20 September 2020

Judging the Impact of U.S. Force Reductions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria

By Anthony H. Cordesman

The U.S. has said remarkably little about how conditional its future plans to withdraw all forces in Afghanistan are on the success of the peace process, whether it will provide adequate support for Afghan military forces if the peace effort fails, or whether the U.S. plans to provide any security guarantees and military aid if a peace agreement is reached. So far, all that is clear is that the official total of U.S. military personnel has dropped from around 12,000 at the start of 2020 to 8,600 in July 2020, will now drop to some 5,000 personnel, and all U.S. troops will leave by May 2021 if a successful peace agreement is reached.

The U.S. has said even less about the possible details of any new security agreement with Iraq. About all that the U.S. has announced is that it will now cut its present total military personnel in Iraq from some 5,200 to around 3,000 – which does not indicate any clear picture of what the U.S. plans to keep in Iraq or in Syria for the future.

There also is no indication of the size of U.S. forces that will remain elsewhere in the Gulf region or at sea, of any U.S. effort to preserve a redeployment capability in a crisis, of the level of U.S allied forces that will remain, or of the trends in hostile outside forces like those of Russia, Syria, Iran, the Hezbollah, or other outside non-state actors – as well as powers that have different goals from the U.S. like Turkey and Pakistan.

Numbers that May or May Not be Accurate

Reluctant player: China’s approach to international economic institutions

David Dollar

China has been an active participant in the international economic institutions, namely the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the Paris climate agreement. China has generally lived up to its commitments in these institutions, but has been reluctant to take on the stronger responsibilities that fall on developed countries. China’s insistence on being treated as a developing country is a main source of tension in its economic relations with the advanced economies. A further area of tension is that China’s bilateral economic relations with other developing countries do not always meet global standards and norms. From an institutional point of view, it is a problem that China is not a member of the Government Procurement Arrangement within the WTO, the Paris Club of official creditors, or the Development Assistance Committee. There is a chicken-and-egg problem here: the main reason China is not a member is that it has not been willing to take on the associated responsibilities; on the other hand, being outside of these institutions leaves China free to behave differently from the advanced economies.

Much of the American concern with China’s role in the global economy is related to this partial integration of the country into the global economic institutions. I argue that to change China’s behavior and bring its practices into line with advanced country norms would require: (1) recognition that China deserves greater say in the international economic institutions in return for greater responsibility; (2) a willingness to pursue deeper agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) without China if it is not willing to meet the associated standards; and (3) ongoing, intensive dialogue between China and the U.S. aimed at objectionable Chinese practices such as restrictions on imports and investment, weak intellectual property rights (IPR) protection, forced technology transfer, and subsidies to develop specific technologies.

The global energy trade’s new center of gravity

China has become the center of gravity for global energy markets. While energy demand growth has slowed or stopped in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, China’s primary energy demand increased by more than 45% over the last decade.[1] Going forward, the question is whether such growth will continue and how China’s energy system will change in response to the dual challenges of climate change and local pollution.

China is highly dependent on fossil fuel imports. It is the world’s largest importer of oil and natural gas[2] and is an important coal importer as well. At the same time, China is striving to lead in new energy technologies, particularly wind and solar electricity generation and electric vehicles. To understand how China fits into energy markets and how energy shapes its policy, examining the electricity and oil and gas industries separately is illustrative. China is more in charge of its own fate in electricity, while it remains highly vulnerable to market conditions and supply shocks in oil and gas.


Network power: China’s effort to reshape Asia’s regional security architecture

Lindsey W. Ford


Chinese President Xi Jinping first laid out a new vision for Asian regional architecture in a 2014 speech to the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), a pan-Asian multilateral security organization. Xi argued, “it is for the people of Asia to run the affairs of Asia, solve the problems of Asia, and uphold the security of Asia.”[1] Xi’s speech was the first signal of Beijing’s more focused effort to alter the institutional scaffolding, or the security architecture, supporting the Asia-Pacific regional order. To achieve this goal, China is seeking to contest the “network power” that has enabled American leadership in the Asia-Pacific.[2]

This paper explores China’s bid to contest this network power by reorienting the Asia-Pacific security architecture. It argues that, in a sense, China is taking a page from America’s own playbook: It is seeking to build a multilayered network of security institutions, partnerships, and cooperative activities that enhance its regional influence.

