripathi Narayanan*

Between 7 and 11 February, Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR), travelled to India on his maiden foreign visit since assuming office. This visit marked the fifth high-profile bilateral exchange since his brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa (GR), was elected as the country’s president in November 2019. MR’s visit is significant not only in terms of the recent frequency of such exchanges but also vis-à-vis charting the progression of ties between the two Indian Ocean littoral neighbours. Since the beginning of the Rajapaksa presidency in November 2019, India and Sri Lanka have forged a new partnership not only by casting aside contentious issues of the previous (Mahinda) Rajapaksa presidential years, but also by focusing on new avenues of partnership that are also politically palatable to their respective domestic audiences.

India’s External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar, who visited Colombo a day after GR’s inauguration, can be credited with taking the initiative to iron out creases. Among other things, GR’s subsequent New Delhi visit entailed a US$ 450 million line of credit from India, which included a US$ 50 million for strengthening the Sri Lanka’s security apparatus (including counter-terrorism). Subsequent bilateral engagements, such as Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, Dinesh Gunawardena’s, India visit, following which India’s National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, visited Colombo, were more on the lines of taking forward that which was agreed upon during GR’s New Delhi visit.

Emerging Equation

Coronavirus Deepens India’s Economic Chill

By Anthony Fensom

Once Asia’s fastest-growing major economy, India’s recent downturn has seen the government hit the fiscal panic button. Will the coronavirus kill off its rescue effort?

As of February 17, India had only three confirmed cases of COVID-19, the official name for the new coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China. That’s negligible compared to the more than 72,000 infections reported in China. However, the economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis could further chill growth in India’s already troubled economy.

In a February 13 report, ANZ Research said India had only a relatively small percentage of Chinese tourists (2.7 percent of total inbound tourists in 2018) and China accounted for only 5.1 percent of its total exports in fiscal 2019, including chemicals and fuels. Consequently, the adverse impact on Indian GDP via these channels is estimated at just 0.04 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), “the lowest among Asian economies.”

However, before New Delhi breathes a sigh of relief, the Australian bank’s economists said some 14 percent of India’s imports come from China, making it the nation’s biggest import partner.

Ghani named winner of disputed Afghan poll, rival also claims victory

Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Orooj Hakimi

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan on Tuesday declared incumbent Ashraf Ghani winner of a disputed presidential election, but his main rival rejected the result and vowed to form his own government, threatening new turmoil as the United State strives to seal a U.S. troop withdrawal deal with Taliban militants.

Polls were held on Sept. 28 to select a president for the fourth time since U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban government in 2001. But the process was marred by allegations of rigging, technical problems with biometric devices used for voting, attacks and other irregularities..

Ghani won 50.64% of the vote, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) said on Tuesday. Abdullah Abdullah, Ghani’s former deputy and main rival, was named runner-up with 39.52%.

Abdullah Abdullah nevertheless said he and his allies had won the election and would form the government.

“The result they (IEC) announced today was a result of election robbery, a coup against democracy, a betrayal of the will of the people, and we consider it illegal,” he told a news conference following the announcement.

Redefining Victory in Democracy’s War on Terror

By Ami Ayalon, Ayal Hayut-man 

The U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, recent U.S. operations against Shi’ite militant groups in Iraq, and Israel’s wars against Palestinian and Lebanese terrorist organizations are all examples of a new type of war that Western states are currently fighting. Although this “new war” forms the majority of ongoing armed conflicts, states lack a clear understanding of what victory looks like in those conflicts. That is, leaders and planners lack a definition of what they aim to achieve when fighting terrorist organizations. When no commonly accepted definition of victory exists, even major tactical successes can lead to failure. In this post, we propose that, within the context of war against terrorist organizations and other violent nonstate actors, victory should be defined not as a singular event but rather as a continuous process of providing security while maintaining society’s core values in the face of terrorist threats.

The term “victory” itself is not as obvious or intuitive as some may think. Theoretically, victory in war can be viewed as an objective, rational function between the costs—measured in casualties, loss of resources, damage to infrastructure and the like—and benefits, measured in the new political reality achieved following military and political efforts. However, this new reality can be considered a victory only insofar as it matches the values and preferences of the party going to war. The same is true in terms of cost: The question of which costs are acceptable and which ones are not is a deeply subjective one, deriving again from values and norms of the society seeking victory. In this post, therefore, we define victory as the achievement of the political goals of the war, as defined by the state according to its core values (as enshrined in its constitution and other foundational documents) and the creation of a stable political reality.

