26 September 2020

A Military Drive Spells Out China's Intent Along the Indian Border

By Sim Tack

China's intensified development of military infrastructure on the Indian border suggests a shift in Beijing's approach to territorial disputes, forcing New Delhi to rethink its national security posture. China is expanding and upgrading a large number of military facilities along its entire border with India as tensions continue to run high in the wake of the bloody clash between Indian and Chinese forces in June, followed by the reported exchange of gunfire in late August. New Delhi has struggled to come to terms with these recent escalations, but the new strategic reality created by Beijing's permanent infrastructure drive will nonetheless force New Delhi to shape its future defense posture around long-term outlooks of China's growing capabilities in its border regions. 

Exclusive: China sharply expands mass labor program in Tibet

By Cate Cadell

BEIJING (Reuters) - China is pushing growing numbers of Tibetan rural laborers off the land and into recently built military-style training centers where they are turned into factory workers, mirroring a program in the western Xinjiang region that rights groups have branded coercive labor.

Beijing has set quotas for the mass transfer of rural laborers within Tibet and to other parts of China, according to over a hundred state media reports, policy documents from government bureaus in Tibet and procurement requests released between 2016-2020 and reviewed by Reuters. The quota effort marks a rapid expansion of an initiative designed to provide loyal workers for Chinese industry.

A notice posted to the website of Tibet’s regional government website last month said over half a million people were trained as part of the project in the first seven months of 2020 - around 15% of the region’s population. Of this total, almost 50,000 have been transferred into jobs within Tibet, and several thousand have been sent to other parts of China. Many end up in low paid work, including textile manufacturing, construction and agriculture.

“This is now, in my opinion, the strongest, most clear and targeted attack on traditional Tibetan livelihoods that we have seen almost since the Cultural Revolution” of 1966 to 1976, said Adrian Zenz, an independent Tibet and Xinjiang researcher, who compiled the core findings about the program. These are detailed in a report released this week by the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based institute that focuses on policy issues of strategic importance to the U.S. “It’s a coercive lifestyle change from nomadism and farming to wage labor.”

China’s Trial by Fire

By Phillip Orchard

From the COVID-19 outbreak to the subsequent economic crisis, with catastrophic flooding of the Yangtze River thrown in for good measure, 2020 has subjected the Communist Party of China to one existential crisis after another. Yet, Chinese President Xi Jinping seems to have a preternatural ability to swoop in and save the day. Not only does his administration appear to have come out from these calamities unscathed, but in some ways it seems to have grown stronger, more confident and more determined to dictate terms to foes foreign and domestic than ever – with Xi himself seizing every chance to turn crisis into opportunity to cement his power. It was Xi, for example, who Chinese propagandists say commanded the decisive battles in the “People’s War” against the invisible enemy, the coronavirus. It was Xi, according to his own comments during an August inspection tour of flood damage along the Yangtze, who’s continuing a centurieslong tradition of Chinese leaders demonstrating their mandate to lead by taming floodwaters. It was Xi who successfully waged a war on financial risk and who prepared China for the day when the U.S. would try to blunt China’s rise as a way to distract from its own problems, or so the narrative goes. It’s Xi who state media has increasingly been referring to as “the People’s Leader,” elevating the president to almost Mao-like status.

All this should pour cold water on persistent rumors of discontent with Xi in the upper ranks of the Communist Party of China. Of course, as Chinese elites wrangle for power and influence ahead of the Party Congress in 2022 – when Xi is expected to shatter CPC norms by sticking around for a third term as party chairman – palace intrigue will only intensify. And in a country like China, the next crisis is always just around the corner. Beijing is invariably choosing between bad options for dealing with immense problems, with many of its short-term fixes deepening its long-term structural issues, alienating powerful constituencies at home and antagonizing foreign powers.

