2 October 2020

India’s “Tibet Card” in the Stand-Off with China: More Provocative than Productive

By: Sudha Ramachandran


Tensions between India and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have remained high ever since violent clashes occurred in the Galwan Valley region in mid-June, resulting in the deaths of 20 Indian Army soldiers and an undisclosed number of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops (Jamestown, June 29; China Brief, July 15). A significant new development occurred on the night of August 29-30, when the Indian Army took control of strategic heights at the southern bank of the Pangong Tso, a lake in eastern Ladakh that straddles the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de facto border between India and China. The operation was significant: it was the first time since the eruption of tensions along the LAC in May that the Indian Army preempted the Chinese from unilaterally altering the status quo (The Telegraph, September 2).

Participating in this operation alongside regular Indian Army units were soldiers of the Special Frontier Force (SFF), an elite paratrooper unit that draws its personnel mainly from among the Tibetan exile community in India. An SFF company leader, Nyima Tenzin, lost his life that night when he stepped on a landmine, while another SFF soldier was injured. Tenzin’s cremation was conducted with full military honors. The coffin bearing his body was draped with the Indian and Tibetan flags, pro-India and Tibet slogans were raised, and a senior leader of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was present at the cremation. This was the first time that an SFF soldier’s death received so much publicity; previously, SFF personnel killed in operations were cremated quietly, without much fanfare (Hindustan Times, September 7).

Set up in the last days of the India-China border war in October-November 1962, the SFF functioned until recently as a covert force, but it has now emerged from the shadows. The highly publicized funeral accorded to Tenzin is widely believed to have been aimed at reminding Chinese leaders of India’s “Tibet card,” and signaling New Delhi’s willingness to use it. But how effective will this “card” be in bringing pressure on Beijing to pull back the PLA from areas it has illegally occupied along the disputed border since May? Could New Delhi’s publicizing of the SFF, and its flashing of the “Tibet card,” end up provoking Beijing rather than pressuring it?

Cyber Warfare: China Is Helping Pakistani Hackers Launch Cyber Attacks on India

Shouvik Das

Asuspected Pakistan-backed hacker group, Transparent Tribe, is reportedly behind a cyber attack campaign dubbed ‘Operation Sidecopy’. The campaign is a coordinated attempt to steal critical infrastructure and strategic data by sending phishing emails and using remote access malware that can escalate its privilege in compromised systems, and in turn, infiltrate a computer to steal critical information from it. According to cyber security researchers at Seqrite, the cyber security solutions arm of Quick Heal, the signature tools used in Operation Sidecopy indicates the involvement of Transparent Tribe, a hacker collective based in Pakistan, which Seqrite believes is being backed by China to gather intelligence against India.

Speaking to News18, Himanshu Dubey, director of Quick Heal Security Labs, affirmed that alongside the Operation Sidecopy cyber attacks being continuously observed since 2019, they are also highly targeted towards India in nature. “Till now, this attack has been only seen targeting India. The Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs), as well as Decoy documents that we analysed, were crafted specifically in Indian context,” he says. At the centre of these attacks is data theft, which uses phishing emails that contain attachments with convincing file names and email addresses to trick them into downloading the attachments. These files are specifically sent to trick personnel in the Indian defence forces who have access to highly sensitive information, and hence represent a major threat to national security.

One of the signature traits that Seqrite believes can be traced to Pakistan’s Transparent Tribe is the remote server hosting that the collective uses. According to researchers Kalpesh Mantri, Pawan Chaudhari and Goutam Tripathy at Seqrite, Operation Sidecopy uses Contabo GmbH to host the remote server through which the malware is commanded and data inflow is controlled, which Transparent Tribe is reported to have done previously as well. The hackers are seemingly developing new and updated malware modules, and deploying these updated variants to fly under the radar of most cyber security layers, hence suggesting an advanced, targeted cyber crime campaign against India.

How Nehru could have saved Tibet from China


This is the fourth and final volume in Claude Arpi's tetralogy on India-Tibet relations from 1947 to 1962.

Its dolorous title, The End of an Era - India Exits Tibet sums up the author's sorrow and anger at the way things ended up.

It is, at the same time, one for the ages; the extensive coverage of first-hand sources makes it not just an intellectual tour de force, but also a valuable reference work.

