29 September 2020

India’s Brahmos missile: an added target in the air?

The Russo-Indian joint venture Brahmos Aerospace is reportedly developing a variant of the Brahmos missile designed to engage airborne early-warning and control aircraft. As Douglas Barrie argues, the reasons behind India’s interest in a very long-range air-to-air missile highlights the continuing importance of command and control in the air domain.

At first glance, the notion of transforming a large, high-speed, sea-skimming anti-ship missile into a long-range air-to-air missile (AAM) might appear far-fetched. But, in the case of India’s Brahmos, appearances may be deceptive. 

In the past, India is believed to have expressed an interest in acquiring or developing a long-range AAM to deal with a specific target set, with Russia as the potential source. Russian missile designer Novator’s KS-172 project was initially considered to meet just such a requirement, but the programme was ultimately shelved. Now, the source is apparently NPO Mashinostroyenia, India’s long-standing partner on the Brahmos programme.

The Brahmos family

Alexander Maksichev, the co-director of Russo-Indian company Brahmos Aerospace, which produces the Brahmos missile, is reported in the Russian press as saying a variant of the missile designed to engage airborne early-warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft would be ready by 2024. The original Brahmos missile was in effect Russia’s 3M55 Onyx (SS-N-26 Strobile) ramjet-powered anti-ship missile. The Indian and Russian governments approved a joint venture in 1998, which provided NPO Mashinostroyenia with sorely needed funds and possibly supported the competition that led to the development of the 3M55. The Brahmos anti-ship missile is in service with the Indian Navy, while a land-attack variant is also in service with the army. Development of an air-launched variant for the Indian Air Force, the Brahmos-A, is nearing completion and could begin to enter its inventory before the end of 2020. The air-launched Brahmos is being integrated on the Su-30MKI fighter/ground-attack (FGA) aircraft.

How India Came Around to Talking to the Taliban

By Harsh V. Pant, Shubhangi Pandey

Since the Afghan peace process began two years ago, India’s role in it has been peripheral at best. But that may be about to change; Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar’s presence at the opening ceremony of the intra-Afghan talks on Sept. 12 could hint at a gradual shift in the country’s approach. At the historic inaugural session held in Doha, Jaishankar addressed the gathering remotely and reiterated India’s long-held support for an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled” peace process. His participation raised the possibility that India may agree to engage in direct talks with the Taliban at some point in the future, something it has not done thus far.

Although India has long chosen to refrain from putting boots on the ground in Afghanistan, the country has provided the Afghan security forces with critical operational training, limited military equipment, and capacity-building courses—assistance that was ramped up after the signing of the India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement in October 2011. The agreement, in addition to emphasizing cooperation in the areas of security, law enforcement, and justice, also included a joint commitment to combating international terrorist and criminal networks in the region.

On the political front, India has been one of the oldest and strongest proponents of democratic governance in Kabul. From the 2001 Bonn conference, which facilitated the formation of an interim government to take over from the Taliban, to the present day, India has maintained a broad-based approach in engaging with successive Afghan governments. To that end, the country has provided billions of dollars in infrastructure development and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan since 2001. Although New Delhi cannot match the level of economic assistance provided by the West, India continues to be viewed as possibly the most reliable development partner in the region.

Feeling Abandoned by Kabul, Many Rural Afghans Flock to Join the Taliban

By Stefanie Glinski

MOMAND DARA, Afghanistan—Arman Omari grew up among guns, drugs, and airstrikes, with control of his village changing hands several times throughout his teenage years and with women largely absent from public life. He learned to shoot before learning to write his name.

Sitting in an unfinished building in Momand Dara district in the eastern province of Nangarhar, not far from the village in Achin district where he grew up, Omari, 25, explained that he didn’t see a future for his family the way Afghanistan is currently run. The gap between relatively well-off urban areas and rural areas like his—bereft of clinics, schools, or jobs—has only grown after nearly two decades of fitful efforts at governance from leaders in Kabul.

That’s why last month he made a fateful decision—like so many others, especially from rural Afghanistan. “I joined the Taliban because the government is corrupt,” said Omari, a slender man with greasy, shoulder-length hair, a trimmed beard, and kohl-rimmed eyes.

“There are two overriding laws—one for the rich and one for the poor. People like me have no opportunities, and I’m hoping this will change with an Islamic system in place,” Omari said. “The government has failed us, so my hope is with the Taliban. If they come to power, I want to be on their side.”

