6 October 2020

In Wake of Recent India-China Conflict, U.S. Sees Opportunity

WASHINGTON — Weeks after India and China engaged in their deadliest border clash in decades, the sight of an American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier entering the Bay of Bengal drew attention across the region.

The carrier, Nimitz, and its strike group deployed to the area in mid-July to conduct an exercise with the Indian Navy in pursuit of a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” according to a statement by the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, whose headquarters are in Japan. But as tensions soar between India and China, two nuclear-armed neighbors, the joint operation took on a greater significance.

“It was symbolic,” said Tanvi Madan, the director of the India Project at the Brookings Institution. “It’s also signaling to China and others that the U.S. is standing by India.”

As the rivalry between India and China intensifies, the United States and India have taken their shared anger toward Beijing and forged stronger diplomatic and military ties that could alter the balance of power in the region. Officials note that while that friendship has been on an upswing over the past two decades, the border dispute with China has accelerated relations between the countries.

Beijing Is Winning the Clean Energy Race

By Sarah Ladislaw, Nikos Tsafos

At the end of September, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced his country’s intention to peak its emissions by 2030 and be carbon neutral before 2060. To meet this goal, China will have to expand its domestic market for clean energy technologies, many of which it produces. China is also hoping to spur other countries to be more aggressive in lowering emissions—calling for a “Green Revolution”—and these countries could also be a market for Chinese technologies.

Thanks to initiatives like these, China is for now winning the global race to invent and manufacture the technologies that will allow a new low-carbon world. Europe, which has made its own commitment to become climate neutral by 2050, is not far behind.

Given its robust high-tech sector and wealth of private investment, the United States is well positioned to compete, but it risks falling behind. For now, it is still resting on the energy boom that came with the shale oil revolution and relying on its traditional approach to energy innovation. This shortsightedness will hurt the country economically and geopolitically. To avoid the pain, the United States needs a clear strategy for leading in new energy markets and technologies.

US Should Keep an Eye on Rising Chinese Investment in the South Caucasus

Daniel Shapiro

In the age of attention deficit disorder politics, this week’s flare-up of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan has ensured that great powers have turned their attention to the South Caucasus. Once hostilities subside, however, this attention will inevitably turn to newer, shinier objects. Not all great power leaders will do so, however. As the emerging great power rivalry keeps the U.S. preoccupied with competing with China in Southeast Asia, the Middle Kingdom has been making inroads into the South Caucasus, which can impact U.S. energy security and other important interests. I expect this process to continue.

Over the past few years, China’s economic presence has grown in all three South Caucasus states (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia), paving the way for an increase in Beijing’s geopolitical influence in the region. U.S. policymakers should watch Beijing’s moves in the South Caucasus to ensure they do not undermine the fragile political, security and economic stability in this strategically sensitive region, which is also contested by Russia, Turkey and Iran.

Broad Trends in Regional Trade and Investment Dynamics

China’s presence in the South Caucasus has been increasing for some time. According to World Bank data, since 2005, Chinese trade turnover with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia increased around 2,070 percent, 380 percent and 1,885 percent, respectively. Compared to these countries’ analogous dynamics with the U.S. (35 percent, 365 percent and 197 percent, respectively), these numbers are quite significant. Since 2013 alone (the start of the Belt and Road Initiative), trade turnover has increased around 70 percent in Armenia, 100 percent in Azerbaijan and 60 percent in Georgia. Figure 1 shows these patterns.

Seven Years into China’s Belt and Road


President Xi Jinping of China proposed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in a pair of speeches in 2013. In Kazakhstan, he outlined a vision of restoring overland trade routes from China to Central Asia and Europe — the ancient “Silk Road.” In Indonesia, he introduced the concept of a “maritime Silk road,” which is essentially the already well-traveled sea corridor South from China to the Middle East and Europe. In seven years of implementation, the initiative has become quite controversial, especially in the West. The controversy is fueled by a lack of transparency that makes it difficult to get reliable information on the financing involved in the initiative, as well as the specific projects and their terms. There are a growing number of academic efforts, however, to collect and analyze data on BRI, with a consistent set of findings. 

