3 June 2020

How COVID-19 might impact India’s renewable energy transition

Rahul Tongia

India, like other countries, had an ongoing energy transition, but the question becomes will COVID-19 create a pause or a shift in the trajectories? Or, will it induce radical change? No one can know for sure, in part because we don’t know what the “new normal” will be, but also because timeframes are critical to this puzzle. In the short run, India imposed the world’s most stringent lockdown against COVID-19. There is a long period of recovery expected, with not just a recession but also shifts in spending patterns, with hits to tourism (~10% of GDP), luxury items, and even discretionary purchases.

The underlying issues

A crisis doesn’t just create new challenges, it sharpens existing challenges. If it pushes a system off the precipice, the factors that got us to the edge are key to understanding what might happen in the future. India’s 2019 WEF Transition Index Ranking was middle-of-the-pack, but this score masked some important details. First, coal, which is half of India’s energy, is being replaced by renewable energy (at least for most new electricity), and in the longer run, there was a move towards electrifying mobility (EVs). India’s Renewable Energy (RE) ambitions are actually amongst the most aggressive in the world, but the short-term target of 175 GW Renewable Energy (RE) by 2022 announced in 2014-15 appeared “easy” both in the sense that it wouldn’t require major grid upgrades or storage and it’s aligned with the new business-as-usual based on cheap RE prices, especially for solar power.

Should the United States Punish China for Aggression Toward India and Hong Kong?

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Matthew Kroenig: Hi, Emma! I hope you had a good long weekend. Did you venture out of the house and, if so, did you wear a mask?

Emma Ashford: Well, I’ve been told it isn’t manly to wear a mask, but luckily that doesn’t seem to be a problem for me. I got a cute pink one with spots just in case there was any doubt. But even a cute mask won’t help you escape politics these days. We’ve had the U.S. president slamming his rival Joe Biden for his choice to wear a mask at Memorial Day services. Are the benefits of masks really so hard to grasp?

MK: I never deluded myself into thinking foreign policy was going to be the biggest issue this election year, but I never expected facewear to be a central political divide. It was good, however, to see both candidates out paying their respects on Memorial Day. Biden had been in hiding for so long. Do you think he should be out and about challenging the president more visibly as some of his supporters advocate?

In Amartya Sen vs Jagdish Bhagwati debate, was Sen right after all?

Manas Chakravarty

Just before the general elections in 2014, a rather unlikely fight erupted in the pink papers. In the Left corner, wearing what some people said were bright red shorts, was Nobel Laureate and economist Amartya Sen. In the Right corner, wearing true blue shorts, was eminent trade economist Jagdish Bhagwati.

The dispute was whether social welfare and health and education were best served by rapid economic growth, which was the view from Bhagwati’s corner, or whether social equity and health and education lay the groundwork for rapid growth, which was Sen’s thesis.

These arguments became prominent in the context of the 2014 elections. The pundits said Narendra Modi stood for rapid growth, while the UPA was all about social welfare.

The UPA’s critics, who were legion, made Bhagwati their intellectual mascot and argued there could be no redistribution without rapid growth. Let India grow first, they said, by freeing markets and allowing the ‘animal spirits’ of entrepreneurs free rein and there would soon be a surplus that would trickle down to the masses. Go in for social welfare too soon, they added, and growth would falter, just as it had done under the UPA government.

Is the Afghan Peace Process Back on Track?

BY: Scott Smith

A three-day cease-fire between the Taliban and Afghan government over Eid al-Fitr expired on Tuesday. This was only the second such cessation of hostilities in the nearly two-decade war. And just two weeks ago, President Ashraf Ghani and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, agreed to share power after a monthslong dispute over the 2019 presidential election. These developments have injected renewed hope that a political solution, negotiated among Afghans, is still possible. USIP’s Scott Smith looks at what it all means for the peace process, when we can expect the vital intra-Afghan negotiations to begin, and what, if any, impact COVID-19 has had on peace.Taliban fighters patrol a village bazaar in the Alingar District of Laghman Province in Afghanistan, March 13, 2020. (Jim Huylebroek/The New York Times)

The Taliban and Kabul agreed to a cease-fire for the three days of Eid al-Fitr. Why did this happen and does it signal anything about the peace process?

