9 March 2020

India’s Beleaguered Health System Braces for Virus Surge

By Aniruddha Ghosal and Emily Schmall

India is bracing for a potential explosion of coronavirus cases as authorities rush to trace, test, and quarantine the contacts of 31 people confirmed to have the disease. 

It is screening international travelers at 30 airports and has already tested more than 3,500 samples. The Indian army is preparing at least five large-scale quarantine centers.

For weeks, India watched as cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, multiplied in neighboring China and other countries as its own caseload remained static — three students evacuated from Wuhan, the disease epicenter, who were quarantined and returned to health in the southern state of Kerala. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said last week that community transmission is now taking place. India has shut schools, stopped exporting key pharmaceutical ingredients, and urged state governments to cancel public festivities for Holi, the Hindu springtime holiday in which people douse each other with colored water and paint.

Modi canceled travel plans to Brussels for an India-EU summit amid a rising caseload in Belgium, and tweeted that he would not attend any Holi festivities.

The US-Taliban Deal Ignores Human Rights and Women

By Farahnaz Ispahani

The recently signed peace deal between the United States of America and the Taliban, whom the U.S. deemed as terrorists until recently, reflects not just American military withdrawal from Afghanistan but also an abandonment of Afghan women, children, and religious minorities.

Given the well-documented record of their atrocities, particularly the group’s targeting of women, it would have made sense for any agreement with the group to include specific commitments to at least renounce their past conduct.

But the Trump administration has agreed to lift sanctions against the Taliban without explicit pledges relating to human rights and the protection of the status of women. The Doha agreement of February 29 lays down a timeline for the withdrawal of American troops in exchange for the Taliban breaking ties with al-Qaeda and agreeing to talks with other Afghans on the country’s future.

The administration’s desire to withdraw American troops after 18 years of war is understandable. The United States went into Afghanistan to locate and destroy al-Qaeda safe havens in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. It has been almost two decades since 9/11 and most Americans have lost the sense of urgency in confronting radical Islamist extremism that led to the U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan.

U.S.-Taliban Peace Deal Under Fire

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KABUL—The fragile peace deal between the United States and the Taliban appeared to hang in the balance Wednesday as the U.S. Defense Department announced its first airstrike against Taliban forces in 11 days and bitter disagreements between the radical Islamist movement and the Afghan government, as well as internal divisions in Kabul, threatened to nullify the pact.

People throughout the nation were holding their breath, caught in a limbo between fear and hope, as new violence erupted in a country long torn by civil war. Both U.S. and Afghan officials suggested that the Taliban were violating the pact despite an unprecedented telephone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and Taliban political leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar on Tuesday, after which Trump said the two had agreed there would be “no violence.”

In a series of tweets, Col. Sonny Leggett, the spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said the Taliban had conducted 43 attacks against Afghan national forces on Tuesday alone. In response, he said: “The US conducted an airstrike on March 4 against Taliban fighters in Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand, who were actively attacking an #ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] checkpoint. This was a defensive strike to disrupt the attack. This was our 1st strike against the Taliban in 11 days.”

The mess in Afghanistan

Bruce Riedel

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the signature title of the Taliban, is rightly pleased with the agreement that it signed with the United States in Qatar on February 29. The agreement concedes their long-sought demand for the withdrawal “from Afghanistan of all military forces of the United States, its allies, and Coalition partners, including all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisors, and supporting services personnel within fourteen (14) months.” It is no wonder the Taliban is hailing the deal as a victory.

The United States secretary of defense has said that the Pentagon has already begun the first stage of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from 12,000 to 8,600. NATO, which was not even dignified with being named in the agreement, is also pulling out. The agreement categorically rules out any residual counterterrorism force or any training for the Afghan military. In short, it abandons the Afghan government’s military and puts the future of counterterrorism in the region in the hands of the Taliban and their Pakistani patrons.