How to Counter the Chinese Communist Party


The CCP views freedom of expression as a weakness to be suppressed at home and exploited abroad. The free exchange of information and ideas, however, may be the greatest competitive advantage of our societies. We have to defend against Chinese agencies that coordinate influence operations abroad — such as the Ministry of State Security, the United Front Work Department, and the Chinese Students and Scholars Association — but we should also try to maximize positive interactions and experiences with the Chinese people. Those who visit and interact with citizens of free countries are most likely to go home and question the party’s policies, especially those that stifle freedom of expression. So, the people who direct academic exchanges or are responsible for Chinese student experiences should ensure that those students enjoy the same freedom of thought and expression as other students. That means adopting a zero-tolerance attitude for CCP agents who monitor and intimidate students and their families back home.

Foreign students at universities abroad, regardless of their country of origin, should gain an appreciation for the host nation’s history and form of governance. When universities and other hosting bodies protect the freedoms that these students should enjoy, it serves to counter the propaganda and censorship to which the students are subjected in their home country. Perhaps most important, Chinese and other foreign students should be fully integrated into student bodies, to ensure they have the most positive academic and social experience.

The protection of students’ ability to express themselves freely should extend to expatriate communities. The U.S. and other free nations should view their Chinese expatriate communities as a strength. Chinese abroad, if protected from the meddling and espionage of the CCP, are capable of making their own judgments about the party’s activities. As the party becomes more aggressive in controlling its population to maintain its exclusive grip on power, Chinese expatriates may further appreciate the benefits of living in societies that permit freedom of expression. It is appropriate, for example, for free and open societies not only to disabuse their Chinese visitors of the party’s anti-Western propaganda, but also to create safe environments for Chinese expatriates to question the CCP’s policies and actions. Investigations and expulsions of Ministry of State Security and other agents should be oriented toward protecting not only the targeted country, but also the Chinese expatriates within it.

Washington and Beijing Need to Keep Talking

By Will Krumholz

The United States and China are cutting some economic ties. Whether the decoupling is a good idea or not, It will probably move forward no matter who wins the presidential election in November. Decoupling has big implications for national security and geopolitics, and America’s geopolitical strategy should make sure to reflect this new reality. Decoupling increases the risk of war, and we should work to mitigate that risk.

The Trump administration’s tariffs on China have been the main area of economic separation, with the explicit goal of moving jobs out of China and into America. Whether this policy has caused jobs to flow to the United States is highly debatable. What the policy has accomplished is more U.S. imports from producers outside of China, and fewer imports from China.

But there is more to decoupling than tariffs and trade deficits — much of it currently revolves around technology. The Trump administration has restricted the use of Chinese technology in America and the use of American technology by China, and it has strongly insisted that America’s allies do the same.

Aside from broadly restricting tech ties, Washington has gone hard after several Chinese firms — the chief of which is the Chinese telecommunications giant, Huawei. America alleges that use of Huawei’s equipment by America or its allies could allow China to spy on western firms and governments. The United States has also taken an aggressive stance toward TikTok, which appears to pull all sorts of information in undisclosed ways from users’ phones.

China’s gambit in Tajikistan: Partner or overlord?


Recently, a Chinese diplomat stated that the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan belonged to China and always have. The region borders the Uighur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang and the city of Kashgar, where up to 17 Uighur concentration camps are located. Both the treatment of Uighur Muslims by the Chinese and their increasingly outspoken historical claims to the Pamirs have alarmed those in the region as well as the governments of Tajikistan and its close ally, Russia.

The scenario raises a number of questions. What are China’s goals in the region? Do they really believe that Tajikistan belongs to them? Is their penetration into Pamiri territory along their borders an indication of a long-term strategy in the region and an action that underpins their recent assertions about the region?

This past month, official outlets of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) repeatedly republished an article by Chinese historian Cho Yao Lu, who says that the entire Pamir region belonged to China at one time and consequently, he implies, Tajikistan should now or in the future return it to Beijing.

The territorial claim is based, at least in part, on a long history of Chinese presence in the region dating back to as early as the second century BCE. This previously unspoken belief of the Chinese government feeds into what many in Central Asia fear – namely that China’s strategy in the region is anything but transactional and utilitarian. Rather, they suspect that its goals are part of a larger strategy of neo-colonial and imperialist ambitions based on geographic and historical claims.