China’s ambitions are to establish a security architecture that is more exclusively “Asian,” free of alliances, more attendant to its domestic security concerns, less liberal, and solidly rooted in Chinese economic power. These ambitions are not new, but under Xi, China is more actively focused on how to operationalize and institutionalize its vision.

China’s strategy to shape a new regional security network is nascent and has yielded mixed results thus far. This paper suggests Beijing faces a series of obstacles that stand in the way of its aims, including its inability to convince Asian partners that China can be a fair and trustworthy security guarantor, the institutional resilience of existing structures such as U.S. alliances and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the backlash against China’s aggressive territorial ambitions. Nonetheless, Beijing is creating alternatives — security partnerships, institutions, and principles — that are generating a stronger sense of Asian integration, and that have particular appeal for authoritarian leaders less aligned with a liberal system. Additionally, China is increasingly spreading new tools and practices — selling conventional arms and dual-use technologies, as well as enhancing its focus on training and exercises to support these tools — that have the potential to reorient regional institutions and standards over time.

China’s influence on the global human rights system

Sophie Richardson


Is the Chinese government’s greater engagement with international institutions a gain for the global human rights system? A close examination of its interactions with United Nations human rights mechanisms, pursuit of rights-free development, and threats to the freedom of expression worldwide suggests it is not. At the United Nations, Chinese authorities are trying to rewrite norms and manipulate existing procedures not only to minimize scrutiny of the Chinese government’s conduct, but also to achieve the same for all governments. Emerging norms on respecting human rights in development could have informed the Chinese government’s approach to the Belt and Road Initiative, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and national development banks, but they have not. Chinese authorities now extend domestic censorship to communities around the work, ranging from academia to diaspora communities to global businesses.

This paper details the ways Chinese authorities seek to shape norms and practices globally, and sets out steps governments and institutions can take to reverse these trends, including forming multilateral, multi-year coalitions to serve as a counterweight to Chinese government influence. Academic institutions should not just pursue better disclosure policies about interactions with Chinese government actors, they should also urgently prioritize the academic freedom of students and scholars from and of China. Companies have human rights obligations and should reject censorship.

Equally important, strategies to reject the Chinese government’s threats to human rights should not penalize people from across China or of Chinese descent around the world, and securing human rights gains inside China should be a priority. The paper argues that many actors’ failure to take these and other steps allows Chinese authorities to further erode the existing universal human rights system — and to enjoy a growing sense of impunity.

China’s expanding influence at the United Nations — and how the United States should react

Jeffrey Feltman


China’s growing influence inside the United Nations is inevitable, stemming from President Xi Jinping’s more assertive foreign policy and the fact that China’s assessed contributions to the world body are now second only to those of the United States. Traditionally focused on the U.N.’s development activities, China now flexes its muscles in the heart of the U.N., its peace and security work. The Chinese-Russian tactical alignment in the U.N. Security Council challenges protection of human rights and humanitarian access, demonstrated in July 2020 when China and Russia vetoed two resolutions regarding Syria and both blocked the appointment of a French national as special envoy for Sudan.

Yet the fears that China is changing the United Nations from within seem if not overblown, at least premature. Whatever its ambitions, China has not replaced the United States as the U.N.’s most powerful member state. The U.N. can still be a force multiplier for the values and interests of the United States, but only if Washington now competes for influence rather than assume automatic U.N. deference. The U.N. can be characterized as “home turf” for the United States, but walking off the field will facilitate China moving in to fill the vacuum.

China’s pragmatic approach to UN peacekeeping

Richard Gowan

China’s involvement in United Nations peacekeeping is one of its better-known investments in the multilateral system.[1] But its contributions to blue helmet missions remain limited, and Beijing has taken a cautious approach to expanding its commitments. In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping impressed other leaders at the U.N. General Assembly with an offer of 8,000 troops to reinforce the organization’s operations.[2] As of June 30 of this year, there are 2,534 Chinese soldiers and police deployed with the U.N. This is 500 hundred fewer than when Xi made his pledge, and only just enough to secure its place among the top ten U.N. personnel contributors (Figure 1).[3]
Figure 1: Top ten UN troop and police contributors, June 30, 2020
Source: U.N. Peacekeeping[4]

The Folly of Decoupling From China

By Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman

On May 14, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to break the United States’ economic relationship with China. “There are many things we could do,” he told Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo. “We could cut off the whole relationship. Now if you did, what would happen? You’d save $500 billion.” It was Trump’s most extreme anti-China rhetoric to date, but it wasn’t out of step with the mood in Washington. Both Republicans and Democrats agree that China has transformed from a competitor into an adversary, and perhaps even an enemy.

