12 May 2020

Why Herd Immunity Won’t Save India From COVID-19

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India reported its first case of COVID-19 on Jan. 30. As of May 1, while the country moves through its fifth week of an unprecedented national lockdown, a total of 25,148 cases have been confirmed with 1,152 deaths. While these figures may seem relatively low compared with hot spots in Europe and North America, they may not be capturing the real picture. So far, India has tested only 902,654 samples, which equates to around 694 tests per million people—one of the lowest rates in the world; furthermore, testing figures vary by state.

With 0.55 hospital beds per 1,000 people, only 48,000 ventilators, and a population of 1.3 billion, many observers wonder how India can manage a crisis as severe as the coronavirus.

Pursuing herd immunity has been touted as a possible strategy in poor countries with young populations, such as India. This controversial approach, which was recently discarded by the United Kingdom, relies on a majority of the population (60 percent to 80 percent) gaining immunity or resistance to the virus by becoming infected and then recovering.

India in the Post COVID-19 World Order

COVID-19 is likely to accelerate the competition and confrontation between the US and China, and simultaneously reduce the global authority of both by eroding their absolute power and legitimacy. The relative power scale can tilt in either direction. India and other middle powers are likely to enjoy greater bargaining capabilities with both US and China. Smaller powers are likely to fall in line with any side that provides them the required capital. India’s geopolitical stance depends on actioning key domestic reforms, failing which India’s leverage will reduce and it will be forced to ally with a major power on less favourable terms. If India’s relative power vis-a-vis China and the US improves, India can become a swing power for both the US and China led groupings. If India’s relative power declines, India will have to align itself more closely with the US.

The Belt and Road in Sri Lanka: Beyond the Debt Trap Discussion

By Divya Hundlani, Pabasara Kannangara

China’s investment in Sri Lanka is often portrayed as “debt trap diplomacy.” While it’s true that China invested almost $12 billion between 2006 to 2019, a recent Chatham House report paints a more complex and nuanced picture. According to available data, Sri Lanka is not in a Chinese debt trap — Sri Lanka’s debt to China amounts to only 6 percent of GDP. Rather, Sri Lanka has a general debt problem, owing about 27 percent of GDP to international financial markets and multilateral lenders like the World Bank. 

This false debt trap narrative has dominated discussion of the Belt and Road Initiative in Sri Lanka, at the expense of important questions about the wider impact of Chinese investment. In particular, Sri Lanka should consider the environmental and labor impacts of Chinese investment to ensure they get the most out of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). We found there to be significant environmental and labor implications of Chinese investment in Sri Lanka, which reveal benefits and costs for the local environment and labor force. These impacts should be prudently managed to ensure that Sri Lanka maximizes the gains and minimizes the risks of the BRI. 

Environmental Aspects 

US Envoy To Meet Taliban, Visit Pakistan And India To Revive Afghan Peace Talks

(RFE/RL) — U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad will try to advance a sluggish Afghan peace process on a trip to Qatar, India, and Pakistan, the State Department said on May 6.

“At each stop, he will urge support for an immediate reduction in violence, accelerated timeline for the start of intra-Afghan negotiations, and cooperation among all sides in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in Afghanistan,” the State Department said.

The State Department said Khalilzad departed on May 5 and would meet with Taliban representatives in the Qatari capital, Doha, to press full implementation of the agreement the two sides signed in February.

In Pakistan and India, regional rivals whose struggle for influence plays out in Afghanistan, Khalilzad will meet with officials to discuss the peace process.

The trip comes as U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said May 5 that the peace deal was “behind schedule” because both the Afghan government and Taliban have failed to live up to their commitments.

Progress on intra-Afghan talks has been hobbled by a political feud between President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah, who both claim to be the leader of the country following a disputed election in September 2019.

covid-19 knocks on american hegemony

Ashley J. Tellis 

After almost two decades of conflicted hesitancy, the United States finally acknowledged that it is involved in a long-term strategic competition with China. This rivalry, almost by definition, is not merely a wrangle between two major states. Rather, it involves a struggle for dominance in the international system, even if China as the rising power disavows any such ambition. China’s very ascendancy—if sustained—could over time threaten the U.S. hegemony that has been in place since the end of World War II. It is this reality of unequal growth—which has nourished China’s expanding influence and military capabilities—that lies at the root of the evolving rivalry. Although the term sometimes has unsettling connotations, the United States is a genuine hegemon, understood in the original Greek sense as a leader in the competitive international system. This hegemony derives from the fact that the United States is the world’s single most powerful state. First, it remains the largest economy in real terms, a foundation that underwrites its capacity to project military power globally in ways unmatched by any peers. Second, it possesses a sufficiently effective state that presides over a remarkably productive society. And, third, in partnership with strong allies in

Does China Really Owe the World Trillions of Dollars?

