1 July 2020

The EU, India and Russia do not want to pick sides in a US-China contest, but they may have to

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What do the EU, India and Russia have in common? Very little, at first glance. But they do share one highly important thing. Brussels, New Delhi and Moscow would all like to tread a middle path between the US and China. And all are starting to realise that doing so may not be possible. As tensions between the two superpowers grow and their relationship becomes more zero-sum, the EU, India and Russia are confronted with the possibility of eventually having to pick a side.

Traditionally a US ally, the EU has also been a fairly pliant partner to China. The union’s 27 members have varying instincts and interests, so Beijing has mostly dealt with them bilaterally. It has nurtured close export relations with Germany, acquired major assets in weaker states such as Greece and Portugal, and boosted populist leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orbán. China’s growing influence and a weakening transatlantic relationship have prompted talk in recent years of a middle way: of European “strategic autonomy” and even “equidistance” between the two giants.

Will the Afghan peace process be Pakistan’s road to redemption?

Madiha Afzal

About a year after President Trump publicly excoriated Pakistan for “lies and deceit” and cut off security assistance in early 2018, the country became the key third player in the U.S.-Taliban peace talks. It was a swift change of fortune, even by the standards of Pakistan’s typical ups and downs with the United States. By February 2020, when the U.S.-Taliban peace deal was signed, Pakistan had not only propelled itself back into America’s good graces, it was testing out an ambitious new approach to foreign policy, hoping that it could begin to shed its image of a state associated with terror. The pandemic has paused this new phase somewhat, as Pakistan and others have had to turn inward, but that may be temporary.


When Zalmay Khalilzad was appointed U.S. envoy to the Afghan peace process in September 2018, Pakistanis were worried. Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, was known for his skepticism on Pakistan. Over the next year and a half, almost each one of Khalilzad’s trips to the region included a visit to Islamabad.

Tracing his statements over time, you can see his reliance on Pakistan increasing, and his tone softening. In many ways, Pakistan was uniquely positioned to take advantage of the two-phase structure of the peace process — the Taliban refused to negotiate with Kabul until a U.S.-Taliban deal was signed — because of Pakistan’s relationships with both the U.S. and the Taliban. It seems to have done so masterfully, producing Mullah Baradar, the deputy leader of the Taliban who had been in Pakistani custody, and engaging in behind-the-scenes maneuvering that the U.S. has repeatedly acknowledged (and appreciated). Pakistan helped bring the Taliban to the table, ultimately resulting in a deal. Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was present at the peace deal signing in Doha on February 29, warmly congratulating both sides.

Taliban prisoner issue almost resolved, peace talks expected 'soon': sources, officials

Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Charlotte Greenfield

KABUL/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Peace talks between warring Afghan factions are expected to start as soon as they iron out their main differences over the release of the “most dangerous” Taliban prisoners, officials and sources from both sides said.

Despite a major push by the United States, there has been a delay in the intra-Afghan talks as the Afghan government and some key NATO members are uncomfortable about the release of Taliban commanders accused of conducting large-scale attacks that killed civilians in recent years.

An Afghan government source said the prisoner issue had largely been resolved and they would release an alternative set of prisoners with talks expected to start mid-July.

“The Taliban agreed because it was delaying the talks,” he said, adding the government had also demanded a guarantee from the Taliban that it was no longer holding any Afghan security force prisoners.

A source close to the Taliban said the group was willing to move forward so long as most of the 5,000 prisoners demanded were released.

Sino-Taiwan Chequebook Diplomacy in the Pacific

Saber Salem

Over the past two decades, there has been an unprecedented growth and expansion in the level and magnitude of Sino-Taiwan aid competition in the Pacific region. The two Asiatic economic giants have been appropriating colossal sums of their aid funds to the developing and least developed island nations for diplomatic recognition. It is believed that it will not take long for China to overtake Australia as the largest creditor to the region after it “committed to spending more than four times as much as Australia” (Lyons, 2018). In 2017, China pledged US$4 billion to the island nations for high visibility infrastructure projects across the region (Lyons, 2018). Taiwan has equally been persistent in its pursuit of diplomatic recognition to garner international support through aid diplomacy. 