Rim of the Pacific and Its Discontents

By Sean Quirk 

China fired ballistic missiles into the South China Sea while the United States hosted a multinational naval exercise in August, as security tensions between the two countries persist. The U.S. Pacific Fleet hosted the biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercise from Aug. 17 to Aug. 31 near the Hawaiian islands. Ten nations, 22 surface ships, one submarine and around 5,300 personnel participated in the exercise—the 27th RIMPAC since its inception in 1971. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the Pacific Fleet had planned to host 30 nations for the exercise. The scaled-down RIMPAC 2020 included South China Sea claimants Brunei and the Philippines, but the People’s Republic of China was not invited. The United States invited and then disinvited China from RIMPAC 2018, citing Beijing’s militarization of its occupied features in the South China Sea. Unlike previous RIMPACs, China and Russia reportedly did not crash the 2020 exercise by sending surveillance ships to collect intelligence from RIMPAC participating units.

Instead, China held its own naval exercise in the Bohai Gulf and Yellow Sea, and the United States sent its own uninvited representative to observe. A U.S. U-2 reconnaissance plane purportedly entered a no-fly zone over Chinese live-fire military drills on Aug. 25. The U.S. Pacific Air Forces confirmed a U-2 flight but said it operated in accordance with internationally recognized rules and regulations. China Daily, the English-language newspaper operated by the Chinese Communist Party, quoted Chinese military experts as saying the U-2 was a “ghost of the Cold War” and that the U.S. military is “walking on thin ice.” Another Chinese analyst claimed Washington hoped to “artificially manufacture a China crisis” so that “people [can] rally around the American flag.”

The day after the U-2 flight, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) launched two anti-ship ballistic missiles into the South China Sea. The PLA fired both a DF-26B and a DF-21D missile from the northwestern province of Qinghai and the eastern province of Zhejiang, respectively. A Chinese military source told local media that the missile launches were a warning to the United States, likely in response to U.S. carrier maneuvers earlier in the summer. When the USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike groups conducted dual carrier operations in the South China Sea in July, the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times had declared that “any US aircraft carrier movement in the region is solely at the pleasure of the PLA.” The Global Times went on to say that the PLA has “a wide selection of anti-aircraft carrier weapons like the DF-21D and DF-26 ‘aircraft carrier killer’ missiles.” U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper responded to the comments by saying U.S. aircraft carriers are “not going to be stopped by anybody.”

With Abraham Accord, Have Israel, US & Arab Allies Opened A New Front Against Turkey & Iran?


Israel officially established full diplomatic ties with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in a ceremony in Washington. The US and others labelled it as a sign of Middle East peace while others stated that a new front against Iran and Turkey was being established.

Much of this coverage, however, misses their evolving relations, under the surface, for several years, and how the agreement will advance UAE andIsrael’s geopolitical cooperation.

While the UAE’s initial acceptance of normalization on Aug. 14 was unsurprising, as Abu Dhabi has built strong economic and cyber-security relations with Israel over the last decade, Bahrain’s monarchy was also expected to follow suit with its Emirati backers.

The UAE has established greater sway over Bahrain after helping crush its 2011 Arab Spring uprising, and the tiny monarchy now seeks to remain on the side of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, having echoed their antagonism towards Qatar and Turkey.

Though Riyadh is considered to have had a large role in Bahrain’s foreign policy stance previously, the UAE’s leading of recent normalization efforts encouraged Bahrain to follow suit, suggesting Abu Dhabi is playing a more proactive role in Manama’s decision-making.

While Bahrain was a more viable case for normalization with Israel, this trend could affect other countries. Another key example is Sudan, whose democratic transition the UAE has tried to derail, seeking to shore up military rule and block any post-revolution Islamist resurgence.

Pandemic slashes worldwide income from work by a tenth: ILO

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - Income earned from work worldwide dropped by an estimated 10.7%, or $3.5 trillion, in the first nine months of 2020, compared to the same period a year ago, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said on Wednesday.

The figure, which does not include income support provided by governments to compensate for workplace closures during the pandemic, is equal to 5.5% of global gross domestic product (GDP) for the first three quarters of 2019, it said.

“Workplace closures continue to disrupt labour markets around the world, leading to working hour losses that are higher than previously estimated,” the ILO said in its sixth report on the effects of the pandemic on the world of work.