By Henning Lahmann 

In times of uncertainty and anxiety, it’s always nice for some people to have someone to blame. In times of COVID-19, the culprit seems abundantly clear: the People’s Republic of China. Ever since the virus started spreading across the globe, an increasing number of voices have argued that the country where the pandemic originated should be held legally accountable, including the payment of all damages resulting from the outbreak, amounting to sums “in the trillions” of dollars. Two weeks ago, accompanied by a bizarre open letter to the government in Beijing—written by the editor—Germany’s largest tabloid, Bild, presented China with its “Corona Bill” (quite literally a bill, including more than 700 million euros for lost revenues sustained by professional football clubs), after having been reassured by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that “there will be a time when the people responsible will be held accountable.” The move caused quite a stir. In recent days, the Trump administration has intensified pressure on Beijing to pay “very substantial” compensation, with some officials pushing U.S. intelligence agencies to look for evidence to support the unsubstantiated theory that the virus originated in a Chinese lab. The case for China’s duty to make reparation has been made a few times over the past two months already, with one author even advocating the possible employment of countermeasures should the country be unwilling to pay.

The following post does not intend to repeat all of these various arguments or answer all remaining questions. Rather, I attempt to shed light on a few important points that—so far—have not received enough attention, in particular against the background of the 2007 International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision in Case Concerning Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro).

China Is Buying Global Influence on the Cheap

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The U.S. gives more money than China to many international organizations. So why do they seem more sympathetic to Beijing?

This spring, President Donald Trump declared that he would halt U.S. funding for the World Health Organization, previously more than $400 million annually—and he announced this right in the midst of a global pandemic. A week later, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged another $30 million—which would nowhere near make up for the shortfall (not to mention that China still owes the organization $60 million in membership dues, an amount the WHO expects to get later this year). But the moment was a clear case in point for China’s success at checkbook diplomacy, in which the amount matters less than the message: You can’t count on the U.S., but you can count on us.

America was, until Trump ordered a review of the contributions, the single largest state funder of the WHO—China was contributing just over a 10th of what the U.S. was. Yet for years now, even before Trump accused the WHO of being too “China-centric,” American officials worried that China kept somehow buying more influence, with less money, around the world.

Fast-forward China: How COVID-19 is accelerating five key trends shaping the Chinese economy

By Nick Leung, Joe Ngai, Jeongmin Seong, and Jonathan Woetzel
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Over the last few months, COVID-19 has spread across the world, uniting humanity in a shared experience that has highlighted the vulnerability of our societies. As the first country to grapple with the crisis, China has been on the frontlines both of post-COVID-19 economic recovery, and of the societal changes the pandemic has precipitated. Efforts to stabilize the domestic economy are already well underway, and though China’s first-quarter gross domestic product declined 6.8 percent over the previous year, according to government statistics, our simulations suggest that economic activity may have bottomed out in the first quarter.

As that recovery takes shape, several important shifts in the makeup of China’s economic landscape have already become apparent. COVID-19 has accelerated preexisting trends, ushering in the arrival of a future we were likely already on track to realize. In this report, we discuss five trends shaping the Chinese economy that have been accelerated, or “fast-forwarded,” as a result of the onset of the COVID-19 crisis (exhibit).

Coronavirus: What if a vaccine doesn't work?

As coronavirus continues to spread across the world, billions of people are putting their faith into a vaccine being developed in the hope it will put an end to the pandemic.

Medical experts Tammy Hoffman and Paul Glasziou raise their concerns over the lack of contingency planning if a vaccine isn't found, and what alternatives the global community should consider.

The curve of the COVID-19 epidemic has been flattened in many countries around the world, and it hasn’t been new antivirals or a vaccine that has done it. We are being saved by non-drug interventions such as quarantine, social distancing, handwashing, and – for health-care workers – masks and other protective equipment.

We are all hoping for a vaccine in 2021. But what do we do in the meantime? And more importantly, what if no vaccine emerges?

The world has bet most of its research funding on finding a vaccine and effective drugs. That effort is vital, but it must be accompanied by research on how to target and improve the non-drug interventions that are the only things that work so far.

