1 June 2020

A Cowering Response To China’s Provocations May Lose India More Territory

Bharat Karnad

It is not hard to see why China decided at this time to pick at the scab of the disputed border with India by starting ruckuses along the length of it at Daulat Beg Oldi, Galwan Valley, the Pangong Lake, Bararahoti, and Naku La in Sikkim. Xi Jinping and his ruling cohort find their pretense to Asian hegemony challenged in their own backyard. Developments in Taiwan and Hong Kong have shred China’s ‘one country, two systems’ policy. President Tsai Ing-Wen, elected to a second term, has made it clear that Taiwan is separate from China and sovereign. The people of Hong Kong, with less latitude, are fearlessly resisting rule by Beijing’s puppets.

China believes India wants Aksai Chin back. PLA has likely secured 40-60 sq km in Ladakh

Something unusual has been happening on the Line of Actual Control, the de facto border between India and Tibet, for the past four weeks. On 10 May, the Indian media broke the news about scuffles between Indian and Chinese soldiers on the north bank of Pangong Tso on the night of 5-6 May and at Naku La in north Sikkim on 9 May.

Since then, reports have emerged about intrusions and ‘face-offs’ in the Galwan River , on the north bank of Pangong Tso, and possibly at Hot Springs in Chang Chenmo River valley, and at Demchok. Mirror deployment has been carried out by both sides with additional troops, and reserves have been positioned to cater for any escalation. There are also reports of increased helicopter activity and ‘one-off’ deterrent fighter aircraft mission by India. There are some reports of increased military activity from other areas along the LAC, particularly in the central sector in Uttarakhand. Satellite images of fighter aircraft parked at Ngari, 50km from the LAC have been published in the media. There is speculation that patrol confrontations and Chinese build-up began end-April.

Chinese media and official spokespersons have accused India of aggressively trespassing Chinese claim line and blocking People’s Liberation Army (PLA) patrols. Chinese President Xi Jinping has exhorted his troops to be prepared to defend the nation.

In India’s COVID-19 Response, Minimize Errors of Exclusion

Summary: India’s unprecedented lockdown exposed deep issues in the government’s ability to care for its most precariously situated citizens. Yet, according to survey data, even among the most deprived people surveyed, the government has mechanisms to transfer essential goods and services.

One of the modern state’s most basic responsibilities is to care for its most vulnerable citizens. That impetus is even more pronounced in countries that are both poor and democratic. India fulfills both conditions, ranking a pitiable 102 out of 133 countries on the 2019 Global Hunger Index. According to the most recent iteration of the National Family and Health Survey (NFHS), conducted in 2015-16, while malnutrition indicators have shown signs of improvement, they are still unacceptably high—and especially pronounced in poorer, northern, more rural states.

The question of the Indian state’s effectiveness in providing for its most precariously situated citizens has been exposed in full public view in the wake of the unprecedented nationwide lockdown enacted on March 24 to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Although the government has since relaxed this lockdown, it is still in force in large parts of the country where COVID-19 case rates continue to climb. In the interim, the plight of migrant laborers, the elderly and disabled, and those living a hand-to-mouth existence has become more uncertain.

Pentagon Report Suggests the US-Taliban Deal Was Inked in Afghan Blood

The Taliban are playing the Khalilzad entourage like a fiddle – and in his zeal to make a swift exit from Afghanistan, he seems happy to let them do it.

An Afghan man wearing a protective face mask walks past a wall painted with photo of Zalmay Khalilzad, US envoy for peace in Afghanistan, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban delegation, in Kabul, April 13, 2020. 

About two weeks ago, over 40 Afghans, including newborn babies, were killed in two separate attacks on a maternity hospital in Kabul and a funeral in the eastern Nangarhar province. While in the aftermath of the latter attack, there were the usual calls for blood donations, in the case of the former, the appeals also went out for maternal milk as dozens of neonates had been deprived of their first feeds in this world. An Afghan psychiatrist, Firooza Omar, who was nursing her own baby at home, rushed to feed the orphaned babies at her own bosom.

