21 October 2020

India Has Few Options to Thwart Chinese Aggression

By Sarosh Bana

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Despite military and political parleys between India and China to reach an understanding on their border dispute, the situation is careening toward a flashpoint. An estimated 50,000 Chinese PLA troops now control a combined area of about 1,000 square kilometers in India’s eastern Ladakh. India has few options with which to confront China’s unilateral redrawing of the LAC.

In what is the most serious dispute between India and China since they went to war in 1962, over 50,000 Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers have breached the de facto border called the Line of Actual Control (LAC) to overrun numerous strategic areas in India’s eastern Ladakh.

The situation is growing increasingly dangerous. Indian intelligence estimates that through its sustained push, China now controls a combined area of about 1,000 square kilometers in this border region. Beijing has thus unilaterally redrawn the LAC.

China’s military offensive in Ladakh is not merely tactical, but has the strategic object of realizing specific long-term objectives. The PLA’s moves are, after all, being directed by the top leadership: the Central Military Commission (CMC), which is chaired by Chinese president Xi Jinping.

Chinese Han culture is goal-oriented. Its military might well believe that if it invades a territory at will and meets little resistance, it is under no obligation to retreat on request.

Growing Sectarianism Can Challenge Lasting Peace in Afghanistan

By Said Sabir Ibrahimi

As the peace talks continue between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, the Taliban have resorted to sectarian positioning that has the potential to derail lasting peace in the country.

Last February, the United States and the Taliban signed a peace deal, two main elements of which are the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the beginning of the intra-Afghan peace talks, which finally started a month ago. 

The process is slow and the Afghans and the international community are anxious for results. The two sides have been discussing a “code of conduct,” or guidelines on how the “real” negotiations should proceed. One of the hurdles is the Taliban’s insistence on using the Sunni Hanafi fiqh (jurisprudence) as “a guide to all aspects of the terms and conditions.” Taliban’s insistence on the supremacy of Sunni Hanafism has alarmed Afghan Shias, who have long been marginalized.

After the toppling of the Taliban regime in 2001, the Shias of Afghanistan (mostly ethnic Hazaras) not only gained constitutional rights but also assumed public offices and took up government positions. Shias participated in politics, making their way to the Afghan parliament and several government institutions, including the office of the second vice president under President Hamid Karzai and President Ashraf Ghani. The Shia Personal Status Law became part of the Afghan legal system, allowing Shias to have the freedom to be judged by their own laws – Jafari fiqh. In other words, Afghanistan has worked to achieve legal Shia-Sunni parity, which is now at risk because of sectarian posturing by the Taliban and other groups.

Why Trump’s Anti-China Policy Falls on Deaf Ears in Southeast Asia

By Dino Patti Djalal

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has given a series of speeches attacking China. His speeches present some new themes: they aim specifically at the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), they frame China as an ideological threat (constantly referring to “Communist China,” not just China) and they adopt a blanket (rather than a la carte) attack against China: on the coronavirus, trade, investment, technology, TikTok, the World Health Organization, the South China Sea, Chinese companies and students, democracy, human rights, climate change – the list goes on. It seems that for the Trump administration, it has become a taboo to say anything remotely positive about China. Indeed, as Pompeo stated, “securing our freedom from the CCP is the mission of our time and America is in a perfect position to lead.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, at Munich Security Conference this year, also calls China “the biggest threat to world order,” and affirmed that Washington’s principal security concern had shifted from Russia to China.

During his speech at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly last month, President Donald Trump came out throwing punches at Beijing. Trump spent one-third of his 7-minute speech attacking China explicitly – on the “China virus,” trade and the environment – and spent only 34 seconds on the most pressing challenge facing the world: COVID-19. It was the wrong message, to the wrong audience, at the wrong time. By contrast, it was noticed that China’s President Xi Jinping, who spoke at the same podium, did not attack the U.S.

Clearly, the Trump administration has taken China bashing to a whole new level and expects other countries to follow suit.

66 Ways to Beat China in AI: Report

BY MILA JASPER

The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence submitted its interim report and third-quarter recommendations to the president and Congress Tuesday. 

