22 March 2020

In post-US Afghanistan, what are India’s options?

In American troops in Afghanistan. The US is keen to end its longest-ever conflict, and under the terms of a deal signed in Doha last month has said all foreign forces will quit Afghanistan within 14 months -- provided the Taliban stick to their security commitments. (AFP)

The peace deal reached between the United States and the Taliban on February 29 in Qatar notwithstanding, Afghanistan can descend into turmoil and instability yet again.

The contested election results and the parallel swearing-in ceremonies in Kabul combined with the signing of the peace pact and the beginning of another phase of insurgent violence have thrown up stark policy choices for New Delhi, testing its 'soft power' and 'middle-of-the-road' policy.

Despite its investments in Afghanistan for the past 18 years, it now appears that New Delhi remains a bystander to a rapidly changing political situation in that country.

Under the security umbrella provided by Washington, New Delhi adopted a 'soft power' approach, pledging aid and development assistance of more than US $3 billion.

South Asia’s Coronavirus Cases May Be the Tip of the Iceberg

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Welcome to Foreign Policy’s weekly South Asia Brief. The highlights this week: Nations brace for the community spread of the coronavirus, Sri Lanka considers delaying its elections, and a top Kashmiri leader is freed.

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South Asia’s Biggest Test

The number of reported cases of the new coronavirus continues to rise across South Asia. Pakistan, which borders both Iran and China—two of the world’s three worst-affected countries—has seen its number of cases double for a second consecutive day (the latest tally is 236). But across the region, a paucity of testing means those figures are just the tip of the iceberg. Despite being home to one-sixth of the world’s population, India has conducted fewer tests than South Korea, which has only 51 million people. According to the New York Times, South Korea has tested 4,800 people per million while India has tested just five per million.

How Bangladesh is developing without riches

On March 26, Bangladesh will celebrate its independence, marking the day in 1971 when the government of President Yahya Khan in Islamabad launched a murderous total war against his citizens in what was then East Pakistan.

That war ended almost exactly nine months later, with a new country emerging with the help of Indian and the newly created Bangladeshi forces. Unfortunately, the new country was so utterly ravaged by man-made and natural disasters that it was regarded for decades as the textbook case of chronic poverty and underdevelopment in the global south.

Yet, Bangladesh today is one of South Asia’s development success stories, with sustained growth of more than eight per cent and social indicators that are beginning to outstrip the rest of the region. It is also a country where more so than anywhere else in the region the independent press and opposition parties have withered away into near irrelevance.

Why are Markets Collapsing? How Bad Will COVID-19 Really Be?

Markets are collapsing because investors hate uncertainty. Will COVID-19 be as bad as last year’s flu? Will it be 10 times as bad? No one knows. But markets are acting as if we are going to encounter the worst-case scenario, notes Eric K. Clemons in this opinion piece. Clemons is a professor of operations, information and decisions at Wharton. Analyzing four possible scenarios that the pandemic’s evolution could take in the future, Clemons argues that the market reaction is more extreme than any of the likely possible futures would justify. The markets are reacting to uncertainty rather than to expectations, he writes.

Why are the markets collapsing? Why is it impossible to find hand sanitizer in the U.S.? Why are my Chinese friends sympathetically offering to ship me anti-viral face masks, since they have learned that panic buying has eliminated supplies in the West? Are the markets over-reacting? Is the panic justified?

Let’s review what we know and what we don’t know about COVID-19, and let’s approach the risks rationally.

Why the Coronavirus Hit Italy So Hard

WITH THE WORLD descending deeper and deeper into coronavirus chaos, we all face unnerving unknowns: how long we’ll have to remain in isolation, when the pandemic will peak, the depths to which the stock market will tumble. But what’s abundantly clear is that this novel disease is most deadly for the elderly. The young may not present any symptoms at all, and this is especially dangerous to their elders, because they can pass the virus on to them without realizing it.

