18 October 2020

India’s Drone Dreams – And Reality

By Abhijnan Rej

The Nagorno-Karabakh clashes have once again brought the question of the efficacy of unmanned aerial combat vehicles (UACVs) in warfare to the fore. Aided by impressive photos of Armenian tanks and artillery positions being decimated by Azerbaijan’s drones, many have argued that it illustrates the changing character of war, and increasing pressure on mechanized forces from up above, especially in the absence of air superiority. Others, including The Diplomat’s new defense contributor Jacob Parakilas, point out that the “tanks versus drones” debate is much more complicated than the way in which it is often presented. India, too, has followed the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict closely, its forces trying to infer lessons as they seek to induct UACVs.

Commenting on the use of drones in the Nagorno-Karabakh clashes, in answer to a query from the Economic Times, India’s Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria, noted, “drones are an important part for surveillance and intelligence gathering. Their role in the build up to a conflict is very important. However, once the conflict starts, they do become susceptible to enemy action…” As the Indian air force chief reminded that newspaper, India, like Azerbaijan, has possessed loitering munitions (colloquially, suicide drones) for more than a decade. It should be noted that during the recent Nagorno-Karabakh clashes, Azerbaijan has fielded the Turkish-designed Bayraktar TB2 drone responsible for some of the dramatic footage of kills.

Bhadauria’s comments are especially pertinent as India discusses the purchase of armed as well as unarmed drones from the United States. In July of this year, the Trump administration tweaked an existing export control denial regime to allow the sale of drones flying at speeds of less than 800 kilometers per hour, paving the way for their sale to India. While the U.S. had approved the sale of 30 unarmed SeaGuardians (the naval variant of General Atomics’ Predator-Bs), an Indian press report suggests that the U.S. remains wary of Predator-B sales to India given fears that the technology could be leaked to Russia through “system of systems” issues.

Online Hate Speech Is a Challenge for India’s Foreign Policy

By Parama Sinha Palit

Hate speech is making global headlines with unfailing regularity. With 59 percent of the global population digitally connected, the internet, apart from enabling instantaneous networks of people and associations, is equally encouraging fake news peddlers and conspiracy theorists, while also abetting authoritarianism. Digital media’s ability to reach a large audience base at a phenomenal speed has expanded political influence through polarization of opinions and communities, particularly visible during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Several countries, including India, are combating online hate speech, which has had serious foreign policy ramifications while adversely impacting their global images.

India’s rising illiberal tendencies have been flagged by prominent influential policymakers in the West, denting its global image. Hate content proliferating on India’s online space serves to amplify them. Hate speech connected to India is not limited to specific minorities alone, but targets women and weaker sections as well. India’s strong patriarchal framework excessively glorifies “a vegetarian diet, extreme reverence of Hindu deities and the cow as the emblematic holy animal” apart from stereotyping “notions of gender and sexuality, moral policing of sexuality and its expression, and xenophobia.”

Online and offline hate speech, particularly against Muslims, has been on the rise in India, acquiring grave proportions. The digital hatred and majoritarian radicalization were particularly visible during the early months of the onset of the pandemic. The resultant impact has been damaging for foreign relations, particularly with respect to India’s strategic partners in the Gulf. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) expressed its concern over the rise of Islamaphobia on social media, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also tweeting a response to placate the country’s Gulf partners. India’s ambassador to Oman and his counterpart in the United Arab Emirates reached out to the Indian diaspora as well, asking them to steer away from fake news after several tweets surfaced quoting Hindus blaming Muslims for spreading the coronavirus in India.

4 Reasons Why India Supports the BRICS

By Abhijnan Rej

The Russian government announced last week that the annual five-nations BRICS Summit will be held virtually on November 17. Russia is chairing the BRICS this year; the meeting will bring China’s President Xi Jinping and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi face-to-face for the first time since the military standoff between the two countries in Ladakh started more than five months ago. Given the virtual format of the meeting, it is not known whether the two can have a side meet which could facilitate a diplomatic resolution of the ongoing crisis, something that looks more remote with each passing day.

