28 July 2020

TikTok Really Is the Central Front in the U.S.-China Tech War

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Can you explain the future of the internet in 15 seconds while lip-syncing your favorite dance-pop track? If so, you belong on TikTok, the vertical video app popular with Generation Z and with (until recently) as many as 1 billion users.

Until recently because on June 29, TikTok was banned in India, along with 58 other Chinese smartphone apps, including the messaging giant WeChat, the Clash of Kings mobile video game, and Baidu maps. India, which has more internet users than any country other than China, accounted for nearly half of users downloading the TikTok app in 2019. If the future of the internet will be determined by a technology war between the United States and China, India is the key emerging-market battleground. The digital rupture between China and India virtually ensures that the latter will land firmly in American cyberspace.

India’s app ban came in the wake of border skirmishes with China that resulted in dozens of deaths—but officially, the Chinese app ban is linked to concerns over privacy and the misuse of user data. There have long been serious security issues about the collection, retention, and analysis of personal data by Chinese companies. But this time, India went further: It announced that the operations of the 59 Chinese apps were “prejudicial to [the] sovereignty and integrity of India.”

How the State Bank of India is learning from crisis

How should a leader approach a challenge as unprecedented, volatile, and globally disruptive as the COVID-19 pandemic? As a learning experience. That’s the attitude of Rajnish Kumar, chairman of the State Bank of India (SBI). The veteran banker, who joined SBI in an entry-level role four decades ago, is now tasked with leading India’s largest financial institution through an uncertainty that no organization had anticipated.

Nonetheless, some of the digital initiatives SBI had undertaken before the crisis are helping to meet the moment. In 2017, for example, SBI launched YONO (“you only need one”), a mobile app that offers services for banking, investments, and trading, as well as a platform for online shopping. And, with 24 million accounts, it’s also the world’s largest digital bank. The institution began to rethink the operational side as well, reconsidering what a “bank” should be in the digital age. That includes service virtualization and remote work—plus a lot of deep reflection on India’s needs in the decades to come.

Rajnish Kumar biography

Taking the long view, as well as embracing and reappraising digital and what it can and should be, is a challenging leap for any legacy organization, and SBI faces an especially rich stew of challenges. With more than 22,000 branches, some 448 million customers, and a market share within India of about 23 percent, the partly state-owned, partly publicly traded bank has the dual mandate of serving all Indians—including those who have grown up with the notion of a bank as a brick-and-mortar institution—as well as its shareholders.

Kumar recently took time to discuss, on a videoconference with McKinsey’s Akash Lal and Joydeep Sengupta, how he is dealing with the crisis and reimagining SBI for the future. In addition to helping maintain the stability of India’s banking system and strengthening the bank’s own digital capabilities, Kumar is dealing with issues of personal leadership that will resonate with many global leaders, including how to avoid “los[ing] your cool in such circumstances” and living the idea that “whatever we learn through this process, it must not go to waste.”

East Asia’s New Edge


SINGAPORE – Death tolls don’t lie. The most striking disparity in COVID-19 fatalities to date is between East Asian countries, where the total number of deaths per million inhabitants is consistently below ten, and much of the West, where the numbers are in the hundreds. For example, Japan has so far reported 7.8 deaths per million, followed by South Korea (5.8), Singapore (4.6), China (3.2), and, most remarkably of all, Vietnam, with zero deaths. By contrast, Belgium now has 846 confirmed deaths per million, and the United Kingdom has 669, followed by Spain (608), Italy (580), and the United States (429).

What accounts for this extraordinary difference? The answers are complicated, but three possible explanations stand out. First, none of the East Asian states believe that they have “arrived,” much less achieved the “end of history” at which they regard their societies as being the apotheosis of human possibility. Second, East Asian countries have long invested in strengthening government institutions instead of trying to weaken them, and this is now paying off. And, third, China’s spectacular rise is presenting its regional neighbors with opportunities as well as challenges.

What did the US accomplish with its South China Sea legal statement?

Robert D. Williams

Robert D. Williams examines what the U.S. accomplished through its recent South China Sea legal statement, and argues that if the United States is unwilling to back up its commitment to Southeast Asian countries with tangible new measures, it risks further alienating officials in the region who already worry that the United States is an unreliable strategic partner. This piece originally appeared in Lawfare.