Workers in developing and emerging economies, especially those in informal employment, had been affected to a much greater extent than in past crises, the United Nations agency said. It added that a decline in employment numbers had generally been greater for women than men.

“Just as we need to redouble our efforts to beat the virus, so we need to act urgently and at scale to overcome its economic, social and employment impacts. That includes sustaining support for jobs, businesses and incomes,” ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said in a statement.

In the second quarter alone, the revised estimate of global working time lost was 17.3%, equivalent to 495 million full-time jobs, against a previous estimate of 14% or 400 million jobs, the report said.

The world is losing the money laundering fight

By Elisa Martinuzzi

We've just had the closest look yet at the global battle against money laundering, and it's deeply troubling: Banks and their regulators are nowhere near restraining the flow of trillions of dollars of illicit funds.

Both the finance industry and the authorities are to blame. Without an urgent, concerted political effort, criminals - from drug dealers and terrorists to human traffickers - will keep the upper hand.

The investigation revealed that reports flagged up to $US2 trillion of fund flows, $US1.3 trillion from Deutsche Bank, that may have stemmed from criminal activity.CREDIT:AP

In a year-long investigation by BuzzFeed and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, reporters pored over about 2100 suspicious activity reports, or SARs, which lenders file to the US Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) when they spot potential money laundering and other bad behaviour.

While the number of SARs reviewed by the journalists dwarfs any previous access to these confidential documents, they're still just a tiny fraction - 0.02 per cent - of the 12 million or so SARs that were probably filed during the period in question, mostly 2011 through 2017. Also, the sample isn't representative of overall banking activity. Some records stem from the US congressional investigation into interference with the 2016 presidential election. Almost half of the SARs came from Deutsche Bank.

Time Horizons Drive Potential Taiwan Cross-Strait Conflict

David An

If [they] pay attention to our diplomatic protests, so much the better. If they do not, then after two or three years have passed, we shall be in a much sounder position and can attack them, if we decide to do so.

—Spartan King Archidamus regarding Athens

However, we will never allow separatists for Taiwan independence to have their way, nor allow interference by any external forces. Advancing China’s reunification is a just cause, while separatist activities are doomed to failure.

—People’s Republic of China Defense Minister Wei Fenghe in 2019

On 21 October 1975, during the early days of U.S.-China rapprochement, Chairman Mao Tse-tung said to then U.S. National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger that the Taiwan issue would be settled “in a hundred years … I would not want it, because it’s not wantable. There are a huge bunch of counter-revolutionaries there. A hundred years hence we will want it (gesturing with his hand), and we are going to fight for it.”1 How do states decide whether to move forward immediately to achieve a goal—such as the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) “unification” of Taiwan—or to continue to wait? Should others come to Taiwan’s aid? The traditional logic is that a state will act based on its intentions, capabilities, and opportunities. Only when a state intends to reach some goal that it sets, only when it has the military capabilities to achieve the goal, and under the conditions that the right opportunities arise, would a state move forward with a plan such as initiating a cross-Taiwan Strait conflict. While these traditional factors are important, understanding the time horizons of the United States and China is equally, if not more, important in explaining why China has waited this long and whether the United States and others would come to assist Taiwan.

Rank and File Corrupted: Uncertain Attribution and Corruption in Russia’s Military Cyber Units

Corruption has riddled the ranks of the Russian military for decades, persisting in operations, maintenance and personnel. Last year, chief military prosecutor Valery Petrov stated that the damage from corruption in Russia’s military totaled seven billion rubles in 2018.

What might corruption look like if it infected Russia’s elite military cyber units? It is important to understand this because of its implications for how victims of cyber-attacks ought to respond: whereas officially sanctioned acts engender a governmental response, corruption is a private act that instead requires a response by law enforcement and lawyers. For example, would we be able to identify a cyber-attack attributed to Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) 28—a Russian cyber espionage group—as the act of a single individual or group of individuals acting corruptly, thereby requiring a law enforcement response? Or would the act be seen as instigated by the Russian government, requiring instead a government response?