Can Thailand’s Protest Movement Broaden Its Appeal?

By Duncan McCargo

After holding the largest mass demonstration in Thailand in several years on Sept. 19-20, on Thursday the student protesters moved to the country’s parliament to press home their demands for democratic reform.

Hours later, a deal between the sitting government—which is closely associated with the military, which ruled the country from 2014 to 2019—and opposition parties that might have slowed the marches fell apart. The two sides had agreed to move ahead with legislation that would allow Thailand’s 2017 constitution, which had been crafted by the military junta and is widely viewed as undemocratic, to be replaced by an entirely new charter. But something went wrong, and the deal came unstuck. Parliament kicked the issue down the road by calling for a month of further study, an important victory for the conservative establishment and especially for the unelected Senate that stands to be abolished under a revised constitution.

Until the deal fell apart, the existing administration, still led by retired generals closely associated with the 2014 coup, had appeared willing to listen to student calls for wide-ranging political reforms. Now, though, the prospects for a smooth political reform process are in more doubt than ever.

Energy Grid Supply-Chain Risks and U.S.-China Entanglement

By Justin Sherman, Tianjiu Zuo Monday

On May 1, President Trump signed an executive order on securing the U.S. bulk-power system, aimed at limiting foreign influence in the U.S. energy grid by targeting grid suppliers potentially compromised by those adversary governments. The bulk-power system, made up of interconnected devices that generate and transmit electricity across the country, is an especially vital component of U.S. national infrastructure. Jim Dempsey wrote an informative analysis of this executive order. Dempsey places these attempts to bolster supply-chain security in broader context, linking them with recent executive branch actions against foreign telecommunications companies. But it’s also worth examining the executive order in a context specific to the U.S. energy grid and focusing on Chinese suppliers, because of the notable role Chinese firms play in the U.S. energy grid supply chain.

Much attention has been paid of late to “decoupling,” the forcible separation of interdependent and interconnected supply chains, particularly between the United States and China. The recent executive order, to a certain extent, aims to do just that: identify foreign suppliers of bulk-power equipment that pose unacceptable security risks and ensure they aren’t included in U.S. critical infrastructure. As Dempsey noted, the order’s passage “indicates how the ‘great decoupling’ of China-U.S. supply chains, previously driven by trade war-induced uncertainties, increasingly may be cast in terms of cybersecurity and national security imperatives.” Even more broadly, U.S. actions to limit the presence of foreign suppliers in U.S. digital infrastructure are increasingly framed in terms of national security rather than purely economic considerations.

What’s worth unpacking further, though, is the extent to which this recent action on bulk power differs from other U.S. government actions focused on digital supply-chain security. Much of the decoupling involves these digital supply-chain issues, like with attempts to ban government employees and contractors from downloading the app TikTok, which is owned by a Chinese company, or the aforementioned inspections of foreign telecom suppliers whose operation in the U.S. may pose security risks.

Can China Become the World Leader in Semiconductors?

By Justin Hodiak and Scott W. Harold

Over the past two decades, China has risen to prominence in the semiconductor industry in the areas of assembly, testing, and packaging of electronics, but it presently lags in the design and manufacture of the semiconductor integrated circuits (“chips”) which require great technological sophistication to produce. At the national level, participating in the $400 billion annual global revenue generated by the industry is a source of economic power on its own, but the industry also drives innovations in disparate sectors such as telecommunications, computing, and the automotive sector. Can China’s semiconductor industry catch up to the industry’s leading edge? How dependent is China on imported semiconductor technology today? And if it is unlikely to catch up despite spending billions of dollars, what are the obstacles it is likely to stumble on?

China has enhanced its drive to build up a domestic semiconductor capacity in recent years, most notably through its “Made in China 2025” policy together with steps more specifically targeted at the semiconductor industry, such as Guidelines to Promote National Integrated Circuit Industry, often referred to as the National Integrated Circuit Plan. Broad goals for the semiconductor sector include producing 70 percent of domestic needs within China by 2025, and reaching parity with international leading edge technology in all segments of the industry by 2030. Industrial policy for semiconductors has been an emphasis in China for more than 40 years, and these latest goals are mostly restatements of a long-standing objective to improve domestic capacity for this dual-use technology.