On July 13, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement outlining the “U.S. Position on Maritime Claims in the South China Sea.” The statement coincides with the fourth anniversary of a landmark decision by an international arbitration tribunal vindicating claims brought by the Philippines against China under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and Pompeo’s announcement explicitly aligns the United States with the UNCLOS tribunal’s ruling, declaring that China’s expansive claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are “completely unlawful.”

The day after Pompeo’s statement, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell delivered a speech setting forth a bill of particulars concerning Chinese misdeeds in the South China Sea and beyond. Stilwell argued that China seeks to “replace international law with rule by threats and coercion.”

Some observers might dismiss these statements as part of a broader Trump administration effort to demonstrate its “tough on China” credentials in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. As diplomatic-legal communications, however, the statements warrant a closer look—as much for what they don’t do as for what they do.

Europe faces a fateful choice on Huawei

Constanze Stelzenmüller

For months, most EU countries hid behind the U.K. government’s confident assertion that it could manage the risk of allowing Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant, to help build its 5G networks. They hoped this would let them have it both ways: get a swift, cost-efficient cellular telephony upgrade from China, while avoiding trouble with their U.S. ally. But now that Britain has moved to block Huawei’s participation, Europeans find themselves deprived of cover, and both the US and China are breathing fire down their necks.

Beijing is already threatening retaliation against London. Meanwhile, Robert O’Brien, the U.S. national security adviser, met European counterparts in Paris last week to press them to exclude Huawei from their networks. Mateusz Morawiecki, Poland’s prime minister, lost no time in calling for “our European neighbours” to follow the US line.

He has a point. The COVID-19 crisis has taught the entire globe that data networks are its central nervous system: not just for governments and businesses, but for ordinary people everywhere. Think this time is uniquely hard? It is. Now imagine it without video calls, email, internet and mobile phones.

Americans and Europeans used to fight about whether there was a “smoking gun” indicating that Huawei’s equipment was being used for espionage. This is still not proven, but it is plausible. No Chinese company is exempt from pressure by the Chinese party-state.

Today, the national security case against Huawei is made by the shift in China’s behavior: its hardening authoritarianism and persecution of minorities at home; its drive for regional hegemony; its aggressive pursuit of physical, economic and digital assets in Europe; and its crackdown on the autonomy of Hong Kong, in flagrant breach of international law.

Why COVID-19 presents a world reordering moment

Thomas Wright and Robert D. Blackwill

The next U.S. administration must craft and shepherd a cooperative international response on the production of a vaccine and treatments, coordinate the rebuilding of national economies so they reinforce a mutually beneficial global economy, and assist developing countries disproportionately weakened by the virus, argue Thomas Wright and Robert D. Blackwill. This piece originally appeared in The National Interest.

The coronavirus crisis will be over at some point in the next few years. Attention will turn to whether the international community can use this moment of shared pain to build a better future. Perhaps, but a necessary first step is to realize that world order has come to an end and is not coming back any time soon.

World order is rare. It occurs only when there is a shared understanding among the major powers about what constitutes a legitimate action and how to enforce the rules when they break down. Such a moment occurred in 1648 when the European powers agreed to respect each other’s sovereignty, and again after the Napoleonic Wars when they agreed to resist revolution and consult with each other on international crises.

Most recently, signs of world order were evident in the 1990s and early 2000s. U.S. allies in Europe and Asia as well as future rivals like Russia and China and unaligned powers like Brazil and India largely acquiesced in the American-led international order. They went along with innovations like humanitarian intervention and they did not use force to thwart American plans, even if they disagreed with them as in the case of the 2003 invasion of Iraq or the expansion of NATO. Many Americans believed that all major powers would eventually become responsible stakeholders in a shared liberal order.

Unfortunately, it was an illusion. The most important driver of this shared order was not that the rest of the world decided they were happy with American leadership. It was the indisputable fact that the United States was much more powerful than its adversaries.

Does China pose a threat to global rare earth supply chains?

As China’s economy has developed over the last several decades, its leaders have sought to transform the country into a key player in strategically important industries. Toward this end, Beijing has established China as the dominant global supplier of rare earths, a collection of 17 minerals that are indispensable to the manufacturing of smartphones, electric vehicles, military weapon systems, and countless other advanced technologies.