The Sino-Taiwan rivalry goes back to 1950s when the US intervened in Taiwan Strait following the Korean War and prevented the complete Chinese takeover of the island nation and annexing it to mainland China. Enjoying support from the United States, Taiwan continued to compete with China for diplomatic recognition globally (Atkinson, 2010). The Republic of China (ROC) enjoyed the luxury of occupying the UN Seat. In 1971, however, ROC lost the UN Seat to People’s Republic of China (PRC) by failing to gather enough international support and backing. The US and its allies also recognised PRC in a bid to isolate the Soviet Union. Thus, the US reduced its level of cooperation with Taiwan and increased it with China. The US also encouraged its allies Japan and Germany to engage more with China, so much so, that during 1970s Japan was China’s biggest foreign aid donor constructing airports, seaports, railways, roads and hydropower dams (Nowak, 2015).

Britain Must Step Up to the Global Stage to Protect Hong Kong

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The 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration was the brainchild of two formidable political leaders, China’s Deng Xiaoping and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Since the handover of Hong Kong in 1997, the international treaty has generally worked well for China, Hong Kong, and the rest of the world. But from the beginning, Hong Kong’s Basic Law—the city’s de facto constitution—presented a serious conflict between the demands of Article 39, which entrenched the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights into local law, and the requirement under Article 23 that introduced such charges as “subversion,” “secession,” and “collusion with foreign political powers” into local legislation. This was the catalyst for major protests in 2003 and has made national security legislation a hot-button issue ever since.

The impasse in Hong Kong is a geopolitical watershed. Alongside unrest over the extradition bill, China has moved to unilaterally enact national security legislation, a course of action that the British government and many of its international counterparts consider to be in direct conflict with Hong Kong’s Basic Law and the original treaty. Hong Kong, once a bridge between East and West, could become a fresh fault line.

In U.S.-China Trade War, New Supply Chains Rattle Markets


With relations between Washington and Beijing in freefall, the future of global supply chains is uncertain. Even as inconsistent White House messages continue to raise questions about the direction of U.S. trade policy, trade war tariffs remain in effect. Meanwhile, the fallout from Beijing’s proposed national security law, which threatens to constrain Hong Kong’s autonomy, further imperils the already fragile phase one trade agreement between the two superpowers. This friction, paired with the race to secure medical supplies and develop a coronavirus vaccine, is provoking a reevaluation of just-in-time supply chains that privilege efficiency above all else.

A chorus of ‘re’-themed supply chain buzzwords—resiliency, redundancy, reshoring, restructuring, and regionalization, to name a few—is music to the ears of White House protectionists, who launched the trade war and who think China’s global manufacturing role is long overdue for revision. U.S. President Donald Trump’s strategy of reducing the United States’ trade deficits and rejuvenating the U.S. economy stems from a nationalist view of supply chains. In this vein, Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro signaled the country’s $2 trillion in spending on stimulus packages in part aims to bring more manufacturing jobs back to American shores.

How Hegemony Ends

By Alexander Cooley and Daniel H. Nexon

Multiple signs point to a crisis in global order. The uncoordinated international response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting economic downturns, the resurgence of nationalist politics, and the hardening of state borders all seem to herald the emergence of a less cooperative and more fragile international system. According to many observers, these developments underscore the dangers of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America first” policies and his retreat from global leadership. 

Even before the pandemic, Trump routinely criticized the value of alliances and institutions such as NATO, supported the breakup of the European Union, withdrew from a host of international agreements and organizations, and pandered to autocrats such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He has questioned the merits of placing liberal values such as democracy and human rights at the heart of foreign policy. Trump’s clear preference for zero-sum, transactional politics further supports the notion that the United States is abandoning its commitment to promoting a liberal international order. 