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

BY: Belquis Ahmadi; Barmak Pazhwak; Michael V. Phelan

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.Afghan laborers and merchants moved goods through a bazaar known for Iranian dry foodstuffs and other sundries in Herat, Afghanistan, which is sometimes called “Little Iran,” April 16, 2017. (Bryan Denton/The New York Times)

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.

Questions About China’s DF-17 and a Nuclear Capability

By Ankit Panda

In testimony before the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Armed Services last week, Admiral Charles A. Richard, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, discussed a range of developments in the strategic nuclear forces of both Russia and China. “China continues to expand and increase its strategic force capabilities,” Richard observed in his prepared testimony.

Describing some of the modernized Chinese systems, Richard listed the Dong Feng 17 (DF-17), China’s first hypersonic boost-glide vehicle-equipped missile system, which was first revealed to the world publicly at the October 1, 2019, parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic.

“During the 70th Anniversary Parade in October 2019, the PLA unveiled new strategic nuclear systems, including the H-6N BADGER bomber, DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), DF-17 medium-range ballistic missile, and improved submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM),” Adm. Richard observed.

Trump’s Phase One Deal With China Misunderstands Global Trade


Soon after U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping announced a phase one U.S.-Chinese trade deal in late December 2019, relief was palpable. Pundits looked forward to the return of some semblance of stability and quickly jumped on who had won and who had lost. And the winners seemed plentiful enough; the global business community generally welcomed a “truce” that moderates tariff-based uncertainties, keeps stock markets at historic highs, and promises reforms in China’s foreign investment regime. The agreement also appeared to meet the near-term political needs of Trump, who faces an upcoming election, and those of Xi, who wants to moderate economic risks while trying to strengthen the role of the Communist Party.

Yet in the long term, the deal may have more losers than meets the eye. Any violation of the agreement’s commitments would trigger an unusual dispute resolution mechanism that might ultimately destroy the rules-based international trading system created and nurtured by the United States over the past century.

Some skeptical observers have noted that the deal leaves in place most of the trade-war tariffs that continue to burden both consumers and producers. There are also concerns that major issues in the trade relationship, such as the role that state enterprises and subsidies play in China’s economy, are being pushed off for future discussions. But a more fundamental problem is that the framework for this deal is conceptually flawed, which will result in unrealistic expectations and unfulfilled commitments.

The International Politics of Energy and Resource Extraction

Despite concerns over the environmental impact of industrial mining and the contribution that fossil fuels make to global warming, resource extraction continues to be a major source of revenue for both developing countries and wealthier nations alike. In fact, new data show that the amount of resources being pulled from the earth has tripled since 1970, though the global population has only doubled in that time.

Amid global efforts to reduce carbon emissions as part of climate change diplomacy, fossil fuels remain among the most prized extractives, for a simple reason: Global demand combined with the wealth they generate continues to give some countries, including members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, outsized global influence.

The Inconvenient Truth About ISIS


The Islamic State has lost all of its territory; tens of thousands of its fighters have been killed or are imprisoned; and its former leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is dead. But a Kurdish leader who witnessed the militant group’s rise and fall is warning that ISIS is putting itself back together and stressing an uncomfortable fact: that ISIS is bigger now than it was nearly six years ago, when it founded its self-styled caliphate.

Eager to move on, President Donald Trump has declared victory over ISIS. Nevertheless, the conflict is ongoing, and to the extent that the Democratic presidential candidates mention the fight, it’s to express their desire to withdraw troops. The reality, though, suggests that a definitive end to the conflict remains out of reach. 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. If anything, it stands ready to exploit Trump’s impatience to end America’s “forever wars” and shift the country’s focus to countering Iran.

Europe resists mounting US pressure on Huawei 5G technology

By: Kelvin Chan

LONDON — The Trump administration is stepping up pressure on European allies to ban Chinese tech firm Huawei from supplying next-generation mobile networks, with more officials visiting this week to press the case.