The final volume covers the period 1958 to 1962, and tells the story of how the situation in Tibet reached a stage where open rebellion broke out against Chinese rule, the growing differences and distance between the Indian and Chinese leaders, and the war of October-November 1962.

Arpi also explores the internal balance of power in China, and clearly links the hardening of Chinese positions on the border, and on India, to the return of Mao to active power after having been side-lined as a result of the failure of the Great Leap Forward.

In the course of his researches, Arpi unravels very important facts.

For one thing, he shows that the construction of the Lhasa-Urumqi Highway was known as early as 1953, and confirmed by an Army reconnaissance team in 1957.

The report was submitted to the political leadership, but was rubbished by Krishna Menon as American propaganda.

Persistent Tension On Afghanistan-Pakistan Border – Analysis

By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty*

A Pakistani soldier was killed when militants from across the Afghan border attacked Security Forces’ (SFs’) post in the Bajaur District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) on September 22, 2020.

A Pakistani Frontier Corps (FC) soldier was killed and another two were injured, after heavy mortar and weapons firing by militants, from across the border with Afghanistan, in the Binshahi Sector of the Lower Dir District in KP on August 5, 2020.

A solider, identified as, Lance Naik Samiullah, was killed when militants opened fire at an Army border check-post along the Pakistan-Afghan border in the Bajaur District of KP on July 29, 2020.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), since September 15, 2013, there were at least 114 such attacks in Pakistan by militants from across the border, in which at least 298 Pakistani SF personnel and 74 civilians have been killed, while another 306 sustained injuries (data till September 27, 2020). Five of these incidents (including the three mentioned above) resulting in nine deaths (eight SF personnel and one militant) were reported in 2020. In the worst incident of the current year (in terms of fatalities), three Army personnel were killed and seven were injured in cross-border firing by militants in the Bajaur District of KP on July 17, 2020.

There were seven such attacks in 2019 with 22 fatalities (20 SF personnel and two militants); nine attacks in 2018 with 34 fatalities (21 militants and 13 SF personnel); 18 attacks in 2017 with 68 fatalities ( 38 militants, 20 SF personnel and 10 civilians). 

Obstacles And Opportunities On Long Road To Peace In Afghanistan – Analysis

By Mark S. Cogan and Dr. Gouri Sankar Nag

The long 19-year war in Afghanistan has been costly, both in human and financial terms. Since the United Nations began tracking Afghan casualties in 2009, more than 100,000 Afghans have been killed. U.S. military casualties stand at 2,448 with 20,722 wounded in action. In the first half of 2020, the UN has recorded 3,500 conflict-related civilian casualties, including 1,300 deaths. The United States has spent over $2 trillion in Afghanistan since 2001. However, “intra-Afghan” peace talks have begun in Doha, Qatar that have the potential to bring the conflict to a close. In general, peace talks can only succeed if the process is institutionalized in a fashion that gives it legitimacy and a structured framework to monitor progress. A condition of the US-Taliban-negotiated agreement back in February, these talks still represent a significant achievement. Nevertheless, there are a number of political roadblocks to overcome—as well as fresh opportunities for Afghans and external actors.

It is a sense of minutiae and an awkward transition from a constant state of war that holds back talks in Doha. First, while Afghanistan is home to a majority of Sunni Muslims, the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence (madhhab) remains a source of contention. Afghanistan is a fragile mixture of ethnicities from Shia Muslims; it is also home to decreasing numbers of Hindu and Sikh minorities, who fear being marginalized if a Sunni interpretation becomes the primary form of dispute resolution. While both the Taliban and the Afghan government follow the Hanafi school, the Shia Muslims, which represent about 15 percent of the population, also have their own schools of jurisprudence. Each has their own interpretations of Sharia law that are different, and these can affect important human rights issues such as the degree of freedom for women and girls, freedom of speech, and criminal justice. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani also sees the interpretations of the teachings of Abu Hanifa differently. In 2019, Ghani called on the Taliban to respect his teachings and abandon violence.

Will Pakistan’s Military Hold a Free and Fair Election in Gilgit-Baltistan?

By Umair Jamal

Pakistan has announced its decision to hold Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly elections on November 15. Currently, Gilgit-Baltistan is not represented in either house of the national parliament in Pakistan. Thus, the region is not entitled to participate in the country’s several institutional structures.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) completed its five-year tenure in Gilgit-Baltistan earlier this year but the election has been delayed due to the COVID-19 situation and other political issues. Apart from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), PML-N has a strong political base in the region. A transparent election Gilgit-Baltistan will likely bring PML-N back to power.