Several factors unique to the cyber domain make it difficult to differentiate between individuals acting corruptly on their own behalf and the same individuals genuinely pursuing Russia’s military cyber objectives. These factors include the plausible deniability of cyber-attacks, the mix of public and private tools leveraged by groups, and the historical relationship between hackers engaged in traditional cybercrime, and those supporting Russian state objectives.

The Russian military is credited with dozens of high-profile cyber-attacks on targets around the world from the White House to industrial control systems. The attacks employ a variety of tools and methods but generally follow the cyber-attack life cycle. First comes the initial compromise. In the case of APT 28, this is commonly accomplished through phishing operations or with the use of stolen credentials. After the initial compromise, actors establish a foothold and escalate privileges. This is followed by a period of internal reconnaissance allowing the actors to then move laterally and maintain presence to complete the mission.

Europe’s Failed Migration Policy Caused Greece’s Latest Refugee Crisis

By Andrew Connelly

LESBOS, Greece—On Sept. 9, Europe’s largest refugee camp, Moria, on the Greek island of Lesbos burned to the ground, leaving nearly 13,000 people frightened and homeless. But to call Moria a refugee camp is an insult to most well-run refugee camps around the world that do not burn down with such predictable regularity. That this incinerated ghetto was a cornerstone of EU migration policy should prompt an urgent and expansive rethink of how to humanely manage a phenomenon that will continue to grow as new conflicts rage and economies collapse.

Before its destruction, Moria had become the kind of hellhole that someone would want to claim asylum from, rather than a place to dump asylum seekers. A crumbling hilltop military base surrounded by olive groves was in 2015 given an Orwellian rebranding by the EU as a so-called hotspot that would act as a giant filter where hundreds of thousands of migrants arriving by boat would be screened, fingerprinted, and relocated around the bloc. A year later, the EU signed a Faustian pact with Turkey to prevent these sea crossings and agree to take back the rejects. Both these approaches had systemic deficiencies.

For many years, Europe did not return migrants to Greece exactly due to the deplorable conditions for asylum seekers. Keeping Moria as a slum was just another flawed attempt at deterrence.

Repairing Humanity’s Relationship With the Planet Will Be Cheaper Than Continuing to Let It Slide

By Carter Roberts, Carlos Manuel Rodriguez

All around, on the land and in the ocean, nature’s alarm bells are ringing. Wildfires rage in California as hotter, drier conditions make such events more frequent and more severe. One of the worst Atlantic hurricane seasons on record threatens coastal communities. And a coronavirus that jumped from animals to people late last year continues to drive a global pandemic that is responsible for nearly 1 million deaths so far and a global recession. All this seems like a new normal in what scientists refer to as the Anthropocene, the current geologic period dominated by human influence on the planet.

Now we can add another data point to the growing chronicle of humanity’s broken relationship with nature. According to the newly released 2020 Living Planet Report, produced by the WWF, where one of us is CEO, population sizes of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians declined globally by an average of 68 percent between 1970 and 2016. Such loss of nature is driven by unsustainable forms of food and energy production and consumption—the same factors that have fanned climate change and provoked public health crises, such as COVID-19.

But there is reason for measured optimism: These problems are linked, but so are their solutions. And if 2020 was the year when our broken relationship with nature revealed itself with immense global consequences, so too can 2020 be the year when humanity began to repair it.

Who is a terrorist, actually?

Daniel L. Byman

When I write about the threat of white supremacist terrorism, I often receive complaints from readers that I am focusing on the wrong problem and that my articles are ill-informed and misleading (I’m putting the complaints politely). Instead of focusing on white supremacists, they argue, I should instead write about the “real” terrorists like antifa and Black Lives Matter.

Their opinions are backed up by statements from the police and Trump administration officials and images of burning cities. The terrorism label, for them, is a way of distinguishing who is in the wrong. Brian Jenkins, a leading scholar of terrorism, observed in 1981: “Terrorism is what the bad guys do.”

When it comes to Black Lives Matter, there’s no credible case for labeling it a terrorist organization. One analysis of the Black Lives Matter protests found that 93 percent were peaceful, and some of the violent incidents at the rallies were simply opportunistic vandalism.