The Taliban generally reduce violence levels around Eid holidays but they don’t always announce it. The announcement this year is significant because of the context. The Taliban have an agreement with the United States on troop reduction and eventual withdrawal. In exchange, the group agreed to not attack international forces. They have, however, maintained a high operational tempo against Afghan government forces, which has been criticized by the United States.

Contested stabilization: Competing in post-conflict spaces

Patrick W. Quirk and Jason Fritz

The COVID-19 pandemic is stressing health, political, and economic systems globally. As the virus spreads from developed economies to fragile states, it is bringing similar but more pronounced consequences. These include exacerbating grievances that have driven long-standing intra-state conflicts, derailing efforts to negotiate peace, and laying a foundation for a flare-up in violence.

This destabilization will require an international response to contain violence and develop economic stability. However, stabilization as it is now conceived is built upon the lessons of operations in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War. In a unipolar world, the greatest obstacles to achieving stability in fragile states were typically internal spoilers and not the meddling of external politics. Gone are the days when the United States and Europe lead multilateral stabilization operations while their adversaries sit on the sidelines indifferently, or at least inactively. The global redistribution of political and economic power will drive rising powers to seek influence and resources where they can — fragile states are typically weak and moldable, making them rich targets for states looking to shape the world in their image and to the benefit of their interests.

Adversaries of the United States, including Russia and China, are exploiting the pandemic to advance their interests in strategically important countries and regions. They — like any global or regional power, including the United States — will try to mold destabilized states as they react to COVID as an exacerbating factor. In an echo of the Cold War, fragile states will have more than one model from which to choose.

Don't Be Fooled by China's Mask Diplomacy

by Jeffrey W. Hornung

We've seen something like this before. Straight from its well-versed playbook, China has gone on a “charm offensive” to try to make the world forget Beijing's culpability in the coronavirus crisis. This time, the charm offensive comes in the form of masks and ventilators.

A decade ago, it was common to hear China advocate for its peaceful rise. Regional countries had nothing to worry about, or so the narrative went. That charm offensive turned out to be a ruse. By the mid-2010s, China had embarked on an aggressive maritime campaign against its neighbors. Whether it was employing military and paramilitary assets against Japan in the East China Sea or pursuing large-scale artificial island building in the South China Sea, the peaceful rise narrative proved to be a distraction from Beijing's true intentions.

Echoes of this behavior can be seen in China's response to COVID-19 and behavior vis-à-vis its neighbors. Despite China's denial, there is ample evidence to believe that the coronavirus began in China. Early on, Chinese leadership apparently knew the epidemic was out of control. Worse, it hid the extent of the outbreak from the international community, doing everything in its power to cover up its culpability.

Win For Trump? Britain Backs Away From Huawei 5G Plans

Alasdair Lane
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‘Back away from Huawei.’

That was the demand made of British prime minister Boris Johnson, and that, it seems, is precisely what he has done. 

Under pressure from a cabal of Conservative MPs, security experts, and President Donald Trump himself, Johnson has pulled plans to involve the Chinese telecoms giant in Britain’s 5G network infrastructure, reports suggest.

It was only earlier this year that Huawei had its role in the country’s digital future confirmed. That decision followed parliamentary assent for the firm to help broaden Britain’s next generation network, so long as its involvement was capped at 35%.

But now, reports indicate that Johnson has ordered officials to ensure that Huawei is expunged from 5G plans by 2023. 

Beijing Has Lit Hong Kong’s Funeral Pyre

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Produced on a shoestring budget by a largely volunteer crew, it envisioned a nightmarish decade for the city, culminating in a Hong Kong in which the police begin inflicting grotesque violence against dissenters, young children are indoctrinated in Chinese Communist Party ideology, and people are forced to learn Mandarin to have any prospect of good employment. They called it Ten Years.

Less than five years later, the film’s prescience is horrifying. What was intended as the very worst vision for the city has become a terrifying reality.

A police force still running on colonial hardware has run riot for a year, inflicting horrific violence against protesters with impunity—backed to the hilt by the authorities. Mass targeted arrests of high-profile pro-democracy activists and politicians on spurious charges have also been initiated, and on Thursday, in an act many view as the final nail in Hong Kong’s coffin, the dreaded Article 23, a mothballed provision in Hong Kong’s constitution providing for draconian national security laws, was unveiled in all but name.