The diplomatic push seems to be failing, however, after Britain decided to allow Huawei as a potential supplier. Germany, another close ally, is leaning toward the same decision.

The visit to London by a United States delegation highlights how China's involvement in new 5G networks is an increasingly important part of President Donald Trump's battle with China over economic and technological preeminence.

Europe finds itself caught in the middle. Here is a look at key issues in the debate.

What’s at stake?

How Russia’s Putin Is Planning for Permanent Power After His Presidency

Andrei Kolesnikov

MOSCOW—Svetlana Alliluyeva, Joseph Stalin’s daughter, recalled in her memoir that before the tyrant drew his final breath, he cast a menacing glance at the confidantes and relatives gathered around him, then raised his arm as if to point to something or threaten someone. He may have been attempting to articulate his final request or even designate a successor, but no one ever decoded the gesture. Stalin left no formal plans for succession despite having ruled the Soviet Union for three decades. After his death, three senior officials—Nikita Khrushchev, Georgy Malenkov and Lavrenty Beria—quickly entered into a fierce power struggle to lead the Soviet state.

Vladimir Putin wants to avoid that kind of political uncertainty after his presidency is up. That is why last month, he suddenly announced a shake-up of his Cabinet and a set of far-reaching constitutional reforms in Russia that lay the groundwork for his political future after his presidential term ends in 2024. Just hours after the announcement, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev resigned, and a mostly unknown bureaucrat was appointed to replace him. ...

New US Strategy and Technology

By George Friedman

The world is facing a fundamental strategic and technical shift in both the geopolitics of war and its dynamic. The shift is being driven by the United States’ decision to change its global strategic posture and the maturation of new classes of weaponry that change how wars will be fought.

U.S. Posture

The U.S. has publicly announced a change in American strategy consisting of two parts. The first is abandoning the focus on jihadists that began with al-Qaida’s attack on the U.S. in 2001. The second is reshaping and redefining forces to confront China and Russia. For a while, it had been assumed that there would no longer be peer-to-peer conflicts but rather extended combat against light infantry and covert forces such as was taking place in Afghanistan. After every international confrontation, including the Cold War, the absence of immediate peer threats leads strategists to assume that none will emerge, and that the future engagements will involve managing instability rather than defeating peers. This illusion is the reward of comfort to the victorious powers. Immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union, the belief was that the only issue facing the world was economic, and that military strategy was archaic. The events of 9/11 changed that, but the idea of national conflicts was still seen as farfetched.

The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President


One day last fall, I sat down to create a new Facebook account. I picked a forgettable name, snapped a profile pic with my face obscured, and clicked “Like” on the official pages of Donald Trump and his reelection campaign. Facebook’s algorithm prodded me to follow Ann Coulter, Fox Business, and a variety of fan pages with names like “In Trump We Trust.” I complied. I also gave my cellphone number to the Trump campaign, and joined a handful of private Facebook groups for MAGA diehards, one of which required an application that seemed designed to screen out interlopers.

The president’s reelection campaign was then in the midst of a multimillion-dollar ad blitz aimed at shaping Americans’ understanding of the recently launched impeachment proceedings. Thousands of micro-targeted ads had flooded the internet, portraying Trump as a heroic reformer cracking down on foreign corruption while Democrats plotted a coup. That this narrative bore little resemblance to reality seemed only to accelerate its spread. Right-wing websites amplified every claim. Pro-Trump forums teemed with conspiracy theories. An alternate information ecosystem was taking shape around the biggest news story in the country, and I wanted to see it from the inside.

Congress, Not the Attorney General, Should Decide the Future of Encryption

By Alan Z. Rozenshtein 

The debate over end-to-end encryption focuses on the substantive question: Should encryption be restricted to help law enforcement, or do the privacy and security benefits of this technology outweigh its costs? A draft copy of the EARN IT Act, which could deprive platforms that use end-to-end encryption of their immunity from civil suit under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act for child exploitation materials posted by users, has a set off a new round of debate.

But the encryption debate frequently ignores the vital procedural question: Who should decide? The EARN IT Act puts that question front and center by giving the attorney general the ultimate say in setting the “best practices” that will give Section 230 immunity for child exploitation suits. (And given Attorney General William Barr’s recent statements criticizing end-to-end encryption, it is reasonable to think that he might include forgoing end-to-end encryption in the best practices.) Passing the buck to the attorney general is a bad idea.