At this point, it is unclear whether the election will take place independent of any undue interference. November’s election in Gilgit-Baltistan will take place under the military’s supervision and the chances of its interference cannot be ruled out. However, this time around, one cannot be sure if the military wants to play any role beyond ensuring an election acceptable to all political parties.

Arguably, it is not going to be easy to rig the upcoming election. This is not because of administrative reasons but due to political controversy it might generate nationally and internationally, and implications such interference can have on Pakistan’s security policy.

Afghan Peace Negotiator Urges New Era in Ties with Pakistan

By Kathy Gannon

The chief of Afghanistan’s peace negotiating team said Tuesday on a visit to Pakistan that the time has come for the two neighboring countries to shun the suspicion, “stale rhetoric” and tired conspiracy theories that have dogged past relations.

Abdullah Abdullah is in Pakistan on a bridge-building mission meant to mend deep-rooted mistrust between the two countries. It was his first visit in 12 years.

Abdullah told the Institute of Strategic Studies in the federal capital of Islamabad that the two neighbors are on the threshold of a new relationship characterized by “mutual respect, sincere cooperation and shared prosperity.” 

“I am a firm believer that after many troubling years, we now need to go beyond the usual stale rhetoric and shadowy conspiracy theories that have held us back,” Abdullah said. “We cannot afford to pursue business as usual. We need fresh approaches and our people demand it. It is more urgent than ever to look to our region as one region. “

His statements come ahead of meetings later Tuesday with Pakistan’s powerful army chief and prime minister. His visit also comes at a crucial time in Afghanistan’s troubled history as a government-appointed negotiation team is in the Gulf state of Qatar brokering an end to war with its Taliban foes.

Southeast Asian Economies Face Generational Downturn from COVID-19

By Sebastian Strangio

It has long been acknowledged that the health impacts of the coronavirus pandemic could eventually be dwarfed by the economic effects of the measures designed to bring the contagion under control. Since March, when the World Health Organization official declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the world has seen a cascade of depressing economic projections: an ocean of red ink sprayed the world’s economic balance-sheets.

The latest entry in this catalog of economic gloom came on September 29, with the publication of the World Bank’s latest report on the East Asia and Pacific region.

The report claims that due to the economic downturn unleashed by COVID-19, the number of poor people in the region is set to rise for the first time in 20 years. Despite its relative success in containing the pandemic, the region is likely to witness a rapidly growing class of “new COVID poor,” with up to 38 million people set to remain mired or fall back into poverty by the end of 2020.

The report landed just as the global death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 1 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

The World Bank observes that the the pandemic has unleashed a “triple shock” on the economies of East Asia and the Pacific: the impact of the pandemic itself, the economic impact of containment measures and the regional impacts of the broader global recession. As a result, even nations that have successfully contained the virus are unlikely to be insulated from its economic effects.

Chinese Military Expansion: Slowing But Not Stopping – Analysis

By Richard A. Bitzinger

The COVID-19 virus has up-ended many things. When it comes to Chinese military modernisation, however, the pandemic has blunted the pace of expansion but hardly stopped it. Overall, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is still on track towards meeting its twin goals of achieving “complete military modernisation” by 2035, and becoming a “world-class” military by 2049.

In the first place, the COVID-19 pandemic has not really affected Chinese military expenditures. Beijing announced in May that spending on national defence in 2020 would rise to 1.268 trillion yuan, or US$186 billion, an increase of 6.6 per cent over 2019. This was the lowest annual increase in more than 20 years.

COVID-19’s limited Impact on PLA Spending

However, it is important to note that the increase in Chinese military spending has been slowing for half a decade. For example, in 2019 military expenditures were only 7.5 per cent greater than 2018, also one of the lowest increases in recent years. The increases in defence spending for 2018, 2017, and 2016 were, respectively, 8.1 per cent, seven per cent, and 7.6 per cent.

Multilateralism Will Survive the Great racture


OXFORD – At the recent opening of the United Nations General Assembly, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the United States and China could “split the globe” into separate trade and financial blocs with diverging Internet and artificial-intelligence capacities. Moreover, he said, such a “Great Fracture” between the world’s two largest economies could become a geostrategic and military divide.