While the official announcement has only proposed “legal and enforcement mechanisms in Hong Kong for defending national security” as one item among nine on the agenda for the National People’s Congress (NPC) to discuss in Beijing over the next week, the NPC’s role as China’s rubber-stamp parliament means the decision is all but final.

To Beat Covid-19, You Have to Know How A Virus Moves

TO REALLY UNDERSTAND how the disease Covid-19 spreads, you have to see the world the way a virus moves through it. It’s just a fleck of protein and genes, a little bit of code in a package with no to-do list beyond hijacking the biology of living things to make copies of itself and spread them to other living things. What happens to those other living things in the process—maybe they get sick, maybe they die—isn’t the virus’s problem. Viruses don’t have problems.

If that virus is our problem, though, scientists will want to get in the way of that cycle. Absent a vaccine, understanding that mysterious, turbulent spread is going to be the key to the next phase of the pandemic.

On the long list of changes to society and the way cities will look in a Covid-haunted world, shifting public outdoor space like streets and parking lots away from cars to other uses may be one of the most striking. Multiple cities are instituting “slow streets” or “open streets” programs, to give people more space to be outside while staying six feet apart. Some are going to allow restaurants and other businesses to take over sidewalk and street space for outdoor service, to help them make up the margins lost due to restrictions on indoor occupancy. All of that relies on the idea that disease doesn’t spread as easily outside as it does in enclosed spaces, a relatively uncontroversial notion in epidemiology. But the question of why could turn into the most important countermeasure public health experts can deploy—and it depends on the invisible, infinitesimal particles that come out of people’s mouths with every breath and utterance.

What does 'One China' really mean?

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You do not have to read the internal report presented last month to Chinese leadership on the subject to know that critical sentiment towards China is on the rise worldwide. Blaming the country for the spread of the coronavirus is only the latest issue to be weaponised. Two older ones have very much come back to the fore in recent days.

The first concerns Hong Kong. The announcement that Beijing's National People’s Congress is going to pass national security legislation for the Special Autonomous Region, because the city’s own Legislative Council (also known as the LegCo) cannot be relied upon to do so, has been greeted with protests from certain quarters.

Under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, the LegCo is obliged to pass such legislation, but has shied away from it since a 2003 attempt led to half a million people taking to the streets in protest. This explanation cuts no ice with critics who claim the new laws would mean the end of Hong Kong as it has hitherto been known, and that the "one country, two systems" principle which was supposed to guarantee the former British colony a high degree of autonomy for 50 years after the 1997 handover has been undermined.

China is embracing a new brand of foreign policy. Here's what wolf warrior diplomacy means

By Ben Westcott and Steven Jiang, CNN

Hong Kong (CNN)There is a new brand of diplomacy taking hold in Beijing and its chief architects have a suitably fierce nickname to match their aggressive style -- they are the wolf warriors.

It's a phrase that is now used widely in Chinese state-run media as well as Western publications, and it was made clear last weekend that its proponents have the full support of the country's top diplomat.

Speaking at a press conference in Beijing Sunday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that China would now push back against "deliberate insults."

"We never pick a fight or bully others. But we have principles and guts. We will push back against any deliberate insult, resolutely defend our national honor and dignity, and we will refute all groundless slander with facts," said Wang, responding to a question from CNN.

But what is "wolf warrior" diplomacy, what does the name mean and where did it originate?
The "wolf warriors" represent a completely different type of diplomat to the famously bland Chinese foreign representatives of the past few decades.

How Tensions Between the U.S. and Iran Ended Up Strengthening ISIS

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On a cold morning this past February, a 9-year-old resident of Iraq’s Khatuniya village took his family’s livestock to graze in nearby meadows. When he didn’t return by late afternoon, two relatives went looking for him. The next morning, the two men, Qasem Mohammed and Abd Mohammed Sabah, were found dead on a dirt road outside the village.