Italy has been hit particularly hard, with some 2,000 deaths thus far. Overwhelmed hospital staffers have had to make devastating decisions about who to treat and who they must let perish. The reason why Italy is suffering so badly, write University of Oxford researchers in a new paper in the journal Demographic Science, may be twofold: The country has the second-oldest population on earth, and its young tend to mingle more often with the elderly, like their grandparents. Such demographic research will be critical in facing down the threat elsewhere, as more countries grapple with a deadly pandemic that’s just getting started and we learn more about how the virus is transmitted within families and communities.

How the COVID-19 Pandemic Has Rewritten the Script for a Global Crisis

Judah Grunstein 

Three months after reports emerged of a novel coronavirus spreading in central China, it is safe to say that our world, and all of our individual worlds, have been transformed by what has become a terrifying pandemic. Governments around the globe are taking unprecedented steps to restrict movement and limit social contact among their populations to contain that virus’s spread. Growing numbers of the world’s inhabitants are now living in either voluntary or imposed isolation, or preparing to do so.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been called the first truly global crisis since World War II. Arguably the climate crisis already has that dubious honor, but it is a slow-moving threat that makes it easier to delay action to counter it. By contrast, this pandemic is fast-moving and requires immediate action by every country in the world, making it a global challenge unlike any other we have yet faced. ..

The Next Coronavirus Nightmare: There's a Drug Shortage on the Horizon

by Jacob Heilbrunn 

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He is a contributor to CNBC and serves on the board of a number of health technology and biotech companies.

Heilbrunn: Are there any existing drugs that you think could help address this crisis in the near term?

Gottlieb: When it comes to therapeutics, it’s a three-pronged strategy. The first is to develop a vaccine. That’s probably two years away. I think we have to be realistic and understand that it’s probably two years until we can get a vaccine. Maybe longer. We’ve never developed a vaccine to a coronavirus, there are certain things we don’t fully understand. There is a certain complexity involved in the kinds of vaccine platforms that we are trying to use now. It’s a very novel technology. 

The second strategy is looking at antivirals that can work directly against the virus. That is really going to be a game of looking at what is on the shelf, what antiviral drugs currently exist that might be able to be repurposed to this task—and that’s drugs like Remdesivir, which is being developed by a company called Gilead. There are a number of other antiviral drugs that are being tested against coronavirus that have been shown to be active in vitro, meaning in test tubes, that are now being studied in vivo in animals as well as human trials. 

The Coronavirus Calls for Wartime Economic Thinking

By John Cassidy

Despite an unprecedented intervention over the weekend from the Federal Reserve, which cut short-term interest rates to close to zero and introduced emergency lending measures, the U.S. stock market fell sharply again on Monday. By the close of trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had fallen almost three thousand points—the worst single-day points loss in history—or thirteen per cent. The market is now down by almost a third from its peak, in late February.

Clearly, investors are spooked by the widening coronavirus outbreak and the likely impact of the public-health measures that are being taken to deal with it. But what exactly is going on in the markets and the economy? In search of answers to this question, I spoke on Monday with Ian Shepherdson, the founder of Pantheon Macroeconomics, a firm that advises Wall Street firms, hedge funds, and institutional investors.

Tracking the Coronavirus: How Crowded Asian Cities Tackled an Epidemic

By Hannah Beech

SINGAPORE — Two hours. That’s all the time medical teams in Singapore are given to uncover the first details of how patients contracted the coronavirus and which people they might infect.

Did they travel abroad? Do they have a link to one of the five clusters of contagion identified across the city-state? Did they cough on someone in the street? Who are their friends and family, their drinking buddies and partners in prayer?

As Western nations struggle with the wildfire spread of the coronavirus, Singapore’s strategy, of moving rapidly to track down and test suspected cases, provides a model for keeping the epidemic at bay, even if it can’t completely stamp out infections.

With detailed detective work, the government’s contact tracers found, among others, a group of avid singers who warbled and expelled respiratory droplets together, spreading the virus to their families and then to a gym and a church — forming the largest concentration of cases in Singapore.