The BRICS is widely derided, especially in the West, where it is variously described as a talk shop among apparently incongruent powers and a meaningless investment-banking acronym long past its sell-by date. And there is more than a germ of truth to this. It is difficult to consider China as an emerging power anymore. To put that country and South Africa at the same table makes for manifestly curious optics, given that the Chinese economy is roughly 36 times bigger that South Africa’s. Brazil and Russia, beyond both being commodities exporters, have as much, or as less, in common as Brazil and Nigeria, for example. And then, of course, there are India and China, whose geopolitical rivalry now threatens to erupt into overt military hostilities.

And yet, the BRICS persists. For more than a decade, the leaders of the grouping have met annually, issuing (carefully negotiated) joint statements touching on a range of political and economic issues, along with side meetings of their foreign ministers and national security advisors. The BRICS’ New Development Bank (NDB), established in 2014, continues its activities, which included advancing a loan of $1 billion to India in May to fight COVID-19-induced costs. Add to this numerous side-activities, including at the non-governmental level, and you’d also be left wondering why the grouping soldiers on dispute it being written off with predictable regularity by commentators in the United States – and India.

Taliban Test Afghan and U.S. Resolve in Talks by Attacking a City

Mujib Mashal

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban have opened an offensive on the southern Afghan city of Lashkar Gah, overrunning some of its surrounding security checkpoints and largely cutting it off, even as their negotiators remained at the table for talks with the Afghan government that appear stalled.

While the insurgent attempt to cap the fighting season with high-profile attacks before winter sets in was not unusual for recent years of the two-decade war, the run for a provincial capital amid peace talks suggested that the Taliban still see military bullying as their most effective negotiating tactic.

The attack also appeared to test the limits of how far the United States military — which is drawing down to about 4,500 troops and significantly cutting back air support to Afghan forces since it signed a deal with the Taliban in February — would go to defend its Afghan allies.

The United States has been critical of the Taliban’s intensified attacks across Afghanistan, but has stopped short of calling the group’s actions a breach of their agreement — even as the American troop withdrawal has continued.

Bangladesh Buries the Sonadia Deep-Sea Port Project

By Sudha Ramachandran

The Bangladesh government has officially called off the development of a deep-sea port at Sonadia Island off the country’s southeastern coast.

With this, the high-profile project on the Bay of Bengal, which would have further enhanced China’s economic and strategic ambitions in the Indian Ocean region, has been given a formal burial.

Apparently, environmental concerns drove the Bangladesh government’s decision to scrap the project. A deep sea port at Sonadia would have harmed the area’s biodiversity, Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam told reporters.

Instead, a deep-sea port will be built at Matarbari, 25 kilometers away from Sonadia, he said.

While environmental issues may have been among the factors that Dhaka had to consider, it is more likely that geopolitics sealed the fate of the project. The India-China contest for influence in Bangladesh seems to have sunk plans for a deep-sea port at Sonadia.

The idea of a deep-sea port at Sonadia was first conceived in 2006. China agreed to construct the port as well as providing loans to finance the project. The Bangladeshi and Chinese governments were to sign the framework agreement during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Beijing in July 2014, but that didn’t happen. Despite China’s continuing interest in the port project it didn’t feature on the agenda during President Xi Jinping’s 2016 visit to Dhaka.

Global China: Global governance and norms

Tarun Chhabra, Rush Doshi, Ryan Hass, and Emilie Kimball

China’s efforts to secure a larger role for itself in multiple international institutions have generated questions about the scale of its ambitions and the tools it will use to advance them. From human rights to energy to trade, China’s growing weight in the international system is bending institutions, rules, and norms in its preferred directions. At the same time, in other areas, such as internationalization of the renminbi and international law, China’s aspirations continue to exceed its impacts.