Knowing that China indigenously produced only 16 percent of the semiconductors it needed for domestic use in 2019, and given China’s growing efforts to reduce its dependency on foreign technology, this emphasis on increased self-sufficiency is unsurprising. However, the scale of the influx of state-backed capital into China’s semiconductor industry raised concerns about economic distortions resulting from a mercantilist policy. The funding in combination with persistent Chinese intellectual property theft elevated global concerns about how China might reach parity with leading edge design and manufacturing in this geostrategically important technology sector, particularly in light of breakthrough abilities shown in other market sectors.

Did Xi Just Save the World

By Adam Tooze

“China will scale up its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions by adopting more vigorous policies and measures. We aim to have [carbon dioxide] emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.”

Xi Jinping’s speech via video link to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 22 was not widely trailed in advance. But with those two short sentences China’s leader may have redefined the future prospects for humanity.

That may sound like hyperbole, but in the world of climate politics it is hard to exaggerate China’s centrality. Thanks to the gigantic surge in economic growth since 2000 and its reliance on coal-fired electricity generation, China is now by far the largest emitter of carbon dioxide. At about 28 percent of the global total, the carbon dioxide produced in China (as opposed to that consumed in the form of Chinese exports) is about as much as that produced by the United States, European Union, and India combined. Per capita, its emissions are now greater than those of the EU if we count carbon dioxide emissions on a production rather than a consumption basis.

Global warming is produced not by the annual flows of carbon but by the stocks that have accumulated over time in the Earth’s atmosphere. Allowing an equal ration for every person on the planet, it remains the case that the historic responsibility for excessive carbon accumulation lies overwhelmingly with the United States and Europe. Still today China’s emissions per capita are less than half those of the United States. But as far as future emissions are concerned, everything hinges on China. As concerned as Europeans and Americans may be with climate policy, they are essentially bystanders in a future determined by the decisions made by the large, rapidly growing Asian economies, with China far in the lead. China’s rapid rebound from the COVID-19 shock only reinforces that point. With his terse remarks, Xi has mapped out a large part of the future path ahead.

Why trade will continue to power China, even as it tries to look inward

by Yukon Huang and Jeremy Smith

Invoking Mao Zedong’s 1938 essay on “protracted war”, Chinese President Xi Jinping is preparing his country for an external environment that is expected to harden both politically and economically in the coming years. Internationally, Xi confronts a trade war with the United States, a political push to uproot manufacturing supply chains and decouple from China, and a bleak overall outlook for global trade due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Xi’s remedy, first introduced at a Chinese Communist Party Politburo meeting in May, lies in the new “dual circulation” strategy. Though the concept remains decidedly vague, it emphasises giving greater play to domestic growth drivers, or “internal circulation”, while shifting away from the economy’s traditional bent towards export orientation. In this view, China should lean more heavily on domestic demand, given the diminishing role of trade in the economy over the past decade and a half.

Exports have been falling almost continuously as a share of China’s gross domestic product – from a peak of 35 per cent in 2006 to 17 per cent in 2019. This rise and fall is similarly true of imports.

The decline is the result of three structural forces that shaped China as it moved from a low- to upper-middle income economy: graduating from labour-intensive products; onshoring of higher value activities; and rebalancing from investment to consumption and from manufacturing to services.

How Are China’s Land-based Conventional Missile Forces Evolving?

Conventionally armed (non-nuclear) missiles have become an increasingly important component of military power. They can be employed to deter threats or project power hundreds or thousands of kilometers away. As part of sweeping efforts to modernize the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), China has developed one of the most powerful land-based conventional missile arsenals in the world. China’s conventional missile forces have significantly reshaped the security landscape in the Indo-Pacific region, and the US and other regional actors are steadily adapting their own capabilities in response.

China’s Growing Conventional Missile Arsenal 

China’s land-based conventional missile capabilities have developed significantly over the last several years. According to the US Department of Defense (DoD), China’s missile forces in 2000 “were generally of short range and modest accuracy.” In the years since then, China has developed the world’s “largest and most diverse” arsenal of ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles.1

The PLA Rocket Force, which maintains and operates China’s land-based conventional and nuclear missiles, has fielded multiple new missile systems over the last several years.2 Many of these missiles are capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear payloads. The analysis on this page focuses on China’s conventionally armed missiles, and therefore excludes intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and certain other systems that only carry nuclear warheads.3

As China has developed its conventional missile forces over the last few decades, it has focused heavily on fielding systems that possess greater range and accuracy. This affords the PLA an enhanced ability to conduct precision strikes farther from China’s territory. In particular, China has prioritized the fielding of intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), with maximum ranges between 3,000-5,000 kilometers (km). According to the IISS, the number of IRBM launchers in China’s arsenal grew from zero in 2015 to 72 in 2020. This accounts for roughly 56 percent of the growth in China’s total arsenal over this period.