Despite the name, the program is global, not confined to the specific corridors. It is primarily a program to fund infrastructure. About two-thirds of the financing goes to power and transport. Total funding has been on the order of $50-100 billion per year. Most of the loans are in dollars on commercial terms that are more generous than developing countries can get from private investors, but much more costly than funds from Western donors or the concessional windows of the multilateral development banks. A number of major clients of China are well-known pariah states such as Iran or Venezuela. But overall Chinese financing across countries is uncorrelated with measures of democracy: in other words, other major borrowers are democracies such as South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Indonesia, or Brazil. 

Despite the name, the program is global, not confined to the specific corridors. It is primarily a program to fund infrastructure.

Two Years After Khashoggi’s Murder, the Fight for Justice Isn’t Over

Sherif MansourMichael De Dora 

Dozens of countries took Saudi Arabia to task at the United Nations Human Rights Council earlier this month for its human rights violations, demanding accountability for the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The rebuke came just days after U.S. President Donald Trump was revealed to have admitted on tape that he helped shield the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, from scrutiny by obstructing Congress’ inquiries into Khashoggi’s brutal murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, in October 2018. “I saved his ass,” Trump reportedly said of the crown prince in an interview with the journalist Bob Woodward.

Trump’s remarks were nothing less than an admission that he gave MBS, as the crown prince is widely known, a license to kill journalists with impunity. It fits with the broader message he’s sent to Saudi Arabia and other authoritarian countries in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder: Do business with us, and we’ll look the other way when you surveil, intimidate or murder critics of your government—even if they are U.S. residents. The Saudi government has responded, unsurprisingly, by intensifying its domestic crackdown on the press, arresting journalists and sentencing them to years in prison.

Now, as the second anniversary of Khashoggi’s murder approaches, U.S. policymakers and elected officials must take steps to send a different message: that the assassination of a journalist will never be tolerated.

Why Armenia and Azerbaijan Are on the Brink of War

By Jeffrey Mankoff

On September 27, significant fighting broke out between the militaries of Armenia and Azerbaijan, two states that have been locked in an intractable conflict over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh since the last days of the Soviet Union. Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding regions have seen periodic outbursts of violence in recent years, but the current fighting is the most serious since Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a cease-fire in 1994.

Domestic political factors in both countries militate against compromise. The international context surrounding the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh has also shifted in ways that complicate efforts to peacefully address the underlying dispute. In particular, Turkey’s growing involvement in a conflict in which Russia has long been the dominant player risks both giving the protagonists—especially Azerbaijan—an incentive to keep fighting and opening up a new front in the Turkish-Russian rivalry that has already engulfed Syria, Libya, and to a lesser extent Ukraine.

Critical Minerals and the New Geopolitics

ABU DHABI – The climate crisis and the Fourth Industrial Revolution – with its breakthrough technologies such as artificial intelligence and 5G networks – are setting the world on a geopolitical collision course. Both the drive to decarbonize and the battle for global technological supremacy depend on critical minerals like rare earths, lithium, and cobalt – all of which are highly concentrated in a few locations, including China.

The scramble to control these elements’ supply chains is intensifying. For example, the electric vehicles made by Tesla and other automotive firms run on lithium-ion batteries, but just a handful of countries produce most of the world’s lithium. The tension between the geographic concentration of critical resources and the increasing global competition for supply will further unsettle geopolitics in the twenty-first century.

A long era of stable resource competition is thus rapidly ending. Historically, empires locked in their economic supply chains and managed competition. And in the long post-1945 cycle of decolonization, the United States, as the global economic hegemon, backstopped the rules and norms of world trade. At the same time, supplies of critical resources – in particular, fossil fuels – became more dispersed as improved geological information and new technologies (like deep-sea drilling and fracking) helped to loosen OPEC’s grip.