The funeral attack was claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria–Khorasan (ISIS-K) – ostensibly an affiliate of the Daesh or ISIL – but no one came forward to claim the heinous assault on the mothers and children at the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital. The Taliban rejected any role and have condemned the MSF hospital attack, while US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad was quick to accept their rejection and pinned the blame on ISIS-K.

Flashpoints on the Periphery: Understanding China’s Neighborhood Opportunism

By Suyash Desai

Tensions in China’s periphery have increased dramatically over the past few months as Beijing stepped up the use of military and diplomatic tools within its neighborhood. The frequency of the events involving Chinese actors, especially in the second half of March, increased as normalcy started returning to the mainland after the COVID-19 pandemic’s outbreak.

This raises a few questions. First, is this evidence of China’s opportunism at a time when the United States is struggling to maintain its presence in the East and Southeast Asian regions? Second, has Beijing adopted a more aggressive approach for the post-pandemic period? Third, would the recent spike in activities impact the regional order?

Before answering these questions, it is vital to understand the chronology of the events that have led to the rise of current tensions in the PRC’s periphery. Indonesia was the first country since the outbreak of the virus to face Chinese coercion, in waters around the Natuna Islands. Dozens of Chinese fishing vessels along with coast guard escorts, in December 2019, entered waters off the Natuna Islands, which are within Jakarta’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). These waters are also claimed by the PRC, thus leading to a month-long standoff between the two countries. Meanwhile, the Chinese armed forces were also involved in multiple military drills around Taiwan since January 2020. The People’s Liberation Army Air Force also carried out an unusual night-time sortie over the sea of southwest Taiwan on March 16, 2020. The increase of tactical military activities has been accompanied by assertive rhetoric, especially since the re-election of President Tsai Ing-wen on January 11, 2020.

World Order after Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic is reshaping geopolitics. Escalating tensions between the United States and China are the clearest immediate-term outcome. But what about the long-term impact?

CSIS Risk and Foresight Group Director Sam Brannen asked four of his International Security Program colleagues to take the long view on how Covid-19 could affect geopolitics out to 2025-2030 and beyond.

Covid-19 has accelerated the transition to a more fragmented world order in which the future organizing principles of the international system are unclear.

Neither China nor the United States is positioned to emerge from Covid-19 as a “winner” in a way that would dramatically shift the balance of world power in its favor.

The economic effects of Covid-19 will increase downward pressure on U.S. and likely others’ defense budgets, which could affect the pace of force modernization.

The “Great Power Competition” paradigm in the most recent National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy inaccurately describes this new geopolitical environment.

In the new geopolitical environment, it is increasingly difficult for any single country to exercise its will, and multiple poles compete and cooperate.

U.S. alliances hold in this world, though allies more selectively choose where to align with the United States versus choosing their own paths.

No, China Has Not Bought Central and Eastern Europe

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In recent years, opprobrium over Beijing’s incursions on Central and Eastern Europe has reached a fevered pitch. China planned to buy the region “on the cheap, ” Forbes reported; it planned to influence the region “one business deal at a time,” noted the New York Times. The region is “in bed” with Beijing, happily taking its investments and loans, A. Wess Mitchell— a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs —opined last month.

The excess of attention on the region’s allegedly growing economic dependency on China has overshadowed the reality, in which a few well-positioned politicians and businesspeople have hijacked the relationship for personal gain. In truth, Central and Eastern Europe is far less economically dependent on China than perhaps any other region in the world—and especially compared to the rest of the European Union.

A common allegation from pundits is that Beijing is trying to divide and conquer Europe, as evidenced by its deal-making with Europe’s poorer countries. In 2012, China and post-communist governments of Central and Eastern Europe began holding annual summits. (Widely known as the 16+1, the platform expanded to 17+1 last year, with the addition of Greece.) Past summits were grand occasions for Beijing to highlight its economic promises of increasing trade and investments—a particularly attractive premise following the 2008 financial crisis.