The papers in this final installment of the Brookings Foreign Policy project “Global China: Assessing China’s Growing Role in the World” examine China’s approach to global governance, and specifically to China’s efforts to influence institutions, norms, and rules at the heart of the modern international system. Taken as a whole, the pieces highlight that as the United States has stepped back in recent years from its traditional role in various international institutions, China has stepped forward, often to seek to encourage institutions, their member states, and other consequential global actors to better accommodate its preferences.

Taking these developments as a baseline, the papers offer a range of policy prescriptions for how the United States and other countries should respond in order to protect their interests and promote their values. In some areas, such as climate change, the authors call for the United States to explore deeper collaboration with China even as it competes vigorously with China in other areas of the relationship. In other areas, such as democracy promotion, the authors urge the United States to pursue a more competitive approach to blunting China’s efforts to advance its ambitions.

Why China’s dreams of global leadership are fading fast

Nicholas Ross Smith

Many countries – mostly Western – have overwhelmingly “unfavourable views” of China, according to a Pew Research Centre study released this month. Of the 14 countries surveyed, the percentage of respondents who have “no confidence in Chinese President Xi Jinping to do the right thing regarding world affairs” ranged from 70 per cent in the Netherlands to 84 per cent in Japan. This represents a significant jump from the previous year, where the percentage hovered in the 50-60 range for most countries.

The Pew data is corroborated by another recent study, by the European Council on Foreign Relations, which found that 48 per cent of EU citizens surveyed have a worse view of China since Covid-19. Studies by Gallup, YouGov, and the Institute for Global Change all paint a similar picture: global perceptions of China are increasingly negative.

It is no secret that under Xi’s leadership, China covets a global leadership role. Famously, at the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, Xi proclaimed that China would “open our arms to the people of other countries and welcome them aboard the express train of China’s development.” Given that the US under President Donald Trump has apparently abandoned its international role, China’s global leadership aspirations are certainly timely.

America’s Iraqi Embassy Is a Monstrosity Out of Time

By Steven A. Cook

Two weeks ago, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened to close the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. He was responding to ongoing attacks against the building and the Iraqi government’s apparent inability to do much about it.

It’s hard to judge whether there are other ways for the United States to protect the embassy—or whether Pompeo’s threat is designed to achieve some other diplomatic end. But the embassy should be shut down regardless. Whatever the motivations for Pompeo’s idea, it’s a good one on the merits.

To the extent that any Americans think about Iraq or the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad these days, they likely envision a building, but it is much more than that. The compound, which is only slightly smaller than Disneyland, features 20 office buildings, six apartment blocks, and various amenities for the staff, which at one time numbered 16,000. The tab for the complex’s completion was $750 million. It is the physical manifestation of American hubris in Iraq. And, unlike Disneyland, no dreams came true there.

The next administration should shut down the compound and hand it over to the Iraqis. The grounds would make a fine addition to the University of Baghdad.

A Democratic Disadvantage: Sharp Power and Regime Typology in International Relations

James Micciche

Power within international relations is a construct that manifests itself in multiple forms, domains, and structures. Power is not only the transactional medium through which states interact, but also what states strive to generate, maintain, and expand to improve their relative position compared to each other. A manifestation of this concept is how multiple countries seek to develop artificial intelligence technology to gain advantages in military, information, and economic domains to advance their interests over other states. Power and structure share a unique bi-directional relationship, as both the exercise and generation of power by states reshape structures within the international system, which concurrently alters domain-specific contexts that affect the internal composition, relative positions, relations, and hierarchy of states. The dawn of the nuclear age highlights how developing and employing a domain specific instrument of power not only altered the United States’ relative position compared to other states, but also transformed how all actors, including the United States, could exercise coercive military force, transforming the entire global order and restricting or enabling the domains states utilized to achieve objectives. 