It will be extremely difficult for the United States intelligence community to operate in this environment. The lack of any force protection even private contractors will inhibit the business of collecting information in dangerous territory. The challenge of knowing what is happening in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, long a hub of numerous terrorist organizations, will be acute.

Around the halls: Brookings experts discuss the implications of the US-Taliban agreement

John R. Allen, Bruce Riedel, Michael E. O’Hanlon, Vanda Felbab-Brown, and Madiha Afzal

The agreement signed on February 29 in Doha between American and Taliban negotiators lays out a plan for ending the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, and opens a path for direct intra-Afghan talks on the country’s political future. Brookings experts on Afghanistan, the U.S. mission there, and South Asia more broadly analyze the deal and offer their views on what may come next.

John R. Allen, President of the Brookings Institution: My colleagues here at Brookings have written artfully about the pros and cons of the recent U.S.-Taliban peace deal, and the overall outlook for Afghanistan. I agree with much of their analysis, all of which is rooted in their deep expertise on the issue at hand.

Having led all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan from 2011-13, I have my own perspective on this agreement, which is grounded in practical, lived experience. As I’ve said publicly, the Taliban are untrustworthy; their doctrine is irreconcilable with modernity and the rights of women; and in practice, they’re incapable of summoning the necessary internal controls and organizational discipline needed to implement a far-flung agreement like this. The so-called “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan” will not only not be honored by the Taliban, it will also not bring peace.

COVID-19 Trumps Nationalism


NEW YORK – I was recently walking along East 29th Street in Manhattan, after visiting a friend at Bellevue Hospital, when I was roused from my thoughts by a middle-aged white male screaming at an old Chinese man, “Get the fuck out of my country, you piece of Chinese shit!” The old man was stunned. So was I, before I bellowed back (deploying the full range of my native Australian vocabulary), “Fuck off and leave him alone, you white racist piece of shit!”

Like climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example of why we need multilateralism in a globalized world. Rather than resorting to thinly veiled racism and isolationist policies, global leaders – particularly the United States – should have started organizing a collective response weeks ago.0Add to Bookmarks

The pedestrian traffic stopped. A young white guy with dark hair came storming toward me. As a non-pugilist by instinct and training, I braced for what was coming. He stopped just short of me and said, “Thank you for standing up for him. That’s why I fought in Iraq; so that people like him could be free.”

CIA Hackers Accused Of 11-Year Attack In New Chinese Cyber Report: This Is What’s Behind It

Zak Doffman

Chinese security company Qihoo 360 has taken the security world something by surprise, with published claims that it has exposed an eleven-year campaign by “CIA hacking group (APT-C-39),” which, it says, targeted a range of Chinese industries, including aviation, oil and gas and tech, as well as several government agencies.

“It is worth noting,” the report says, “that the attacked information technology sectors of civil aviation by the CIA are not only in China, but also involves hundreds of commercial airlines [in other] nation states.”

This is is a report heavy on speculation and inferences from already public data, and lacking in detailed attribution. What’s more interesting is that the company has elected to do this now in the public domain. We can now likely expect further Chinese exposure of alleged U.S. exploits, the potential for individuals to be identified, and a further shift of this cyber tit-for-tat into the public domain.

China, alongside Russia and (to a lesser extent) Iran and North Korea, has been framed by the U.S. government as the primary cyber threat globally. Legal action has been taken against multiple Chinese nationals, charged with cyber crimes and cyber espionage on U.S. soil. We also have the backdrop of the ongoing standoff with China over tech and AI, with Huawei and China’s AI unicorns front and center.