Why Oil Rebounded Last Week Despite Coronavirus Doom – OpEd

By Cornelia Meyer*

Last week proved once more that markets often react on sentiment and perceived outlook rather than to cold, hard facts.

The coronavirus outbreak severely impacted oil demand, a situation underlined by forecasts released last week by both the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The IEA downgraded its demand predictions for this year by 365,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 825,000 bpd, the lowest since 2011. It even expected oil demand to fall by 435,000 bpd during the first quarter of 2020.

OPEC’s downward revisions were less hefty. The organization predicted oil demand to grow by 990,000 bpd in 2020, which included a downward revision of 230,000 bpd.

The two reports were published amidst negative news of the coronavirus. Its impact on Chinese oil demand has been severe, reducing the run rates of refineries by as much as 3 million bpd. The impact of the virus will take 1.1 million bpd out of the market during the first quarter of this year and 344,000 bpd during the second in China – all according to the IEA.

A Persistent Crisis in Central America

Violence and corruption in Central America, particularly in the Northern Triangle countries, is causing a wave of outward migration. The Trump administration's response to the problem could make it worse. Meanwhile, newly elected reformist leaders in El Salvador and Panama face opposition from entrenched interests that benefit from the status quo. Explore WPR's extensive coverage of the Central America crisis.

For years, Central America has contended with the violence and corruption stemming from organized crime and the drug trade. Now the countries of the region also find themselves in U.S. President Donald Trump’s line of fire, due to the many desperate Central Americans who make their way across Mexico to seek asylum at the United States’ southern border.

The steady stream of outward migration is driven by ongoing turmoil, particularly in Nicaragua and in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The three Northern Triangle countries rank among the most violent in the world, a legacy of the civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, which destabilized security structures and flooded the region with guns. In that context, gangs—often brought back home by deportees from the U.S.—have proliferated, and along with them the drug trade and corruption, fueling increasing lawlessness. Popular unrest has done little to produce political solutions, leading many of the most vulnerable to flee.

Trump Is Failing His Dictatorship Test

Stephen M. Walt 

Shortly after Donald Trump was elected, I wrote up a list of the "10 Ways to Tell if Your President Is a Dictator." I wasn’t saying Trump was in fact an aspiring autocrat; it was merely a list of warning signs to keep track of as his presidency preceded. In 2017, I offered an updated assessment and concluded that the danger of creeping autocracy was pretty serious.

Now that Trump has been acquitted by a Republican-controlled Senate that couldn't even be bothered to interview any witnesses with personal knowledge of his possible high crimes and misdemeanors, it seems appropriate to revisit my list once again. Spoiler alert: There are some flashing red lights on the dashboard.

1. Systematic Efforts to Intimidate the Media

Russia at the United Nations: Law, Sovereignty, and Legitimacy


The central task for Russian foreign policy in the era of President Vladimir Putin has been to regain recognition that Russia is a world power like the Soviet Union before it. The United Nations (UN) is a positive platform for this aspiration, as Russia, with its UN Security Council (UNSC) veto power, is a privileged member of what it sees as a concert of world powers.

Russia’s participation in the UN is governed by an interlocking series of concepts, starting with Russia’s definition of international law, narrowly based on the UN Charter and Security Council resolutions, as opposed to a “rules-based order” that Russia defines as expansive and promoting the interests of Western powers. This division enables Russia to reject on principle commitments regarding human rights and democratic governance. A second concept, multipolarity, asserts that an oligarchic group of states must take collective action on the basis of equality and consensus. At the UN, this plays out among the permanent members of the UNSC as an alliance with China against Western interests.

Toward Accountable Nuclear Deterrents: How Much is Too Much?



For decades, policy debates in nuclear-armed states and alliances have centered on the question, “How much is enough?” What size and type of arsenal, and what doctrine, are enough to credibly deter given adversaries? This paper argues that the more urgent question today is, “How much is too much?” What size and type of arsenal, and what doctrine, are too likely to produce humanitarian and environmental catastrophe that would be strategically and legally indefensible?