The Realities of Tracking Aircraft Carriers With Civilian Satellites

H I Sutton
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We recently showed how open-source intelligence analysts using freely available commercial satellite imagery can pinpoint a Chinese aircraft carrier hundred of miles out to sea. It wasn’t easy, but it worked. This applies to U.S. navy aircraft carriers also, but it is not always straightforward.

Back in the 1950s when the U.S. Navy conceived its super-carriers, commercial imaging satellites did not exist. Once out to sea, only sophisticated adversaries could track the ship’s location. But today commercial satellite imagery has become commonplace, and at least in some cases they can find a carrier at sea.

Using this, a small country or non-state actor (or even a journalist!), can try to keep tabs on warships. In a crisis situation this intelligence could be detrimental to the Navy. It’s a radically different situation from when U.S. carriers deployed for Operation Desert Storm in 1991, or the Balkans in 1995.

China’s Military Is Tied to Debilitating New Cyberattack Tool

By Ronen Bergman and Steven Lee Myers
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On the morning of Jan. 3, an email was sent from the Indonesian Embassy in Australia to a member of the premier of Western Australia’s staff who worked on health and ecological issues. Attached was a Word document that aroused no immediate suspicions, since the intended recipient knew the supposed sender.

The attachment contained an invisible cyberattack tool called Aria-body, which had never been detected before and had alarming new capabilities. Hackers who used it to remotely take over a computer could copy, delete or create files and carry out extensive searches of the device’s data, and the tool had new ways of covering its tracks to avoid detection.

Now a cybersecurity company in Israel has identified Aria-body as a weapon wielded by a group of hackers, called Naikon, that has previously been traced to the Chinese military. And it was used against far more targets than the office of Mark McGowan, the premier of Western Australia, according to the company, Check Point Software Technologies, which released a report on Thursday about the tool.

Can China’s Electric Car Industry Weather the COVID-19 Storm?

By Eleanor Albert

The electric vehicle industry in China has been a top priority for Beijing in recent years. Faced with the challenge of reopening the Chinese economy after months of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, how will new energy vehicles (NEVs) fare?

Tesla, the U.S. electric car giant, announced earlier this week that it plans to up production of its Model 3 sedans in China to 4,000 a week by mid-2020. The company’s news follows the January 2020 launch of a China-made Model Y compact SUV, scheduled for delivery in 2021.

In 2018, Tesla made a deal with the Shanghai municipal government to build a $2 billion factory, its first overseas, in Lingang, a manufacturing park in the southeast of the city. Construction on the plant, designed with an annual capacity of half a million electric cars, first broke ground in early 2019. The Lingang New Area is home to hundreds of projects, including other foreign companies such as General Electric and Siemens AG, and was officially incorporated into the Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone last summer.

The Building Blocks of a China Strategy


In 1947, we could afford to give containment a try. Today, a defensive stance will not cut it.

Along overdue reassessment of how the United States should deal with the People’s Republic of China is finally taking place, with governments across the West jarred into action by the devastation wrought by the pandemic and by the Chinese government’s prevarication and lack of transparency since the crisis began. Despite a concerted and aggressive propaganda campaign by the Chinese Communist Party through various channels in the West to deflect blame for the cover-up and mishandling of the initial stages of the Wuhan epidemic, in country after affected country, momentum is building to fundamentally reorder relations with China. As.

Is Putin really not worried about a rising China?

Mark N. Katz

Under Vladimir Putin, Russia has pursued an increasingly assertive — even aggressive — foreign policy. In addition to rebuilding Moscow’s influence over most, if not all, the non-Russian republics of the former Soviet Union, he has also revived Moscow’s great power role not just in the Middle East, but even in Africa and Latin America, which it had lost at the end of the Cold War. Putin has also gained friends in many European countries that have been American allies since World War II. Finally, Putin has arguably gained a greater influence for Moscow in the domestic politics of the United States than the Soviets ever had. Yet despite the general success of Putin’s assertive foreign policy approach toward so much of the world, there is one country that has not received this treatment: China.

When it comes to Russia’s relations with China, Putin has been remarkably deferential and respectful. Putin has even described Chinese President Xi Jinping as “a good and reliable friend.” An important reason for this, of course, is Russia’s increasing economic dependence on China, which has partly been brought about by Western economic sanctions on Russia over Crimea and other issues. But being the hard-headed realist that he is, Putin must surely see that China has been growing more and more powerful economically while Russia has been stagnating, and that China’s greater economic strength as well as population size could soon result in Beijing becoming stronger than Moscow militarily. And a China that Russia is increasingly dependent on could serve to limit Moscow’s — indeed, Putin’s own — freedom of action internationally.