The emerging Sino-American tensions in international organizations are indeed alarming. US President Donald Trump’s administration, having previously accused the World Health Organization of cozying up to China, has announced its intention to withdraw the US from the agency and is withholding funding, thus depriving the WHO of its largest single financial contributor. The US has also stalled the World Trade Organization’s dispute-settlement system by vetoing the appointment of new judges to its appellate body.

Fortunately, however, three strands of multilateralism will contain the risk of a great superpower fracture.

First, multilateral organizations are changing, not collapsing. China is not seeking to destroy the international institutions that America established and led in the aftermath of World War II. On the contrary, China is seeking to increase its influence within these organizations, not least because it is thriving within the system they uphold.

Understanding the Intersection of the Belt and Road Initiative and China’s Supply-Side Structural Reform

By: Jon (Yuan) Jiang


The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been a focal issue for understanding the foreign policy of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Some observers view the BRI as representing a new phase of economic globalization and regional economic integration. Others argue that the BRI’s primary motivating factors are domestic, and that the massive program is chiefly aimed at creating new markets, maintaining economic stability, resolving regional development imbalances, and transferring industrial overcapacity. Both views have their valid points, but overlook the BRI’s key role in supporting China’s domestic economic reforms. This article argues that the BRI should be understood as a major component of China’s program of “supply-side structural reform” (供给侧结构性改革, gongjice jiegouxing gaige).

The “Authoritative Person” and Supply-Side Structural Reform

The BRI was first announced in 2013, and officially incorporated into the PRC constitution in 2017 (Xinhua, October 24, 2017). The concept of “supply-side structural reform” (SSSR) was reportedly introduced by Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping in late 2015, and developed into a significant component of Beijing’s economic policy framework (Xinhua, April 3, 2018). In a speech to the 19th Party Congress, Xi stated that “We should pursue supply-side structural reform as our main task, and work hard for better quality, higher efficiency, and more robust drivers of economic growth through reform” (China Daily, December 18, 2019).

Throughout 2015 and 2016, the People’s Daily, the CCP’s most authoritative newspaper, published a series of interviews with an anonymous “authoritative person” (权威人士, quanwei renshi) that discussed the concept of SSSR (People’s Daily, May 25, 2015; January 4, 2016; May 9, 2016). It has been widely understood that the information presented in this series of interviews came either from the offices of Liu He (刘鹤), director of the General Office of the Central Financial and Economic Affairs Commission (中央财经委员会办公室, Zhongyang Caijing Weiyuanhui Bangongshi), or else from Liu himself. Liu is one of the PRC’s chief economic architects, and has been described by party media as “one of the masterminds behind China’s supply side structural reforms“ (People‘s Daily, March 20, 2018).

The CCP’s New Directives for United Front Work in Private Enterprises

By: John Dotson


On September 15, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee Office published a document titled Opinions Concerning Strengthening New Era United Front Work in the Private Economy (关于加强新时代民营经济统战工作的意见, Guanyu Jiaqiang Xinshidai Minying Jingji Tongzhan Gongzuo de Yijian) (hereafter “Opinions”) (CCP Central Committee, September 15). This document, which lays out directives for CCP organs to take a closer and more direct role in supervising China’s private sector enterprises, is but the latest development in the steadily increase of the roles and responsibilities of the CCP United Front Work Department (UFWD) during the tenure of CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping (China Brief, April 24, 2018; China Brief, May 9, 2019).

The Opinions echo earlier statements by CCP leaders about the centrality of united front work (China Brief, May 9, 2019) by asserting that “private economy united front work is a major effort for the entire party” (民营经济统战工作是全党的重要工作, minying jingji tongzhan gongzuo shi quandang de zhongyao gongzuo) (Opinions, section 8). The release of the document was also accompanied by a series of political meetings and a propaganda campaign in state media involving senior CCP officials from the united front policy architecture (see accompanying image). These developments signal clear intent by the CCP to bring China’s growing private sector industries under tighter party-state supervision.

Bolstering the Role of the Party

A core message of the new set of directives is the need to tighten supervision over private enterprises in order to ensure the CCP’s ruling status. The document emphasizes that the private sector is a key part of China’s overall economy, and “an important strength that, from start to finish, our party must unify and depend upon for long-term governance.” Therefore, party members are advised that “strengthening…united front work is an important means of achieving the party’s leadership over the private economy” (加强… 统战工作是实现党对民营经济领导的重要方式, jiaqiang… tongzhan gongzuo shi shixian dang dui minying jingji lingdao de zhongyao fangshi) (Opinions, section 1, article 1).