Coronavirus and the Future of Globalization

By Mie Oba

The coronavirus has been relentless, rampaging beyond China and East Asia, including Japan, South Korea, and Southeast Asia, to engulf Italy and Europe, North America, and Central and South America. The latest figures show in excess of 200,000 confirmed cases, with more than 8,000 deaths. China has had the highest number of fatalities, with more than 3,100 deaths, but the number in Italy is rising rapidly. The world has shifted to crisis mode, with WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declaring the novel coronavirus epidemic a “pandemic” on March 11.

The rise of the liberal international order has been a major factor in the growing movement of people across borders, whether for purposes of supply chains and distribution networks, international finance and the flow of money, employment, study or tourism. But this globalization has also allowed the entire world to be much more aware of the spread of the coronavirus, and it may ultimately be a powerful force for its own undoing.

There are two sides to the globalization coin. On the positive side, the cross-border flow of people, goods, money and information creates new wealth and opportunity. On the negative side, though, it can exacerbate global disparities, enable international terrorism and cross-border crime, and allow for the rapid spread of disease.

What Will Great Power Militaries Look Like After COVID-19?

By Steven Stashwick

For several years now, Pentagon officials have insisted that the world is returning to an era of “great power competition.” Pentagon budgets prioritizing a bigger fleet, new bombers, advanced new long-range and high-speed missiles, and even 1,000-mile super-guns are all aimed at maintaining an overwhelming military advantage over Russia’s, but especially China’s burgeoning military. But even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many of these projects faced uncertain budgetary paths. Afterwards, both China and the United States will require extraordinary economic and social recovery efforts that may leave defense budgets under greater pressure than in decades.

China’s navy has grown at an incredible pace over the last two decades, from a largely coastal force comprised of old Soviet designs to the world’s second largest blue-ocean fleet. But alongside projections that it will keep growing apace for the next 10 to 15 years, there are other signs it may be leveling off soon as budget pressures mount. Chinese reports also suggest that the infrastructure on its massive artificial island bases in the South China Sea was hastily constructed in a challenging climate and is already beginning to fall apart, raising doubts about the islands’ ability to project advanced military force in a high-end conflict.

Coronation, Coronavirus, and the Economy: The Economic Backdrop of a Fifth Putin Term

In a carefully choreographed sequence of events that unfolded on March 10 at a parliamentary reading of proposed constitutional reforms, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a “surprise” visit to the State Duma to endorse a last-minute proposal by Duma member Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, to reset the clock on his term limits, allowing him the option to run for a fifth term as president in 2024. While Putin has not committed to this option, he has effectively ruled out becoming head of the State Council, a role many analysts expected him to adopt at the end of his current term. Though he has refused to make his intentions clear, the events of March 10 give Putin the option of seeking a fifth term as president.

The announcement coincided with news of dual economic shocks. The first was a 30 percent drop in oil prices resulting from Russia’s March 6 withdrawal from the OPEC+ format, under which it had cooperated with other oil producers to limit production, and Saudi Arabia’s decision to up its market share by dramatically boosting production. This was in turn sparked by the global COVID-19 pandemic, which in Russia, as in other countries, has upturned life, roiling financial markets, emptying restaurants, and flattening growth prospects.

The Wuhan Virus and the Imperative of Hard Decoupling


It won’t be easy or painless, but the role China has played in exacerbating the fallout from the coronavirus crisis ought to force Americans to fundamentally reconsider the relationship.

Iflew back from Washington DC to Munich just a day before the travel embargo from the Schengen zone to the United States came into effect. As I watched anxious gate agents, tense flight attendants, and passengers eyeing each other with suspicion, I could not help but think that what I was witnessing was the beginning of a radical recompilation of the mistaken notions that for the past three decades have shaped U.S. and European economic policy, and indirectly, international security. The idea that the People’s Republic of China can become a responsible stakeholder in the international community—that it can “be like us”—is being laid to rest behind the masked faces of petrified Westerners scurrying through airports to get home.