China’s Surging Nationalism Has Claimed Hong Kong

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The moment that many people have dreaded may have finally come for Hong Kong after Beijing announced a bill on May 21 to “safeguard national security” in the city-state. When this law comes into effect, it will effectively end Hong Kong’s autonomy under the “one country, two systems” arrangement that has been in place since 1997.

But it isn’t just about Hong Kong. The bold move is merely the latest example of belligerent nationalistic behavior from China directed at both domestic and international targets this year. It follows several years of increasingly nationalistic messages emanating from the top of the Chinese government.

The national security law would ban secession, terrorism, and “foreign interference,” thus criminalizing a host of activities critical of the authorities such as protests or social media posts. In effect, Hong Kong would become just like mainland China, where any criticism or protest against the government and the Chinese Communist Party is forbidden.

The bill was announced the day before China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) opened for its annual meetings. The NPC delegates then voted to approve the bill at the end of the meetings on May 28. The law will be added directly to the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, completely bypassing Hong Kong’s legislature.

THE BIG THINK: China Has Two Paths to Global Domination

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And a lot is riding on whether Washington can figure out which strategy Beijing has chosen.
Xi Jinping’s China is displaying a superpower’s ambition. Only a few years ago, many American observers still hoped that China would reconcile itself to a supporting role in the liberal international order or would pose—at most—a challenge to U.S. influence in the Western Pacific. The conventional wisdom was that China would seek an expanded regional role—and a reduced U.S. role—but would defer to the distant future any global ambitions. Now, however, the signs that China is gearing up to contest America’s global leadership are unmistakable, and they are ubiquitous.

Hal Brands is the Henry A. Kissinger distinguished professor of global affairs at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

Jake Sullivan is a nonresident senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He was a deputy assistant to President Barack Obama and national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden from 2013 to 2014, as well as director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department from 2011 to 2013.

The Coronavirus Must Push Europe to Rescue Multilateralism


The West is in bad shape. Relations between Europe and the United States are at an all-time low. Russia and the United States are walking away from arms control. The latest casualty came on May 21, 2020, with U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to abandon the Open Skies Treaty. Moscow and Washington blame each other for its imminent demise.

The nuclear nonproliferation regime is almost in tatters, making the world increasingly vulnerable and unsafe. Iran’s and North Korea’s leaders can exploit the global distraction of the new coronavirus to pursue their nuclear program. The global economy will take a long time to recover from the pandemic. In what form is not clear. In the meantime, authoritarian leaders have tried to exploit it to accrue more powers.

Closer to home, the European Union’s two biggest members, France and Germany, are desperately trying to cushion the damage that the coronavirus will have on the bloc’s social, political, and economic cohesion. Berlin, Paris, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission are pouring billions of euros into recovery plans. Without such financial assistance, the EU will be in no position to recover or even survive this virus.

Financial assistance, however, is not enough to prepare Europe for the day after. Already, the institutions that were built after 1945 with immense foresight by the United States are crumbling or fast losing credibility.

Clouded thinking in Washington and Beijing on COVID-19 crisis

Ryan Hass

In 2015, an action movie about a group of elite paratroopers from the People’s Liberation Army, “Wolf Warrior,” dominated box offices across China. In 2020, the nationalistic chest-thumping spirit of that movie is defining Chinese diplomacy, or at least the propaganda surrounding it. This aggressive new style is known as “wolf warrior diplomacy,” and although it is not embraced by all of China’s foreign policy mandarins, it does appear to reflect the current zeitgeist in Beijing. The style is characterized by triumphalism — equal parts eagerness to assert the superiority of China’s approach to COVID-19 and enthusiasm for pointing out the shortcomings of Western countries’ responses.

This brash new approach is helping China’s leaders stoke nationalism and shore up support at home amidst a spike in unemployment and a sharp economic downturn. The same messages that are playing well at home, though, are having the opposite effect abroad.