The future of trans-Atlantic collaboration on China: What the EU-China summit showed

Paul Gewirtz

The EU-China Summit this week made clear that while both the United States and Europe are both moving toward a tougher and more critical view of China, European governments aren’t anywhere near as tough. Instead, they are trying to advance their distinct interests, which means emphasizing cooperation and partnership with China along with vigorous competition and criticism.

Understanding our allies’ approaches to China is important because virtually every critique of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy charges that his administration acts “unilaterally” and that we should be “working with our allies.” Whenever presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden discusses foreign policy, he is explicit that working with our allies will be a pillar of his approach, including on China policy. And rightly so — the U.S. will be much stronger and have greater leverage in addressing China if we develop and execute policies jointly with our allies and friends.

But what common policies are possible? We can’t work on a collaborative approach towards China unless we first understand how our allies see and act on their own interests. We need to be as clear-eyed as possible, not cherry-picking European viewpoints that match our own and misperceiving what collaborations with Europe are realistic. And we will need to take European interests into account as we work with them to forge collaborative policies and actions.

Opinion – Lebanon’s Economic Crisis: An Opportunity to Contain Hezbollah?

Massimiliano Fiore
Hezbollah’s reputation has declined since the start of the street protests in October 2019. Positioning itself against the protest movement, which embraces citizens of all faiths directing their anger across the political spectrum, and with some of its supporters beating up protesters, Hezbollah’s halo has slipped. Recent instances of corruption have also shed light on the modern nature of the party, now so embedded in Lebanese politics that it has created a clique of politicians and staffers removed from their Shia constituency. To add to these difficulties, Lebanon is close to economic collapse. The currency has depreciated by over 60% since October, leading to price hikes of essential imports, while unemployment has been running at an estimated 17% since September. Large fiscal deficits accumulated since the end of the civil war mean Lebanon has the world’s third highest debt-to-GDP ratio. For the first time in its history, the country failed to make a $1.2 billion Eurobond payment due on 9 March and the International Monetary Fund has forecast a 12% contraction of the Lebanese economy in 2020.

The nationwide lockdown introduced on 15 March to prevent the spread of Covid-19 has only exacerbated the downward spiral, bringing almost all economic activity to a halt. Popular discontent at the spike in food prices and sharp depreciation of the currency led citizens in several cities to take to the streets and vent their grievances against the government. At the end of April, Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced that the government had sought the International Monetary Fund’s advice on an economic rescue plan and requested a bailout, saying that the country needed over $100 billion in international aid on top of the $11 billion in loans tied to reforms that had been pledged at a conference of international donors in Paris led by former Prime Minister Hariri in 2018. But despite efforts to control depreciation, the Lebanese pound has hit a new low on the black market in recent weeks (over 5,000 to the dollar as opposed to the official rate of around 1,507 to the dollar six months ago), provoking violent demonstrations nationwide.

Why Israel’s Warming Gulf Ties Will Survive Annexation

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In the shadow of the world’s tallest skyscraper in Dubai, a new kosher caterer makes delicious tsimmes. The sweet carrot stew is an iconic Jewish dish featured on the menu of Elli’s Kosher Kitchen, alongside matzo ball soup and brisket. For the United Arab Emirates, the new kosher cuisine has become a point of pride as the royal court of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan tries to rebrand the country as modern and multicultural. Along with creating a Ministry of Tolerance and declaring battle on “extremism and fanaticism,” the UAE now boasts two synagogues and a growing Jewish community of about 200.Along with creating a Ministry of Tolerance, the UAE now boasts two synagogues and a growing Jewish community of about 200. In a stunning turnaround from decades of animosity and—in more recent years—secret contacts, the UAE has also been cultivating public ties with Israel.