China Expands Its Economic and Political Influence in Northern Iraq

By Yasin Yildirim

Autonomous Kurdistan is a federal administrative unit of Iraq in the northern part of the country and is controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government. It hosts foreign investors from many countries and entities, including the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia and Turkey.

The region is also an attraction point for the People’s Republic of China and Chinese state-owned and -controlled companies. Chinese companies that operate in the oil and petroleum, infrastructure, construction, engineering, telecommunications and cement-production industries have been investing heavily in the region, undertaking multimillion-dollar projects and signing lucrative contracts with the government in Erbil (the de facto capital) and local Kurdish enterprises since the KRG’s re-establishment in 2005.

Chinese investment and economic cooperation are strengthening political relations between Beijing and Erbil, but it’s not yet possible to speak of a diplomatic alliance between them.

One of the basic elements of the PRC’s foreign policy is opposing acts of separatism or secession all over the world and supporting countries’ integrity. For that reason, Beijing gave no support to Erbil’s push for Kurdish independence, even though they have stable political relations.

Zhenhua data leak exposes China's new 'hybrid warfare'

More than 2 million people around the world have had their personal data collected on behalf of Chinese intelligence services, according to a leak of a dataset made public earlier this month by an Australian cybersecurity consultancy. 

The list includes prominent political figures like Boris Johnson and Narendra Modi and their families, business leaders like Ratan Tata, US military members of all ranks, senior diplomats, academics, celebrities, ordinary people, and even gangsters.

The information was scraped mostly from open sources like social media profiles by a Chinese big-data harvesting company called Shenzhen Zhenhua Data Information Technology.

Zhenhua provides data-based intelligence services. According to analysts, its two main clients are China's Ministry of State Security and the People's Liberation Army.

At first glance, the information is seemingly innocuous: birth dates, political associations and marital statuses, family trees, bank details, job applications, communications between think-tanks, military service records, most of it scraps from Twitter, Linked-In or Facebook pages.

What if Middle Eastern States Worked Together?

By John Spacapan

A future with multiple states in the Middle East pointing nukes at one another seems more likely than ever before, but the Israel-UAE deal illuminates a solution. With Saudi Arabia secretly pursuing nuclear technology and Turkey and Egypt pursuing nuclear programs as well, Washington should ponder why states loaded with American weaponry are going nuclear anyway. The short answer is, they think America will, or already has, abandoned the region and chaos will ensue. To prove otherwise, America should organize a new Middle East coalition that provides more security and prosperity to its participants than a nuclear bomb or reactor ever could. 

Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS) wants the bomb, and for reasons beyond Iran with the bomb. He and his father, King Salman, remember that the U.S. abandoned Egypt’s dictator Hosni Mubarak to support democracy protestors. MBS hears vigorous debates in Washington about banning conventional arms sales to Saudi Arabia for his human rights violations. The Saudis know Americans want out of the Middle East just as Russia, China, Turkey, and Iran pursue greater involvement. They wonder whether a close relationship with China and a nuclear arsenal makes more sense than placing their eggs in Washington’s basket.

Turkey’s President Erdogan and Egypt’s President Sisi have the same concerns. It’s no coincidence the Russians are building both Egypt and Turkey their first nuclear reactors and are training hundreds of Turkish and Egyptian nuclear scientists in Russia. It’s ostensibly for civilian nuclear power. In reality, these leaders want a latent nuclear option, and the Russians are happy to sow the seeds of conflict. 

The rapprochement between Israel and the UAE suggests a way to put a lid on this nuclear caldron. Most Arab states and Israel want stable governments and strong economies in the region. Now, more Arab states are willing to openly work with Israel, so it’s politically possible to align these once-enemies behind shared goals.

Russian New Generation Warfare : Deterring and Winning at the Tactical Level

James Derleth, PhD

In the twenty-first century we have seen a tendency toward blurring the lines between the states of war and peace. …

… The very “rules of war” have changed. The role of nonmilitary means of achieving political strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness. …

… Frontal engagements of large formations of forces at the strategic and operational levels are gradually becoming a thing of the past. …

… Asymmetrical actions have come into widespread use, enabling the nullification of an enemy´s advantages in armed conflict. Among such actions are the use of special operations forces and internal opposition to create a permanently operating front through the entire territory of the enemy state, as well as informational actions, devices, and means that are constantly being perfected. …

… The differences between strategic, operational, and tactical levels, as well as between offensive and defensive operations, are being erased.