China’s propaganda push to assert the superiority of its response to COVID-19 is arousing antipathy on nearly every continent. So, too, are its efforts to push countries that receive Chinese health assistance to praise China’s response to the virus while staying silent on its negligent initial response to it.

What Comes Next in the Standoff Between the U.S. and Iran?

In this week’s editors’ discussion on Trend Lines, WPR’s Judah Grunstein and Freddy Deknatel talk about the latest developments in the standoff between the U.S. and Iran, following the U.S. assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Iran’s retaliatory ballistic missile strike against two military bases in Iraq where U.S. troops are stationed. Did the U.S. reestablish deterrence, as the Trump administration claims? Or will Iran take further covert action to avenge Soleimani’s death? And what impact will the U.S. political calendar have on how both sides manage tensions moving forward? Judah and Freddy discuss those topics and more on this week’s show.

If you like what you hear on Trend Lines and what you’ve read on WPR, you can sign up for our free newsletter to get our uncompromising analysis delivered straight to your inbox. The newsletter offers a free preview article every day of the week, plus three more complimentary articles in our weekly roundup every Friday. Sign up here. Then subscribe.

Iran Expanding Its Naval Presence in the Caspian

By: Paul Goble

Western analysts tend to focus on the Iranian navy almost exclusively in terms of its ability to harass or block oil tankers coming through the Strait of Hormuz, an understandable perspective given the danger that Iran could disorder world oil markets if it was successful in doing so. But Russian analysts have an additional worry—Iran’s growing naval presence in the Caspian Sea and its use of that presence to expand Tehran’s influence in the capitals of the littoral states of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, challenging Moscow’s currently dominant position. And while Iran’s northern fleet is far too small to be a direct threat to the Russian Caspian Flotilla, Tehran’s political use of its naval vessels worries some Russian analysts that Iran could ultimately prove to be a less-than-entirely-reliable ally for Moscow (see EDM, September 12, 2019). A series of recent statements by senior Iranian naval officers and politicians has only intensified this concern (Caspian Herald, May 15, 2020).

In April, Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi, the commander of the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy, visited the Iranian Bandar-e Anzali (formerly Bandar-e Pahlavi) base on the Caspian and declared that “the Caspian Sea is a sea of peace and friendship, and we can share our military tactics with our neighbors in this region. We are fully ready to expand ties with neighboring and friend[ly] countries.” But at the same time, he said, it was important to ensure that Iran has its own “strong presence” in that sea (Mehr News Agency, April 15). His comments came after he had said, in December 2019, that Tehran was ready to undertake joint naval exercises with other Caspian littoral states. Moreover, his remarks about maintaining a sufficient Caspian force followed Iran’s trilateral drills with Russia and China in the Indian Ocean and Sea of Oman earlier this year.

Who Has the World’s Largest Economy?


CAMBRIDGE – The World Bank’s International Comparison Program has just released its latest measures of price levels and GDP across 176 countries, and the results are striking. For the first time ever, the ICP finds that China’s total real (inflation-adjusted) income is slightly larger than that of the United States. In purchasing-power-parity (PPP) terms, China’s 2017 GDP was $19.617 trillion, whereas the US’s stood at $19.519 trillion.

Of course, when China’s total income is divided by its massive population, the picture changes. Although China’s per capita income has pulled ahead of Egypt’s, it remains in the middle of the pack globally, behind Brazil, Iran, Thailand, and Mexico.

In any case, the two concepts – total and per capita income – each have distinct implications for geopolitics, so one must consider them separately. China wants to be treated like a developing country (at least in trade negotiations), and the ICP’s per capita income figure shows that it is precisely that. But when it comes to power politics and China’s influence in international institutions, total income matters more.

The ICP compares countries on a PPP basis, which is the right method when computing per capita incomes, but potentially problematic when assessing geopolitical power. On the latter question, a better approach would be to compare national GDPs at actual exchange rates, in which case the US economy turns out still to be far ahead of China’s.