Most of the protest leaders have tried to stop looting and other violence, recognizing this is counterproductive as well as wrong. Moreover, Black Lives Matter is an open movement with a host of organizations participating along with self-proclaimed supporters rather than a tight group with a defined membership. Thus, labeling the movement as a whole as violent is false.

But not all violence is terrorism, either. In many instances, even those who do actively promote and use violence don’t merit the label “terrorist.”

You Can Only See Liberalism From the Bottom

By Daniel Immerwahr

There was a time, not long ago, when the United States seemed home to the best and the brightest. Its scientists won Nobel Prizes, more than any other country by an enormous margin. Its technology firms blazed paths to brave new worlds. Its studios dominated global entertainment, disseminating dreams worldwide. So-called lesser countries endured “brain drain”—the outward stream of their most educated citizens. The United States, by contrast, was the churning sea of talent and enterprise into which all those rivers flowed.

The fall has been fast and, one might add, furious. Today, the image of the country is less the wise sage than the village idiot. During a terrifying pandemic, its president peddles quack cures, his uninspiring opponent appears out of touch, an eviction crisis looms, and more than a third of the populace reports that it would refuse a free vaccine if offered. As other countries return to normalcy, the United States prepares ineffectively for a second wave. It already accounts for a fifth of COVID-19 cases worldwide; the virus has killed nearly 200,000 of its inhabitants. Taiwan, by contrast, has kept its death count under 10. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has seen only 88 of its citizens die, has a better contact-tracing system than the United States.

The World Is Winning—and Losing—the Vaccine Race

By Adam Tooze

Faced with a pandemic that paralyzed the world, a vaccine has always seemed like the obvious solution. A natural challenge demands a scientific fix. Unlike social distancing and lockdowns, a vaccine seems simple and uncontentious. Fire up the labs, pump up the bioreactors, and distribute billions of doses. In the coming weeks, we expect the first news of the decisive Phase III trials of the most promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates. The hope is that a successful vaccine would be a black box: a functional device that no one need second guess or closely inspect so long as it works.

But as it turns out, constructing and distributing a vaccine may solve a set of political and economic problems while also creating a set of new ones. We imagined that an effective inoculation would be a cause of celebration. It may turn out to be a symbol of global injustice and a trigger for grievance across the world.

We can already see the outlines of the coming controversies. The United States has declared that it will not participate in the U.N.-sponsored COVAX program, which aims to jointly develop and equally distribute a vaccine to the world; Washington claims the program is too beholden to the WHO which it sees as corrupt. But questions have emerged about whether national governments can be trusted to oversee the vaccine race on their own. Russia has rushed to the front by giving approval to an unproven vaccine, hoping that tests results produced retrospectively will bear it out. (So far, the signs are good.) China has approved the first use of a vaccine in the ranks of its military, but due to lack of an actual active epidemic it is conducting it main trials in Brazil. There, President Jair Bolsonaro—though he is himself recovering from a bout of COVID-19—refuses to take the global scientific consensus seriously.

Facebook takes down China accounts that targeted U.S. politics

By Craig Timberg

Facebook removed several fake accounts and pages operated from China that promoted and criticized both President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, in the company’s first takedown of Chinese accounts aimed at U.S. politics, Facebook announced Tuesday.

The number of accounts was small and their reach minimal, the company said, but the action underscored how online actors in China have taken an interest in election-year politics in the United States, as U.S. intelligence officials previously have reported. They also have said Russia and Iran are seeking to influence the American election.

How Serious Are Threats to the U.S. Homeland?

By Daniel Byman, Seamus Hughes

The Sept. 17 hearing on “Worldwide Threats to the Homeland,” as its title suggests, does not make for happy watching. And, indeed, statements by FBI Director Christopher Wray and National Counterterrorism Center Director Christopher Miller duly assess an array of dangers related to national security, including election interference, a more aggressive Russia and China, and emergent technologies. Most of their remarks, however, focused on terrorist groups and networks and the threats they pose. Although counterterrorism professionals are understandably prone to worry, there was some good news—as well as some troubling details—buried in their remarks. 