Iran and Saudi Arabia Battle for Supremacy in the Middle East

The struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia for dominance in the Middle East has insinuated itself into nearly every regional issue, fracturing international alliances and sustaining wars across the region, while raising fears of a direct conflict between the two powers.

Saudi Arabia has ramped up its regional adventurism since Mohammed bin Salman, the powerful son of King Salman known as MBS, was appointed crown prince in 2017. And it has cracked down on its opponents, including the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. That appears to have had little effect on the crown prince’s increasingly close ties to the Trump administration, though. Determined to undermine the Iranian regime, Washington has pulled out of the nuclear deal with Tehran and used its economic might to suffocate Iran’s economy. Months of tensions over Iranian provocations, including a drone and cruise missile strike against Saudi oil facilities in September, culminated in January with the U.S. assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq, followed by an Iranian ballistic missile barrage targeting U.S. troops there.

Though both sides quickly backed away from escalation to open warfare, the Middle East is rife with other ongoing conflicts, including a civil war in Yemen that has fueled one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, another in Syria that may finally be reaching a no-less bloody endgame, and one in Libya that is once again escalating after a short-lived cease-fire. These conflicts exist on two levels: domestic battles for control of the countries’ futures, and proxy wars fueled by the regional powers, as well as Russia and—in the case of Libya—France.

The Real Hacking Threat

By Elisabeth Braw

“Ahead of the 2020 U.S. elections,” National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina declared in an Aug. 7 statement, “foreign states will continue to use covert and overt influence measures in their attempts to sway U.S. voters’ preferences and perspectives.” Such activities may be less dramatic than an armed attack, but they’re even more sinister. And although there are ways to counter them, the United States is running out of time to get it right.

In the run-up to the November vote, the United States’ rivals, Evanina explained in his remarks, will try to “shift U.S. policies, increase discord in the United States, and undermine the American people’s confidence” in their democracy. In his agency’s assessment, while China works to discredit U.S. President Donald Trump, Russia is aiming to undermine Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

But “it’s not about that election or the other, that candidate or the other,” Marko Mihkelson, a member of parliament for Estonia’s liberal Reform Party, said in August. Mihkelson is no stranger to foreign meddling in elections. Ever since Estonia gained independence from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has needled it with disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks. Most of the time, Mihkelson argued, interference isn’t really meant to sway the vote toward one side or the other. In an interview with PBS, Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, concurred. In a discussion about Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA), which posted misleading content to social media ahead of that year’s vote, he noted that “90 percent of their content had nothing to do with any candidate. It was really about driving division in American society.” It became painfully obvious that the gambit had worked when Americans found themselves disagreeing about whether Trump’s victory was legitimate.

Reckoning With a Resurgent Russia

Andrew S. Weiss, Eugene Rumer

The greatest obstacle to countering Russia’s hard-edged foreign policy has been the West’s incoherent response.

The Kremlin’s calling cards are easy enough to spot: The seizure of Crimea and the war in southeastern Ukraine. The shootdown of a passenger jet. A brazen attack on a former Soviet intelligence officer in a provincial English city. The killing of an opposition politician just outside President Vladimir Putin’s office. Military interventions in Syria and Libya. The spilling of kompromat to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Cyber penetrations of COVID-19 vaccine developers. The stonewalling after Russia’s leading anticorruption campaigner was poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent. The veiled threat to invade a friendly neighboring country after a stolen election.

These are not the hallmarks of a great power. They are telltale signs of an insecure elite that is as anxious about its place on the world stage as it is about its hold on Russia itself.

The small circle of men who rule Russia demand to be recognized as leaders of a great power—mostly on the strength of its past, not its present. Russia’s rebuilt military tools have been on display in Syria, Ukraine, Libya, and even farther afield. But this muscle flexing is more indicative of the Kremlin’s propensity to take risks than of its international stature. Moreover, the risks appear to have been carefully calculated. In each of these interventions, Russia took on a much weaker opponent, while making sure to minimize both its own costs and the chances of running into a more powerful adversary. The Kremlin’s image-makers must have been delighted when U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration elevated Russia alongside China to the ranks of the United States’ great power competitors.