As tensions have mounted as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in China and which Beijing initially sought to conceal, the Trump administration has taken steps to curtail economic relations. Last month, it directed the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which manages hundreds of billions of dollars in government retirement savings, to halt investments in Chinese companies. It also prevented the Chinese telecommunications manufacturer Huawei from using U.S. technology to design or produce semiconductor chips. And after China imposed new national security laws on Hong Kong, Trump announced that he would revoke the territory’s special trade privileges.

Washington has become obsessed with “decoupling”—the notion that the United States and China should sever the complex supply chains that bind them together. If the United States doesn’t “re-shore” these supply chains in the wake of the pandemic, Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro, who wrote a book called Death by China, recently warned, it “will sink into the abyss.” But for all the official enthusiasm for decoupling, there is little agreement on what it would actually entail. Does decoupling mean reducing U.S. economic vulnerabilities? Making the United States less dependent on China? Exploiting China’s dependence on U.S. technology? Withdrawing wholesale from the World Trade Organization? Turning any of these proposals into effective policies would require a level of technical knowledge that neither the U.S. government nor the private sector has right now. Flying blindly ahead, moreover, risks hurting the United States as well as China.

China Is Merkel’s Biggest Failure in Office

By Andreas Fulda

Angela Merkel has made it clear that she will step down after Germany’s next general election in the fall of 2021. By then she will draw level with Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s 16-year reign, who entered the history books for paving the way to German reunification. Merkel wants to leave behind an equally impressive achievement in Germany’s relationship with China, which she has visited an unprecedented 12 times during her chancellorship—but the odds, and the actions of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), are against her.

It has been widely reported that Merkel wanted to leave the political scene with a landmark European Union-China summit in Leipzig, where she had studied physics at the then-named Karl Marx University in the mid-1970s. Merkel had pinned her hopes on signing a historic investment treaty that would level the field for European business in China. It wasn’t meant to be. As a result of COVID-19, the gathering was reduced to a one-day virtual summit.

The televised press conference following the two-hour virtual summit provided remarkable insights into Merkel’s approach to China. In her six-minute statement, Merkel talked about Hong Kong, minorities, and human rights for a mere 10 seconds. The characteristically stoic chancellor was far more animated when talking about the improved chances to sell German wine and beer following the EU-China agreement on geographical indications, which took up half a minute of her statement.

An Answer to Aggression

By Aaron L. Friedberg

The Chinese Communist Party’s initial mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent attempts to exploit the crisis have produced enduring problems for the rest of the world. But the CCP’s behavior has also helped clarify the threat that China poses to the security, prosperity, and well-being of other countries. Public opinion polls show that over 60 percent of Americans of both political parties now hold a negative view of Beijing’s leadership and intentions, and similar attitudes can be found across the democratic world. This heightened awareness of a shared danger creates an opportunity for the United States and its allies to formulate a new and more effective strategy for dealing with China.

For the past four decades, Western democracies have hoped that engagement with China would cause its leaders to abandon any revisionist ambitions they might harbor and accept their country’s place as a “responsible stakeholder” in the U.S.-led international order. Expanding flows of trade and investment would, it was thought, also encourage Beijing to proceed down the path toward greater economic and political openness. The policy of engagement was not absurd on its face; it was a gamble rather than an outright blunder. But as has become increasingly obvious, the West’s wager has failed to pay off.

Instead of opening up and mellowing out, with Xi Jinping at the helm, China is pursuing unusually brutal and oppressive policies at home and acting more aggressively abroad. China is trying to replace the United States as the world’s leading economic and technological nation and to displace it as the preponderant power in East Asia. Beijing has ratcheted up its efforts to exploit the openness of democratic societies in order to shape the perceptions and policies of their governments. It is working hard to establish itself as the leader of the developing nations and, with their support, to rewrite rules and reshape international norms, standards, and institutions in line with its own illiberal, authoritarian preferences. In the long run, China’s rulers evidently hope that they can divide, discredit, and weaken the democracies, lessening the appeal of their system, co-opting some, isolating others, and leaving the United States at the head of what will be, at best, a diminished and enfeebled coalition.