China Alters Civil Society Rules, Allowing More Groups to Respond to Coronavirus

By Holly Snape
As the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) epidemic continues in China, so do the efforts of civil society organizations (CSOs) and concerned citizens to mitigate the harm. In the official approach to managing their involvement, there have been clumsy force-of-habit measures from the state, controversies over how donations are collected and deployed, and punishments for cadres-cum-charity leaders. Early government attempts to monopolize the collection and deployment of donated money and materials have caused critical bottlenecks, and weak coordination among departments and policies are blocking efficient deployment of desperately needed protective equipment. But scholars, donors, CSO professionals, and volunteers are constantly probing for ways around constraints. They have acted swiftly to question government measures, produce policy recommendations, trace and challenge the deployment of protective masks and other vital resources by officially-backed charities, and organize teams able to deliver goods directly to hospitals. As this surge of social activity draws attention to the problems created by initial government measures, the Ministry of Civil Affairs is now shifting its policy toward facilitating rather than frustrating CSO efforts, including those of foundations and government-organized NGOs (GONGOs).
Early Constraints

On January 23, the day the government announced Wuhan was to be cordoned off to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus, the official Wuhan City COVID-19 Command Center (武汉市新冠肺炎疫情防控指挥部), a local government body set up to coordinate control efforts, issued a notice calling for charitable donations. The notice designated two GONGOs as official recipients of both cash and material donations: the Wuhan Red Cross and the Wuhan Charity Federation. It also announced that the Command Center itself would be in charge of “unified allocation and use.” That is, these two GONGOs would receive donations, and the Command Center would control their deployment.

Coronavirus Fears Are a National Security Crisis

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The arrival in the United States of the new human coronavirus (which causes the coronavirus disease, COVID-19) certainly qualifies as a national security crisis. It is also a cause of widespread anxiety.

The latter deserves to be a concern for policymakers, and the public, too. As someone who has made a career of studying foreign policy from the perspective of threat perception, I have spent years observing and analyzing how people and organizations respond to crises—and how those responses, especially ones marked by fear, can themselves contribute to catastrophe.

Here are some pointers for maintaining a reasonable perspective amid the current public panic. (This isn’t intended as public health advice—but national security expertise can nevertheless help keep you healthy.)

First, you should recognize that media is overwhelmingly incentivized to produce negative and alarmist headlines, without the accompanying historical context and analytical expertise needed for the average person to evaluate the severity of those headlines. This is especially problematic for the new coronavirus, because Americans have significantly poor health literacy relative to their knowledge of other public policy issues. And while some news publications may be responsible and balanced, most are operated on business models that privilege sensationalism and deem positive news and positive trends to be not newsworthy. Meanwhile, as several studies of the Ebola crisis demonstrated, it’s best to stay off of social media unless you want to be misinformed or terrified.

Everything You Need to Know About Coronavirus Vaccines

It’s been fewer than three months since a novel coronavirus emerged in China, causing fever, coughing, and, in severe cases, pneumonia. Since then, the disease known as Covid-19 has swept into 72 countries, infecting nearly 93,000 people and killing more than 3,000.

What makes the coronavirus scary enough to cause a worldwide run on face masks and lead countries to lock down whole megacities and ban travelers isn’t that it’s super deadly. So far, the World Health Organization estimates Covid-19’s fatality rate to be about 3.4 percent globally, which is still lower than other recent coronavirus outbreaks, including SARS and MERS. (That said, it appears to be more fatal than flu, which has a case fatality rate of around 0.1 percent.) And it’s very contagious. Still, most people who get Covid-19 will recover in a week or two, without need for hospitalization. What has people panicked is that it’s new.

Plus: How can I avoid catching it? Is Covid-19 more deadly than the flu? Our in-house Know-It-Alls answer your questions.

In the US and other developed countries, particularly in the global north, mystery illnesses don’t strike that often. People are used to having answers and a plan for avoiding getting sick. In these places, vaccines have already eliminated infectious diseases that were once common, including polio, hepatitis, and the measles. If you get your flu shot every year, the worst thing you’ll usually pick up is a case of the common cold.