The killings bore the hallmarks of Islamic State attacks the villagers knew all too well—the men were found with their hands tied behind their backs and bullet wounds in their heads. Still, they came as a surprise. For nearly a year, the area had enjoyed a relative respite from violence, the result of a systematic campaign of raids conducted jointly by Iraqi and U.S. troops in late 2018 and early 2019.

The raids, reported here for the first time, picked off one Islamic State member after another, gradually uprooting the militants from villages and forcing them to retreat to nearby mountain areas.

But the attack in Khatuniya in February marked the beginning of the Islamic State’s return to the area—a resurgence that seems to be tied to the ongoing escalation between the United States and neighboring Iran.

What It Takes to Give a Great Presentation

Carmine Gallo
I was sitting across the table from a Silicon Valley CEO who had pioneered a technology that touches many of our lives — the flash memory that stores data on smartphones, digital cameras, and computers. He was a frequent guest on CNBC and had been delivering business presentations for at least 20 years before we met. And yet, the CEO wanted to sharpen his public speaking skills.

“You’re very successful. You’re considered a good speaker. Why do you feel as though you need to improve?” I asked.

“I can always get better,” he responded. “Every point up or down in our share price means billions of dollars in our company’s valuation. How well I communicate makes a big difference.”

This is just one example of the many CEOs and entrepreneurs I have coached on their communication skills over the past two decades, but he serves as a valuable case in point. Often, the people who most want my help are already established and admired for their skills. Psychologists say this can be explained by a phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger effect. Simply put, people who are mediocre at certain things often think they are better than they actually are, and therefore, fail to grow and improve. Great leaders, on the other hand, are great for a reason — they recognize their weaknesses and seek to get better.

The Pandemic Does Not Spell the End for Cities

By Jennifer Keesmaat

The novel coronavirus pandemic threatens to upend urban life as we know it. Metropolises such as New York City have ground to a halt while grappling with high rates of infection. The requirements of social distancing are harder to follow in cities than they are in places where people live in larger homes or drive cars. Some city dwellers have fled or plan to leave soon. 

The new normal seems to cut against the very ethos of dense urban centers. Cities bring people and their activities close together. They rely on shared public space and goods—parks, transit, libraries, and beaches. The great North American urban project of the past century has encouraged people to trade backyard pools for public pools; a long commute in a car for a short one on a subway or bike; the reprieve of one’s own garden for shared plazas, squares, and other urban landscapes; solitude for access to the spectacle of sport, art, and culture. The coronavirus complicates such collective spaces and activities, leading some to prognosticate that the urban project has come to an untimely end: a concerted retreat from North America’s cities is imminent, news media and real estate agents increasingly predict.

Has Time Run Out for Guaido in Venezuela?

There is no end in sight to the political and humanitarian crises that have overwhelmed Venezuela and spilled over into neighboring countries for the past several years. In fact, the protracted fight for control of the country has only meant additional suffering for its citizens, who are already living in the most dire conditions outside of a warzone in recent memory.

Even if the political stalemate is broken, there are no easy solutions for fixing the country’s economy, which was too dependent on oil and collapsed as global crude prices fell. But President Nicolas Maduro has shown more interest in consolidating his grip on power than making needed structural changes. The result has been growing shortages of food and basic supplies, widespread power outages and alarming rates of malnutrition. The crisis has also decimated the country’s health care system, leaving Venezuela at the mercy of the coronavirus pandemic, which is likely to further exacerbate all of its challenges.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido’s attempt to overthrow Maduro’s government in early 2019 with the backing of the United States appears to have backfired. Instead of seizing power, Guaido appears to have hardened political divisions within the country, resulting in an impasse. Meanwhile, Washington’s public attempts to help bring down Maduro’s socialist administration have pushed the Venezuelan leader to look to strengthen his partnerships with Russia and China.

U.S. Accuses Russian Military Hackers of Attack on Email Servers

By Julian E. Barnes and David E. Sanger
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WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency publicly accused Russian government hackers of targeting email servers around the world in an unusual announcement on Thursday, showing that the agency is becoming more aggressive in calling out Moscow’s action as the presidential election approaches.