The Significance of the Israel-UAE Deal

Later today, leaders from Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will sign an agreement to pursue normalized relations. The Bahraini foreign minister agreed in recent days to sign a similar agreement at the same event, but the Israel-UAE agreement appears much more robust and consequential.

Q1: Why is this agreement being made now?

A1: The Emiratis seem to be the ones in control of the timetable. The Israelis and the Trump administration were always willing to make a deal along these lines, but with the U.S. elections approaching, it seems that the administration felt the need to lock in a diplomatic win. There have not been many in the last four years.

For the Emiratis, this is still the beginning of a process of negotiations with the Israelis and Americans, and I would expect they will continue to seek—and receive—more for their gestures toward Israel.

Q2: Is this the beginning of a new round of peacemaking in the Arab world?

A2: There may be more agreements, but I would expect that, like this one, they will be with countries that were not actually at war with Israel. A senior Emirati official recently told me that if Israel wants peace, the only way that they can get it is through an agreement with the Palestinians, which normalization of relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain quite clearly is not. What it is, instead, is a collapse of Arab solidarity on the Palestine question that had been in place for three-quarters of a century.

Q3: How close are the Saudis to following suit?

For Iran, Negotiations Aren’t Optional

By Ariane Tabatabai, Henry Rome

No matter who wins the U.S. presidential election, Joe Biden or President Donald Trump, the next administration will have to confront a dangerous situation with Iran. Although Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign has wrecked the Iranian economy, it has failed to produce Iran’s capitulation or collapse. Instead, as international inspectors affirmed this month, Tehran is closer to having a nuclear weapon today than when Trump took office. The regime’s regional aggression is undiminished. And just this week, it was accused of plotting the assassination of the U.S. ambassador to South Africa in retaliation for the United States’ killing of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani in January.

To address these threats, it will be crucial for the next U.S. president to make a credible effort at diplomacy; indeed, both Biden and Trump have stated a willingness to pursue negotiations. In a Sunday op-ed, Biden reiterated his pledge to reverse the current administration’s policy and re-enter the 2015 nuclear deal, which Trump left in 2018. The former vice president’s proposal can be boiled down to this: “If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations.” For his part, Trump has claimed on several occasions that if he were elected for a second term, he’d be able to strike a deal with Iran within weeks of his inauguration. A key question facing the next administration is how and when it would take the first step toward reengaging Tehran.

In the United States and Europe, observers increasingly argue that there is a window of opportunity to secure a deal with Iran between the U.S. inauguration in January and the Iranian presidential elections in June. President Hassan Rouhani isn’t eligible to run again and will likely be replaced by a more conservative politician. Thus, the argument goes, Biden (or a reelected Trump) should move quickly to strike a deal with Iran while Rouhani is still in power.

Mission Command of Multi-Domain Operations

Mark Balboni, John Bonin, Robert Mundell, Doug Orsi

This research monograph explores the Army’s emerging concept of multi-domain operations and its implications on the mission command approach. The transition to multi-domain operations changes the traditional view of how Army commanders and staffs conduct operations in the physical environment to include simultaneously operations in the information environment within the competition continuum.

This monograph will utilize the introduction of the aircraft during World War I as a historical case study for the integration of new domains. The Army has integrated new domains in the past and this example provides the historical context for the challenges involving integration of new domains. An overview and analysis of what multi-domain operations are will provide a baseline understanding of how multi-domain operations are changing not only how we fight but also how the Army must change roles and responsibilities to allow the Joint force to compete across the competition continuum, especially below armed conflict.

The transition to multi-domain operations will require new processes. Changes will be required not only to the physical systems employed but also to Joint professional military education, Joint and Army doctrine and headquarters staff structures as leaders and their staffs will require different skills to operate in this new environment.