The coronavirus is exposing the limits of populism

Thomas Wright and Kurt Campbell
COVID-19 is becoming the third major crisis of the post–Cold War period, following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the financial collapse of 2008. Expertise matters. Institutions matter. An enlightened response, even if it’s unpopular, matters, argue Thomas Wright and Kurt Campbell. This piece was originally in The Atlantic.

During the 2008–09 financial crisis, the stock market, global trade, and economic growth all fell by greater margins than in the same period of the Great Depression of 1929–33. However, unlike in the 1930s, governments set aside smaller disagreements, coordinating domestic policies to save the global economy. After a rocky year, the economy stabilized and a second great depression was averted. The response, not the scale of the initial shock, mattered most. As Daniel Drezner, an international-politics professor at Tufts University, put it, the system worked.

The coronavirus, which causes the disease now called COVID-19, may be another once-in-a-century event. If some of the gloomier projections of COVID-19 play out, the world will face one of its worst peacetime crises of modern times. Unfortunately, this crisis occurs in a dark political climate, more similar to that of the early ’30s, when many governments pursued nationalist, beggar-thy-neighbor policies such as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, and international cooperation was very limited. Over the past decade, the world has grown more authoritarian, nationalistic, xenophobic, unilateralist, anti-establishment, and anti-expertise. The current state of politics and geopolitics has exacerbated, not stabilized, the crisis.

In Saudi Arabia, the virus crisis meets inept leadership

Bruce Riedel

Saudi Arabia is facing serious challenges from the coronavirus, testing a leadership that has been impulsive and exclusive. The monarchy has become more remote from even most of the royal family in the last five years. Now the monarchy’s response to the virus has been unprecedented. Attention should be focused particularly on the young man who makes the day-to-day decisions in the Royal Palace.

So far, the kingdom has reported publicly only a small number of confirmed cases of infection, but it’s neighborhood has been badly affected — especially Iran. Close neighbors including Bahrain and Kuwait have reported numerous cases.

The global economic downturn, led by China, has pushed the price of oil down significantly as demand has dropped precipitously. The Saudis are under pressure to cut production to stimulate growth, but that means less revenue for the kingdom. With an expensive war in Yemen that is heating up, as I recently wrote, the economy is stagnant.

More immediately, the king has taken the unprecedented step of shutting the holy cities in Mecca and Medina to pilgrims. At first this was only for foreigners but now the closing is applying to everyone. The kingdom normally encourages pilgrims all year, with often up to one million foreign pilgrims coming every month to make umrah, or the so-called lesser hajj. Late this week, the Saudis reopened the mosques after sterilization for limited visits, but not umrah.

Huawei Doubles Down on Europe With New Factory

By Eleanor Albert

Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment producer, has announced plans to build its first manufacturing plant in Europe. The $225 million production hub, set to be based in France, will create an estimated 500 jobs. The plant, the first outside of China, will first focus on radio equipment for 5G to serve all of continental Europe. Liang Hua, Huawei’s chairman, said “Our group’s activities are worldwide and for this we need a global industrial footprint.”

The announcement of this new plant is but one part in the Chinese telecom giant’s ongoing expansion, with Europe increasingly presented as a 5G battleground. Despite being the site of Huawei’s European plant, the French government has yet to articulate a clear position on the company. Meanwhile, France’s largest mobile operator, Orange, opted to partner with Noki and Ericsson for 5G development. Other French providers, including Bouygues Telecom and SFR, already rely on Huawei, though they have not finalized 5G partnerships.

The United States has sought to convince its allies and partners, particularly in Europe, to be reticent of Huawei over national security concerns. In 2018, top U.S. intelligence officials shared their distrust of both Huawei and ZTE in testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. FBI Director Christopher Wray said, “We’re deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks.”

Pompeo’s Turkish Gambit Fails in Syria

by Matthew Petti 
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Russia and Turkey announced a ceasefire agreement for Syria on Thursday afternoon that directly rebukes U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s demands earlier in the day—dashing U.S. hopes that Turkey could help roll back Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s control of the country.