Is Xi Jinping Weaker Than We Think?


The author of China’s Crony Capitalism discusses the Chinese response to COVID-19, why the Communist Party reads Alexis de Tocqueville, and why the Chinese regime is both brittle and aggressive at the same time.

TAI Contributing Editor Gary J. Schmitt recently sat down with Minxin Pei, a renowned China scholar and author of China’s Crony Capitalism, for an interview about the Chinese response to COVID-19. They discussed why Xi Jinping was slow to respond, how the U.S. government should conceive of policy toward Beijing, why Alexis de Tocqueville continues to haunt the Chinese elite, and why both Xi and the party-state may be more vulnerable than we think. (This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.)

Russia Now Losing Out to China on Iranian Rail Route

By: Paul Goble

The Russian government long assumed that Western sanctions on Iran would allow it to steal a march on the world by expanding its railroad connections to the south via the Islamic Republic while simultaneously ensuring that the South Caucasus remains a Moscow-dominated hub for both east-west and north-south rail transit (see EDM, February 20, March 24). But China has responded by expanding its own westward rail connections through Central Asia—and not only across the Caspian Sea, as Moscow expected, but via Iran as well (see EDM, April 23). As a result, Russia now appears to be losing out in the regional “railroad wars” (see EDM, August 1, 2017). Illustratively, a subsidiary of Russian Railways has recently announced it is suspending its infrastructure projects in Iran, including critical portions of the north-south route (Old-press.rzd.ru, April 2).

Russian Railways claims this suspension “will not influence the development of partnership relations between Russian and Iranian railroads,” because other projects, including the electrification of the Garmsar–Inche–Burun line, are continuing. Clearly, however, Russia’s position in the Iranian railroad sector has weakened, to the alarm of officials in both Moscow and Tehran—but likely to the satisfaction of those in Beijing (Kaspissky Vvestnik, May 1). Last week (May 1), Vlad Kondratyev, the well-connected editor of Kaspissky Vestnik reported that the Iranian ambassador to Moscow, Kazem Jalali, held a video conference with Sergey Pavlov, the first deputy head of Russian Rail, to talk about the future (Kaspissky Vvestnik, May 1). According to the Iranian embassy, they discussed the project’s suspension (Russia.mfa.gov.ir, April 29).

Reviving Stalled BRI: China’s Two-Stage Approach – Analysis

By Pradumna Bickram Rana and Jason Ji Xianbai*
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China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has virtually stalled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its physical infrastructure component or the Physical BRI has come to a standstill. China is adopting a two-stage approach to revive the BRI.

In the shadow of COVID-19, the global economic outlook has become very dismal. International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently noted that the economic contraction this year will be so bad that only a handful of people in the world will have experienced a similar event in their adult lifetimes.

The global economy is projected to shrink by three per cent this year and the cumulative loss of global gross domestic product (GDP) over the next two-year period could be over US$9 trillion. Most advanced economies are expected to contract by about six percent this year. The first epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Chinese economy, has ground to a halt despite some recent signs of recovery.
Slowdown of Physical BRI

In the first quarter of this year, China’s GDP fell by 6.8 per cent from a year ago, the country’s first economic contraction in decades. Many BRI participating countries are also experiencing severe economic slowdowns and have requested for debt relief from China.

Five Points about U.S. Trade Over the Last Thirty Years

by Brad W. Setser

1. Globalization hasn’t meant increased demand for U.S. exports of manufactures over time…

Exports of manufactures (using the SITC data from chemicals through miscellaneous manufactures) are no higher, as a share of U.S. GDP, than they were in the 1990s…

In fact, exports of manufactures are now, after the dollar's 2014 appreciation, about a percentage point of GDP below their average level in the 1990s.

Critiquing the State Department’s Nuclear Posture Clarification


The U.S. State Department’s Office of the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security on April 24, 2020, published online a paper entitled “Strengthening Deterrence and Reducing Nuclear Risks: The Supplemental Low-Yield U.S. Submarine-Launched Warhead.” Christopher Ford, the de facto undersecretary, authored the introduction, while the section on “The W76-2 Low-Yield Option” was attributed to the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance.

Briefly, the paper describes why and how the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), issued under U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, clarified “‘the extreme circumstances’ under which the United States does not a priori rule out the possibility of using nuclear weapons.” The paper adds further that “deterring limited nuclear attacks on allies and deployed U.S. forces” is the most urgent nuclear deterrence challenge today. To this end, the United States should continue to deploy the W76-2 low-yield nuclear warhead on submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). In explaining this controversial position, the paper respectfully addresses the central arguments that have been made against this weapon.