—Gen. Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the Russian General Staff

The Russian view of deterrence is based on the integrated use of nonmilitary, conventional, and nuclear instruments.1 In contrast, the traditional Western conceptualization of deterrence is based on the deployment and employment of conventional and nuclear forces.2 A crucial difference is that Russia does not believe deterrence stops after the outbreak of conflict. It will continue to apply these instruments throughout all stages of a political-military crisis in an attempt to control escalation and ensure conditions favorable to Russia. Therefore, to foster deterrence and to prevail if deterrence fails, the United States must have the capability to counter instruments across all areas (nonmilitary, conventional, nuclear), at all levels (tactical, operational, strategic), and throughout all phases of a conflict.3 Although the U.S. Army faces complex, dynamic, multi-domain challenges in the contemporary operational environment (OE), it has largely focused its education and training on deterring, and if necessary, defeating near-peer adversaries in large-scale combat operations (LSCO). As seen from Crimea to Georgia, the focus on higher-level conventional and nuclear forces’ deterrence has allowed Russia to achieve its national objectives through a variety of nonlethal instruments.

Why Biden Is Better Than Trump for the Economy


NEW YORK – Joe Biden has consistently held a wide polling lead over US President Donald Trump ahead of November’s election. But, despite Trump’s botched response to the COVID-19 pandemic – a failure that has left the economy far weaker than it otherwise would have been – he has maintained a marginal edge on the question of which candidate would be better for the US economy. Thanks to Trump, a country with just 4% of the world’s population now accounts for more than 20% of total COVID-19 deaths – an utterly shameful outcome, given America’s advanced (albeit expensive) health-care system.

The presumption that Republicans are better than Democrats at economic stewardship is a longstanding myth that must be debunked. In our 1997 book, Political Cycles and the Macroeconomy, the late (and great) Alberto Alesina and I showed that Democratic administrations tend to preside over faster growth, lower unemployment, and stronger stock markets than Republican presidents do.

In fact, US recessions almost always occur under Republican administrations – a pattern that has persisted since our book appeared. The recessions of 1970, 1980-82, 1990, 2001, 2008-09, and, now, 2020 all occurred when a Republican was in the White House (with the exception of the double-dip recession of 1980-82, which started under Jimmy Carter but continued under Ronald Reagan). Likewise, the Great Recession of 2008-09 was triggered by the 2007-08 financial crisis, which also occurred on the GOP’s watch.

How the US Army Fits into America’s Indo-Pacific Strategy

By Francis P. Sempa

The United States’ Indo-Pacific strategy includes an important role for the ground forces of the U.S. Army. The Autumn 2020 issue of Parameters, the quarterly journal of the U.S. Army War College, includes an article by David M. Finkelstein, vice president of the Center for Naval Analyses and Director of the center’s China and Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Division, which briefly reviews the army’s historic role in the region, outlines the current geopolitical rivalries, notes the ongoing rebalance or “pivot” to East Asia and the Pacific, and suggests broad Army priorities for the region. 

Finkelstein’s article should dispel the commonplace notion that American power and credibility in the Indo-Pacific wrests exclusively on U.S. naval and air power. The geography of the Indo-Pacific certainly requires a strong U.S. naval and air presence to project power and protect its security interests in the region. The series of island chains and marginal seas running along Asia’s east coast from Siberia to Indochina highlight the geopolitical importance of sea and air power. But Finkelstein contends that future deployments to the region should adhere closely to the “multi-domain operations concept.” 

The author notes that in 2018, the Navy-led Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise involved U.S. Army units engaging in land-based precision attacks on enemy naval forces, and included units from the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force (GSDF). This multi-domain exercise, Finkelstein writes, “augur[s] well for the Army’s future ability to contribute to Joint Force operations inside an anti-access/area denial environment – a key warfighting challenge in the Pacific.” 

Ethiopia’s Power Play on the Nile Has Left the Region in a Deadlock

By Mohamed S. Helal

For almost a decade, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan have been negotiating over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Unfortunately, these negotiations have not led to an agreement. Reams of technical reports have been written, dozens of statements have been issued, and hundreds of meetings have been held with heads of state and government, foreign ministers and water ministers, hydrologists and engineers, lawyers and litigators, and foreign mediators and international observers. Yet there is little—apart from a 2015 treaty that provided a legal framework to govern the negotiations—to show for this diplomatic commotion.