The reordering of the international system occurs both sequentially and simultaneously, as structural changes such as emerging technology or environmental conditions can alter states, which then reshape international structures. Within the international system, the importance of structure is not monopolized at the systemic level, but also heavily predicated on how individual states configure and order their nations and the benefits and detriments these structures endow. One of the most important state level structures is regime type. Applied simplistically, examining state structures based on regime type divides the world into a binary construct of democracies and autocracies.[1] Traditional scholarship has long theorized that democracies have substantial advantages over their autocratic counterparts. The acceptance of that theory has remained a near-constant until the consequences of two major events synchronously reshaped both the structure of the international system and the domains through which actors generate and utilize power. The outcome of the information age and nearly 30 years of hyperglobalization have transformed the international system and motivated the development and utilization of sharp power by autocratic states. Honing those tools has provided some autocratic regimes with a transformative advantage over democracies in reshaping the autocratic-democratic relationship within the international system.

Dawn breaks on a new age of economic thinking


The deepest economic crises are also crucibles for new economic thinking. The Depression led to Keynesian macroeconomics. The second world war cemented support for the welfare state and the mixed economy. The inflationary 1970s and the oil shocks propelled free-market ideas to power. 

We should expect the coronavirus pandemic, which amounts to the greatest peacetime economic disruption in living memory, also to lead to big shifts in the consensus on what is good economic policy. To see the direction of change, look to that guardian of economic orthodoxy, the IMF. 

Every year, in the lead-up to its annual meetings — the 2020 forum is about to start — it publishes the “analytical chapters” of its flagship publications. The growth forecasts issued at the meetings are what will hit the headlines. But the underlying analyses often provide deeper insight into changing economic conditions and the shifting realities of economic policymaking.

IMF economists are hardly at the forefront of radicalism, but they have often shown the way once the world’s economic policymaking elites are ready to move. In the past decade, IMF research has lent authority to several reversals of the pre-existing consensus (and its own previous views), such as giving qualified approval to capital controls and upgrading the effectiveness of fiscal stimulus. It has played down the harm it expects from high public debt. In each case the IMF imprimatur has made it easier for national governments to shift policy in the indicated direction.

Little war in the Caucasus has big lessons for U.S. and Russia


Small wars can tell you a lot about the biggest geopolitical and military issues of the day. Consider the present conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. Most Americans have probably never heard of that disputed region in the Caucasus. But the fighting there reveals key fault lines in an increasingly disordered global environment, and it underscores crucial trends in the evolution of modern warfare.

In some ways, there is nothing new about what is happening in Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan’s borders. The clash over that region is one of many “frozen conflicts” left behind by the disintegration of the Soviet Union. After the Soviet collapse, Armenian forces occupied Nagorno-Karabakh in a brutal war that ended in 1994. The fighting caused tens of thousands of deaths; it included massacres of noncombatants and the expulsion or flight of perhaps hundreds of thousands of Azeris.

Not surprisingly, the cease-fire that ended the war has proven perpetually fragile. So the current round of fighting, which began in late September when Azerbaijani forces sought to reclaim control of Nagorno-Karabakh (in response, Azerbaijan claimed, to Armenian provocations) is simply the latest flare-up in a long-simmering struggle.

Coronavirus: why Africa had such a low Covid-19 death rate

Kevin Marsh

As the threat of a Covid-19 pandemic emerged earlier this year, many felt a sense of apprehension about what would happen when it reached Africa.

Concerns over the combination of overstretched and underfunded health systems and the existing load of infectious and non-infectious diseases often led to it being talked about in apocalyptic terms.

However, it has not turned out quite that way. On September 29th, the world passed the one million reported deaths mark (the true figure will of course be higher). On the same day, the count for Africa was a cumulative total of 35,954.

Africa accounts for 17% of the global population but only 3.5% of the reported global Covid-19 deaths. All deaths are important, we should not discount apparently low numbers, and of course data collected over such a wide range of countries will be of variable quality, but the gap between predictions and what has actually happened is staggering.

There has been much discussion on what accounts for this.

As leads of the Covid-19 team in the African Academy of Sciences, we have followed the unfolding events and various explanations put forward. The emerging picture is that in many African countries, transmission has been higher but severity and mortality much lower than originally predicted based on experience in China and Europe.