While the Trump administration has publicly attributed cyberattacks to Russia before — including for its 2016 election hack and for paralyzing Ukraine in 2017, which damaged the operations of the shippers Maersk and FedEx — this allegation was unusually specific. It singled out Russia’s military intelligence unit, widely known as the G.R.U., demonstrating intelligence agencies’ concern that Russia intends to interfere in the election only a little more than five months away.

But it also comes as President Trump has renewed his baseless claims that the investigation into Russia’s activities was part of a “hoax” intended by Democrats to paralyze him. He has publicly questioned Russia’s culpability in the election hacking and appeared to accept President Vladimir V. Putin’s argument that Russia was so good at cyberoperations that it would never have been caught.

America rethinks its strategy in the Wild West of cyberspace

Covid-19 has been a phisherman’s friend. Millions of professionals are at home and online, adjusting to new routines and anxious about their jobs. That makes them perfect marks: apt to click on an email that purports to be from their boss or a supplier asking for payment. Law-enforcement officials in many countries have reported a rise in cybercrime since the pandemic started.

But according to the fbi and Department of Homeland Security, not all such attacks come from gangs or individuals looking to make a quick buck. On May 13th those agencies warned that cyber-actors affiliated with China were trying to steal covid-related data and intellectual property. China is not the only worry. Russian hackers may probe for weaknesses in American electoral systems; Iranians have targeted an American drugmaker; North Koreans have gone after cryptocurrency stores.

The Decline and Fall of British Lying

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Lying, ultimately, is an exercise of power, which is why the styles of lying practiced in different countries can tell us something useful about how they are governed. At one extreme are the lies that are not meant to be believed. These come from pure tyrannies, like Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The purpose of lies there is not even to spread confusion but to make it plain that the liar has power and the lied-to can do nothing about it. Black is white, war is peace, freedom is slavery: These slogans may work to some extent because they are believed, but their real force comes when they are not believed and the people are compelled to repeat them anyway. That’s how naked power is expressed.

At the other end of the spectrum are reasonably egalitarian, high-trust societies where politicians really do try to explain themselves honestly and people expect to believe them. They are not always telling the truth, of course, but for the most part they are unconscious of this. Sweden was a country like that 30 or 40 years ago and to some extent still is.

In the middle are countries like Britain, which are governed through a recognizable class hierarchy and where lying among the upper classes is governed by an accepted code. Watching Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson over the last week has been a wonderful illustration of this, not least because both have violated the code.


Air University Press just released the Summer 2020 Edition of Strategic Studies Quarterly, available at https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/SSQ/.

In this issue:

Space strategist Everett C. Dolman from Air Command and Staff College argues why space as a unique war-fighting domain should have a fully autonomous service dedicated to it.

Keith B. Payne, co-founder of the National Public Policy Institute, debates whether a belief in easy deterrence is rational and sensible or simply a fatal flaw in strategic thinking.

University of Toronto assistant professor Jon R. Lindsay asks, “Will quantum computing threaten cyber security or will a more concerted effort emerge to counter it?”

Air Force physicist Lt. Col. Nathan B. Terry and Air War College assistant professor Paige Price Cone explore whether nuclear armed hypersonic weapons will change the nature of nuclear deterrence.

George Mason University’s associate professor A. Trevor Thrall and PhD candidate Jordan Cohen, along with Caroline Dorminey, policy director at Women’s Action for New Directions, assess whether strategic interests and economic considerations override risk assessments in the arms sales decision process.

Booz Allen Hamilton consultant Scott Lawless examines the question, “Can the United States secure its interests, maintain liberal legitimacy, and shape the emerging international order toward a stable future?” 

We also offer a special memorial tribute to the memory of Colin S. Gray. 

Summer book reviews include Shadows on the Wall: Deterrence and Disarmament by Keith B. Payne and The Future of Strategy by Colin S. Gray.

NSA: Russia's Sandworm Hackers Have Hijacked Mail Servers

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The United States Needs a Euro Policy


Watching Ursula von der Leyen, the new German President of the European Commission, present the European Recovery Package to the European Parliament this week was to receive a history lesson. 

“Europe is a story about generations,” she began. “Each generation of Europe has its own story,” she continued. Pointing backward to three political generations before her—first, that of the founders, then of the creators of the single market and common currency and finally that of the uniters of east and west with enlargement—von der Leyen cast herself, and those assembled, in the role of the coronavirus generation.