Amidst the 24/7 breathless media coverage and calls for politicians to “do something,” one fundamental question still needs to be addressed forthrightly and in the open: Who did this to us and what to do to prevent it from happening again?

China Threatens EMP Attack in South China Sea

John Hayward

Chinese state media on Tuesday rather unsubtly decided this would be a good time to chat with a panel of “experts” about the possibility of using an electromagnetic pulse weapon (EMP) against American ships that enter portions of the South China Sea illegally claimed by Beijing.

The timing suggests it was a bit of saber-rattling by a Communist Party nervous about its power and prestige after the Wuhan virus disaster, but some degree of escalation in the South China Sea has long been a concern for the U.S. Navy and ships from across the free world.

To put it bluntly, an EMP strike on U.S. warships would involve detonating a small nuclear warhead above them, but China’s state-run Global Times threw in some speculation about “low-energy laser devices” to keep their saber from rattling too loudly:

The Leader of the Free World Gives a Speech, and She Nails It

By Justin Davidson
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Angela Merkel doesn’t do drama and she doesn’t give speeches on TV. So the mere fact that the German chancellor faced the camera across a desk and spoke to the nation Wednesday evening made the gravity of the situation clear. “Es ist ernst,” she said—“This is serious”— and those three bland words had more power than a hellfire sermon. Then she pivoted from statement to plea: “Take it seriously.” Quickly, she moved on to historical context, the reason for her unprecedented impromptu appearance: “Since German unification—no, since the Second World War—no challenge to our nation has ever demanded such a degree of common and united action.”

Merkel made no specific announcements and called for no nationwide curfews or additional closures. Yet what gave her address its force was her tone, which was direct, honest, and searingly empathic. She laid bare not just the test we all face but also the solace that leadership can provide. Without accusations, boasts, hedges, obfuscations, dubious claims, or apocalyptic metaphors she did what a leader is supposed to do: explain the gravity of the situation and promise that the government’s help would flow to everyone who needed it. She gave full-throated thanks to front-line medical workers, assured Germans that there is no need to hoard, and paused to offer gratitude to a group of workers who rarely get recognized by heads of state on national TV: “Those who sit at supermarket cash registers or restock shelves are doing one of the hardest jobs there is right now.”

Crimea: Six years after illegal annexation

Steven Pifer

Six years after Russia illegally annexed Crimea, Ukraine lacks the leverage to restore sovereignty over the region, but the West should not accept it since doing so would only encourage Russia to believe it can get away with annexing territory from other countries, argues Steven Pifer. This post originally appeared on the Stanford CISAC's website.

March 18 marks the sixth anniversary of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. Attention now focuses on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict in Donbas, a conflict that has taken some 14,000 lives, but Moscow’s seizure of Crimea — the biggest land-grab in Europe since World War II — has arguably done as much or more damage to Europe’s post-Cold War security order.

Ukraine lacks the leverage to restore sovereignty over Crimea, at least for the foreseeable future. But that does not mean the West should accept it. Doing so might only encourage the Kremlin to believe that taking the territory of other countries is an action that it can get away with.


The Economic-Political Struggle behind the Energy Market Crash

Daniel Rakov, Yoel Guzansky, Tomer Fadlon

Russia’s decision to break its alliance with OPEC was motivated by the desire to change the dynamics of the energy market – in which the cartel provided a “safety net” for American production while Russian corporations were a target of sanctions from Washington – and to demonstrate its ability to influence the global and the Middle East economy. Yet notwithstanding the heated rhetoric and price competition, it appears that both Russia and Saudi Arabia have an interest in resuming cooperation in the framework of an “updated cartel” within the next few weeks or months. Relevant factors are uncertainties due to the coronavirus crisis, fundamental problems in the economies of both countries, and internal political sensitivity in both countries. At the same time, the loss of trust between the two capitals, the tactics of other key actors, and the volatility in the markets are liable to lead to low energy prices in the long term, which will contribute to a recession in the global economy and in many Middle East countries. A crisis in the energy market will have a dual impact on Israel: reduced energy costs to industry and to consumers; and potential changes in the regional balance of power, which will constrain Israel’s political and military room to maneuver.