The hearing occurred just after the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The scale of those attacks, and the U.S. response, has dominated the terrorism landscape ever since. But the directors are largely positive here, or at least less pessimistic than their predecessors. Wray warned that al-Qaeda “maintains its desire for large-scale, spectacular attacks,” but that this has been true since well before 9/11. Wray noted that al-Qaeda’s constant failure to succeed in a repeat of 9/11 or anything close to it on U.S. soil suggests that the U.S campaign against its leadership is highly successful. Similarly, Miller warned that the Islamic State still wants to attack the West—again, no real surprise—but also contends that counterterrorism “pressure has diminished the group’s ability to execute operations on the scale of previous attacks in Paris and Brussels.” So, like al-Qaeda, capabilities continue to fall short of ambitions. Both directors were careful to acknowledge that al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are resilient and warn that they could become more dangerous in the future. However, they asserted that sustained but modest counterterrorism efforts have proved able to limit the threat to the U.S. homeland.

The Transformation of Diplomacy

By William J. Burns and Linda Thomas-Greenfield

We joined the U.S. Foreign Service nearly 40 years ago in the same entering class, but we took very different paths to get there. One of us grew up amid hardship and segregation in the Deep South, the first in her family to graduate from high school, a Black woman joining a profession that was still very male and very pale. The other was the product of an itinerant military childhood that took his family from one end of the United States to the other, with a dozen moves and three high schools by the time he was 17. 

There were 32 of us in the Foreign Service’s class of January 1982. It was an eclectic group that included former Peace Corps volunteers, military veterans, a failed rock musician, and an ex–Catholic priest. None of us retained much from the procession of enervating speakers describing their particular islands in the great archipelago of U.S. foreign policy. What we did learn early on, and what stayed true throughout our careers, is that smart and sustained investment in people is the key to good diplomacy. Well-intentioned reform efforts over the years were crippled by faddishness, budgetary pressures, the over-militarization of foreign policy, the State Department’s lumbering bureaucracy, a fixation on structure, and—most of all—inattention to people.

The Trump administration also learned early on that people matter, and so it made them the primary target of what the White House aide Steve Bannon termed “the deconstruction of the administrative state.” That is what has made the administration’s demolition of the State Department and so many other government institutions so effective and ruinous. Tapping into popular distrust of expertise and public institutions, President Donald Trump has made career public servants—government meteorologists, public health specialists, law enforcement professionals, career diplomats—convenient targets in the culture wars. Taking aim at an imaginary “deep state,” he has instead created a weak state, an existential threat to the country’s democracy and the interests of its citizens. 

H. R. McMaster’s Battlegrounds: A Fight for the Soul of U.S. Foreign Policy

by Colin Dueck

From 2017 to 2018, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster was the twenty-sixth national security advisor to the president of the United States. His noteworthy new book Battlegrounds is a valuable memoir of that period. It also contains his recommendations for the future.

Battlegrounds provides a fascinating tour of current U.S. foreign policy challenges, region by region, beginning with Russia and China, followed by South Asia, the Middle East, Iran and North Korea. McMaster adds a chapter on security threats in outer space, cyber, and new technologies. Finally, he considers persistent difficulties in confronting all of these challenges. The tour is enlivened by his description of personal experiences overseas and within Washington, DC at the very highest level. This makes it one of the few indispensable books on the foreign policy of the current administration. But it also gives the work forward-looking worth, since it addresses dangers that McMaster correctly understands are not about to go away.

The policy perspective of any leading player grows out of specific personal experiences. Prior to his appointment as national security advisor, the Philadelphia-born McMaster had already won a well-deserved reputation as one of the most capable Army officers of his generation. After graduating from West Point, he completed a Ph.D. in History at the University of North Carolina, later turning his dissertation research into a book, Dereliction of Duty. That work is required reading on civil-military relations and President Lyndon Johnson’s strategically dysfunctional manner of entry into Vietnam. Captain of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment’s Eagle Troop during the 1991 Gulf War, McMaster and his troop quickly destroyed a much larger enemy armored forces in the Battle of 73 Easting. Between 2004 and 2006, he commanded the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment deployed to Iraq, providing an example of what effective counterinsurgency (and this does sometimes happen) might look like. During the Obama years, he was openly critical of the tendency to believe that retrenchment and accommodation would serve American interests. For all of these reasons and more, he eventually came to President Donald Trump’s attention as a promising appointment.