The commission, composed largely of private-sector tech experts from companies such as Google and Oracle, submitted 66 recommendations across six lines of effort, including workforce, education and research and development. Commissioners voted on recommendations last week during a virtual public plenary meeting

The far-reaching recommendations pointed to a theme that has increasingly gripped the minds of policymakers: the return of great power competition. Commission co-chairs Robert Work, former deputy secretary of Defense, and Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, told reporters during a press call Tuesday that artificial intelligence is an essential component of competition with nations like China. 

“It’s become very clear that we are in an innovation competition unlike anything we’ve ever faced before,” Work said. 

One of the most significant recommendations targeted at this competition calls for the creation of a technology council chaired by the vice president and tasked with the development of a national technology strategy. 

This council could live within existing White House entities such as the National Security Council or the Office of Science and Technology Policy, according to the report. The report also recommends the council include an assistant to the president to run day-to-day activities. NSCAI specifically states this assistant should be someone who not only understands the workings of government, but who also has “strong ties to the private sector technology community.” 

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.

Beijing Believes Trump Is Accelerating American Decline

BY RUSH DOSHI

In August, the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence claimed publicly that China “prefers that President Trump – whom Beijing sees as unpredictable – does not win reelection.” But these assessments tell only half the story, and Chinese open sources suggest the need for a more nuanced view.

While Chinese leaders may wish for a reprieve from President Donald Trump’s recent aggressiveness, they also believe that he has weakened American power and accelerated American decline. It is this latter judgement that is more consequential, encouraging Beijing to challenge Washington not only in Asia but globally, too.

As I argue in my forthcoming book The Long Game: China’s Grand Strategy to Displace American Order, Chinese leaders have constantly assessed and reassessed American power. Since the end of the Cold War, each leader has publicly anchored Chinese grand strategy to concepts like “multipolarity” and “the international balance of forces” that are essentially polite euphemisms for the relative balance between Chinese and American power. When China’s perception of American strength shifts, its strategy generally changes.

Over the last 30 years, this has happened twice and produced two strategies. The first time was after Tiananmen Square when the Soviet Union’s collapse led China to see the United States—once a Cold War quasi-ally—as a powerful and ideologically threatening adversary. In response, Chinese leaders such as Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin encouraged the country to “hide its capabilities and bide its time.” This first Chinese strategy was about quietly blunting American regional influence. Beijing used asymmetric capabilities to thwart American military power, trade agreements to constrain American economic coercion, and membership in regional institutions to stall American rule-setting and coalition-building.

China Cyber-Insecurity: What Can You Do?

By Steve Dickinson

This is my wrap up to my series on China cybersecurity, stemming from the recent webinar at which I discussed cybersecurity in China. To watch that webinar, go here.

To read part 1 of this series, go here. Part 1 described the cybersecurity situation in China. To read part 2 of this series, go here. Part 2 explains why cryptography is not a solution and it looks at the Golden Tax Malware Program as an example of CCP malware. To read Part 3, go here. I discuss how companies are essentially forced to into an insecure network system so as to expose their data to the CCP and I examine the international implications of this.

In this post, I address the practical options foreign companies have for dealing with China’s cybersecurity system.

In response to my recent webinar on Chinese cyber-insecurity, viewers and readers have asked a reasonable question: what can we do to deal with the cyber-insecurity situation in China? How can we operate in China and still protect our critical data? The assumption in this question is that there must be a technical cybersecurity solution that will allow companies and individuals to protect their private technical data in China. The problem is technical, so there must be a technical solution.

This is a symptom of unrealistic techno-optimism. The answer to the question is quite simple and blunt. There is almost nothing you can do. Any form of data you transmit across the Chinese border is available for inspection and use by the Communist Party and its agents. The title of my webinar (No Place to Hide) is not hyperbole. Once within the borders of China, there truly is no place to hide.

China, US space rivalry may heat up after Nasa’s Artemis Accords signed, analysts say

Liu Zhen

Nasa’s new Artemis Accords were signed on Tuesday between the US and Australia, Britain, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates.

The accords allow countries or private companies to extract lunar resources and create temporary “safety zones” on the moon for their operation to “avoid harmful interference” from others.

They also require countries to be transparent about their plans in space and to share their scientific discoveries as required by the Outer Space Treaty, and to take part in mutual emergency help and reduction of space debris.