Beijing has demonstrated a willingness to leverage its weight in the global rare earth industry in pursuit of its political objectives, raising alarm bells in several major countries. However, China’s influence within the industry is likely to be eroded in the coming years as changing market dynamics empower new actors to compete.
The Global Marketplace for Rare Earths

The global rare earths trade is relatively small compared to other commodities. In 2019, the value of worldwide rare earth imports stood at just $1.15 billion – a fraction of the more than $1 trillion in global crude oil imports. The total value of goods produced using rare earths, however, is immense. Each Apple iPhone, for example, relies on multiple rare earth elements. Neodymium is used to make tiny, yet powerful, magnets that allow iPhone speakers to function. Europium is used in trace amounts to produce red colors on screens, and cerium is used to polish the phones during the manufacturing process. During the 2019 fiscal year, Apple sold $142.4 billion worth of iPhones.

China’s Influence in Japan: Everywhere Yet Nowhere in Particular

While other studies have noted China's influence in Japan is limited, this new report seeks to explain why that is the case. The report considers the malign and benign tactics used by the Chinese Communist Party in Japanese society; evaluates the objectives and effectiveness of these tactics; considers the factors that can explain Japan's passive and active resilience toward foreign influence; and describes how Japan has sought to promote its own global image.

This publication was made possible by the Global Engagement Center at the U.S. Department of State, through the Information Access Fund (IAF) administered by the DT Institute. The opinions, conclusions, or recommendations contained herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the view of the U.S. government or the IAF.

What is behind these explosions and fires in Iran? Experts suggest some possible theories

Eric Tlozek
Next was a heavily fortified, highly restricted, underground nuclear enrichment facility. Then power stations, a port, a health clinic and a petrochemical plant.

For weeks, things have been blowing up or catching fire in Iran.

The two most significant incidents were a June 26 explosion at Khojir, near Tehran — a liquid fuel production site for the country's missile program — and more recently, a blast deep underground at the Natanz nuclear facility on July 2.

Most of the explosions and fires could be due to Iran's poor management of infrastructure and its deteriorating economy, which has been squeezed by sanctions and a mishandled coronavirus epidemic.

For example, a medical clinic where gas cylinders exploded on June 30 — killing 19 people — had been warned by the Tehran City Council to upgrade its outdated fire extinguishing system.

Iran and China: On the Way to a Long-Term Strategic Agreement?

Sima Shine, Eyal Propper, Bat Chen Feldman

On July 11, 2020, the New York Times published the draft of a 25-year strategic agreement between Iran and China leaked by sources in Tehran, to the dismay of Beijing. According to the draft, China will receive priority in billions of dollars of infrastructure investments in Iran, and a regular supply of oil and gas at a substantial discount, while military cooperation between the two countries will increase. It is believed that Iran has been working on this agreement since Xi Jinping's 2016 visit to Iran. The Chinese are interested mainly in the long-term commercial benefits, while taking care to maintain a balance between their relations with Iran and their relations with the Gulf states. They therefore have no intention of promoting a military alliance with Iran against the United States, and certainly not against Saudi Arabia and Israel. It is believed that Beijing will weigh the risk to stability in Iran before deciding to approve such an agreement, and even if one is signed, there is no guarantee that it will be implemented.

On July 11, 2020, the New York Times published a draft 25-year strategic agreement between Iran and China. The 18-page document was apparently leaked by sources in Iran, to the dismay of Beijing. According to the published draft, China will receive priority in investments amounting to billions of dollars in infrastructure projects in Iran, including transportation, ports, roads, railways, banks, and communications, in addition to cooperative ventures in cybersecurity, research and development, and intelligence. The draft also mentions the possibility of joint military training and exercises. Iran will commit to provide a regular long-term supply of oil and gas to China at a substantial discount. The military section of the published draft agreement stipulates the formation of a joint military committee for military industries to promote the design and manufacture of weaponry.

Russian Sat Spits Out High-Speed Object In Likely ASAT Test


WASHINGTON: Space Command has again called ‘foul’ about Russia’s testing of its Cosmos 2543 satellite following its July 15 deployment of a secondary payload at high-speed. SPACECOM said the maneuver was a “non-destructive space-based anti-satellite test” that threatens US and allied space assets.