U.S. Commandos Use Secretive Missiles to Kill Qaeda Leaders in Syria

WASHINGTON — U.S. Special Operations forces, with no fanfare, killed a top Qaeda leader in northwest Syria in an unusual drone strike nearly two weeks ago.

They used a secretive weapon — a so-called Ninja Hellfire missile on which the explosive warhead is replaced by long blades to crush or slice its victim while minimizing risks to any civilians nearby. It was the second time in three months that American commandos have killed a senior Qaeda leader in northwest Syria with these specially designed missiles.

The strike illustrated the complexities of carrying out operations against terrorist groups in a part of the world where the United States and Russia have been warily pursuing their own objectives and occasionally coming into conflict.

The recent ramming of an American ground patrol by a Russian armored vehicle escalated tensions between the two rival powers in northeast Syria. The clash prompted the Pentagon last week to dispatch Bradley fighting vehicles and more fighter jet patrols to reinforce the more than 500 American troops helping stamp out remnants of the Islamic State there.

But in an opposite corner of the country, where the United States has no troops on the ground, the military’s secretive Joint Special Operations Command, with help from the C.I.A., is carrying out a shadow war against a different terrorist threat — a small but virulent Al Qaeda affiliate — that American officials say is plotting attacks against the West.

Pentagon Hosts Meeting on Ethical Use of Military AI With Allies and Partners

By Abhijnan Rej

Last week, on September 15 and 16, the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) held a meeting with officials from 13 countries, including but not only U.S. allies, around the ethical military uses of artificial intelligence, the first of its kind. Breaking Defense quotes Mark Beall, the JAIC’s head of strategy and policy, who called the meeting “historic,” as saying, “This group of … countries, to my knowledge, has never been brought together under one banner before.” Earlier this year, the Pentagon adopted a set of ethics guidelines around AI use.

At a time when China and Russia’s pursuit of military AI has raised considerable alarm in Western capitals, Beall noted that the meeting was not about creating a coalition against specific countries. Rather, “we’re really focused on, right now, rallying around [shared] core values like digital liberty and human rights… international humanitarian law,” Beall said. But his past statements suggest that the United States remains interested in developing interoperability with allies around AI technologies. In an April interview, he noted “[a]t the highest level, JAIC is very much interested in how it is we upgrade our alliances for the digital era.”

The possibility of international collaboration around new technologies have increasingly come to dominate the policy community’s agenda over the past couple of years. A key recommendation of a December 2019 Center for New American Security report on how the United States could consolidate its leading position when it comes to AI was international R&D collaboration. That report also noted the need for U.S. leadership “in setting global AI norms, standards, and measurement is essential to promote AI ethics, safety, security, and transparency in accordance with U.S. interests.” Inter alia, this will require closely collaborating with other like-minded partners.

The Blob Meets the Heartland

William J. Burns 

At a time when nearly 60 percent of Americans expect their children to be worse off financially than they are, the middle-class citizens we spoke with sought practical solutions. They saw the opportunities created by expanded trade and foreign investment, and felt the inevitable effects of technology and automation on traditional manufacturing. What they sought was a level playing field to help them compete. As one woman in Marion, Ohio, put it, “We will do what we can to reinvent ourselves and look to the future, but just let us have a fighting chance.”

The Carnegie task-force report offers an array of detailed recommendations to help ensure that U.S. foreign policy delivers for the middle class. Three broad priorities stand out.

First, foreign-economic policy needs to aim less at simply opening markets abroad, and much more directly at inclusive economic growth at home. For decades, the economic benefits of globalization and U.S. leadership abroad have skewed toward big multinational corporations and top earners. This needs to change.

The U.S. government has to help ensure that the advantages of globalization are distributed more equitably, by supporting industries and communities disadvantaged by market openings. A crucial step is to create a National Competitiveness Strategy to guarantee that government—at all levels—plays a more active role in helping our people and our businesses thrive in the 21st-century global economy. Rather than focus simply on reducing the costs of doing business in the United States, we ought to emphasize enhancing the productivity of our workforce, investing in education, and reinvigorating research and development in biotechnology, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and other key pillars of our economy in the decades ahead.

Putin Wants a Truce in Cyberspace — While Denying Russian Interference

MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Friday proposed a truce with the United States in cyberspace, without acknowledging that his country has repeatedly used cybertechniques to attack elections from the Ukraine to the United States, stolen emails from the Defense Department to the White House, and developed some of the world’s most sophisticated disinformation efforts.