Pompeo told reporters on Thursday morning that it was a U.S. “requirement” for Assad to return to 2018 ceasefire lines in northwest Syria after weeks of fighting between Turkish and pro-Assad forces. Only a few hours later, Turkey agreed to a Russian-brokered ceasefire along the existing front lines in northwest Syria, which cements Assad’s post-2018 military gains.

The agreement ended Pompeo’s latest attempt to forge a U.S.-Turkish alliance against Assad, who is backed by Iran and Russia.

The Trump administration has sought to expel all Iranian forces from Syria since former National Security Advisor John Bolton declared it a U.S. policy goal in September 2018. In recent months, the State Department has stepped up its attempts to force Iran out by bringing down Assad through both diplomatic and military pressure.

JUST IN: Pentagon to Spend Billions Mass-Producing Hypersonic Weapons

By Jon Harper

The Defense Department plans to spend billions of dollars in the coming years on large-scale production of hypersonic weapons, a senior official said March 4.

The systems are designed to fly faster than Mach 5 and challenge enemy defensive systems with their high speed and maneuverability. They have been a top priority of Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin.

“We're actually to the point where we're beginning to believe that, at least for rocket-boosted hypersonic glide vehicles, we really think we have the technology close to being in hand,” he said at the McAleese & Associates annual conference in Washington, D.C.

To compete with great power competitors China and Russia, the U.S. military will need to field large numbers of them, he said.

“The adversaries are not going to be scared by production levels where we produce one a week,” Griffin said. “I mean that's 500 by the end of the decade. That doesn't scare anybody. Our adversaries are accumulating them by ... hundreds of thousands. So we are making a major investment in production of hypersonic weaponry at scale. I'm not going to quote a number, but I'll just say we're going to be making a major investment of many billions of dollars.”

Nuclear Threats Are Growing. How Should U.S. Missile Defenses Be Upgraded?

Loren Thompson
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When future historians analyze U.S. security policies during the early decades of the 21st century, they may be hard-pressed to explain what policymakers were thinking.

Between 2001 and 2019, Washington spent a trillion dollars defending Afghanistan from the Taliban. During the same period it spent 5% of that amount, $50 billion, defending the U.S. homeland against ballistic missile attack by another nuclear power.

The logic explaining why so little money went to a seemingly more important mission was that Washington had come to rely on the threat of massive retaliation to deter Russia and China from nuclear aggression. Threatening horrible consequences turned out to be cheaper than building real defenses.

Unfortunately, before the new century had progressed very far, other potential nuclear aggressors began to appear. It wasn’t clear whether a nuclear-armed North Korea or Iran could be deterred in a crisis by threatening retaliation.

NATO Is in Denial About the Risk of War Between Turkey and Russia

Candace Rondeaux
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For most close observers, it has long seemed only a matter of time before the long, bloody proxy war between Turkey and Russia for regional predominance in the Middle East would break out into full-scale direct hostilities. That came closer to happening last week, when Russian-backed Syrian forces attacked a Turkish military outpost in Idlib province, leaving more than 30 Turkish soldiers dead. However, few observers would have predicted the utter impotence of Turkey’s ostensible military partners in NATO in the face of what is arguably the gravest threat to the future of the alliance since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.

In retaliation for last week’s attack, which some initial reports claimed was the work of Russian bombers, Turkey has pounded Syrian forces with drone strikes and taken out the Syrian army’s Russian-made anti-aircraft batteries. Earlier this week, Russian warships in the Black Sea fleet steamed across the Bosporus strait to boost the Russian navy’s presence in the eastern Mediterranean. ...

The U.S. Government Is Vulnerable to Virus Chaos

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The outbreak of the coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, has become both a global public health crisis and a political wild card. A collapse in faith in government competence or inequality in access to vaccines and treatments could reshape politics rapidly and unexpectedly. Whether the coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, could kill a significant number of Americans is not yet clear, but it is vital that the U.S. government proceed as if the answer is yes.