That’s why it’s perplexing to watch Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu veer from his script of courting moderate Gulf states and proceed with plans to annex parts of the West Bank. The prospect of Israel’s moving forward, which rests on getting a green light from the White House, has drawn outrage from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah of Jordan, the 22-member Arab League, and most European nations. Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, says he won’t recognize Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank if he wins the election in November.

Digital strategy in a time of crisis

By Simon Blackburn, Laura LaBerge, Clayton O’Toole, and Jeremy Schneider

In one European survey, about 70 percent of executives from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland said the pandemic is likely to accelerate the pace of their digital transformation. The quickening is evident already across sectors and geographies. Consider how Asian banks have swiftly migrated physical channels online. How healthcare providers have moved rapidly into telehealth, insurers into self-service claims assessment, and retailers into contactless shopping and delivery.

The COVID-19 crisis seemingly provides a sudden glimpse into a future world, one in which digital has become central to every interaction, forcing both organizations and individuals further up the adoption curve almost overnight. A world in which digital channels become the primary (and, in some cases, sole) customer-engagement model, and automated processes become a primary driver of productivity—and the basis of flexible, transparent, and stable supply chains. A world in which agile ways of working are a prerequisite to meeting seemingly daily changes to customer behavior.

If a silver lining can be found, it might be in the falling barriers to improvisation and experimentation that have emerged among customers, markets, regulators, and organizations. In this unique moment, companies can learn and progress more quickly than ever before. The ways they learn from and adjust to today’s crisis will deeply influence their performance in tomorrow’s changed world, providing the opportunity to retain greater agility as well as closer ties with customers, employees, and suppliers. Those that are successfully able to make gains “stick” will likely be more successful during recovery and beyond.

A Disastrous Summer in the Arctic

By Carolyn Kormann

The remote Siberian town of Verkhoyansk, three thousand miles east of Moscow and six miles north of the Arctic Circle, has long held the record, with another Siberian town, for the coldest inhabited place in the world. The record was set in 1892, when the temperature dropped to ninety below zero Fahrenheit, although these days winter temperatures are noticeably milder, hovering around fifty below. Last Saturday, Verkhoyansk claimed a new record: the hottest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic, with an observation of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit—the same temperature was recorded that day in Las Vegas. Miami has only hit a hundred degrees once since 1896. “This has been an unusually hot spring in Siberia,” Randy Cerveny, the World Meteorological Organization’s rapporteur of weather and climate extremes, said. “The coinciding lack of underlying snow in the region, combined with over-all global temperature increases, undoubtedly helped play a critical role in causing this extreme.” Siberia, in other words, is in the midst of an astonishing and historic heat wave.

Anthropogenic climate change is causing the Arctic to heat up twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Climate models had predicted this phenomenon, known as Arctic amplification, but they did not predict how fast the warming would occur. Although Verkhoyansk has seen hot temperatures in the past, Saturday’s 100.4-degree record follows a wildly warm year across the region. Since December, temperatures in western Siberia have been eighteen degrees above normal. Since January, the mean temperature across Siberia has been at least 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit above the long-term average. As the meteorologist Jeff Berardelli reported for CBS, the heat that has fallen on Russia in 2020 “is so remarkable that it matches what’s projected to be normal by the year 2100, if current trends in heat-trapping carbon emissions continue.” By April, owing to the heat, wildfires across the region were larger and more numerous than they were at the same time last year, when the Russian government eventually had to send military aircrafts to battle vast blazes. The scale of the current wildfires—with towering plumes of smoke visible for thousands of miles on satellite images—suggest that this summer could be worse. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, they will also be more complicated to fight.

Understanding Ukraine and Belarus: Heroes and Villains

David R. Marples

I spent more time in Ukraine in the early years of the 21st century, particularly areas of the east and south. In 2002, I applied for a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for a project on “The Formation of National History in Ukraine, 1998-2005,” which was successful. It stemmed from curiosity about the different attitudes to the past in the diverse regions. In 2002, I spent time in Donetsk, the twin city of Sheffield, as well as Horlivka, and Yalta in Crimea. Not only were these cities Russian speaking, they were so different from the areas with which I was more familiar, such as Lviv and Kyiv, that they represented an almost alien world. In Donetsk, center of the coal-mining field of the Donbas, my visit coincided with the “Day of the Coal Miner” and I was back in the Soviet Union, listening to patriotic songs, many from the war years.