The reason these efforts have failed is that there is a fundamental divergence on the purpose of these negotiations. Egypt is pursuing an agreement based on a simple and mutually beneficial quid pro quo: Ethiopia should be able to generate hydropower from the GERD while minimizing the harm on downstream communities in Egypt and Sudan. Ethiopia’s objective, however, is to exploit these negotiations to assert control over the Blue Nile, the largest tributary of the Nile River, and to reconfigure the political topography of the Nile Basin.

The classic conundrum of transboundary watercourses is that downstream states, with their lush valleys and bountiful deltas, often construct sophisticated riparian-based economies before mountainous upstream states begin to develop the need and capacity to exploit these shared natural resources. This is particularly true in the Nile Basin. For its entire history, Egypt, which is essentially a desert oasis of 100 million people, has been entirely dependent on the Nile for its survival. Ethiopia, on the other hand, is a water-rich upstream country that has recently begun to utilize its many transboundary rivers as vehicles of development through the construction of hydropower dams.

Phantom Peril in the Arctic

By Robert David English and Morgan Grant Gardner

Accurate threat assessment is vital to the formulation of foreign policy. Across centuries of political and technological change, the giants of strategy—from Sun-tzu and Thucydides to Carl von Clausewitz and George Kennan—warned against exaggerating threats and ignoring their geopolitical context. Still, ideologically driven threat inflation—from a phantom Vietnamese attack in the Gulf of Tonkin to nonexistent Iraqi nuclear and chemical weapons—has repeatedly led the United States into costly quagmires. Despite this history, the country is again on the brink of an ideologically driven blunder—this time in the Arctic.

For over a decade, defense hawks have been sounding an alarm over Russia’s supposed military superiority and incipient aggression in the region. Previous U.S. presidents resisted the bait, avoiding confrontation and embracing cooperation through the multinational Arctic Council established after the end of the Cold War. They knew that Russia’s forces in the region were defensively structured and weaker than they were before the Soviet collapse in 1991, despite efforts to rebuild them that began in the mid-2000s. Previous U.S. presidents also knew that U.S. and NATO forces had the clear upper hand in the Arctic and that predictions of Russian aggression were mainly threat-mongering by armchair analysts and vested political interests.

Climate Change Doesn’t Have to Stoke Conflict

By Tarek Ghani and Robert Malle

Among the many sobering projections of harm to be caused by climate change is this eye-popping statistic: on average, according to economists, a rise in local temperature of half a degree Celsius is associated with a ten to 20 percent increase in the risk of deadly conflict. If accurate, that means the likelihood of such strife is swiftly rising. UN climate scientists estimate that manmade emissions have generated one degree of global warming since preindustrial times, and because the pace of climate change is fast accelerating, they predict another half a degree of warming as soon as 2030. Tropical areas will have even more extreme warming, with a correspondingly higher risk of climate-related insecurity. 

Ending or preventing conflicts exacerbated by climate change requires a faster and different approach than addressing climate change itself. Many governments have begun to curb emissions, but they are gradually phasing in their climate mitigation efforts. For example, 120 countries have embraced a net-zero carbon emission target by 2050—a worthy goal that could prevent the earth from eventually becoming uninhabitable. But millions of people around the world are already experiencing record heat waves, extreme precipitation, and rising sea levels—changes that disrupt livelihoods; exacerbate food insecurity, water scarcity, and resource competition; and spur migration. Tackling climate change is a necessary but inescapably longer-term endeavor. Conflict prevention must happen now.

“Confidence in Chaos”? Ten Technologies for ‘Grey Zone’ Conflicts


“How many hackers has the Pope”?

As warfare increasingly focuses to the digital battlefield, ten emerging technologies have been identified that could help Western security forces repel so-called grey zone attacks.

The growing threat posed by grey zone or hybrid conflict – where attacks are carried out by exploiting IT vulnerabilities and other non-traditional battle routes, rather than open warfare – means defence and security agencies should be rethinking their approach and looking to rapidly deploy emerging technologies, according to a new report.

The Confidence in Chaos report from defence and security company firm QinetiQ, charts the shift from traditional open warfare to grey zone or sub-threshold tactics employed by both state and non-state adversaries and highlights the central role that technology plays in both enabling grey zone attacks and defending against them.