The price of a barrel of Brent crude oil plummeted on March 9, 2020 by more than 26 percent, which brought the price drop to a total of 50 percent since the beginning of the year. This nosedive, the sharpest since 1991, coupled with the impact of the spread of the coronavirus, caused the steepest plunges in stock markets worldwide since the global economic crisis in 2008. It prompted a downturn in the share prices of the giant energy companies by dozens of percentage points, and brought high volatility in the markets since then.

The Blue House Blueprint: How South Korea Contained Its First Coronavirus Outbreak

by Justin Fendos
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Successful containment essentially involves three steps: testing people quickly, quarantining the infected, and disinfecting contaminated environments. In this process, there are three vital ingredients: appropriate information, an effective testing program, and consistency.

Local authorities will be loath to admit it, but South Korea has contained its first large-scale coronavirus outbreak. This outbreak began in the city of Daegu, centering on the infection of 5,011 members of the Shincheonji religious group. Along with another 347 cases infected through secondary contact, the Daegu outbreak accounts for a staggering two-thirds of all Korean COVID-19 cases. 

I call this outbreak South Korea’s “first” because there will likely be additional outbreaks. One can always hope future events will be limited to small, isolated clusters (like the Sindorim call center cluster in Seoul) but odds remain high that another major outbreak will occur, comparable in size to Daegu. Many challenges will lie ahead regardless, for South Korea and other countries, as the world begins its fight against the pandemic.

Numbers Indicating Success

Donald Trump Must Go Big To Save the U.S. Economy from a Disaster

by Desmond Lachman
In October 2008, it took a real meltdown in the U.S. equity market to forge a bipartisan consensus to get the Troubled Relief Asset Program (TARP) approved. Hopefully, this time around, politicians will put politics aside and swiftly approve a well-targeted fiscal support package of a sufficient size that might spare the country of a rerun of the 2008-2009 Great Economic Recession.

At a time of a global economic and financial market crisis, engaging in wishful thinking and partisan politics is hardly a prudent economic strategy. Yet that is what the Trump Administration seems to be doing by only grudgingly recognizing that the U.S. economy is now heading for a recession and by insisting on a my way or the highway approach to supporting the economy. 

Failure to recognize the severity of the country’s economic challenges and failure to build bipartisan support for swift and bold fiscal policy action heightens the likelihood that we could get a repeat of the 2008-2009 Great Economic Recession.

US-Myanmar Cooperation in the Headlines With POW/MIA Recovery

By Prashanth Parameswaran

Last week, the United States officially announced a repatriation of what may be remains of service personnel that had been lost in action in Myanmar during World War II. The development spotlighted an aspect of ongoing U.S.-Myanmar collaboration that has often flown under the radar amid recent strains in bilateral ties and challenges and uncertainties for the relationship.

While the United States initially moved to normalize ties with Myanmar under former U.S. President Barack Obama in the wake of reforms that had begun to take shape in the Southeast Asian country, developments over the past few years, in particular the Rohingya crisis and documented human rights violations and abuses involving the Myanmar military, have since led Washington to recalibrate its approach. But while aspects of relations that grab the headlines – such as the imposition of targeted U.S. sanctions – are often in focus, some aspects of collaboration in fact still continue as they are rooted in wider shared interests.

The Real Threat to Business Schools from Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) will change the way we learn and work in the near future. Nearly 400 million workers globally will change their occupations in the next 10 years, and business schools are uniquely situated to respond to the shifts coming to the future of work. However, a recent study, “Implications of Artificial Intelligence on Business Schools and Lifelong Learning,” shows that business schools remain cautious in adapting management education to address the changing needs of students, workers and organizations, writes Anne Trumbore in this opinion piece. Trumbore, one of the study’s coauthors, is senior director of Wharton Online, a strategic digital learning initiative at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

In the past few weeks, COVID-19 has moved hundreds of millions of students around the globe from physical to online classes. Some schools in Asia are going a step further to use AI to deliver personalized learning to students. All schools in the UK have access to the technology so that when students do return to school, they will not only have kept up with their studies, but their teachers will also have a full report on their progress. And yet very few business schools are deploying these same technologies at scale, even though their future MBA students are getting a crash course in AI-enabled learning right now. How will business schools remain relevant in the age of AI?