Crimea, with its hills and castles, and glorious Black Sea coastline was invigorating. I thought it peculiarly appropriate that one of the best statues I had seen of Lenin stood opposite the busy McDonald’s. Russian businessmen were omnipresent, and the beaches swarming with human bodies, many without clothing. The Black Sea, incongruously, was teeming with dead jellyfish. The Massandra winery was producing sweet Crimean wine, almost orange in color, and Livadia and Voronsky Palaces brought back memories of the Second World War. At Livadia, one could buy leaflets describing how the Western Allies had betrayed the Soviet Union and, within, one could peruse Nicholas II’s simple letters to his wife Aleksandra.

The European Union’s Security and Defence Policy Beyond COVID-19

Shreya Sinha

As Europe went from being the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic to a situation where most European countries are confident that they are past the worst of the crisis, the focus of the European leaders is now towards the resurgence of the society back to normalcy. Beyond the epidemiological challenge of the virus – the economic, political, geopolitical as well as security challenges faced by the Union are also plenty. Though the European Union’s Global Strategy of 2016 (PDF) highlighted the detection, prevention and response to global pandemics as a priority, the massive consequences and implications on the security policy of the EU are unprecedented. In a continent that is always undergoing shifts, the outbreak of COVID-19 is likely to cause an impact much similar to that of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States of America in 2001.

The most direct and immediate impact is economic in nature which is taking place concurrently to the pandemic. Most European companies including the EU defence firms are witnessing a historic drop in their stock market prices. This is subsequently leading to a rise in their debt ratios and eventually causing a functional threat to their survival. Further, as the public authorities are channelling their resources towards fighting an unprecedented challenge, the funding towards the defence sector and its initiatives is bound to be diminished.

Causes and Potential Solutions to the Ukraine and Russia Conflict

Taras Kuzio and Paul D’Anieri

Disagreement continues over both the causes and potential solutions to the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. We use the word ‘solutions’ carefully, because there is little prospect for re-establishing the level of confidence or the norms that prevailed prior to 2014. In this brief conclusion, we set out some of the key findings of the book, and pursue their implications for the future. First, this book has differed from many others in its understanding of the timeline of the conflict. The conflict that emerged in 2014 had its roots at the very outset of the post-Cold War period, because from the very beginning, Russia sought to prevent Ukraine’s independence and, when this was unavoidable, sought to limit it both in terms of sovereignty and territory. As Angela Stent astutely points out, ‘Every U.S. president since 1992 has come into office believing that, unlike his predecessor, he will be able to forge and sustain a new, improved relationship with Russia…. Yet each reset has ended in disappointment on both sides’.[1] Similarly, structural problems undermine efforts at re-setting Ukrainian-Russian relations; even the most pro-Russian Ukrainian presidents (Kuchma and Yanukovych) struggled to find a stable accommodation with Russia.

In terms of national identity and tactics, the story begins even earlier. As chapter two demonstrated, the approach to information warfare and the use of unconventional tactics (‘active measures’) has deep roots in the Soviet era, even if the specific tactics of cyber warfare have taken advantage of contemporary technology. The spread of disinformation, brazen lying, ‘whataboutism’,[2] and targeted violence were all tactics used by the Soviet Union, particularly in its long-running battle against the Ukrainian independence movement. As chapter three showed, Russia’s conception of its national identity – including the view that Russians and Ukrainians are one people – has sources going back centuries.