Trump, Ike and the myth of the military-industrial complex

It is hard to think of any U.S. president that Donald Trump resembles less than Dwight D. Eisenhower. Yet Trump managed to evoke the comparison this week, when he charged that senior American military officials are more interested in serving the interests of arms manufacturers than in serving the interests of the U.S. The military, he said, advocates war “so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”

For some observers, the allegation brought to mind Eisenhower’s farewell address in January 1961, in which he cautioned that a mighty “military-industrial complex” could “endanger our liberties” and strangle the American economy. Since then, Eisenhower’s speech has been cited by critics who warn that an expansive foreign policy will ruin the nation’s prosperity and freedom alike.

Yet just as Trump was wrong in arguing that Pentagon officials are motivated by greed rather than patriotism, Eisenhower — a far wiser leader — was more wrong than right about the military industrial-complex.

It helps to understand the context in which Ike delivered his warning. The Cold War was in its most intense and dangerous phase. U.S. defense spending had skyrocketed to nearly 14 percent of gross domestic product during the Korean War. During the 1950s, Ike had brought the total down to around 9 percent, mostly by relying on nuclear weapons for deterrence and defense. But the fears of the period, including the Sputnik shock of 1957, set off calls from Congress and the Pentagon for far higher outlays.

Nuclear Weapons: It’s Time for Sole Purpose

by Steven Pifer

platform states that Democrats believe that the “sole purpose” of U.S. nuclear weapons should be to deter and—if necessary, retaliate against—a nuclear attack. Presidential candidate Joe Biden has said the same. The sole purpose would mark a significant change in U.S. nuclear policy, eliminating ambiguity that preserves the option to use nuclear weapons first in response to a conventional attack. Adopting the sole purpose is a sensible step that would foreclose an option that no president has ever chosen . . . or ever would. 

Extreme Circumstances 

The U.S. government has long taken the position that it would use nuclear weapons only in “extreme circumstances” in which the vital interests of the United States, its allies or partners were at stake. That formulation leaves ambiguity as to whether an American president might in some cases decide to use nuclear weapons first. Indeed, it explicitly preserves that possibility.

When the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact held large numerical advantages in conventional military forces during the Cold War, U.S. and NATO officials maintained an explicit option for deliberate escalation to nuclear weapons in the event of a conflict where they were losing at the conventional level. That might have contributed to the deterrence of a conventional conflict, but such escalation would have entailed enormous risks: once the nuclear threshold was crossed, where would matters stop? Many analysts question the ability to control escalation once nuclear weapons enter into use. As reported by Fred Kaplan in The Bomb, in 2017, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis asked a group of senior Pentagon officials if they believed that nuclear war could be controlled; only one thought that it was possible. 

What Will the World Look Like in 2030?

Big demographic, economic and technological changes are coming — from an aging population in the U.S. and the rise of sub-Saharan Africa as a compelling middle-class market to automation causing “technological unemployment,” according to Wharton management professor Mauro Guillen.

In his new book, “2030: How Today’s Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything,” Guillen discusses how these changes will affect us in the years to come. During a recent interview on the Wharton Business Daily show on SiriusXM, Guillen noted that while these trends have been gathering pace for years, the pandemic is accelerating many of them. (Listen to the podcast above.) Rising inequality across income, race and gender will demand urgent attention, and government policy making will need to become more innovative to address such challenges. Individual responsibility will play a role, too, in areas such as climate change, he says.

An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

Wharton Business Daily: Why did you write this book?

It Is Time for the United States to Again Show Leadership at the WTO

The Reset the Table essay series is published weekly, describing today’s challenges to global food security and proposing U.S. government responses.

Global agricultural trade has seen tremendous growth since the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. Since 1995, global agricultural exports have more than tripled in value and more than doubled in volume, exceeding $1.8 trillion in 2018. As one of its founding architects, and long recognized as one of its stalwart proponents, the United States has been a major beneficiary of the rules-based system. Recent shifts in U.S. trade policy could have profound adverse impacts on the global trading system.

Today, almost 25 years after the creation of the WTO, many may have forgotten the state of the trading environment facing agriculture in the 1980s. D. Gale Johnson, a prominent University of Chicago economist, referred to it as a “world in disarray.” Many markets were highly protected through high tariffs, limited quotas, or outright bans on imports. Domestic support to agriculture, particularly among the rich, developed members such as the United States, Japan, and the European Union, was large and growing. Governments propped up domestic prices by storing production in large public stockpiles, by maintaining high tariff barriers, or both. Surplus production was dumped on export markets, often through export subsidies or under the guise of humanitarian aid. Those market distortions harmed other exporters, often developing countries that had little or no means with which to protect their own producers and limited recourse within the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade to redress trade disputes.