Is the Blob Really Blameless?

By Stephen M. Walt

Francis Gavin recently published a lengthy review of my 2018 book, The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy. I am flattered that he judged the book to be of sufficient importance and potential influence to warrant such sustained attention, even though his assessment is harshly negative. Gavin’s essay raises several important issues, and it would be a telling indictment if his criticisms were well founded. Fortunately, his main charges miss their mark while nicely illustrating the complacent mindset that I criticized in the book. Explaining why his objections are unconvincing will hopefully move the debate on U.S. grand strategy forward.

Although Gavin offers up many complaints about the book, his critique rests on four main claims. First, he argues that apart from some obviously costly blunders in the Middle East, U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War has been a great success. Second, he claims the alternative grand strategy that I and others have recommended (variously termed “restraint” or “offshore balancing”) would be a disaster, which is why the foreign-policy establishment and the broader American public have rejected it. Third, he portrays me and my fellow restrainers as centrally placed figures with enormous potential to shape debates on U.S. foreign policy, not a relatively small minority confined mostly to a handful of universities. Given our alleged prominence, he suggests that our failure to convince the elite or the public to embrace our proposals is further evidence that our ideas are unsound. Lastly, he rejects my characterization of the foreign-policy elite as a mutually reinforcing community of individuals and institutions sharing a common worldview (namely, a commitment to the strategy of liberal hegemony), claiming instead that it is an intellectually diverse group of open-minded and dedicated professionals that holds itself to high standards and has only the best interests of the country and the world at heart.

Brazil’s Data Protection Law

by Luiza Parolin

On September 18th, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro signed into force the Brazilian General Data Protection Regulation (LGPD), putting a sudden end to an almost ten-year process. This was the last of a series of unexpected turns that propelled the bill, after the Brazilian Senate rejected a proposal last month to delay the law’s start date once more, and caused the regulation to come into effect months earlier than expected.

Brazil’s LGPD—notably inspired by the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)—seeks to regulate the processing of personal data, focusing on protecting the fundamental rights of freedom and privacy, and the free development of the personality of the natural person. The law applies to any processing of data—regardless of who is processing it—in three situations:

the processing is carried out in Brazil;

the purpose of the processing is to offer goods or services, or to process personal data of subjects located in Brazil; or

the personal data being processed was collected in Brazil.

We Need to Bridge the Gap Between the COIN Generation and the Next Generation

By Scott Kelly

I commissioned in 2012, joining an Army in which my leaders had been engaged in counterinsurgency (COIN) fights in Iraq and Afghanistan for nearly a decade. As I left training and entered the operational force, I was hit with the distinct difference between the way I had been trained to fight by the institution and the way the Army had actually been fighting for the past decade. I was trained in Unified Land Operations against near-peer threats. My leaders had spent years working in Joint Operations Centers in support of counterinsurgency operations and conducting security force assistance.

The disconnect between today’s training and doctrine and many of our senior leaders’ experiences is pronounced. The fights of the past two decades defined the careers of the leaders who run today’s Army and shaped their perception of the utility and relevance of the formal training they received. The generation that came after them, which begins with many of today’s senior captains and junior majors, do not share their experiences and likely never will. This experience differential has created a gap between leader expectations and subordinate realities that hinders our ability to communicate and adapt as a force.

Training for one war and fighting another

During our contemporary counterinsurgency campaigns, there was a disconnect between the wars we trained for and the wars we fought. A consistent refrain from instructors to students in Army schoolhouses is, “this is what the army says you need to know, don’t worry, once you get to your unit, you’ll learn how it really is, all of this is out of date.” This attitude came from the fact that the type of war the Army was trained to fight prior to 9/11 was not the war it found itself in after the initial push to Baghdad. As General Mark A Milley said in 2016, we went into Iraq and Afghanistan with a conventional force ill-suited to fight and win the counterinsurgency fight and “had to re-engineer ourselves … and now we have an army that institutionally has a lot of knowledge, skills, and experience at fighting terrorists and insurgents” but little else.