Energy Resources and the New Great Game in the Eastern Mediterranean

By: Omid Shokri Kalehsar

Control over energy resources and transit routes has long been a source of rivalry and competition among major powers with interests in the Middle East, Caspian Sea basin and Central Asia. And since the early 2000s, a new “great game” of sorts has embroiled local and outside players in competition over access to offshore hydrocarbon fields in the Eastern Mediterranean. Each of the region’s coastal states has declared an exclusive economic zone (EEZ), extending 200 nautical miles, to exploit energy resources on the seafloor—in certain cases leading to competing claims for the same offshore areas (TRT World, September 1).

According to a number of Turkish analysts, the strategic geopolitical importance of the Eastern Mediterranean is clearly illustrated by the fact that the European Union granted all of Cyprus (including the Turkish Cypriot territory not de facto controlled by Nicosia) membership without the divided island country fully meeting the bloc’s accession criteria requiring the resolution of all border disputes. Given the European Union’s heavy dependence on imports of foreign energy, the accession of Cyprus arguably allows the EU to assert legal control over a larger area of the energy-rich corner of the Mediterranean (Alternative Politics, October 2015; Sabah, July 13, 2019; Ankasam, August 30, 2019). Similarly from a geo-strategic perspective, neighboring Turkey considers Eastern Mediterranean energy resources as well as the country’s central position as a major littoral state to be key elements that will allow it to fulfill its plan to become a regional natural gas hub and transit corridor (Anaodolu Agency, July 22, September 3; Mfa.gov.tr, September 16).

Three dangers Trump’s covid poses for the world

Jeremy Shapiro

In what is certain to be the first of many ‘October surprises’, the world today learned that Donald Trump and his wife have both contracted the covid-19 virus. For a political leader, a serious disease is both a personal challenge, in the normal way, and an institutional challenge to ensure continuity and confidence in governance. For the president of the United States, it is also a concern for the entire world. On the personal level, we can only wish them a speedy recovery. But how should the world see the institutional risks of the president’s illness?

The idea of Trump as president getting covid is not itself destabilising. Institutionally, the US government has an impressive amount of succession planning in the 25th amendment, arguably more than any other country on earth. It has been seen to work before, particularly during the George W Bush administration – the president briefly turned over the reins twice to the vice-president during colonoscopies. In the current circumstances, Trump does not really run the US government anyway, he just disrupts it at semi-random intervals. So his absence would actually increase the coherence and consistency of US policy. 

This unusual observation highlights that what has always been destabilising about Trump’s administration is not really his policies, it is him – the unpredictability, the intemperate outbursts, the needless attacks on allies, and the self-absorption. In this sense, the worry from foreign governments will likely be its effect on the president’s fragile psyche. It is nearly a universal view among governments in Europe that Trump is not stable, more in the sense of a toddler than a madman. But, as any parent knows, locking a toddler in a room for two weeks is not conducive to good behaviour.

High-End Warfare in the Indo-Pacific Theater Will Require Distributed Sensing

By Dan Gouré

The United States’ military is evolving towards a new way of warfare designed to counter adversaries’ efforts to develop a dominant anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capability. This new approach focuses on the proliferation of land units, air and sea platforms employing rapid maneuver, long-range fires, and non-traditional effects such as electronic and cyber warfare to confuse, degrade and eventually disintegrate opposing forces. The pace and intensity of combat will be greater than ever before. This means that U.S. forces will need to see more, act sooner, and transmit target quality data in near real-time from any sensor to an appropriate shooter. The only way of doing this is by establishing a distributed, ubiquitous capability for 24/7 sensing across the theater.

China, in particular, is building a great power military. It has a significant, growing advantage in theater ballistic and cruise missiles. It has a massive and growing air defense network that extends far beyond its shores. It is rapidly expanding its inventory of modern aircraft and deploying the elements of a blue water Navy, including aircraft carriers and large deck amphibious warfare ships. Unless countered, these capabilities could provide Beijing with the means to pose a disarming first strike threat to the U.S. and allied forces in the Pacific.