A Clash with Turkey Is Becoming Inevitable

by Michael Rubin

Late last month, Mike Pompeo became the first secretary of State to visit Greece twice. While his initial remarks sought de-escalation, the reality is only one side is responsible for the conflict that now looms: In recent months, Turkey has not only encroached on Cyprus’ internationally-recognized exclusive economic zone and Greek waters but, in recent days, reportedly Israel’s exclusive economic zone as well. Whereas compartmentalized analysts might see Turkish president Recep Erdoğan backing down in the face of diplomatic pushback and military mobilizations, a more holistic view is that Erdoğan is determined to lash out for reasons both ideological and populist and will continue to do so until he determines where a small military investment could bring the greatest gains.

One possible flashpoint to watch is Famagusta. After Cypriot independence, Famagusta—and especially its southern Varosha quarter—became a major tourist hub that attracted European and Western glitterati to its pristine beaches and resorts. That all ended when Turkey invaded in 1974. It first bombed the city forcing many residents to flee and then occupied it. Famagusta’s residents expected to return upon the ceasefire but never did. Varosha became a ghost town with billions of dollars of real estate fenced off and empty, its former residents permanently displaced.

Generations of diplomats have expected Famagusta—and the return of its residents—to be key to any negotiated peace on Cyprus. That Turkey left Varosha fallow gave Cypriots, Western Europe, and UN diplomats hope that Ankara was still interested in a resolution to the Cypriot conflict. Now, however, Erdoğan signals that Turkey may act unilaterally to populate and develop Varosha. Not only does Erdoğan want to signal his toughness after backing down in his recent maritime dispute with Greece, but he and his key supporters also stand to gain billions of dollars as they use Turkish state funds and perhaps the proceeds of resources looted by Turkey to reconstruct the apartment buildings and hotels which after five decades must be razed and replaced. Consider it Turkey’s version of China’s salami-slicing strategy. Erdoğan has long argued that the treaties determining Turkey’s borders should be revised; populating Varosha would allow him to put his rhetoric into action.

How America Collected Intelligence in China During World War II

by Warfare History Network

Key Point: OSS agents behind the lines gathered intelligence on Japanese shipping, rail traffic, and other targets.

It was at the grand banquet given in his honor that General William “Wild Bill” Donovan told his host, General Dai Li, that the OSS intended to work on its own in China and that he wanted no interference from the Chinese. Dai Li exploded. He would execute any OSS agents found operating independently on Chinese soil.

Donovan struck the table, shouted: “For every one of our agents you kill, we will kill one of your generals!”

“You can’t talk to me like that.” Dai Li shouted back.

“I am talking to you like that,” Donovan said. The two men “were suddenly all smiles.” The confrontation was over, but in the morning Donovan was scheduled to meet Dai Li’s boss, the Generalissimo himself, Chiang Kai-shek. It was not a pleasant prospect.

It looks like Trump just ended the Afghanistan war via Twitter


The Afghanistan war may have ended with neither a bang nor a whimper, but a tweet.

After 19 years of war, President Donald Trump announced on Oct. 7 that all U.S. troops should leave Afghanistan by Christmas. While it is still unclear whether the president had issued an order to his military commanders (The Pentagon has dodged all questions about it), Trump made it obvious that he could care less about what happens to the Afghan people once all U.S. troops leave.

There is no turning back now. The fig leaf of a conditions-based withdrawal has been ripped off. The president is committed to leaving Afghanistan without first securing a peace deal between the Taliban and Afghan government.

Since it has been made abundantly clear that the U.S. military will be leaving Afghanistan soon, the Taliban have no reason whatsoever to acknowledge the Afghan government’s right to exist. Nor does the United States have any leverage to encourage the Taliban to cut ties with Al Qaeda – although that has been a fool’s errand, according to Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank.

Not since the Soviet Union achieved peace at any price with Germany in 1918 has a country given its enemy everything it could possibly want to end hostilities.

Post-COVID Capitalism


GENEVA – No event since World War II’s end has had as profound a global impact as COVID-19. The pandemic has triggered a public health and economic crisis on a scale unseen in generations and has exacerbated systemic problems such as inequality and great-power posturing.