“The Russian satellite system used to conduct this on-orbit weapons test is the same satellite system that we raised concerns about earlier this year, when Russia maneuvered near a U.S. government satellite,” SPACECOM head Gen. Jay Raymond, said in a statement today. “This is further evidence of Russia’s continuing efforts to develop and test space-based systems, and consistent with the Kremlin’s published military doctrine to employ weapons that hold U.S. and allied space assets at risk.”

In response, Rep. Mike Turner, ranking member of the HASC strategic forces subcommittee, has called on Raymond to brief Congress “immediately” on the threat. “I strongly condemn Russia’s space-based anti-satellite weapons test, the latest in our adversaries’ aggressive behavior against the United States and our allies,” he said in a statement today.

A Persistent Crisis in Central America

Violence and corruption in Central America, particularly in the Northern Triangle countries, is causing a wave of outward migration. The Trump administration's response to the problem could make it worse. Meanwhile, efforts at reform across the region face opposition from entrenched interests that benefit from the status quo. Explore WPR’s extensive coverage of the Central America crisis.

For years, Central America has contended with the violence and corruption stemming from organized crime and the drug trade. Now the countries of the region also find themselves in U.S. President Donald Trump’s line of fire, due to the many desperate Central Americans who make their way across Mexico to seek asylum at the United States’ southern border.

The steady stream of outward migration is driven by ongoing turmoil, particularly in Nicaragua and the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The three Northern Triangle countries rank among the most violent in the world, a legacy of the civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, which destabilized security structures and flooded the region with guns. In that context, gangs—often brought back home by deportees from the U.S.—have proliferated, and along with them the drug trade and corruption, fueling increasing lawlessness. Popular unrest has done little to produce political solutions, leading many of the most vulnerable to flee.

Counterterrorism and the UN: The rise and hapless fall of American leadership

Eric Rosand

President Trump’s recent decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization — like his persistent threats against NATO, or his imposition of sanctions on the International Criminal Court — have faced sharp criticism internationally. This administration has inflicted considerable damage to the international rules-based system that was designed after World War II to address complex global challenges, a system that America helped create and has clearly benefited from.

Less visible, but also harmful, are instances where there has been a lack of principled U.S. leadership and engagement. The United States in recent years has withdrawn from the U.N. Human Rights Council; reduced funding for (and thus influence in) U.N. peacekeeping and U.N. agencies dealing with human rights, Palestinian refugees, population control, sustainable development, and global warming; and made erratic decisions in the anti-ISIS coalition, for instance. This has created a vacuum that has too often been filled by authoritarian and other undemocratic regimes eager to leverage the multilateral system in ways that legitimize their own behavior and/or promote their priorities that are often at odds with those of democratic countries.

This was on full display during the U.N.’s virtual counterterrorism week recently, which focused on the “strategic and practical challenges of countering terrorism in a global pandemic era.” The United States is prioritizing building global support outside of the U.N. to counter Iranian-sponsored terrorism and is apparently no longer interested in playing a leading role in shaping and driving the U.N. counterterrorism system — a role it has played for two decades. Countries with questionable (at best) human rights records and ones that more broadly refuse to acknowledge the counterproductive role that repressive counterterrorism approaches play have increasingly filled the void.


A better globalization

Javier Solana

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted much reflection on the state of globalization, its drawbacks at a time of worldwide disruption, and the supposed benefits of retreating to the national sphere. In this sense, as in many others, the current crisis has accelerated pre-existing tendencies. The global trade-to-GDP ratio – one of the main indicators of globalization – has followed a downward trend since 2012, and anti-globalist political movements have been gaining in popularity for some time.

These movements have good reasons to mistrust globalization, and even more so now. The scarcity of vital materials – from face masks to yeast – highlighted the low resilience of the global supply chains that produce so much of what we use, owing to their excessive concentration in a few countries and the lack of essential stockpiles. Moreover, globalization has created many losers within individual countries, especially in the developed world.

This phenomenon has been particularly marked in the United States, where the average income of the poorest 50% actually fell between 1980 and 2010. The delocalization of production is certainly not the only reason (the effects of automation on inequality are often overlooked), but it is a significant one.

But we must resist the temptation to amend globalized production in its entirety. Adam Smith’s axioms about specialization, and David Ricardo’s regarding comparative advantage, are as true today as they were 200 years ago. Overall, globalization has clearly been beneficial, lifting billions of people out of poverty, so our focus should be to reform rather than destroy it.