The Quad Sharpens Its Edges

BRAHMA CHELLANEY

NEW DELHI – The Quad, a loose strategic coalition of the Indo-Pacific region’s four leading democracies, is rapidly solidifying this year in response to China’s aggressive foreign policy. Following a recent meeting of their top foreign-policy officials in Tokyo, Australia, India, Japan, and the United States are now actively working toward establishing a new multilateral security structure for the region. The idea is not to create an Asian version of NATO, but rather to develop a close security partnership founded on shared values and interests, including the rule of law, freedom of navigation, respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, peaceful dispute resolution, free markets, and free trade.

Having survived an attempt on his life, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is eager to get back to work. It is now clearer than ever that President Vladimir Putin's regime is morally irredeemable and in a state of decay.0Add to Bookmarks
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China represents a growing challenge to all these principles. At a time when the world is struggling with a pandemic that originated in China, that country’s expansionism and rogue behavior have lent new momentum to the Quad’s evolution toward a concrete formal security arrangement.

Of course, the Quad’s focus also extends beyond China, with the goal being to ensure a stable balance of power within a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” That concept was first articulated in 2016 by then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and has quickly become the linchpin of America’s regional strategy.

Sinology and the rise of China today

Author: Wang Gungwu, NUS and ANU

The first Sinologists I met in the 1950s were Europeans working in the Orientalist tradition. They had inherited two centuries of scholarship on the languages and cultures of North Africa and Asia but were by this time primarily interested in China. There were very few scholars in the field and some of their work served the needs of European imperial powers. The best of them enriched our knowledge of the Eurasian continent.

During the 19th century, Western admiration for Chinese civilisation gave way to condescension and curiosity about how it became irrelevant so quickly. Most Chinese scholars rejected this Orientalist perspective, maintaining that their heritage was invaluable and that lessons from the past could help them deal with present challenges.

Sinology dominated Western studies of China until shortly after World War II, when a new communist China was seen as an enemy during the Cold War. The United States began providing new funding to encourage US social scientists to collaborate with sinologists, not least to find out how China’s past was relevant to its modernisation ambitions.

Where the European powers saw their modern achievements establish universal standards for civilisation, China’s political elites felt their country’s future still depended on key parts of their distinctive value system. That faith was tested when civil war and Japanese invasion came together to destroy the Nationalist regime. Efforts to develop a modern Chinese scholarship came to nothing. Instead, the past was rewritten to fit a Marxist-Leninist framework and the study of China entered a state of confusion.

America’s Soft-Power Outage Can Be Fixed

Hal Brands

Hal Brands is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist, the Henry Kissinger Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, and a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Most recently, he is the co-author of "The Lessons of Tragedy: Statecraft and World Order."

Under President Donald Trump, the collapse of American soft power — the ability of a nation to influence others through attraction rather than coercion — is real, and it's spectacular. A survey released last month by the Pew Research Center reveals that Covid-19 has accentuated a four-year slide since Trump took office: Confidence in the U.S. and its leadership has plummeted among the friends and allies that should admire the U.S. most.

It is easy to despair about whether the U.S. can regain the power of inspiration it has used to such unique strategic advantage in the past. Fortunately, history provides some consolation: American soft power has traditionally been easy to wound but remarkably hard to kill.

The wounds are serious today, no doubt. Among 13 democracies, all of which are U.S. treaty allies or strategic partners, only in South Korea does a majority of the population have a positive opinion of America. In six countries — Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and the U.K. — America’s favorability rating is lower than at any time since Pew began tracking the subject two decades ago.

In none of the 13 countries surveyed, moreover, does more than 23% of the population trust Trump to “do the right thing regarding world affairs,” putting him behind even Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping. The leader of the free world is being outpolled by the leaders of the world’s most dangerous autocracies.

TURNKEY ALLIES: ISRAEL BACKING THE SUNNI CAUSE

By Andrew Narloch 

Ultimately, a positive end for Israel will lead to a dual benefit of strengthened regional security and stronger bonds with the wider Arab world.

The current sectarian violence in the Middle East gives credit to some scholars’ belief in a looming war between the Sunni Arab states on one side and Iran and its allies on the other. It would be in Israel’s best interests to ensure that the Sunni Arab states win this conflict. The 13 August 2020 historic peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates is just the latest brick in the foundation of this realpolitik-based cooperation. But even as relations normalize, Israel must carefully calculate aid to Sunni states given there will be constraints on Israeli action. Ultimately, a positive end for Israel will lead to the dual benefit of strengthened regional security and stronger bonds with the wider Arab world.