To counter this threat and reinforce deterrence, the U.S. and its allies have two immediate needs: enhanced air and missile defenses, and the means to attack high-value enemy targets at long ranges. Both will have to be done faster and in the face of more lethal threats. Satisfying these requirements will depend heavily on finding, fixing, and targeting a wide array of threats, many mobile and fast-moving, in all domains.

Why the Pentagon needs to fully embrace influence operations

Mark Pomerleau

WASHINGTON — With adversaries working non-stop to inject disinformation into the public discourse, the United States must embrace influence operations as an integral part of modern warfare, a top Department of Defense official said today.

In order to counter these actions and compete with state and non-state actors, influence operations cannot be “just a niche capability,” Ezra Cohen, the acting assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low-intensity conflict, said during a virtual presentation Oct. 2. He speaking at an NDIA conference.

Cohen explained that DoD published an amendment to the National Defense Strategy in 2019 that focused on irregular warfare, how the department conducts such operations and what can be learned from 19 years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. It provides objectives for the entire joint force to apply irregular warfare capabilities to counter nation states below the threshold of conflict.

Tokyo must thwart Beijing's Senkaku strategy


The understanding reached between Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Chinese President Xi Jinping to pursue high-level contacts is unlikely to stem China’s incursions into the Senkaku territorial waters and airspace. But it will allow Xi’s regime to blend engagement with containment, including challenging Japan’s control of the Senkaku Islands and strengthening Chinese claims of sovereignty over them.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s proposed visit to Tokyo will likely have the same core agenda that his recent trip to Europe had — to avert economic decoupling from China and dissuade U.S. allies from supporting Washington’s moves to impose checks on the exercise of Chinese power. China, however, is unwilling to curb its economic and territorial expansionism.

In fact, Xi continues to push the boundaries, as underscored by the multiple fronts he has opened simultaneously, including in the East and South China seas, the Himalayan frontier, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Yet, Xi has sought to portray China as a country of peace, telling the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 22, “We will never seek hegemony, expansion, or sphere of influence. We have no intention to fight either a cold war or a hot war with any country. We will continue to narrow differences and resolve disputes with others through dialogue and negotiation.”

Domestic divisions and external actors in Libya’s civil war

With the Libyan National Army having failed to capture Tripoli, Libya’s civil war – which has attracted foreign support on both sides – is now stalemated around the town of Sirte. The parties are abiding by a ceasefire agreement, but there is little prospect they will reach a political settlement before fighting resumes and the conflict becomes further internationalised.

Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s failed attempt in 2019 and 2020 to capture Libya’s long-time capital, Tripoli, from the United Nations-recognised government there served to deepen the internationalisation of the country’s years-long civil war. The military offensive has drawn Russia and Turkey further into the conflict on opposing sides, such that they have become key power brokers. The conflict is currently stalemated around the coastal town of Sirte and the parties have agreed to a ceasefire. But amid continuing government infighting and a wave of nationwide protests over official corruption and the poor provision of public services, a fresh escalation of the conflict seems likely, although it will depend on the calculations of Russia, Turkey and other external actors, including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which have long supported the now-weakened Haftar. 

A Foreign Policy for the Day After Trump

By Rebecca Lissner and Mira Rapp-Hooper

Come the November presidential election, voters in the United States will likely be focused on the uncontained coronavirus pandemic, the tattered economy, the unanswered call for racial justice, and the climate crisis. But another enormous issue is on the ballot: the future of the United States’ role in the world. The shock of the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the “America first” strategy of U.S. President Donald Trump, offering a ready rationale for closing borders, slashing international trade, and adopting a beggar-thy-neighbor approach to vaccine development. Some of these measures were necessary, but they must not become a blueprint for the future of U.S. foreign policy.

The next administration will confront a beleaguered nation and world, but it will also inherit a historic opportunity to meet those circumstances with a transformative new strategy. Should former Vice President Joe Biden win the presidency, his team will likely find itself pulled in opposite directions. Amid unrelenting crises, the new administration may be tempted to restore, rather than reimagine, U.S. foreign policy in the hope of reversing four years of damage to the liberal international order. But a Biden White House will also field calls from both sides of the political aisle for a military and an economic retreat on the grounds that U.S. security is best served by making the country more self-sufficient and reducing its global ambitions.