How COVID-19 ended the Information Era and ushered in the Age of Insight

Antonio Neri

The COVID-19 crisis was the catalyst for rapid change and brought with it the opportunity to accelerate towards a brighter future;

A new era that is defined by insights and discoveries that benefit all of society has arrived;

Technology companies will play a crucial role in ensuring this transformation is sustainable, inclusive, and trustworthy.

COVID-19 introduced challenges that we as a society were not ready to address. We are converting to a digital-first world overnight. Becoming fully connected. Ensuring all of our personal data is protected. And taking steps to not leave anyone behind in this new digital economy.

Conversations with customers, team members, community partners and fellow leaders around the globe have given me first-hand insight into the complex and widespread effects of the pandemic. In spite of the challenges, I have been incredibly inspired by the innovative partnerships, technical advancements, and humanitarian responses I have seen across industries, organizations, and geographies.

America Really Does Have a Space Force. We Went Inside to See What It Does


American intelligence analysts have been watching a pair of Russian satellites, identified as Cosmos 2542 and 2543, for months. Or rather, they have been watching them since they were one satellite, deployed by a Soyuz rocket that took off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome on Nov. 26, 2019. It was 11 days after that launch that the first satellite split in two, the second somehow “birthed” from the other, and no one in the U.S. military was happy about the new arrival. By mid-January, both Russian satellites had floated near a multibillion–dollar spacecraft known as KH-11, one of the U.S. military’s most powerful spy tools, part of a reconnaissance constellation code-named Keyhole/-CRYSTAL. It wasn’t clear whether the Cosmos satellites were threatening or surveilling the KH-11, which is said to have the resolving power of the Hubble Space Telescope, but it turned out that was only the start of the twins’ surprises.

After the U.S. expressed concern to Moscow through diplomatic channels early this year, the pair pulled away from the KH-11 and whizzed around the Earth at more than 17,000 m.p.h. Then, on July 15, with the U.S. analysts still tracking them, the “birthed” Russian satellite, Cosmos 2543, fired a projectile into outer space, General John “Jay” Raymond, the top general of the newly created U.S. Space Force, told TIME. It was the first time the U.S. military has publicly alleged an instance of a space-based antisatellite weapons test, a troubling new development in the emerging theater of orbital warfare.

America Really Does Have a Space Force. We Went Inside to See What It Does

Russia Tests a Satellite That Rams Other Satellites, US Says


It’s the latest Russian weapon being developed to attack American spacecraft, Space Force leader says.

Russia tested an anti-satellite weapon last week, launching a projectile from an orbiting satellite, U.S. military leaders said Thursday.

“The Russian satellite system used to conduct this on-orbit weapons test is the same satellite system that we raised concerns about earlier this year, when Russia maneuvered near a U.S. government satellite,” Gen. John Raymond, who leads U.S. Space Command, said in a statement. “This is further evidence of Russia’s continuing efforts to develop and test space-based systems, and consistent with the Kremlin’s published military doctrine to employ weapons that hold U.S. and allied space assets at risk.” 

One space expert said open data backs up the Pentagon’s assessment. 

“On July 15, Cosmos 2543 deployed a smaller object at a relatively high speed (roughly 200 m/s or about 400 mph) that is unusual for the typical satellite deployment,” Brian Wheeden, technical advisor for the Secure World Foundation. We saw something similar back in 2017 with Cosmos 2521 deploying Cosmos 2523. So far neither of those deployed satellites have struck anything, but their parent objects have done close approaches to other Russian satellites.”

South Koreans Might Be Willing to Pay More for the U.S. Military’s Protection—But Only Under These Conditions

by Timothy S. Rich Madelynn Einhorn Andi Dahmer

American military assistance to South Korea, including military bases that house roughly 28,500 troops, intends to provide the country with deterrence from a North Korean attack and the capabilities to respond quickly to unexpected aggression. President Donald Trump has routinely claimed that South Korea does not pay its fair share for this military assistance yet consistently fails to acknowledge South Korea’s indirect contributions, such as free land for military bases and paying base relocation costs. In 2018, South Korea paid $860 million, roughly 41 percent of total costs. This share has increased by 6 percent since 2013. In early 2019, Trump called for countries hosting American bases to pay “cost plus 50 percent,” sparking an immediate backlash in South Korea among other countries. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, panned the president’s decision as “monumentally stupid” while former Acting Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan immediately dismissed such plans.