Hope now hangs on a combination of both human and natural factors that might slow the outbreak or mitigate its effects—a situation that does not inspire optimism. Of particular concern are countries that are unable to effectively collect data and respond to the outbreak, due to weak health systems or weak governance, projecting their vulnerability far beyond their borders. The more people infected with the virus globally, the more vulnerable Americans become, both from a public health and an economic standpoint. Our common defense is only as strong as the weakest link.

Debate: ‘Spheres of Influence’—a Reality to Be Faced or an Atavism to Be Rejected?

The term “‘sphere of influence’ … entered the vocabulary of diplomacy in the early 19th century,” according to Harvard’s Graham Allison, “but the concept is as old as international relations itself.” By way of illustration, Allison invokes the image of a “shadow” cast by a state that has become predominant after “the equilibrium of forces” between it and another state has shifted greatly enough. “Traditionally,” he goes on, “great powers have demanded a degree of deference from lesser powers on their borders and in adjacent seas, and they have expected other great powers to respect that fact.” While this definition does not seem to be contested by experts, the right of countries to claim spheres of influence certainly is.

In the opening argument of the debate below, Paul Saunders, a senior fellow in U.S. foreign policy at the Center for the National Interest, takes what might be called a “realist” approach: While he does not believe that the U.S. should publicly endorse Russian or other spheres of influence, he does call on U.S. policy elites to stop denying, in America’s internal policy debates, that “Russia and other states have national interests and that, while we may not agree with how those states define their interests,” they must be included “among other considerations in formulating U.S. policy.” With America’s relative power on the global stage diminishing over the past 20 years as China and, to a lesser extent, Russia have risen, Saunders concludes that “the United States will have to work much harder to have its way [in the world] and will not be able to expend such effort everywhere. 

How ASML became chipmaking’s biggest monopoly

Ask people to pinpoint the centre of the digital economy and many will finger Silicon Valley, populated by Apple, Google, Facebook and too many sexy startups to count. Others may nod at the area around Seattle, where Amazon and Microsoft are based. Some could suggest Shenzhen, China’s technology hub. Few would point to a nondescript suburb of Eindhoven, the Netherlands’ fifth-biggest city. Yet on closer inspection, the case for Veldhoven looks compelling. It is home to asml, the world’s sole manufacturer of the most advanced equipment critical to modern chipmaking. If chips make the world go round, asml may be the closest the multi-trillion-dollar global tech industry has to a linchpin.

asml is not the only maker of photolithographic machines, which use light to etch integrated circuits onto silicon wafers. It competes with Canon and Nikon of Japan. But the Dutch firm’s market share has nearly doubled, to 62%, since 2005. And it alone has harnessed “extreme ultraviolet” (euv) light, with wavelengths of just 13.5 nanometres (billionths of a metre). Shorter wavelengths allow the etching of smaller components—vital for chipmakers striving to keep pace with Moore’s Law, which posits that the number of components that can be squeezed into a given area of silicon doubles roughly every two years.

The tech giants are about to declare satellite war on the traditional telecoms operators

Enrique Dans

Bloomberg reports that Apple has long been working on creating a satellite network in competition with many other similar initiatives, particularly those of SpaceX or Amazon. If one thing is clear, it is that the 2020s are going to be the satellite years, further crowding the night sky and confounding astronomers. What’s more, companies that fail to join the race will soon find themselves standing on the sidelines.

Launching satellites into low orbit has become easier in recent times, allowing us to imagine business models based on satellite as a service, along with new access offers that can generate disruption in telecommunications companies. SpaceX already has some 12,000 satellites planned in three different orbits, Amazon has asked for permission to launch 3,236 more, and a wide range of companies such as Telesat LEO, SES O3B, Iridium Next, LeoSat, Samsung or OneWeb intend to compete in a crowded field that already has its own regulatory struggles to try to limit the launches of other competitors.