High-profile attacks targeting events such as elections have become commonplace in recent years, and earlier this month Australian defence minister Linda Reynolds revealed the extent to which the line between war and peace has become “blurred”, stating that he country is under constant cyber attack.

Creative Economies in the Indo-Pacific and Covid-19

Daniel F. Runde

Historically, creative industries have been more resilient to economic shocks than other sectors of the global economy. In the face of the 2008 financial crisis, global trade declined by 12 percent, yet trade in creative goods and services continued to grow. The Covid-19 epidemic is no exception when it comes to the recovery of the creative economy. This report focuses on pandemic four major creative industries—film and television, gaming, music, and fashion—that have adjusted well to the pandemic and have the potential to rise from the crisis in a position of strength. In most sectors, the pandemic has taken a heavy toll, including in the Indo-Pacific region. Global merchandise is on track to shrink by 12 to 32 percent this year, straining the export-oriented economies of East and Southeast Asia. With generous grant support from the Ministry of Culture, Republic of China (Taiwan), CSIS spent this past year studying how Australia and India have grown their creative sectors and consider how foreign assistance and development aid tools can help other Indo-Pacific countries build capacity in their creative economies. CSIS is pleased to release a new research report, "Creative Economies in the Indo-Pacific and Covid-19," that lays out findings from this research while also highlighting how Taiwan can operationalize its New Southbound Policy by tapping into the region's potential for the creative sector, and supplementing the United States' efforts to secure a free and open Indo-Pacific. Moreover, this study of creative industries in the Indo-Pacific region also demonstrates the central role of creative industries in driving a more resilient global economic recovery from Covid-19.

Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict Ignites Again in Karabakh

By: Vasif Huseynov

The decades-long conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan escalated again, on September 27, with the second intense military confrontation in three months. According to the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan, at about six o’clock in the morning, the Armenian Armed Forces commenced a large-scale provocation and fired on positions of the Azerbaijani Army as well as civilian settlements in the Karabakh frontline zone. The attack utilized large-caliber weapons, mortars and artillery of various calibers (APA, September 27).

Unlike the previous large-scale clashes in mid-July of this year, which started along the state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan and was mostly limited to the Tovuz/Tavush regions of the sides (see EDM, July 14), the military exchanges that erupted this time around occurred in Azerbaijan’s occupied Karabakh region and covered a wider area. The Azerbaijani defense ministry reported that the first shelling began in areas surrounding Tartar, Aghdam, Fuzuli and Cabrayil (APA, September 27). In its “counter-offensive operation along the entire front,” Azerbaijan mobilized personnel and tank units with the support of missile and artillery troops, front-line aviation and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), the ministry’s press release read (Azertag, September 27).

The recent confrontation followed warnings by the Azerbaijani side about Armenia’s preparation for a large-scale conflict. In a September 19 interview with local television channels, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev stated that Armenia was “preparing for a new war. They are concentrating their forces near the line of contact [in Karabakh]… We follow their actions. Of course, we will defend ourselves” (APA, September 19). Both sides had been on alert for a new escalation since the July clashes, conducting intensive military exercises with their external allies (see EDM, August 14; Asbarez, July 24).

Eruption of Conflict Over Nagorno-Karabakh

by Carey Cavanaugh

Renewed military action over Nagorno-Karabakh makes clear that the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan is not a “frozen conflict,” but a persistent threat to stability in the South Caucasus region and beyond. Developments this week call for immediate international attention and renewed diplomatic engagement given the prospect that a wider armed clash could spiral out of control. 

At sunrise on Sunday, September 27, 2020, fierce fighting erupted along the line of contact that separates Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan. Who initiated this latest clash is unknown, with each side vehemently blaming the other. Precise details regarding battlefield deployments and the exact number of casualties also remain unclear. What is certain is that military outposts, villages, and the city of Stepanakert were struck by artillery fire and missiles; Azerbaijan drones and a helicopter were shot down; armored vehicles were destroyed; an exchange of some territory occurred; and the number of military and civilian casualties in one day of fighting surpassed one hundred (with at least sixty-eight killed). All sides have declared martial law and Armenia has announced a general mobilization of its armed forces. Major international players are urging a cessation of hostilities and a return to the negotiating table, but it remains to be seen whether this round of fighting will continue and perhaps escalate.