Middle East Peace Plan: Emerging Political Dynamics and Implications

This issue brief tries to employ different lenses in order to understand the evolving US-Israel-Palestine relations in the light of the recently formulated Middle East Peace Plan steered by the US Diplomat Jared Kushner. The highlight of this plan has been the legitimisation of annexing 30% land in the West Bank by Israel.

This Issue brief is written by Katyayinee Richhariya, Research Intern and Gazi Hassan, Senior Research Associate, CPPR- Centre for Strategic Studies.

Don’t Put Belarus in the Middle

By Yauheni Preiherman and Thomas Graham
For the past two months, Belarus has seized headlines in the West. A rigged presidential election followed by mass protests prompted commentators throughout western Europe and the United States to predict the early demise of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, often reviled as “the last dictator in Europe.” But Russian political support and promises of security assistance have helped Lukashenko hold on to power. Instead of a revolution, the situation has become a prolonged standoff.

As the unrest drags on, Western countries need to find a way to promote democratic progress in Belarus without provoking a counterproductive Russian response. A misstep on the part of the United States or others could transform the country into a zone of geopolitical confrontation. Such an outcome would harm Western interests, European security, and the people of Belarus.

After Trump’s Coronavirus Diagnosis, What’s His Medical Outlook?

By Dhruv Khullar

In a midnight tweet, the President of the United States revealed that he and the First Lady have both tested positive for the coronavirus, raising concerns about his health and upending an already chaotic campaign season just thirty-two days before the election. The virus—which has transformed American life, killed more than two hundred thousand Americans, and devastated the U.S. economy—now threatens the health of the President and senior government officials. The White House has said that the President is experiencing mild symptoms. Melania Trump has tweeted that the First Couple is “feeling good”; Sean Conley, the White House physician, has released a statement saying that he expects the President “to continue carrying out his duties without disruption.” Even so, on Friday it was announced that the President would be taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he is expected to stay for several days. Without further details about the reasons for the move—the White House has attributed it to “an abundance of caution”—it’s hard to say what the hospitalization portends. From here, Trump’s illness might dissipate or grow much more severe.

Trump—by virtue of his age, gender, and weight—is at relatively high risk for serious complications from the coronavirus infection. People over the age of sixty-five account for more than eighty per cent of covid-19 deaths in the United States. Compared to a twentysomething, a septuagenarian is more than five times as likely to be hospitalized and is ninety times more likely to die of the coronavirus. For Americans in their seventies, the case fatality rate—a measure of a person’s chance of dying after being diagnosed—is around ten per cent. The true rate of death in that age group is almost certainly lower, since some people who contract the virus never develop symptoms and are never tested for it. On the other hand, we know that older men are more likely to die than women, possibly because of gendered differences in the way the immune system responds to the virus. At six feet three and two hundred and forty-three pounds, the President is also obese, which increases the risk of hospitalization, I.C.U. admission, and death.

Strong Reasons Make Strong Actions Closing the Leadership Gap in the Army Medical Corps

Maj. Victoria Fernandes Sullivan, MD, U.S. Army

Strong reasons make strong actions.

                                            —William Shakespeare, The Life and Death of King John

On 31 December 2019, China reported the first cluster of cases of COVID-19 to the World Health Organization.1 Less than one month later, the first case arrived in the United States, and within the next two months, the deadly virus had spread across the entire country. On 28 March 2020, the first U.S. service member died; he was Army Capt. Douglas Linn Hickok, a physician assistant.2 As of this publication, the death toll in the United States is over 180,000 and continues to rise.

It is not too late for the United States to avoid hundreds of thousands of deaths. The crisis can be controlled by strong, competent, military medical leaders who are accustomed to practicing in resource-constrained environments (and who focus on patient triage to do the most good for the most people). This crisis must be fought by all who are integral members of the medical team and led by physicians and researchers who are subject-matter experts in clinical medicine and leadership.