Mr. Putin issued an unusual written statement outlining a four-point plan for what he called a “reboot” in the relationship between the United States and Russia in the field of information security. Moscow and Washington, he wrote, should issue “guarantees of nonintervention into the internal affairs of each other, including into electoral processes.”

He urged a bilateral agreement “on preventing incidents in the information space,” modeled on Cold War-era arms control treaties.

But beyond the conciliatory language, Mr. Putin’s statement offered no hint that Moscow was prepared to make any specific concessions on its greatly accelerated use of cyberweapons over the past decade — sometimes directly, sometimes through proxies. Russia continues to deny interfering in American politics, while insisting that the United States meddles in Russian politics by backing opponents of Mr. Putin.

Britain has offensive cyberwar capability, top general admits

Dan Sabbagh

Britain’s most senior cyber general has said the UK possesses the capacity to “degrade, disrupt and destroy” its enemies’ critical infrastructure in a future cyber conflict, in a rare acknowledgement of the military’s offensive hacking capability.

Gen Sir Patrick Sanders, who heads the UK’s strategic command, said that he been told by Boris Johnson to ensure Britain is a “leading, full-spectrum cyber power” able both to defend against – and carry out – hacking attacks.

But while the British military claims to have had an offensive cyber capability for a decade, it has rarely been publicly discussed. Sanders said the armed forces worked “in partnership with GCHQ” to deliver “offensive cyber capabilities”.

These could, in theory, Sanders said, “degrade, disrupt and even destroy critical capabilities and infrastructure of those who would do us harm, ranging from strategic to tactical targets” both in isolation or alongside traditional military force.

Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s chief aide, is an enthusiast for military technology and extra spending on cyber warfare, and is expected to be a key element of the forthcoming five-year integrated defence review, which is due to conclude in November.

The U.S. Needs An Endgame Before It Plunges Into the Next Cold War

By Andrei Lungu

The U.S. government has decided it is time to confront the People’s Republic of China, leading to what some have called “a new cold war” or the more benign and official “great-power competition.” But as many have pointed out, the United States currently lacks a coherent strategy about how to confront China. Busy giving speeches and exploring new ways to hit China, U.S. officials are making the case that this confrontation is necessary to preserve freedom and democracy and that the United States must fight to win. But nobody in Washington seems to have asked the most important question: How does this end?

You never start a conflict, be it a real war or a “just” a cold one, without asking this question. The United States’ two greatest military blunders in the past century, the Vietnam War and the Iraq War, were both a consequence of not first asking this question and just assuming something can be improvised along the way. Once withdrawal agreements were finally signed, after huge human and material loses, South Vietnam ended up taken over by the communist North, and Iraq was invaded by the Islamic State—so much for victory. Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union and imperial Japan’s invasion of China and attack on Pearl Harbor (or going back even further, World War I and Napoleon’s invasion of Russia), all with catastrophic results for the initiators, were also the byproducts of shortsighted decisions that assumed quick victories, without anybody asking how these wars could really end.

In its history as a great power, the United States has confronted four great enemies: Wilhelmine Germany, Nazi Germany, imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union. The first three confrontations all took place before the advent of the nuclear era, so all were large-scale wars. Once nukes entered the scene, such wars were no longer possible, so the Cold War was a long, intense struggle.

North Korea Kills, Torches South Korean Civilian in Bizarre Maritime Incident

By Morten Soendergaard Larsen

On Tuesday at the United Nations, South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for the world to usher in an era of peace by signing an end-of-war declaration for the two Koreas, still not formally at peace after the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953.

That same day, North Korea reportedly executed and incinerated a South Korean official who had mysteriously crossed the maritime demarcation line separating North from South—potentially crushing Moon’s hopes for “positive changes to the world order.”

For Moon, an advocate of closer relations with North Korea—the so-called Sunshine Policy—the killing threatens to weaken already eroding public support for his campaign of rapprochement, forcing Moon to adopt a hard-line stance against the North, a completely new position for the man who for years has tried to engage with the North via joint economic ventures and rarely ever doles out harsh criticism of the de facto enemy.

“Public opinion in South Korea is going to turn very negative. It’s already negative, but it was very shocking what they did to the South Korean,” said Go Myong-hyun, a research fellow focusing on North Korea at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

This week’s killing follows the deliberate demolition by North Korea in mid-June of a liaison office that facilitated communications between the two nations, effectively severing communications. The latest incident threatens Moon’s ability to continue with the Sunshine Policy. 