The only acceptable response to such a crisis is to pursue a “Great Reset” of our economies, politics, and societies. Indeed, this is a moment to re-evaluate the sacred cows of the pre-pandemic system, but also to defend certain long-held values. The task we face is to preserve the accomplishments of the past 75 years in a more sustainable form.

In the decades after WWII, the world made unprecedented strides toward eradicating poverty, reducing childhood mortality, increasing life expectancy, and expanding literacy. Today, international cooperation and trade, which drove the post-war improvement in these and many other measures of human progress, must be maintained and defended against renewed skepticism of their merits.

At the same time, the world also must remain focused on the defining issue of the pre-pandemic era: the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” and the digitization of countless economic activities. Recent technological advances have given us the tools that we need to confront the current crisis – including through the rapid development of vaccines, new treatments, and personal protective equipment. We will need to continue to invest in research and development, education, and innovation, while at the same time building protections against those who would misuse technology.

Carl Bildt on the ‘Practical Necessity’ Driving Deeper EU Integration

“On foreign and defense policy, absolutely, there is an ambition to be more united, and that vision is shared by all of the member countries,” says Carl Bildt, former Swedish prime minister and foreign minister, about the European Union. “Then in practice, as you’ve seen, there are divergences, and they are more or less clear in different areas.”

Those divergences have frustrated advocates of a more forceful EU that operates on the world stage with “strategic autonomy,” a phrase Mr. Bildt finds “confuses more than it clarifies.” But he adds, as someone who has “been watching these things for a fairly long time, I’ve seen a gradual convergence of foreign policy positions.”

During his career as an international diplomat, Mr. Bildt served as the EU’s special envoy to the former Yugoslavia and high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, the U.N. special envoy for the Balkans, and the co-chair of the Dayton Peace Conference. He is currently co-chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

The EU faces a range of foreign policy challenges today, including managing persistent tensions with Russia and Turkey, defining its long-term relationship with the U.K., and navigating its increasingly competitive relations with China. All of those are complicated by the unprecedented strains in trans-Atlantic ties during the presidency of Donald Trump.

Trump wants nuclear accord with Putin by election

Dave Lawler, Alayna Treene

President Trump is looking to Vladimir Putin to close the deal on a pre-election nuclear agreement, a timetable that's an October surprise even for senior Republicans and some in the White House.

The big picture: Trump and Putin have discussed arms control in a string of phone calls over the last six months, and they've dispatched envoys to negotiate in Vienna. But talks appeared stalled until just a few days ago.

National security adviser Robert O’Brien and his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, met in Geneva on Oct. 2. 

The meeting created enough momentum that Trump’s arms control envoy, Marshall Billingslea, and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Ryabkov, made last-minute plans to travel to Helsinki — with Billingslea even cutting short a trip to Asia.

On Friday, a source familiar with the discussions said the Trump administration believed it now had an agreement in principle, blessed by Putin and Patrushev, that could be finalized within a week once negotiations resume in earnest.

What North Korea’s latest missile parade tells us, and what it doesn’t

Douglas Barrie, Joseph Dempsey

North Korea displayed two additions to its plethora of ballistic-missile designs during a 10 October parade to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Korean Workers’ Party. A large, liquid-propellant ‘road-mobile’ intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was Pyongyang’s big reveal, with what appeared to be a solid-motor submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) preceding it. As with the unveiling of most of North Korea’s missile projects, however, both systems pose more questions than provide answers.

The ICBM was shown on an 11-axle transporter erector launcher (TELs), resembling a modified Chinese WS51200 8-axle chassis, suggesting that its road mobility would be constrained significantly by its size. North Korea has so far been unable to domestically produce large TELs and has had to covertly import those it has. The requirements of a liquid-propellant system are also a limiting factor: it is not clear whether the missile could be transported when fully fuelled; and whether it can be erected fully fuelled. The likely two-stage missile is estimated to be 25m in length, around 15% longer than the Hwasong-15 ICBM (KN-22/KN-SS-??), and with a larger diameter. The missile would notionally have the range, at around 13,000km, to cover the whole of the United States, like the Hwasong-15, but potentially with a greater payload.