The U.S. health care system has struggled to learn about COVID-19 and the sickness it causes. The civilian health care system is a patchwork of public and private clinics and hospitals. Raquel Bono, director for COVID-19 Health System Response Management, led an effort to coordinate the virus response in Washington state.3 She is a surgeon trained in general surgery, trauma, and critical care and is exceptionally qualified to lead the effort. However, there are infectious disease specialists, disaster medicine doctors, and scientists who may have more subject-matter expertise regarding COVID-19 and pandemics in general. Why was Bono selected? Her selection was almost certainly due to her leadership experience. Bono is a retired Navy vice admiral and is the former director of the Defense Health Agency. She served in numerous leadership positions throughout her military career, including during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and this experience sets her apart from other doctors. In times of crisis and operations within complex environments, subject-matter experts are not enough; leaders are needed.

The Republican Threat to the Republic


NEW YORK – Whereas Nero famously fiddled while Rome burned, US President Donald Trump has famously hit the links at his money-losing golf courses while California burns – and as more than 200,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 – for which he himself has now tested positive. Like Nero, Trump will undoubtedly be remembered as an exceptionally cruel, inhumane, and possibly mad political figure.

Until recently, most people around the world had been exposed to this American tragedy in small doses, through short clips of Trump spouting lies and nonsense on the evening news or social media. But in late September, tens of millions of people endured a 90-minute spectacle, billed as a presidential “debate,” in which Trump demonstrated unequivocally that he is not presidential – and why so many people question his mental health.

To be sure, over the past four years, the world has watched this pathological liar set new records – logging some 20,000 falsehoods or misleading statements as of mid-July, by the Washington Post’s count. What kind of debate can there be when one of the two candidates has no credibility, and is not even there to debate?

Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons: The Kremlin’s Wild Card

By: Pavel Luzin

A recent interview in Kommersant with Marshall Billingslea, the special presidential envoy for arms control who represents the United States in negotiations with Russia on the extension of the New START strategic nuclear weapons treaty (Kommersant, September 21; see EDM, September 24), highlighted a key omission in the current round of bilateral arms control talks—the issue of non-strategic nuclear weapons (NSNW). No international agreement covers NSNW; and for many years, Russia has adhered to the principle that it would not discuss “tactical” warheads so long as US B-61 nuclear gravity bombs remained deployed in Europe. Two primary political considerations underly Moscow’s approach: 1) the asymmetry between total and operational numbers of Russian NSNW and 2) Russia’s efforts to reassign forces responsible for NSNW strikes to instead take on strategic nuclear deterrence and/or conventional power-projection missions.

Russia’s recently adopted “Foundations of Russian Federation State Policy on Nuclear Deterrence” pointedly does not differentiate between strategic and non-strategic nuclear weapons (Kremlin.ru, June 2; see EDM, June 4). Yet NSNW is mentioned explicitly in article 37 of the less-known 2017 “Foundations of Russian Federation State Policy on Naval Affairs Until 2030” (Kremlin.ru, July 20, 2017). The latter document clarifies that, in case of conflict escalation, a demonstrative readiness to resort to military force using non-strategic nuclear weapons would be an effective deterrence measure. Put more simply, Moscow is prepared to engage in first use of NSNW in a conventional conflict. Even though such a demonstrative, first-use nuclear strike would be unlikely to cause significant or decisive damage, the explosion would aim to demoralize the adversary.

Angela Merkel’s final year

Constanze Stelzenmüller

It is mortifying to have to begin a column with a confession about one’s worst-ever prognosis. But in October 2005, I wrote for the Financial Times about the recent German election: “Ms. Merkel’s grand coalition … is merely an interregnum arrangement. With luck, it will last two years.”