Gap Warfare: The Case for a Shift in America’s Strategic Mindset

By Emmanuel Gfoeller

Contrary to prevailing wisdom, America’s traditional methods for securing global preeminence are no longer applicable to the current dynamics of great power competition. The key to prolonging global influence in this new global dynamic is not a continuation of the traditional use of the instruments of national power, but instead an approach that requires a dramatic shift in strategic mindset. The United States, in order to maintain its status as a global hegemon, must adapt to the new rules of great power competition and change its focus from threat mitigation to targeted opportunism. In short, it must engage in Gap Warfare. Gap Warfare is the proactive exploitation of global opportunities via the coordinated application of instruments of national power to gain strategic advantage and ultimately displace or deter an opponent's influence.

America’s chief competitors, China and Russia, have been practicing this form of warfare for several years and, as a result, are gaining ground.[1] Both voraciously proactive and unapologetically predatory, they have demonstrated a pattern of preying on the gaps of vulnerable nations and providing enticing – albeit self-serving – solutions, ultimately gaining strategic advantages at the long-term expense of their new partners, as well as the United States and its allies.[2] Prime examples include the Chinese Belt & Road Initiative and Russia’s turbulent supply of oil and natural gas to Europe.

Has Globalization Passed Its Peak?

by Felix Richter
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After decades of growth for world trade, global tourism and international cooperation, globalization hit a couple of roadblocks in recent years, as the reemergence of nationalism and protectionism have undone some of the progress made in the past. After global trade growth slowed significantly in 2019, due in large part to trade tensions between the United States and China, the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to cause an unprecedented fall in world trade.

According to estimates from the World Trade Organization, world merchandise trade is set to plummet between 13 and 32 percent this year, depending on how quickly the coronavirus is contained and trade can return to pre-crisis levels. “These numbers are ugly - there is no getting around that. But a rapid, vigorous rebound is possible," WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said in a press release on the matter, while emphasizing the role of free trade on the road to recovery. “Keeping markets open and predictable, as well as fostering a more generally favourable business environment, will be critical to spur the renewed investment we will need. And if countries work together, we will see a much faster recovery than if each country acts alone."

All Roads to a Better Trade Deal Lead Through the WTO

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On Capitol Hill, calls for the United States to drop out of the World Trade Organization (WTO) are getting louder. In early May, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley introduced a joint resolution for WTO withdrawal. This was quickly followed by a similar proposal in the House of Representatives, brought forward by Democrats Peter DeFazio and Frank Pallone Jr. These calls are noteworthy because they signaled some bipartisan congressional alignment on the issue with the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, which has been constant in its criticisms of the global trade body. Trump has threatened withdrawal on a number of occasions, and his administration has already scuppered the WTO’s ability to resolve trade disputes.Trump himself has threatened withdrawal on a number of occasions, and his administration has even scuppered the WTO’s ability to resolve trade disputes by refusing to allow the appointment of new judges to its appellate body.

The proposals to withdraw hinge on three crucial questions. Has the WTO failed? Is multilateralism on trade issues dead? And would the United States be better off outside the WTO? To all three questions, the answer is unequivocally no. This is true even—and especially—when factoring in serious trade concerns with China that the WTO framework has not been able to resolve so far.

Judy Asks: Hong Kong Calls. Can Europe Respond?

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Europe can and should respond more forcefully than it has so far. German Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock has suggested that the EU—and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the host—cancel its looming summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Leipzig in September 2020 unless Beijing withdraws its national security legislation.

That would send a strong signal that it will not be business as usual as long as China is violating the spirit of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong.

Another step, which is reportedly being considered by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is to grant Hong Kong residents asylum in Europe. Germany welcomed two Hong Kong pro-democracy activists in 2019, so such a step would not be unprecedented.