A Perilous Presidential Handoff

By Timothy Naftali

The presidential transition is among the least studied moments of potential mayhem in the U.S. political system. For as long as the United States has been a world power, other countries have watched one president pass the baton to another with anxiety and optimism. Americans experienced the world’s first democratic transition of power more than 220 years ago. If current trends hold, they may experience one of the very worst of such transitions this November; when asked by a reporter this week whether he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose, incumbent President Donald Trump avoided the question. Trump, who thinks only of the consequences of events for himself, may not care about any of this. But the rest of the world does—and Americans should, as well.

When the United States, as the first democracy in the era of Westphalian nation-states, introduced the concept of transferring power from one living head of state to another, it also created the idea of a political transition—the interval between the election of a new leader and the actual assumption of power. Monarchies had had regencies, usually when the sovereign was still a child and a relative or court official governed in the child’s place. There were to be no regencies in the American republic: A president voted out of office or retiring didn’t administer the White House in the name of his successor but retained full powers until the latter’s inauguration. But the country’s founders, who were better at crafting rules for government than elections, created the potential for an awkward twilight zone between presidencies. When the second U.S. president, John Adams, succeeded George Washington in 1797, there was a long delay built into the political system between Adams’s election by the Electoral College in early December 1796 and his inauguration the following March. This interval certainly reflected the slow pace of 18th-century transportation and communications. But it was also a product of the fact that Americans do not select their presidents directly. Voters only select presidential electors, who must then gather to vote for the new head of state.

It was not until the Great Depression that the United States cut the presidential transition period by six weeks. Four months of a lame-duck presidency was an eternity during a national crisis. The 20th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1933, moved Inauguration Day to Jan. 20.


Space exploration, development, and security are increasingly important elements of national policy and strategy. Inevitably, the presidential term starting in 2021 will include the need for many high-level decisions on space-related issues. The Aerospace Corporation has created a series of discussion papers—Space Agenda 2021—on topics that are already at the forefront, or are likely to emerge in the next few years. In addition to highlighting the issues, this series offers concise background, analyses, and options to aid government decisionmakers, industry leaders, journalists, students, and other parties interested in the future of U.S. space efforts.

Available Chapters for Download:

Space Traffic Management: The Challenges of Large Constellations and Orbital Debris

Marlon Sorge, Bill Ailor, Ted Muelhaupt

Defense Space Partnerships: A Strategic Priority

Sam Wilson, Colleen Stover, Steven Jordan Tomaszewski

Emerging Issues in New Space Services: Technology, Law, and Regulatory Oversight

Josef Koller, Rebecca Reesman, Tyler Way

Continuous Production Agility (CPA): Future Proofing the National Security Space Enterprise

Karen L. Jones and Geoffrey S. Reber

Additional chapters will be released on October 6, October 29, and November 19. Among the topics to be featured are:

Desperate Gambles of Dictators: The Taiwan Strait

By Captain Sam J. Tangred

The military junta ruling Argentina was losing the last shred of credibility—and, with it, control. In 1976, the junta had removed Juan Peron’s second wife from power in an attempt to restore political stability and economic prosperity. Six years later, it faced massive popular discontent amid 130 percent inflation, frozen wages, a 5 percent—and accelerating—decline in gross domestic product, crumbling infrastructure, fleeing foreign global investment, international condemnation, and a dirty war against dissidents that may have killed 30,000. Its social compact with the Argentine people was broken.

Seeking to restore public approval and retain power, it chose to forcibly resolve a long-standing nationalist grievance. Calculating it could achieve a fait accompli as the world stood by, the junta ordered elite commandos to lead its armed forces in an invasion of the offshore British territory of the Falkland Islands—“las Malvinas.” The distance between the Falklands and the Argentine mainland is a little more than 320 nautical miles. It was inconceivable to the junta that the United Kingdom, a declining global power, would—despite massive financial costs, reduced military strength, appalling environmental conditions, and low net worth of the islands, and the possibility of failure—mount an 8,000-mile expedition to restore British sovereignty and islander self-determination. Renewed popular support for the junta seemed within reach.