Samuel Huntington and the American Way of War

Erik Ringmar

It is now 25 years ago that Samuel Huntington published his ‘Clash of Civilizations’ article in Foreign Affairs (Huntington 1993). In the time that has passed since then it has become abundantly clear why his argument fails. Understood as an explanation of the logic of world politics, his thesis is simply untenable. ‘This book is not intended’, as he admitted in the longer version of the argument, ‘to be a work of social science’ (Huntington 1996, 13). There is in fact nothing much that Huntington can either explain or predict. His discussion of the various ‘civilizations’ and their supposed features remind you of a textbook from a Chinese middle-school with its portrayal of ‘the five races of mankind and their inherent characteristics’. None of this can be taken seriously. Moreover, the argument is offensive. It is offensive to be boxed into a ‘civilization’ and to be told that you are the same as the people confined to the same box, and that, moreover, you are sufficiently different from the people confined to other boxes for there to be confrontations between you. Well, many of us would not like to be put in the same box as Huntington. It is enough to make you want to go put on a hijab.

If, on the other hand, all Huntington ever wanted to say was that ‘culture’ matters, he is not saying anything original or new. Only the most doctrinaire of Neorealists ever believed that ideas play no role in world politics. The Cold War, colonialism, Putin in the Crimea, the European Union, economic development and trade, migration and global warming – it is all a matter of ideas and values; that is, a matter of culture. But the rest of us knew that already and we did not need 9/11 to remind us.

What’s Driving the Rise of Authoritarianism and Populism in Europe and Beyond?

Globally, the past decade has been marked by the twin advances of authoritarianism and populism. The two are not always linked, but in situations ranging from the Philippines and Cambodia to Hungary and Poland, politicians have leveraged populist movements to seize power. Once in office, they have begun the process of dismantling the institutions designed to check their authority and protect human rights, particularly the judiciary and the media.

The populist boom is fueled by disparate, local issues, but these often share common features, such as feelings of disenfranchisement, of being left out of a global economic boom and of discomfort at seeing familiar social orders upended. The movements these grievances generate have spurred anti-immigrant xenophobia—and, in places like Hungary and Greece, even horrifying episodes of political violence—as underlying prejudices are exploited by opportunistic politicians.

Champions of liberal democracy have often appeared hamstrung in their attempts to counter these forces, but there have been some recent successes, including the rise of the Greens across Europe and electoral setbacks for extremist parties in countries where they once seemed ascendant, such as France, Spain and the Netherlands. And in countries where centrist or right-wing parties have chosen to adopt populist policies rather than to push back against them, civil society groups have been resurgent.

The Myth of German Coronavirus Exceptionalism


If Western media are to be believed, Germany has dealt exceptionally well with the coronavirus crisis. In the context of U.S. President Donald Trump’s ineptitude and the higher death rates in other big Western democracies, Germany is held up as an example of how to do better. But with whom is Germany being compared?

If Western countries’ responses are compared with those of Asian democracies, the West has failed as a whole. South Korea and Taiwan were confronted with the coronavirus much earlier than the West, yet they managed to keep their infection numbers low while avoiding the extensive economic standstill that afflicts Europe.

Germany has been part of this failure as much as any other Western country. The German government’s lead disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute, kept the risk level of the coronavirus at low to medium until late February. Two weeks later, the country closed down. The institute’s experts managed to test and systematically trace a small early outbreak, but they were surprised when carnival festivities triggered a major wave of infections in late February. After that, their approach of systematic tracing and tracking was overpowered within days.

The Retrenchment Syndrome

By H. R. McMaster
In the decades after the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, the simplistic but widely held belief that the war had been unjustified and unwinnable gave way to “the Vietnam syndrome”—a conviction that the United States should avoid all military interventions abroad. The mantra of “no more Vietnams” dominated foreign policy, muting more concrete discussions of what should be learned from that experience. Instead, the analogy was applied indiscriminately; U.S. military operations in the Balkans, the Horn of Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East prompted assertions that the use of force would lead to “another Vietnam.” It was not until the United States won a lopsided victory over the military of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the 1990–91 Gulf War that President George H. W. Bush could declare that the United States had finally “kicked the Vietnam syndrome.” 