Two international initiatives could help answer this question. One would involve nuclear-armed states, perhaps with others, commissioning suitable scientific experts to conduct new studies on the probable climatic and environmental consequences of nuclear war. Such studies would benefit from recent advances in modeling, data, and computing power. They should explore what changes in numbers, yields, and targets of nuclear weapons would significantly reduce the probability of nuclear winter. If some nuclear arsenals and operational plans are especially likely to threaten the global environment and food supply, nuclear-armed states as well as non-nuclear-weapon states would benefit from actions to physically reduce such risks. The paper suggests possible modalities for international debate on these issues.

Homeland Security wants a new cyber coordination group

Andrew Eversden

The Department of Homeland Security wants to establish an internal organization dedicated to coordinating cybersecurity efforts across DHS and identifying joint priorities.

In its fiscal 2021 budget request, DHS asked Congress to allocate it $2.6 million to create the Joint Cyber Coordination Group. The group would have six full-time employees and be housed under the Office of Policy, Strategy and Plans (PLCY). DHS’ congressional justification say that it needs the group because expanding technological and cyberthreats make it difficult for any one component to manage “all aspects of associated risk.”

According to budget documents, the JCCG would provide a “central location" where permanent staff and representatives from across DHS components can “synchronize” cyber activities. Currently, the department “lacks sufficient mechanisms to develop, plan for, and execute strategic operational priorities across Components and coordinate long-term protective and deterrent efforts to counter cyber risks," officials wrote.

“The absence of such a body impairs policy and operational decision-making by the secretary and the ability to ensure full visibility into all components’ authorities, capabilities, and resources to inform strategic actions by the department to address prioritized national cyber and technology risks."

Hackers could shut down satellites – or turn them into weapons

William Akoto
Last month, SpaceX became the operator of the world’s largest active satellite constellation. As of the end of January, the company had 242 satellites orbiting the planet with plans to launch 42,000 over the next decade. This is part of its ambitious project to provide internet access across the globe. The race to put satellites in space is on, with Amazon, U.K.-based OneWeb and other companies chomping at the bit to place thousands of satellites in orbit in the coming months.

These new satellites have the potential to revolutionize many aspects of everyday life – from bringing internet access to remote corners of the globe to monitoring the environment and improving global navigation systems. Amid all the fanfare, a critical danger has flown under the radar: the lack of cybersecurity standards and regulations for commercial satellites, in the U.S. and internationally. As a scholar who studies cyber conflict, I’m keenly aware that this, coupled with satellites’ complex supply chains and layers of stakeholders, leaves them highly vulnerable to cyberattacks.

If hackers were to take control of these satellites, the consequences could be dire. On the mundane end of scale, hackers could simply shut satellites down, denying access to their services. Hackers could also jam or spoof the signals from satellites, creating havoc for critical infrastructure. This includes electric grids, water networks and transportation systems.

Germany moves to protect its military-cyber industry

Sebastian Sprenger

MUNICH — A new German strategy document declares defense-related cyber technologies as key national assets, affording the domestic sector some protection from international competition.

Government officials made the move with the publication of a paper this week outlining the types of technology Berlin wants to buy at home, in Europe or from global vendors. The designation of a key technology means the government can sidestep European Union rules requiring public acquisitions be open to companies throughout the bloc.

The areas of artificial intelligence, electronic warfare, networked operations and cryptology, and defense-related information and communications technology are in the category deemed so crucial to national security that the government wants to keep the sector healthy.

“A technological challenge for our security and defense lies in the area of digitalization and artificial intelligence,” read the strategy document, issued by the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.

Technological Optimism and the Imagined Future: Implications for Warfare

By James L. Regens, Matthew R.H. Uttley & Charles B. Vandepeer

“I will ignore all ideas for new works and engines of war, the invention of which has reached its limits and for improvement I see no future hope.”