I may or may not have added, “Ms. Merkel might turn out to be a dead woman walking: a leader beginning the end of her career rather than ending the beginning.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel is now entering the last year of her fourth and—she vows—final term in office. She has already been in power for more years than West Germany’s first leader Konrad Adenauer (1949-63). Depending on how long it takes to form a government after the next election, due in fall 2021, she might even overtake Helmut Kohl (1982-98) to become Germany’s longest-serving postwar leader.

The 66-year-old’s popularity has soared during the pandemic, making her the country’s best-liked politician by a long shot, and Germans also give her government top marks. As one commentator noted, she “is now on her third American and fourth French presidents, her fifth British and seventh Italian prime ministers.” A recent U.S. poll of 13 countries showed Merkel to be the world’s most trusted leader, well ahead of all of her peers. Depressed American and British commentators, in particular, have taken to calling her the “leader of the free world” (a title the chancellor is said to detest).

Why Trump’s Retreat from US Allies Could Have Nuclear Consequences


The factors that drove South Korea to pursue nuclear weapons were quite clear: Pyongyang’s “unabated hostility toward Seoul” and the fact that “South Korean confidence in the U.S. security commitment…has declined.” That intelligence assessment was written by the CIA in 1978 about developments earlier that decade but it could easily be written today about South Korea or a number of other U.S. allies. 

Back then, America’s security partners were alarmed by the Nixon Doctrine, which conveyed to allies that they would need to provide for their own defense; U.S. troop withdrawals from the region; and Washington’s desire to mend relations with China. This environment drove South Korea and Taiwan to pursue nuclear weapons. 

Today, it is President Trump’s “America First” approach to foreign policy. His hostility to what he refers to as “so-called allies” and his embrace of the very dictators U.S. alliances are designed to defend against are leading allies and partners across the globe to wonder whether Washington can no longer be counted on. As in the past, regional threats are growing and the United States is once again planning to pull troops from allied territory. It should not come as a shock if a U.S. ally or partner were to determine today that it needed to launch, or relaunch, its own effort to develop nuclear weapons or the capability to quickly build them. 

How the US military is prioritizing great power competition

Michael E. O’Hanlon and Adam Twardowski

Nearly three years into the implementation of the January 2018 National Defense Strategy, developed under Secretary Jim Mattis but still prominently emphasized by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, how much impact is the renewed focus on great-power competition actually having on U.S. military priorities?

One telling way to answer this question is to examine the deployment of Department of Navy assets—particularly, aircraft carrier battle groups, as well as amphibious ready groups and their associated “Marine Expeditionary Units”—to the broader Persian Gulf region. It is that Central Command region, of course, that has consumed so many American military resources and so much policymaking bandwidth for at least two decades. President Barack Obama tried to “rebalance” away from it, and more towards the Asia-Pacific region, in his presidency, and then refocused on Europe as well starting with Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014. President Donald Trump took the logic a step further with his National Security Strategy, and its clear emphasis on China and Russia. Mattis and Esper have followed suit with their Pentagon document.

But does a National Defense Strategy really tell us much about resource allocation in the U.S. Department of Defense? After all, with sixty treaty allies or close security partners around the world, the United States has many responsibilities in many theaters. Moreover, the Middle East tends to suck back even those most determined to break free of its strategic embraces.

If we look at naval deployments, then the answer to this question would seem to be yes—to a degree. There hasn’t been a radical change, but there does appear to be a modest reduction in overall U.S. naval commitments to the region.

Two Western Roads to Regulating Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI), as defined in a concurrent resolution introduced recently by Representatives Will Hurd (R-TX) and Robin Kelly (D-IL), is the ability of a computer system to solve problems and perform tasks that would otherwise require human intelligence. Based on several years of solid research and analysis, the resolution lays out principles that should guide the United States’ AI strategy.

Technology leaders in many fields agree: looming global challenges, such as developing methods to reduce plastic in the oceans, finding a vaccine to treat the Covid-19 pandemic, stemming emissions that cause climate change, and finding safe navigation methods for self-driving cars, will be tackled through new, innovative AI and machine learning tools. Moving forward to solve these urgent challenges will be done best with the benefit of multilateral perspectives, collaborative research, and less fragmentation of technology regulation along national lines.