Taiwan and the U.S. Army New Opportunities amid Increasing Threats

Eric Setzekorn

For the first time in decades, the evolving security situation in the Taiwan Strait offers the U.S. Army a chance to play an important role in deterring Chinese military action and strengthening American strategic connections in East Asia. In the western Pacific, the U.S. Army has been traditionally focused on the Korean Peninsula, but a shifting political context, technological developments, and new policies are expanding the U.S. Army’s opportunity to play a larger part in maintaining stability in the region.

A Starker Strategic Context

Over the past five years, the strategic consensus that engagement between the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) would provide long-term benefits and possibly political changes in the PRC has been abandoned by both the Republican and Democratic parties. Opposition to Chinese predatory economic practices, aggressive territorial actions in East Asia, and Communist Party of China General Secretary Xi Jinping’s domestic political crackdown has led to a backlash throughout the U.S. foreign policy community. Then Secretary of Defense James Mattis released the 2018 National Defense Strategy, identifying China as a “strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea.”1 Alongside increasing concerns about the PRC, connections between the United States and Taiwan have been steadily expanding. Since the passage of the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979, the United States has been committed to preserving close economic and cultural ties with Taiwan, as well as providing defensive military equipment.2 Although in accordance with the “One China Policy,” the U.S. formally recognizes only the People’s Republic of China, rather than the Republic of China (Taiwan), U.S.-Taiwan government relations have been increasing in the past several years. The Obama administration supported Taiwan’s inclusion in several international organizations, such as the International Civil Aviation Organization.3 On 31 December 2018, President Donald Trump signed the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, passed by Congress with unanimous consent, which increases support to Asian allies and specifically called for expanded contact with Taiwan through expanded defense sales and high-level visits.4 In November 2019, Heino Klinck, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, visited Taiwan; the visit was the highest level American military engagement in a decade.5 The year 2019 also marked the fortieth anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act, which was commemorated by numerous ceremonies, exhibitions, and speeches in Taipei and Washington.6 In 2020, the United States (together with Japan), also began an effort to increase Taiwan’s role in the World Health Organization, after Taiwan’s deft handling of the COVID-19 pandemic drew international praise.7

How Cloud Computing Can Deal With Lightning Strikes and Hackers



More and more of our daily lives takes place online, from banking and schooling to working and family gatherings, even more so amid the coronavirus pandemic. The cloud is the invisible computing architecture that keeps many of these digital platforms and tools running smoothly. Really, being in the cloud just means storing data on “someone else’s computer.” A few major tech companies run massive global networks of data centers, linked with ocean-spanning fiber-optic cables and complex systems of integrated hardware and software. So there is no single cloud per se. Rather, companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google each run their own systems, almost like parallel internets. The risks of a company’s whole cloud system going down at once are miniscule, though isolated outages of particular cloud services do happen.


Many internet users are seeing firsthand how disruptive it can be when the online tools they are relying on unexpectedly go offline or experience other bugs. For instance, when the videoconferencing software Zoom went offline for several hours one day in late August 2020, virtual classes around the United States were disrupted.

Taking a step back, the pandemic has accelerated a decade-long transformation that was already under way. Many companies, governments, and ordinary people alike are switching from onsite information technology (IT) infrastructure to cloud computing, which provides data storage and processing services remotely. The good news is that many cloud companies have hired seasoned professional security teams with highly technical skills to protect the cloud infrastructure.


Kimberly Kagan

The U.S. National Defense Strategy of 2018 was an inflection point. The United States reoriented its defense enterprise on great power competition and conventional challenges that Russia and China pose. U.S. is steering away from the focus on counter-terrorism operations that have preoccupied the U.S. for the past 19 years.[1] The impetus for this reorientation stems from a combination of factors:

A desire to turn away from unpopular unconventional conflicts that seem to drag on interminably;

The very real strides China in particular has made (and Russia has claimed to have made) toward fielding conventional military forces that could challenge or even defeat those of the U.S. in some scenarios;

The aging and wearing-out of major American weapons systems based mostly on technologies of the 1970s and 1980s; and

The advent of a new generation of advanced weapons systems including hypersonic missiles, drones and other unmanned systems, augmented by artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other information technologies.

These concerns have concentrated the minds of America’s national security leaders in a good way—change is needed. But they have also tended to focus the national security debate on a particular set of challenges related primarily to high-end conventional maneuver war. 

That focus is excessive. The U.S. must certainly prepare far better for such conflicts than it is currently on track to do, but it must also recognize that almost any future war will incorporate many features observed in the post-9/11 wars as well as in the hybrid war and gray zone approaches that Russia and China have been pioneering.