When Working at Home Is Productive, and When It’s Not

When Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced a complete ban on working at home in late February, she sparked an uproar in the media, not to mention in the halls of Yahoo itself. The ban goes into effect in June and impacts everyone, including employees who had previous agreements with the company allowing flexible work arrangements. One irked employee sent an anonymous e-mail to the technology blog AllThingsD saying the new policy is “outrageous and a morale killer.”

Wharton faculty members who specialize in issues pertaining to employee productivity and work/life balance were similarly surprised by Mayer’s all-encompassing policy change. “Our experience in this field is that one-size-fits-all policies just don’t work,” notes Stewart Friedman, Wharton practice professor of management and director of the school’s Work/Life Integration Project. “You want to have as many tools as possible available to you as an executive to be able to tailor the work to the demands of the task. The fewer tools you have available, the harder it is to solve the problem.”

eBrief: Drones An “Immediate Threat” – DoD Plans Rapid Acquisition of Counter-UAS Systems

The urgency to protect troops, bases, and installations from drone attacks changed forever last year when a swarm of small, low-flying drones unleashed by Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels targeted Saudi Arabian oil processing facilities. The attack was nothing less than a Pearl Harbor-type wake-up call for the need to counter unmanned aerial systems with defense technology commonly referred to as C-UAS.

This Breaking Defense E-Brief examines U.S. Defense Department and global efforts to stay ahead of the threat. It examines sensor development to detect UAS, the use of artificial intelligence to identify targets, and defeat mechanisms ranging from jamming to lasers to knock them down.

The Pentagon is handling cyber vulnerabilities inconsistently

Mark Pomerleau
The Department of Defense has not consistently mitigated cyber vulnerabilities identified in a 2012 report, according to the department’s inspector general.

The DoD IG issued a follow-on report to its 2012 report, issued March 13 and made public March 17, that determined cyber red teams didn’t report the results of assessments to organizations and components didn’t effectively correct or mitigate the identified vulnerabilities.

The new report discovered that components didn’t consistently mitigate or include unmitigated vulnerabilities identified in the prior audit and during this audit by red teams during combatant command exercises, operational testing assessments and agency-specific assessments in plans of action and milestones.

“Ensuring DoD Components mitigate vulnerabilities is essential to achieve a better return on investment,” the report stated. “In addition, we determined that the DoD did not establish a unified approach to support and prioritize DoD Cyber Red Team missions. Instead, the DoD Components implemented Component-specific approaches to staff, train and develop tools for DoD Cyber Red Teams, and prioritize DoD Cyber Red Team missions.”

‘We Want to Be the Last Resort,’ Says Defense Secretary


Pentagon’s Esper says the U.S. military is ready to help fight the coronavirus, but may not be the best — or fastest — solution.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that calling in the U.S. military may not be the best, or fastest, way to stop the spread of the coronavirus, but the Pentagon will tap into its reserve stockpiles to help.  

The Defense Department will immediately release 1 million N95 respirator masks to the Department of Health & Human Services, or HHS, and may eventually provide eventually up to 5 million, Esper said at the Pentagon on Tuesday. The department is also ready to provide some 2,000 room ventilators and is considering activating National Guard and Reserve units to help with the nationwide response.

Exactly what those units would be called to do, however, remains unclear. The secretary urged state and local officials to seek their own solutions first.

“In some ways, we want to be the last resort,” Esper said.

The defense secretary addressed a number of concerns and ideas on how to deploy military personnel and resources, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s repeated public requests for the Army Corps of Engineers to help enlarge his state’s hospital capacity to handle an expected surge of COVID-19 patients.