When contemplating the future of AI, U.S. regulators in both the Obama and Trump administrations have shown a preference for using existing regulatory frameworks where possible and for developing voluntary standards of responsibility that are drafted through public engagement, with the professed goal of improving quality of life in an ethical manner that guards against bias, promotes fairness, and protects privacy. Compared with energetic, tech-skeptic trends in Europe, U.S. government officials display a certain humility and restraint in trying to regulate new technologies too soon, before they are understood or even imagined. The U.S. view is that innovation will flourish in a transparent and predictable regulatory environment with benefits weighed against costs in the process of developing the rules. There are a small number of catastrophic risks, such as maintaining the security of self-driving car networks or the electrical grid, that could require ex ante regulation, but the numbers of these cases are relatively small and are better addressed through narrow, specific regulations rather than sweeping generalized rules.

Towards an Epistemology of Grand Strategy

By Maurizio Recordati

Scholars from disparate disciplines have been agonizing over definitions of grand strategy with increasing frequency over the last decades. Not a few scholars have also criticized it for its impracticality and would scrap the concept. Some studies have attempted to organize the literature to bring some clarity to the field.[1] Nina Silove and Lukas Milevski have stressed the downsides of semanticism, which lead scholars to talk past each other and leave the concept in disarray.[2] Silove’s article “Beyond the Buzzword” offers a serviceable categorization of the term as she demonstrates that conceptions of grand strategy may refer to three groups of observable entities: plans, principles, and behaviors. Her contribution unpacks grand strategy ontologically as she looks at the substance behind the definition—the “entity, object, or phenomenon of grand strategy.”[3] The issue at hand is the unquestioned reification of the concept—that is, treating grand strategy as a real thing. The vexing question in the U.S. national security scholarship, “whether the United States has had, can have, or should have a grand strategy,” implicitly elicits such a problem.[4]

Richard Betts has recently advanced the provocative suggestion that proponents of grand strategy “rescue [it] by definition.” The concept “makes sense abstractly, but falters in application, [it is] honored far more in principle than in practice.” In his view, this prompts scholars to “deflect criticism” by redefining it in “vague” terms, notably by adopting a more inclusive processual concept that embraces adaptation.[5] Betts instead posits grand strategy is a practical plan, that is, a product. I do not debate the worthiness of grand strategy as a tool for guiding U.S. statecraft—it falls outside of my field of study. As a strategic historian, however, I take an interest in showing other disciplines participating in its study that abstract acceptations of the term are worth cultivating. In the process, I suggest an alternative view to Betts’ and argue critics of grand strategy attack it by definition.

The tank is dead. Long live the tank.

by Jon Hawkes, Sam Cranny-Evans and Mark Cazalet

From the day that the concept of a tank was introduced there has been debate about the utility of these vehicles. Hard to build, difficult to man and drive, and ultimately vulnerable once deployed, tanks have never been the perfect package that they externally represent. The late Professor Ogorkiewicz wrote in his 2016 book Tanks, of how Lieutenant Colonel J. F. C. Fuller came to realise the limits of tanks during the 1917 Ypres offensive.1 And, following that war, only Britain and France continued to see utility in the tank for close to a decade, before the Soviet Union began to enter the field.2

The contemporary discussion around the abiding value of the tank is not therefore new, however the context and the nature of the modern battlefield has changed considerably since 1916, and this in turn warrants a different discussion around the value of the tank. To be clear, this article is intended to initiate discussion, it is a reflection of those issues that must be considered when balancing forces. There is value to any asset deployed to the battlefield, from an entrenching shovel to aircraft carriers, providing that they are used properly and adequately supported.

We have chosen three select areas, which all influence the utility of tanks; the Totality of the Battlefield (TotB), the totality of technology, and the totality of society. Much of this discussion should be regarded as a “Red Team Exercise”, a deliberate attempt to pull apart entrenched thinking. And, while it is framed against the current climate that prevails within the British Army, it should be understood that these considerations will apply in some measure to every single force in the world.