The Climate Case Against Decoupling

By Jeff D. Colgan

The past few years have seen a heated debate among U.S. politicians and analysts about whether the United States should “decouple” from China by severing the supply chains, trade relationships, and financial links that bind together the world’s two largest economies, transforming a one-world economy into two separate spheres of influence. Among American officials and scholars, the debate mostly centers on whether the security benefits of decoupling would offset its economic costs. That framing, however, ignores what should be a major factor in determining the best course of action—a factor that tips the balance against decoupling and in favor of continuing to foster engagement between Washington and Beijing. That factor is climate change.

Without taking into account the risks posed by catastrophic, irreversible environmental damage, it might be possible to conclude that, on balance, decoupling from China would be in the best interests of the United States. But the most promising way to tackle climate change—the formation of a “climate club” of major economies that would use tariffs and other border adjustments to protect countries that meet emission targets and punish ones that do not—will require Washington to retain a degree of leverage over Beijing that can come only from continued engagement. Decoupling would make it almost impossible for the United States and its partners to create strong incentives for China to participate in a climate club and would thus scotch the best hope for preventing the worst-case scenarios of environmental devastation.

America Needs to Lock Down Again

By Michael T. Osterholm and Mark Olshaker

In our essay “Chronicle of a Pandemic Foretold,” for the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs, we described the struggle against COVID-19 in terms of a baseball game and estimated that the United States was in about the third inning of a nine-inning contest. At this point, however, it may be more helpful to shift to an altogether different analogy. The unfolding story of the pandemic is a three-act play, in which the country is now midway through the second act.

The first act saw the disease spread from China to the rest of the world and to a woefully unprepared United States. The second witnessed Americans tire of restrictions and effectively surrender to the pandemic. Infection rates across the country soared during the summer and will likely rise again in the autumn as schools and universities reopen. To truly get the novel coronavirus under control, the United States must do what it has not done so far: impose real and stringent lockdowns across the country for roughly two months. Controlling the spread of the disease in this way will save lives ahead of the eventual end of this drama in the pandemic’s final act—the arrival of a safe, effective vaccine.


Act I opened in late 2019 with the emergence in China of a novel coronavirus that spread throughout much of the world with breathtaking speed and effect. Nations and regions faced the challenge in different ways and with varying levels of success. After a horrendous start, for example, Italy managed to get transmission substantially under control by imposing a near-complete shutdown of the northern part of the country. In the United States, both New York City and New York State saw catastrophic levels of infection that overwhelmed the entire health-care system. It is difficult to forget the images of refrigerated trailers sitting outside hospital emergency rooms to accommodate the dead. But under the leadership of Governor Andrew Cuomo—and thanks to a coordinated state public health response—New York locked down to get the number of cases to a manageable level and then maintain the low numbers, turning a disaster into a model for the rest of the United States.

Debate: Should the U.S. Pursue an Offense-Oriented Cyber Warfare Strategy?


Is America already in the midst of a cyber war—or is that overstating the case? More generally, what should our approach to this 21st-century warfare front look like? On the one hand, we need to always be on our toes; but on the other hand, it's never ideal to unnecessarily poke the beast. Perhaps this is merely the latest area in which foreign policy hawks and doves will disagree—or perhaps this debate is more intricate and complex than the old bromide of "hawk versus dove."

This week, Jamil N. Jaffer of George Mason University's Antonin Scalia Law School debates Bonnie Kristian of Defense Priorities on whether the U.S. should have an offense- or defense-oriented cyber warfare strategy.

We hope you enjoy the exchange.

Belarus' Next Episode

By George Friedman

Public demonstrations against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko have intensified. Looked at casually, it seems unlikely that his presidency can survive. If the protesters are as dedicated as they appear, then Lukashenko has run out of maneuvering room. The only solution to an intense and long-term resistance is an armed force that will shoot into the crowd. Since the protests have gone on for weeks and that hasn’t happened, the demonstrators’ calculation is that it won’t happen.

Lukashenko’s only option to remain in power, therefore, is to change the game. His meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Monday was an attempt to do just that and, along the way, allow Putin to change his game as well.