Still, demands for South Korea to pay a greater share have continued, with the administration most recently seeking a $5 billion increase over a negotiated cost-sharing agreement of $900 million. Seoul officials viewed this demand as a “non-starter” which was so offensive that talks ended early. Some analysts even suggested the offer was a pretext to begin a U.S. withdrawal from the Korean Peninsula. In April of this year, prior to the National Assembly elections, South Korean negotiators stated their best offer was a 13 percent increase

Enhancing Biological Weapons Defense

By Durward Johnson, James Kraska 
On July 7, 2020, President Donald Trump formally notified the United Nations that the United States would withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO). This move comes as the United States reached another high-water mark in the burgeoning number of confirmed COVID-19 cases: surpassing three million. Regardless of whether the United States completes its withdrawal from the WHO, it must continue to prepare to defend against natural outbreaks of contagious disease as well as reconsider the prospects and dangers that might be inflicted through biological warfare. The need to strengthen defense against biological weapons has never been more urgent. We offer a roadmap for the United States to work in partnership with allies to induce states to clarify their abandonment of biowarfare programs while bolstering biodefense collaboration.

Ambiguity regarding China’s compliance with bioweapons treaties is of particular concern. In June 2020 the Department of State released the unclassified U.S. annual report, “Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments.” The report details specific countries’ levels of compliance with the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and other instruments to control weapons of mass destruction. The reports’ coverage of China is unsettling given the uncertainty over whether Beijing adheres to its obligations to refrain from operating any biological weapons program, as well the duty of all states to eliminate any remnants of past biological weapon initiatives.

Learning the Lessons of War: Keeping SIGAR Alive

By Anthony H. Cordesman

The United States sometimes seems grimly determined to not learn the lessons of war. It took years to develop an honest assessment of the failures from the strategic bombing effort in World War II. The U.S. eventually produced a good official U.S. Army history of the War in Vietnam, but it had already classified a great deal of critical material and internal analysis, much of which has never surfaced. The Department of Defense (DoD) rushed to send a report to Congress on the conduct of the First Gulf War in 1991, only to have the Air Force and other services revise the report years later, revealing that many highly praised efforts were far less effective than that report stated.

In the case of what now has to be called the first Iraq War – 2003-2011, the U.S. rushed to end the role of the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR). Rather than keep SIGIR alive after the war to have it carry out a full and independent analysis of the lessons of previous years, SIGIR closed in 2013 – long before it was clear that the supposed end of the war was only a pause that led to a second conflict against ISIS, and long before the grim lessons that emerged about the real effectiveness of the military and civil efforts from 2003-2011 were clear.

SIGIR never had the opportunity to fully report on even the first phase of the lessons of the Iraq War. Its mission was restricted to the point where it could never cover many aspects of the fighting, while its short, quick draft of final lessons and its regular reports are hard to access. The official website’s server (SIGIR.mil) is shut, and the Federal Register site does not have the Lessons Learned Report. One has to go to the “CyberCemetary” of the University of North Texas to find one collection of SIGIR material (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc270765/) and outside sources like the digital library of the Naval Postgraduate School to find its final report.
Limiting SIGAR’s Coverage at a Critical Point in the War

It's A Gray, Gray World

Nadia Schadlow
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In a thought-provoking essay for the Winter 2020 issue of the Naval War College Review, Don Stoker and Craig Whiteside argue against the utility of two terms: gray-zone conflict and hybrid war. These terms, they explain, are intended to capture a range of political, economic, military, and technological activities that our adversaries and competitors use to shape political decisions and outcomes, but that fall below the threshold of violence. Stoker and Whiteside contend that although these constructs are “prominent and fashionable” they detract from America’s ability to think clearly about political, military, and strategic issues and “their vitally important connections.” The authors go so far as to advocate the elimination of these terms from the “strategic lexicon.”

I believe the opposite. The concepts, ideas, and activities comprising the gray zone as well as hybrid war remain quite useful, since they reflect the nature of today’s ongoing political competitions; help to explain the mind-sets and modes of operation of our adversaries and competitors; and compel a broader group of Americans to consider their role in the competitions currently under way.