In an environment where the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) faces global outcry over its handling of the new coronavirus, is under acute political and economic pressure from Washington, and needs foreign investors to help revive its suddenly sputtering economy, the EU has more leverage with Beijing than it has had in quite a while. Using it would help counter the narrative—following two embarrassing recent incidents of self-censorship in the face of pressure from Beijing—that Europe is impotent and weak when it comes to China.


International Perspectives on Space Weapons

This paper analyzes international perspectives on space weapons and the weaponization of space, focusing relatively more on countries other than the United States, Russia, and China. It examines how existing international agreements define and limit space weapons and weapons-related activities, proposed international agreements and the reactions of other nations to these proposals, and current developments that relate to space weapons and the weaponization of space.

This publication is made possible by general support to CSIS.

Partners, Not Proxies: Capacity Building in Hybrid Warfare

Security partners operate on the front lines of hybrid warfare environments.

The United States and its allies lack a coherent approach for integrating partners into civilian-led, competitive strategies against rivals who leverage hybrid warfare tools.

A principled approach to selecting and investing in partners, rather than casting them as proxies, will increase U.S. and allied strategic action and operational effectiveness.


The United States, Canada, and their allies are grappling with how best to build security partner capacity in hybrid warfare environments. In a resurgence of competition between states, actors such as China, Russia, and Iran increasingly use tools ranging from disinformation and cyberattacks to economic coercion and proxy warfare to further their interests. They conduct activities that incur low costs and suffer little reputational or accountability blowback while doing so. In this environment, there is a broad spectrum of threats with which the United States and its allies must contend, often with significant ambiguity. Policy and legal frameworks have not kept pace with the evolving threats. This poses challenges for how allies engage and sustain security partnerships.

The Imperative of Talent Platforms in Enhancing the Operational Readiness of the DoD in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

By Keith Couch

The military is and always has been at the center of America’s innovation economy. It is the central actor in the entrepreneurial state—otherwise known as pre-commercial R&D—that is the bedrock of high-tech innovation. Since the solidification of the relationship between the US Government, Private Industry, and Academia after World War II, the Department of Defense (DoD) has been the primary funder of the US' most significant technological breakthroughs. Only the military has the long-term time horizon, massive resources, life or death use cases, and strategic vision to make high-technology investments that have only the smallest chance of success but nonetheless must be made because the imperative in maintaining national security requires it. The Internet; the revolution in aerospace; modern biotechnology; advances in cyber-security; and the paradigm shift in the way that we work, live and play which is being generated by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data—all were catalyzed by the human, financial and intellectual capital of the DoD. It is an unpleasant reality for venture capitalists and those who wish to maintain the charade that the high-tech economy was born in a garage with the support of enterprising venture capitalists when, in fact, the primary entrepreneur and venture capitalist in the country is the United States military. Fundamentally, the DoD and its affiliates such as DARPA matter far more than Kleiner Perkins.

Complex current trends dramatically impact all stakeholders in the innovation economy. Herein, we will examine the profound technological, organizational, and human capital challenges that the Information Age presents for the Department of Defense and the Armed Services while suggesting solutions worthy of exploration. Indeed, as technology historians have noted, we are living in the 4th Industrial Age or rather the second half of the Information Technology Age. As is always the case, there are opportunities and challenges. The 1st Industrial Age began in the late 18th century, and it was characterized by the mechanical advancements of the steam engine and assorted mechanical production equipment that allowed us to transcend the limitations of human and animal labor. The 2nd Industrial Age began in the late 19th century, and it was an electrical revolution that enabled the mass production of the goods and services that characterize modern consumer life. The 3rd Industrial Age or first half of the Information Age began in the late 1960s as an outgrowth of DoD investments during the Space Race. It has featured the mainstream adoption of computers, the Internet, and automated manufacturing. These technologies were initially capital intensive, so they strengthened the power of the centralized institutions that could afford to make the required investments in information technology.