Like previous writings by Ford, this one will engender intense debate among nuclear policy aficionados in the United States and around the world. Carnegie Vice President for Studies and Ken Olivier and Angela Nomellini Chair George Perkovich, as before, welcomes the insights that the State Department publication provides into U.S. policy and offers the following critique of the paper in hopes of inviting others to join this discussion.

Sorry, Americans, You Haven’t Even Had a Real Lockdown Yet

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MADRID—Spain began easing its draconian, six-week coronavirus lockdown this week, and I still somehow found a way to get in trouble with the cops—again.

We’d taken the dog for a walk in the early evening. The kids had been trapped inside—not a moment outside, not a foot out the door—since the national state of alarm began in mid-March, one of the severest lockdown regimes in Europe. At the end of April, the government relented and said children could get an hour a day outside between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.

But the government’s rules and regulations for the methodical reopening of the country change seemingly by the day. The patrol car screeched to the curb, the officer tapping his watch. After 7 p.m., it turns out, the streets are reserved for the over-70s. So are the mornings, it seems. Who knew? Apparently we should have been speed-refreshing the webpage of the Official State Bulletin before reaching for a leash, I guess. We were threatened with a fine, then sent scurrying back home.

As many U.S. states rush headlong to reopen after a short, partial, and none-too-comprehensive simulacrum of a lockdown, Spain’s experience is instructive. Even with this partial lifting, Spain’s measures remain—like those of most other European nations—far stricter than those of the United States. By global standards, the United States hasn’t really had a lockdown at all, only a spotty and inconsistent set of measures that it’s already abandoning.

European nations may be hesitant to trust AI for cybersecurity

Chiara Vercellone

WASHINGTON – When U.S. leaders talk about the promise of artificial intelligence, one application they regularly discuss is cybersecurity. But experts say European countries have thus far proven to be more measured in their approach to AI, fearing the technology is not yet reliable enough to remove human analysts.

Consider France, which along with the United Kingdom and Germany, has become one of Europe’s AI hubs. According to a report by France Digitale, a company that advocates for the rights of start-ups in France, French startups were using AI 38 percent more than they did a year earlier.

But the advancement of AI in the defense sector has not been as prominent in some European countries. That’s in part because the systems need a large amount of data to be reliable, according to Nicolas Arpagian, vice president of strategy and public affairs at Orange Cyberdefense, a French-based company working with Europol and other cybersecurity companies to build strategic and technological counter-measures to face cybersecurity attacks.

Limiting IDF Engagement in Civilian Crises

Meir Elran, Amichai Cohen, Carmit Padan, Idit Shafran Gittleman

A team of researchers from the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) and the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) have conducted a study on how the IDF – particularly through the Home Front Command – could best use its various capacities to assist in the struggle against the coronavirus. The IDF should serve as a support system to reinforce and supplement civilian agencies, but it should not be drawn into the overall management of the crisis or specific economic and social tasks that exceed its authority, in order to avoid contravening democratic principles. Transfer of responsibility to the IDF for the management of mass disasters should be considered only in extreme cases of a national catastrophe where state systems have ceased to function. Even then, military action must be clearly subordinate to the political echelon, with close parliamentary and legal supervision.

The coronavirus crisis threatens to undermine fundamental concepts and worldviews in a range of fields. Uncertainty and confusion dominate the public discourse in most countries combating the spread of the virus. So far Israel has been relatively successful in handling COVID-19, which constitutes a threat not only to public health but also to the national economy and society. At the same time, Israel has contended with a lengthy and complex political and constitutional crisis, and the stability of the newly formed government is in doubt. The nexus between the political and the coronavirus crises, which has exposed considerable weaknesses in the civilian system, could also challenge Israeli democracy. One of the most troubling aspects of this challenge relates to the question of IDF engagement in the management of the crisis. The purpose of this article is to propose guidelines and limitations on engagement of the IDF in the efforts to cope with mass disasters in Israel (in legal terminology, civilian emergency events), based on the lessons of the coronavirus pandemic so far.

Basic Assumptions

Where are the carriers?


Former President Bill Clinton made that remark in 1993 while visiting the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt — the same ship at the center of another crisis today. But disturbingly, while the Navy has 11 carrier strike groups, only three are actually at sea.