One rationale for developing such a large liquid-propellant system, apart from the domestic propaganda value of its sheer size, would be the carriage of multiple warheads combined with decoys, allowing the system to overcome a missile-defence system with a comparatively small number of interceptors. Multiple re-entry vehicles, combined with re-entry vehicle decoys with post boost-phase dispersion, would complicate the target picture for missile defences.

Persistently Engaging TrickBot: USCYBERCOM Takes on a Notorious Botnet

By Robert Chesne

In a special episode of Risky Business in May, Patrick Gray and I spoke about the growing wave of harm caused by ransomware and the possibility that, at some point, this harm might cross a threshold warranting intervention by government agencies other than the usual law enforcement entities. More to the point, we speculated about the possibility of “releasing the hounds” in the form of operations that might be conducted by militaries or intelligence agencies to disrupt the capabilities of the most problematic ransomware crews.

Four months later, it appears that one or two hounds have indeed been released. 

Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post reported on Oct. 9 that U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) has conducted operations to disrupt the functions of TrickBot—a malware package distributed across and enabling a massive botnet controlled by an organized crime group that has not been specifically identified but that is usually described as Russian speaking (if not actually Russian) and quite sophisticated in terms of its technical capabilities and operational security. USCYBERCOM, of course, has conducted operations against non-state actors before (see the war with the Islamic State and Joint Task Force-Ares), but this appears to be the first publicly confirmed instance in which it has done so outside the context of armed conflict (notably, Nakashima’s story relies on disclosures from four “U.S. officials,” but USCYBERCOM itself declined to comment). 

International Statement: End-To-End Encryption and Public Safety

By Alvaro Marañon

The Justice Department released a statement on the challenges end-to-end encryption poses to public safety. The joint statement includes the signatures of ministers from the Five Eyes Alliance and the governments of India and Japan.

This statement reiterates the need for action to be taken to combat the most serious illegal content, and specifically references crimes involving the exploitation of children. The statement urges technology companies to include “mechanisms in the design of their encrypted products and services whereby governments, acting with appropriate legal authority, can gain access to data in a readable and usable format.”

The joint statement can be read here and below: 

International Statement: End-To-End Encryption and Public Safety

We, the undersigned, support strong encryption, which plays a crucial role in protecting personal data, privacy, intellectual property, trade secrets and cyber security. It also serves a vital purpose in repressive states to protect journalists, human rights defenders and other vulnerable people, as stated in the 2017 resolution of the UN Human Rights Council. Encryption is an existential anchor of trust in the digital world and we do not support counter-productive and dangerous approaches that would materially weaken or limit security systems.

A three-step cybersecurity plan for the modern military

Richard Chitamitre

In supporting Department of Defense customers every day, I’ve seen the human toll of today’s cybersecurity challenges: Military security operations center, or SOC, team members often work consecutive 12-hour shifts, addressing a growing mountain of alerts. Each alert could take between 20 minutes to 2 hours or more to research, with additional alerts rolling in.

Some admit that they don’t intend to continue on this path for long, planning to seek other opportunities — including those outside of cybersecurity — in private industry. Meanwhile, the threat environment looks to grow more foreboding for the foreseeable future:

The Pentagon continues to invest in the fifth-generation mobile network, or 5G, which is expected to enhance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; enable new methods of command and control; and streamline logistics systems.

The DoD’s ongoing collaborations with academic institutions and private industry on what’s called the Internet of Battlefield Things, developing biometric wearable technologies to enable commanders and their units to more effectively identify the enemy; access devices and weapons systems via speedy edge computing; and send and receive data rapidly to better respond to potentially dangerous and/or hostile situations during missions.

Establishing zero-trust cybersecurity comes with challenges for Pentagon IT leadership

Andrew Eversden

WASHINGTON — Increased telework amid the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated conversations about zero-trust cybersecurity architectures, but IT officials at the Pentagon are still wrestling with how that would work for a department stretched across the globe.