—Sextus Julius Frontinus (Engineer, General, and Statesman, circa 40 - 103 AD)

Militaries reaching back to antiquity have sought to leverage technologies that provide advantage against their prospective adversaries on the battlefield. History is littered with examples of surprises in combat and unexpected military outcomes caused by new technologies or the innovative application of existing technologies. The new technology or novel application of existing technology may be truly revolutionary and fundamentally alter the status quo by rapidly replacing previous conditions rendering them obsolete (i.e., the new or novel may be transformative).[1] Alternatively, the new technology or innovative application of existing technology may incrementally disturb but not immediately destroy the status quo and replace existing conditions due to thorough and dramatic change (i.e., the new or novel may be disruptive). The chariot, the stirrup, gunpowder, the steam ship, the internal combustion engine, aircraft, submarines, radar, computers, nuclear weapons, the transistor, and satellites come to mind.[2] Those advantages—whether transformative or disruptive—may enhance mass through concentration and distribution of overwhelming force at the right time and place; maneuver through mobility of forces in the battlespace to obtain positional advantage over an adversary; or surprise through unanticipated strikes at times, locations, or in ways that achieve tactical, operational, or strategic success.[3]

The conventional wisdom of technological optimism presumes that the new technology is categorically different, delivers a devastating effect, and will be decisive in warfare, especially if its introduction on the battlefield is a surprise. This vision of the future is not surprising. As the 3rd of Clarke’s Three Laws—or, more accurately, guidelines—postulates, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”[4]

The Answer is Multi Domain Operations – Now What’s the Question?

by Phil Clare

Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, Wizard of Oz 1939.

For Dorothy, the process for making her wish come true was quite simple; a few heel taps whilst repeating the same phrase over and over again. During his capstone address to the 2019 RAF Air and Space Power Conference, Air Chief Marshal Hillier uttered the words ‘Multi-Domain Operations’ seven times. Dorothy got home; quite where Defence is with Multi-Domain Operations is less clear. Supporters and proponents of Multi-Domain Operations, devoid of sparkly red shoes, are engaged in a fight to make their case. The question is, are they winning?

Multi-Domain Operations are certainly generating their own bandwagon effect. Numerous papers have been written, blogs published, and conferences held in their honour. They represent the latest in a series of visionary leaps that have tried to address the question of how the West should fight its wars. To some, Multi-Domain Operations represent the future, to others they are very much new wine in old bottles and a mechanism for attracting funding. They do represent the here and now and therefore deserve our attention.

Our first problem with Multi-Domain arises when we try to define what a warfighting domain actually is. Heftye’s 2017 article is a thorough dissection of the problem and three years after it was written his statement that ‘the exact meaning of domain remains largely undefined’ remains perfectly valid1. There is also a good old Clausewitzian debate to be had as to whether the ‘new kids on the block’ (cyber and space) are more than enablers to where the ‘real fighting’ takes place. That debate is beyond the scope of this paper but Barnes’ argument over presentism is well made and needs to be heard2. Equally as critical is Spirtas’ ‘words move money’ argument which all but accuses the US defence community of adopting new terminology as a vehicle to attract funding. Cynicism for Multi-Domain Operations runs deep3.

The Air Force Has Some Thinking to Do: Airpower and the Future Urban Battlefield

Heather Venable

The targets . . . just keep getting smaller: individuals, extremists, terrorists, the architects of chaos who disappear in the urban vomit that is the modern city . . . and even with precision, all our options start to look like needles in haystacks.

— Williamson Murray, “Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003” in A History of Air Warfare (ed. John Andreas Olsen)

Anyone following Army outlets such as the Modern War Institute cannot fail to miss the numerous timely pieces being published on urban warfare. Doctrine, study groups, and training exercises supplement this discussion. Although Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein called for the service to prepare for urban battlefields back in 2017, little appears to have been done since then. As such, the Air Force has no similar public discussion to the Army’s, and that is a real problem because, as a range of scholars and military thinkers have argued, war is moving to the cities.

Most of the Air Force’s limited discussion of urban warfare centers on precision weapons as well as the advantages of multi-domain command and control. Goldfein, conceding in 2017 that the Air Force was more prepared for conflict in “open space,” still insisted that the solution for airpower rested primarily in “nodes and networks,” an approach that characterizes Gen. Goldfein’s vision for airpower in general. A more recent article, by contrast, takes the more traditional approach of some airpower advocates, calling for yet another airpower revolution in technology, this time in the realm of munitions effects. What is missing, though, is a larger operational picture that incorporates ideas and doctrine as much as it does technology.