The Open Secret to Reopening the Economy


WASHINGTON, DC – The future of the world economy is becoming clearer. At the outset of the pandemic, there were lively disagreements over whether the lockdown and other measures were warranted, or whether the economic costs were too high. Now, it is increasingly evident that economic activity will resume fully only after lockdown restrictions have been given time to work. Otherwise, COVID-19 will continue to spread, making a sustained and rapid economic recovery all but impossible until the arrival of effective, widely available vaccines.

An overvalued US dollar is ripe for a sharp decline, owing to America’s rapidly worsening macroeconomic imbalances and a government that is abdicating all semblance of global – or even domestic – leadership. And the European Union's approval of a joint rescue fund is likely to accelerate the euro's rise.

When the coronavirus first began to spread beyond China, triggering an immediate, sharp reduction in the level of economic activity and employment where lockdowns were imposed, epidemiologists tried to educate the public (and the authorities, in many cases) about what would come next. They warned that the virus would not be sufficiently contained until its R number –the average number of people infected by a sick person – is less than one. At exactly one, each sick person infects one other, and the number of COVID-19 cases remains constant over time. An R number below one, scientists explained, could be achieved much faster with tighter restrictions and effective testing and contact tracing to isolate positive cases.

How to Ruin a Superpower


Over the past 35 years or so, warnings of imminent American decline have fared poorly. Paul Kennedy’s bestselling The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers suggested that “imperial overstretch” might cause the United States to follow Great Britain’s downward path, a gloomy forecast that proved to be at best premature. Other prominent scholars suggested that America was becoming an “ordinary country,” heading for a world “after hegemony,” only to be surprised when it was the Soviet Union that collapsed and the United States emerged as the sole remaining superpower. Ideal conditions, it turned out, for a dangerous combination of hubris and complacency.

By the mid-1990s, the United States found itself in a position of primacy unmatched in modern history. Its combination of economic, military, and soft power dwarfed all others, and scholars such as William Wohlforth and Stephen Brooks offered sophisticated and well-reasoned arguments for why the unipolar era might last as long or longer than the bipolar era that preceded it. What these optimists did not anticipate, alas, was the series of self-inflicted wounds that the United States would suffer in the years that followed, a train wreck of recurring blunders that has accelerated and worsened under Donald Trump. In particular, Trump’s egregious mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic is producing debilitating long-term effects that will further accelerate America’s decline. Even if he is defeated in November and a Joe Biden administration does nearly everything right, the consequences of Trump’s reign of error will be with us for many years to come.

Don’t Rush to Judge the CIA’s Covert Cyber Offensive

Candace Rondeaux 

News reports last week that U.S. President Donald Trump granted the CIA broad authority in 2018 to conduct offensive cyberattacks against Russia, China, Iran and North Korea have rightfully raised alarm among some in Washington’s national security set. Recent history indicates that when the White House has greenlighted items at the top of the CIA’s wish list, things haven’t always turned out well. See the Senate “Torture Report” and leaked documents on lethal drone attacks in South Asia for more details.

In light of these past CIA transgressions, the current handwringing is not unwarranted. Yet, as often happens with sensational stories about American spycraft, there is a risk that reporting about the mere existence of a secret CIA campaign of offensive cyberattacks obscures what this new “gloves off” approach might portend for the future of cyberwarfare at the global level. ..

Delving Into the Weaponization of AI

Derek Manky 

Digital transformation continues to multiply the potential attack surface exponentially, bringing new opportunities for the cyber-criminal community. In addition to their expanding arsenal of sophisticated malware and zero day threats, AI and machine learning are new tools being added to their toolbox. To the surprise of almost no-one, AI is being weaponized by cyber adversaries.

Leveraging AI and automation enables bad actors to commit more attacks at a faster rate – and that means security teams are going to have to likewise quicken their speed to keep up. Adding fuel to the fire, this is happening in real-time, and we’re seeing rapid development, so there is little time for deciding whether to deploy your own AI countermeasures.

AI offers cyber actors more bang for the buck

Just like their victims, cyber actors are subject to economic realities: zero day threats can cost upwards of six figures to identify and exploit; developing new threats and malware takes time and can be expensive, as can renting Malware as a Service tools off the dark web. Like anyone else, they are looking to get the most bang for their buck, that means getting the most ROI with the least amount of overhead expenditure, including money, time, and effort, while maximizing the efficiency and efficacy of the tools they’re using.