Lukashenko has been skilled in preserving Belarusian sovereignty and, by doing so, preserving his own power. At this point, sovereignty is a luxury he may no longer be able to afford. Given the limits of Belarusian forces to suppress the demonstrations, Lukashenko’s last chance to survive is to trade sovereignty for real but diminished power by entrusting someone else to put down the unrest. And the most obvious potential partner is Putin.

Putin has, as we have written about extensively, a central interest in integrating Belarus into the Russian sphere. Belarus is not only a defensive asset for Russia, providing a buffer and strategic depth against Western intrusions, but also an offensive threat, when in Russian hands and housing Russian forces, to Poland, the Baltics and, in the longer term, Slovakia. Putin does not intend to launch a war westward. The odds of his losing such a war are too high to risk, and the result of a loss would be unpredictable. For Putin, merely having the option of war gives him political standing in Russia and a lever that could force European countries to change their policies to accommodate Russian needs. Belarus would give Russia options, and strategic options are fewer in practice than they might appear in theory.

Cyberwarfare: the New Frontier of Wars Between Countries

Vinugayathri Chinnasamy

The entire world is warning nations about cyberwarfare. Regardless of the inexplicably overlooked warning, we predict that cyberwarfare will be the new frontier of wars between countries – but why?

While cyber space is the digital savior during this COVID-19 era, we are witnessing incidents related to cyber-attacks, hacking and data breaches, which highlights that the internet is not safe. It is imperative to be aware of cyberwarfare, as awareness is the first most important step to mitigating it.

Cyberwarfare is not new, it’s already happening; here is the history of attacks and consequences:

Semiconductors and Modern Defense Spending

A New Competition

The United States must again confront authoritarian powers, but the nature of conflict has changed. Now, technological leadership is one of the most important areas for competition. U.S. opponents learned from the United States that technological leadership provides countries with influence, power, and authority in the international environment and that it is crucial for military strength. They seek the leadership that we have held. The United States is in a new kind of conflict where technology and ideas will play as big a role as militaries in creating national power. We need to adjust to this new and different kind of conflict.

China is our chief competitor. It has one clear advantage over us in this conflict. It is willing to spend money. China spends on its military, but it is not just spending on weapons. It spends on research and on its companies. This is the new space for competition. China, unfortunately, is not the sluggish Soviet Union with its turgid economic planning. It has found a way to introduce a degree of market dynamism into its state-controlled economy. But even if it was the Soviet Union, we would still be at a disadvantage. The United States no longer has the federal investments in technology needed for competition, having slashed technology budgets since the end of the Cold War.

China is investing heavily in semiconductor fabrication plants (fabs) and manufacturing equipment, hiring engineers away from companies like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company and, of course, engaging in espionage to bolster its chip-making efforts. China’s goals are leadership in semiconductor production and ending its reliance on U.S. suppliers. These efforts are supported by more than $58 billion in government semiconductor investment funds, accompanied by pledges of another $60 billion in semiconductor funds created by local governments and include a 10-year corporate tax exemption for chipmakers producing advanced chips.

How to Handle WeChat’s Threat Smartly

By Jianli Yang, Times Wang, Deyu Wang

The executive orders relating to WeChat and its parent company Tencent, as well as TikTok and its parent company ByteDance, issued by U.S. President Donald Trump have sparked controversy and debate. Two of us, Times Wang and Jianli Yang, have previously expressed concern about First Amendment issues and other worries about the WeChat order, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation has done the same with respect to TikTok. Others have opined in favor of the orders, apparently concluding the risk of a First Amendment violation is low.

China’s internet policies offer real security and ideological challenges to the United States. But there are more constitutionally and strategically sound approaches than some of the crude tools the U.S. government may end up using.

From the outset, it is important to recognize that WeChat is part of a larger and deeper threat, namely the self-interested effort by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to propagate and control narratives both at home and abroad.

As part of its effort to control the narrative, the one-party state has constructed the most extensive and sophisticated censorship and surveillance system in history, namely the Great Firewall—though, given its one-way nature, a better descriptor might be the Great Reality Distortion Filter. The purpose is not to block information so much as it is to reshape it. When combined with WeChat, which is the primary source of information for countless Chinese-speaking people around the world, the result is a potential ideological weapon.