Nearly three decades later, however, a new mantra of “ending endless wars” has emerged from frustrations over indecisive, protracted, and costly military interventions abroad. These frustrations have reproduced the Vietnam syndrome in a new guise: the Afghanistan-Iraq syndrome. Across the political spectrum, many Americans have come to believe that retrenchment would not only avoid the costs of military operations overseas but also improve U.S. security. They have found support for this belief in analyses like those that appeared in this magazine’s lead package for its March/April 2020 issue, titled “Come Home, America?” 

The questionable future of amphibious assault

Michael E. O’Hanlon

Just when you thought you’d heard everything, here’s a new shocker: The Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, General David Berger, has just declared the obsolescence of large-scale amphibious assault. It is almost as if John Madden had just said that in the NFL, it will no longer be important to run the football.

General Berger has been the nation’s top Marine, and a member of the joint chiefs of staff, since 2019. Last summer, he issued planning guidance that suggested strongly that the Marine Corps should move away from building so many large amphibious ships, citing their vulnerability to precision-guided weapons. However, that proposal will not necessarily carry the day; Congress gets to write defense appropriations bills, and ultimately all President Trump can do is either sign or veto.

But it was still probably the single most interesting new idea in last year’s defense debate, building on the earlier overall national defense strategy of Secretary of Defense James Mattis to revitalize the nation’s attention to deterrence of great-power conflict in this high-technology era — a strategy that Secretary Mark Esper has subsequently said he will continue to seek to implement.

Pentagon Plans ‘Plug & Play’ Drone-Killing Tech


WASHINGTON: From radio jammers to lasers, a wide range of technologies from a wide range of companies will have a place in the Pentagon’s new architecture for anti-drone defense, Maj. Gen. Sean Gainey told reporters this morning.

“What all the services have truly embraced is the common C2 standards that are being developed as part of this process, which is going to allow the plug-and-play of industry’s emerging technologies,” said Gainey, the Army two-star tapped in January to head the newly created JCO, the Joint Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office.

Sean Gainey before his promotion to Major General

Yesterday, the JCO endorsed seven defensive systems and a single standard architecture for common-and-control, mandating the Army’s FAAD-C2 or a compatible C2 network such as the Air Force’s MEDUSA. If your unit uses one of the dozens of other systems not on the list, you’re still allowed to keep them, and program offices will sustain them, but the services should make all new purchases from the approved list. There’s no fixed timeline to phase out the other systems, Gainey said.

JCO is also developing a formal Capabilities Development Document (CDD) – “we expect to have our initial draft of it this fall,” Gainey said this morning – that will define official requirements for future systems and upgrades to current ones.

What Apple’s Silicon Chips Suggest About Its Future

HI, FOLKS. I’M sad this week because Michael Hawley died of cancer at 58. He was a key figure at MIT’s Media Lab, a world-class pianist, an amazing conference impresario, collaborator on Steve Jobs’ famous commencement speech, and a terrific person. What a crappy year this is.

Rather than going the Zoom route, Tim Cook began Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference this week as kind of a human ghost light. He spoke from the stage of an empty Steve Jobs Theater, his back turned toward the empty rows of seats where an exuberant crowd might once have greeted him. Other executives then spoke from other eerily depopulated areas of Apple’s shiny $5 billion headquarters: the theater lobby, the fitness center, the walkway around the futuristic ring of the main structure, and a research lab “at an undisclosed location.” The presentation had the feel of those witty airplane safety videos where the flight attendants are whisked to exotic locations to demonstrate seat belts and oxygen masks. Once you got past how sad it was that those locations were lacking the buzz of a busy workplace, you could appreciate Apple’s subtle acknowledgement of our shared plight.