“We owe it to future generations,” she implored her listeners. The stakes could not be made clearer. Will the generation of Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, and Guiseppe Conte write themselves into the European history books in this recovery, or will they fail?

Talk of the latest “eurocrisis” can trigger eye-rolls in Washington. Von der Leyen’s proposal should not. The intense negotiations that led to the breakthrough Franco-German proposal, which permitted the Commission to launch the European Recovery Package, had been marked by deep fissures appearing in the Union, which should alarm this generation of U.S. foreign policy hands.

An $826 Billion Battle Is Brewing in Europe

Lionel Laurent

The European Union’s pandemic recovery plan has all the hallmarks of a historic leap in the dark for the 27-member bloc.

It aims to unleash as much as 750 billion euros ($826 billion) of fiscal stimulus, fueled by joint borrowing on financial markets — a big deal for member states that have always jealously guarded the power to tax and spend. The fact that the plan unveiled by Commission boss Ursula von der Leyen is so clearly aligned with the proposal from France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel is especially positive: Paris’s desire for continental assertiveness and foreign-policy grandeur hasn’t always matched Berlin’s focus on balanced budgets.

Still, unlike the days of Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer, or Francois Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl, the greater sprawl and complexity of Europe mean such breakthroughs need more than just France and Germany’s blessing to secure buy-in across the continent. A bust-up is looming over what should be spent and how, and it will be a bitter one.

Compromising the Knowledge Economy

This report explores the compromising effects of sharp power on the civil society institutions that democratic societies depend on for knowledge production, including universities, publishers, and think tanks. Authoritarian regimes—China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and others—are exploiting unanticipated vulnerabilities in open knowledge economies to challenge free intellectual inquiry from the inside. By systematically coopting foreign partners, marginalizing or intimidating dissenters, controlling discourse, and globalizing their preferred narratives, these authoritarian regimes intend to discredit democracy, shore up their positions at home, and facilitate the projection of their power and interests abroad. Resisting the compromising effects of sharp power requires a communal awakening backed by heightened regulatory and institutional standards, major investments in employee training and compliance, robust monitoring, and the fortitude to say “no” to authoritarian influence.

Intellectual freedom flourishes only so long as we sustain and invest in the ecosystem that supports it, and that ecosystem is prone to exploitation and despoilment by those with incompatible agendas.


The End of World Order and American Foreign Policy

Thomas Wright

“Along with U.S.-Soviet competition during the Cold War, COVID-19 is one of the two greatest tests of the U.S.-led international order since its founding,” warn Robert D. Blackwill, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) senior fellow, and Thomas Wright, Brookings Institution senior fellow. “Nothing else since that time approaches the societal, political, and economic effects of the virus on populations around the world.”

In a new Council Special Report, The End of World Order and American Foreign Policy, Blackwill and Wright seek to “place the plague in global context,” by analyzing the evolution of world order before COVID-19, and offer a roadmap for U.S. foreign policy in the face of “radical international uncertainty.”

The authors contend that world order “weakened after 9/11 and ended over the past decade, driven by a combination of great power ambition, American withdrawal, and transformational changes that left many nations unmoored from old certainties.”

'Cyber Winter': Warfare's Alarming Next Step

By Micah Halpern
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They call it "the cyber winter."

It is the next stage of cyber warfare. According to Yigal Unna, Israel's national cyber security chief, we are not talking theoretically. We are already there. The war has begun. We have entered the new stage.

Unna told CyberLive Asia that "cyber winter is coming."

He said: "Rapid is not something that describes enough how fast and how crazy and hectic things are moving forward in cyberspace and I think we will remember this last month and May 2020 as a changing point in the history of modern cyber warfare."

Unna knows what he's talking about. Israel's water system was attacked by cyber terrorists in late April. The attack was traced back to Iran. The plan was for attackers to change the chlorine content of Israel's water.

According to an internal memo between the head of Israel's water department and the head of Israel's cyber security, the attack was repelled and Israel successfully defended itself. No damage was done. The memo ordered everyone to change their passwords — especially those in the chlorine control department.

If that was not possible, they were instructed to remove themselves and take their system offline immediately.