DoD Winnowing Efforts To Counter Small Drones


ARLINGTON, VA: DoD will finish down-selecting “best of breed” systems to counter small drones in April, as a first step in a longer-range plan to streamline the myriad programs across the services, according to Army Maj. Gen. Sean Gainey, deputy director for force protection on the Joint Staff

The goal, he told the Association of the US Army (AUSA) here today, is to “eliminate redundancy and excess across the joint forces.”

Gainey heads the new Joint Counter Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (C-sUAS) Office that the Army stood up to manage its 2019 mandate from Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to serve as DoD’s C-sUAS Executive Agent (EA). The EA is charged with finding joint solutions to the threat caused by small drones, and to ensure that the services are not duplicating each other’s efforts. Esper approved the EA implementation plan on Jan. 6.

Gainey showed a chart that laid out the C-sUAS EA’s deliverables for its first year: a DoD Directive; a Joint C-sUAS threat assessment; a DoD counter-drone strategy; down-select of Joint Urgent Operational Need (JUON) counter-drone systems; and a Joint Capability Development Document including delivering capabilities to the warfighter.

These are the industries most likely to be taken over by robots

Andy Kiersz
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The fear of robots coming for your job is one of the many challenges confronting 21st-century workers, but the machines aren't ready to take on every industry just yet.

Bridgewater Associates, the massive hedge fund founded by legendary investor Ray Dalio, just released a report on the changing relationship between labor and capital in the US.

One of the big factors the Bridgewater authors highlighted was the ongoing rise in automation across industries, which they noted could be a support for corporate profits in the years to come as more efficient robots and software potentially replace slower and error-prone human labor.

Bridgewater cited a 2016 report from consulting firm McKinsey & Company that looked at which industries in the US were most susceptible to being automated.

The McKinsey report used data from the Department of Labor to estimate how much time workers in various industry sectors spent doing different types of tasks, and which of those tasks could, theoretically, be automated using present technology.

McKinsey noted that tasks like physical labor in a predictable environment, like a fast-food restaurant or a factory assembly line, and basic data processing, like tracking payroll accounting, could easily be automated using the robots and software available to us now.

Laser weapons are almost ready for the battlefield

When martians descend on England in H.G. Wells’s novel “The War of the Worlds”, published in 1898, they incinerate troublesome humans and lay waste to suburban towns with heat-rays that turn all before them into a “a smoky dance of lurid flames”. Such ray guns have been a recurrent feature of science-fiction ever since.

Despite the efforts of military types, though, reality has lagged far behind sci-fi. In 1934, to no avail, Britain’s Air Ministry offered £1,000 to anyone who could use rays of some sort to kill a sheep at a distance of 180 metres. A decade later a Japanese device that generated microwaves managed to snuff out a rabbit that was 30 metres away. But it took ten minutes to do so. Even the invention of lasers, in 1960, failed to usher in the age of the directed-energy weapon, as ray guns are known in the jargon. Ronald Reagan’s effort to weaponise lasers in the “Star Wars” programme of the 1980s was spectacularly unsuccessful.


John Spencer 

“Contrary to what is often supposed, urban warfare is not more difficult than other types of warfare.” That’s what a recent article published in the Texas National Security Review argues. The authors believe, in fact, that urban environments are “neutral,” not to be feared—that, as in almost every other environment, the better-trained and more-professional force should have an advantage.

Unfortunately, history does not support this notion of urban terrain’s neutrality, nor do the realities of modern warfare. The article presents solutions to urban challenges, but is mistaken in its characterization of these challenges as simple dilemmas.

British soldier F. Spencer Chapman once wrote of a very different type of terrain,

The truth is that the jungle is neutral. It provides any amount of fresh water, and unlimited cover for friend as well as foe—an armed neutrality, if you like, but neutrality nevertheless. It is the attitude of mind that determines whether you go under or survive. ‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’ The jungle itself is neutral.