The keynote focused on the Macintosh, specifically its new operating system, called Big Sur, and the news—leaked before the event, like all recent major developments at the company—that Apple was bailing out of its long collaboration with Intel and would begin making its own chips to power a new generation of Macs. Those “Apple Silicon” chips will be the same as the ones that drive Apple’s iOS mobile devices. (The transition will take place over two years, something for buyers to take note of when considering when to replace their current machines.) All of this is a continuation of a trend over the past decade where behaviors from Apple’s center of gravity—the wildly successful mobile franchise—move to its legacy desktop products.

17 ways technology could change the world by 2025

We asked our 2020 intake of Technology Pioneers for their views on how technology will change the world in the next five years.

From quantum computers and 5G in action to managing cancer chronically, here are their predictions for our near-term future.
Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

1. AI-optimized manufacturing

Paper and pencil tracking, luck, significant global travel and opaque supply chains are part of today’s status quo, resulting in large amounts of wasted energy, materials and time. Accelerated in part by the long-term shutdown of international and regional travel by COVID-19, companies that design and build products will rapidly adopt cloud-based technologies to aggregate, intelligently transform, and contextually present product and process data from manufacturing lines throughout their supply chains. By 2025, this ubiquitous stream of data and the intelligent algorithms crunching it will enable manufacturing lines to continuously optimize towards higher levels of output and product quality – reducing overall waste in manufacturing by up to 50%. As a result, we will enjoy higher quality products, produced faster, at lower cost to our pocketbooks and the environment.

The Army Team That Is Trying to See, and Shape, the Future

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The team’s scientists are charting how advances in various fields will unlock more advances, out to 2050.

An eight-month-old team at U.S. Army Futures Command is putting a 21st-century spin on a Cold War idea: employing technology scientists and watchers to forecast trends and help prepare for war in coming decades.

Like Herman Kahn at RAND in the 1940s, Team Ignite scans the technological horizon for upcoming advances in electronics, artificial intelligence, space, biotech, and more. Its forecasts, informed by data and machine learning, are intended to help the Army arm, organize, and train itself for conflicts around 2040 to 2050.

“I don’t think there’s been a time when we have had scientists as well infused into concept development as we do now and that’s all the Team Ignite effort,” Lt. Gen. Eric Wesley, deputy commander of Futures Command, said at the recent Defense One Tech Summit. “We’re not just writing concepts that say, ‘Hey, we need to do this. Scientists, go build me this widget’.” 

Rather, the role of the scientists is to survey the tech landscape, see how some breakthroughs will lead to others, and then create scenarios and concepts for how those technologies will shape not just what the Army does but what adversaries might do as well. 

Private Military Companies and Sacrifice: Reshaping State Sovereignty

Samuel Stockwell

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During the occupation of Iraq in 2008, contractors of the private military company (PMC) known formerly as Blackwater were found to have adopted the motto of ‘What happens here today, stays here today’ (Scahill, 2011: 10). Whilst this evokes certain notions regarding the elusive ethical nature of PMCs in conflict-zones, to what extent does such a statement concern how the combat deaths of privately-hired soldiers on the battlefield are to be remembered? This essay argues that the use of PMCs by states fundamentally alters a crucial tenant of sovereign power during war regarding national sacrifice. Through the adoption of a Foucauldian biopolitical framework (Foucault, 2008), it will become clear that the notion of sacrifice, as well as the connection between citizen-soldiers and the nation, serve as an important source of national cohesion for states, and a way of restraining its power by citizens.

With increasing shifts towards the state’s emphasis on preserving and reproducing the lives of its population, the state has increasingly relied on the sacralisation of fallen combatants to justify the need for going to war. However, the incorporation of soldiers from private companies in war efforts causes the link between the nation and sacrifice to be transformed. By framing them as being outside the official remit of state violence, governments are able to effectively disavow any responsibility for, and recognition of the deaths of private combatants. As such, this limits the degree of public exposure to their plight to the extent that a ‘shadow army’ (Washington Post, 2020) is created; serving the interests of states whilst simultaneously operating outside of it.