Documentary Of The Week: History Of Quantum Mechanics

by John Lounsbury
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In January Sean Carroll gave a guest lecture to The Royal Institution in London entitled: "A Brief History of Quantum Mechanics". Using simple, understandable examples, Prof. Carroll leads his audience through the labyrinth that started with Bohr and Einstein and continues to confuse many today. Even the iconic Richard Feynman, who won a Nobel Prize for his work in Quantum Theory, said: "Nobody understands Quantum Mechanics."

Sean Michael Carroll (born October 5, 1966) is a theoretical physicist specializing in quantum mechanics, gravity, and cosmology. He is a research professor in the Walter Burke Institute for Theoretical Physics in the California Institute of Technology Department of Physics.[1] He has been a contributor to the physics blog Cosmic Variance, and has published in scientific journals such as Nature as well as other publications, including The New York Times, Sky & Telescope, and New Scientist.


Zachary Kallenborn 
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In 2017, artificial-intelligence researcher Stuart Russell presented the “Slaughterbots” video at a meeting of the UN Convention on Conventional Weapons. When Dr. Russell and the Future of Life Institute released the video on YouTube, it quickly went viral. In the video, fictionalized swarms of drones recognize, target, and kill opponents autonomously. The drones assassinate activists and political leaders, and a slaughterbots manufacturer claims that $25 million of drones can wipe out half a city.

Although slaughterbots are fiction, numerous states are developing both drone-swarm technology and autonomous weapons. Every leg of the US military is developing drone swarms—including the Navy’s swarming boats and the Air Force’s plan to employ swarms in a wide range of military roles, from intelligence collection to suppression of enemy air defenses. Russia, China, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and others are developing swarms too. At the same time, a range of states have developed or are developing autonomous (primarily stationary defensive) weapons, from South Korea’s SGR-A1 gun turret to the United States’ Phalanx close-in weapon system. Combining these technologies creates a slaughterbots­-style weapon: an armed, fully autonomous drone swarm—or AFADS. (For the purposes of this article, I define “fully autonomous” to mean weapon systems that are both self-targeting and self-mobile; “drone” as any unmanned platform operating on land, sea, air, or space; and “drone swarms” as the use of multiple drones collaborating to achieve shared objectives.)

Foreign Military Sales at Risk of Decline

By Jon Harper
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The current global economic downturn threatens foreign military sales of U.S.-made equipment, as cash-strapped allies and partners have less to invest.

FMS is the interagency process that the U.S. government uses to buy and transfer defense articles and services on behalf of other countries. It is separate from direct commercial sales that occur between foreign nations and U.S. companies.

Last year, FMS sales totaled a whopping $55 billion. However, there could be choppy seas ahead due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the decline in oil prices, analysts say.

The Middle East is the top defense export market for the United States, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, which tracks global military spending trends. Top customers in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, depend heavily on oil revenues.

“Certainly with what we’re seeing with oil prices, there will be fewer funds available to support those kinds of sales in the Middle East,” said Mandy Smithberger, director of the Project on Government Oversight’s Center for Defense Information.

Europe, another major destination for U.S.-made equipment, has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

How the Marine Corps is conducting a modernization overhaul of infantry weapons

Diana Stancy Correll
U.S. Marines with 3rd Battalion 8th Marine Regiment fire the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle during a live-fire weapons exercise at range F-18 on Camp Lejeune, N.C., Dec. 8, 2017. The M27 has been introduced to different units throughout the Marine Corps within the last six months. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Michaela R. Gregory)

The Marine Corps is launching a major overhaul of its infantry weapons and optic systems over the course of the next 10 years, according to the Marine Corps Systems Command’s Program Manager for Infantry Weapons.

The Marine Corps’ objective is to enhance the lethality of the infantry squad, aligning with Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger’s overarching mission to better equip the service to compete against near-peer adversaries like Russia and China.

“This is the largest modernization of the infantry squad in the last 25 years,” Lt. Col. Tim Hough, MCSC’s program manager for Infantry Weapons, said in a Marine Corps news release.

As part of the modernization process, the PM IW is working to replace Marine Corps pistols with the Modular Handgun System that features a plastic clip-on piece to provide grip size variety.