With its 70 planes, six to 10 cruise missile-equipped destroyer escorts, a supply ship and an attack submarine lurking beneath the surface, the carrier strike group has been the Navy’s core asset for the past 75 years. It is therefore surprising that a recent story coming out of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s office — that the Navy was considering cutting two carriers from the fleet — didn’t generate more news. Moreover, the report also suggested that the two mega-warships be replaced by 65 small “corvettes,” some of them unmanned. 

Three concerns undoubtedly drive the secretary’s trial balloon: 1) Supercarriers are incredibly expensive; 2) Reports of a new Chinese cruise missile suggest that carriers are more vulnerable to attack; and 3) World threats are changing, and carriers may not be the best platform to meet coming challenges.

An Abysmal Failure of Leadership


CAMBRIDGE – Leadership – the ability to help people frame and achieve their goals – is absolutely crucial during a crisis. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill demonstrated this in 1940, as did Nelson Mandela during South Africa’s transition from apartheid.

Germany's Federal Constitutional Court, heedless of the political consequences for Europe and Germany, has issued a ruling that risks sacrificing the euro and possibly even the European Union. An institution that, under Germany's Basic Law, no one governs is now out of control.

By these historical standards, the leaders of the world’s two largest economies have failed abysmally. US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, both initially reacted to the coronavirus outbreak not by informing and educating their publics, but by denying the problem, thereby costing lives. They then both redirected their energies toward assigning blame rather than finding solutions. Owing to their failures, the world may have missed the window for responding to the crisis with a “Sputnik moment” or a “COVID Marshall Plan.”

Leadership theorists make a distinction between “transformational” and “transactional” leaders. The latter try to steer through situations with business as usual, whereas the former try to reshape the situations in which they find themselves.

Cybersecurity and COVID: 5 LessonsCybersecurity and COVID: 5 Lessons

by Mark Rasch 

Without belaboring the point, there are many similarities between the COVID-19 pandemic and cybersecurity. We can learn from the response to the COVID pandemic lessons about cybersecurity.

We Know It Is Coming

For decades, public health planners have been warning that there would be a novel (no-immunity) disease that would spread across the globe and cause damage and destruction. The same is true for cybersecurity professionals. Whether it is warnings about potential zero-day attacks, a cyber “Pearl Harbor,” massive cyber warfare, cyber-terrorism or similar attack, we know that we are vulnerable, and we have (to some extent) mapped out the most likely scenarios and defenses to them.
We Planned for This

In both biological and cyber terms, we have contingency plans. In both cases, we have table-topped, war-gamed, red-teamed and mapped each likely scenario, the critical dependencies, the probable responses and more. We have done this on a national level, on a state level and, to a greater or lesser extent, on a corporate preparedness level. Problem is, we have in both cases not heeded the lessons we have war-gamed. The contingency plans we have developed all too often simply sit in a binder on a shelf, and even when they are needed, they are not referenced. In a crisis situation, we end up re-inventing the crisis response during the crisis. To some extent this is inevitable—every scenario is different and plans for one type of crisis may not be fully applicable to another, but we should heed the plans.


James Johnson
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In 2016, DeepMind’s AI-powered AlphaGo system defeated professional Go grandmaster Lee Sedol. In one game, the AI player reportedly surprised Sedol by making a strategic move that “no human ever would.” Three years later, DeepMind’s AlphaStar system defeated one of the world’s leading e-sports gamers at StarCraft II—a complex multiplayer game that takes place in real time and in a vast action space with multiple interacting entities—devising and executing complex strategies in ways that, similarly, a human player would unlikely do. These successes raise important questions: How and why might militaries use AI not just to optimize individual and seemingly mundane tasks, but to enhance strategic decision making—especially in the context of nuclear command and control? And would these enhancements potentially be destabilizing for the nuclear enterprise?

Pre-Delegating Nuclear Decisions to Machines: A Slippery Slope

AI systems might undermine states’ confidence in their second-strike capabilities, and potentially, affect the ability of defense planners to control the outbreak of warfare, manage its escalation, and ultimately terminate armed conflict. The central fear focuses on two related concerns: The first revolves around the potentially existential consequences of AI surpassing human intelligence—imagine the dystopian imagery associated with Terminator‘s Skynet. The second emphasizes the possible dangers caused by machines that lack human empathy or other emotional attributes and relentlessly optimize pre-set goals (or self-motivated future iterations that pursue their own) with unexpected and unintentional outcomes—picture something like Dr. Strangelove’s doomsday machine.