The challenges facing the Department of Defense have to do with the organization’s differing mission needs that expand across continents, making scaling for the department difficult to tackle.

“There’s not a perfect template necessarily for every situation or every capability,” John Sherman, principal deputy chief information officer at the Pentagon, said in a September interview with C4ISRNET. “And this is where honest people can have good disagreements here over how you do this because this is a relatively new area.”

Mass telework introduced increased risk as personnel used home networks and personal devices to perform work through the Commercial Virtual Remote Environment, a platform the DoD stood up in response to remote work. That capability now has more than 1 million users, and the DoD wants to boost its cybersecurity level in the coming months to allow for more sensitive work as telework continues.

The 1619 Chronicles

Bret Stephens

If there’s one word admirers and critics alike can agree on when it comes to The New York Times’s award-winning 1619 Project, it’s ambition. Ambition to reframe America’s conversation about race. Ambition to reframe our understanding of history. Ambition to move from news pages to classrooms. Ambition to move from scholarly debate to national consciousness.

In some ways, this ambition succeeded. The 1619 Project introduced a date, previously obscure to most Americans, that ought always to have been thought of as seminal — and probably now will. It offered fresh reminders of the extent to which Black freedom was a victory gained by courageous Black Americans, and not just a gift obtained from benevolent whites.

It showed, in a stunning photo essay, the places where human beings were once bought and sold as slaves — neglected scenes of American infamy. It illuminated the extent to which so much of what makes America great, including some of our uniquely American understandings of liberty and equality, is unthinkable without the struggle of Black Americans, as well as the extent to which so much of what continues to bedevil us is the result of centuries of racism.

And, in a point missed by many of the 1619 Project’s critics, it does not reject American values. As Nikole Hannah-Jones, its creator and leading voice, concluded in her essay for the project, “I wish, now, that I could go back to the younger me and tell her that her people’s ancestry started here, on these lands, and to boldly, proudly, draw the stars and those stripes of the American flag.” It’s an unabashedly patriotic thought.

Armenia-Azerbaijan War: Military Dimensions of the Conflict

Michael Kofman

On Sept. 27, Azerbaijan launched a military offensive, resulting in fighting that spans much of the line of contact in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is de facto occupied by Armenia. As of this writing, artillery and rocket strikes are taking place through the depth of Armenian lines, including in the regional capital of Stepanakert. This is the most serious fighting to take place between the two sides since 1994. It is a large scale conventional war between the two countries that is likely to upend the status quo of territorial control in the region. Turkey has publicly, and militarily, backed Azerbaijan in this conflict, while Moscow will be forced to reassess its long-standing policy of maintaining relations with both sides and upholding the status quo, which may not be possible given the rapidly unfolding events. What can be surmised about the course of the war thus far is that Armenia is at a disadvantage, but Azerbaijan will pay a considerable price for any territorial gains.

The war should not come as a surprise. In 2016, Azerbaijan conducted a limited offensive, seizing minor tracts of territory in a brief four-day conflict. That war proved an early test of Azerbaijan’s growing qualitative and quantitative military superiority against Armenian defenses in the region, demonstrative of revanchist intent. More recently skirmishes took place in July 2020 after a border incident between the two sides. This fighting was not centered on Nagorno-Karabakh, but rather the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan proper and cost the life of an Azerbaijani Major General. Moscow brokered a ceasefire, but Azerbaijan’s desire to revise the status quo has been met with Armenian recalcitrance.

Baku claims Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, while Yerevan has what has been occasionally described as an ambiguous stance on the region’s status, though it has consistently opposed integration of Karabakh into Azerbaijan. Yet in August, Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan publicly declared that “Artsakh is Armenia, and that’s it.” Negotiations between the two sides have not been taking place in earnest. Baku’s motivations appear to be straightforward revanchism, having grown frustrated with a lack of progress at the negotiating table, while facing internal economic pressures and nationalist sentiment.