Reasonable Expectations

The two important factors for Middle East watchers to examine are the early warning signs of an impending war and the scale of the hostilities. These two factors are essential in determining the international will to tolerate such a conflict and the regional states’ will for escalating conflict. Past conflicts offer the best insight into these questions.

Yemen, Syria, and Iraq all represent flashpoints from which a more extensive conflict could escalate. Current Yemeni and Syrian hostilities have primarily consisted of attritional fighting, with some forces holding out away from strategically important areas. This situation leaves Iraq, which has been crippled by war for decades and has a weak central government, as the primary matchstick for wider regional conflict. Additionally, Iraq represents the crown jewel for both Sunni and Shia factions to control. Geographically, it creates a highway between allied states; economically, it could tip petroleum output in favor of the victor; and demographically, it contains a large population of both Shia and Sunni Muslims. The latter creates the optimal casus belli for both Shia and Sunni states to come to the aid of their respective peoples, while the former points represent critical strategic factors for establishing regional hegemony.

Can Another Shaky Truce in Libya Actually Hold?

Candace Rondeaux

Nearly a decade into Libya’s grinding civil war, it seems next to impossible to imagine stability, let alone a political settlement. The country is as torn as ever between the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli, which is backed militarily by Turkey, and the rival forces loyal to Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s breakaway Libyan National Army, backed by a motley crew of Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and France. Libya, which before the war was among the world’s top oil-exporting countries, with billions in hydrocarbon reserves, is today oil-rich, revenue-poor and teetering on the brink of irretrievable collapse. The clock is now counting down on a shaky cease-fire deal that traded oil for a truce, and is set to expire Oct. 18. Only time will tell if that bargain will hold long enough for the U.N. to hold a scheduled summit between the warring sides in Tunisia in November.

Signed last month, the deal brokered by Haftar and the GNA’s deputy prime minister, Ahmed Maiteeq, called for a temporary end to a blockade of oil ports by Haftar’s forces in Libya’s embattled east, which is under the nominal control of the rival parliament in Tobruk that supports Haftar and his Libyan National Army. Some observers say the deal was done because Maiteeq was under physical duress and Haftar was desperate not to lose the backing of his two biggest external patrons, Russia and the UAE.

But whatever the case, the agreement has held despite the odds against it. Command over Libya’s oil fields and the revenues they generate has been a central sticking point in the conflict since the fall of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. In addition to sparking interventions from the UAE, Russia, Egypt and France, the bloody brawl for Libya’s oil wealth has splintered the country between myriad armed factions that are as tribal and personal in nature as they are ideological.

Beyond Arms Embargo, Obstacles Remain to Iran’s Acquisition of Russian Weapons

Nicole Grajewski

On Oct. 18, the U.N. conventional arms embargo on Iran will expire despite the Trump administration’s numerous attempts to extend the embargo and induce “snap back” provisions. Russia has made its categorical rejection of Washington’s efforts to keep Iran from resuming arms exports crystal clear; however, opposition to the extension of the embargo should not be mistaken as an indication that Moscow will rush to sell weapons to Tehran. Even though Moscow may possess commercial interests in exporting arms to Tehran, numerous financial, technical and political obstacles complicate Iran’s acquisition of Russian weapons and military equipment.

Moscow Unimpressed by Prospects of U.S. Sanctions as Iran Eyes Russian Systems

The state of U.S.-Russian relations suggests that Washington lacks the leverage or trust in Moscow to reach an understanding on limiting the sale of weapons to Tehran akin to previous instances of U.S.-Russian cooperation like the 1995 Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement or U.N. Resolution 1929 and the S-300.

Thailand Spiraling Toward Outright Conflict

Joshua Kurlantzick

In recent days, protests and counterprotests in Thailand have pushed the country closer to dangerous conflict between pro-democracy demonstrators, who also increasingly have called for monarchical reforms, and the royalist military and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, himself a former general who launched the 2014 coup in the kingdom. Protests have been building for months, and have shifted from just focusing on constitutional reforms and calls for a new election to demanding reforms of the monarchy, which historically has been a taboo subject in Thailand and protected by lèse majesté laws.

Despite regular arrests of protest leaders, the demonstrations show no signs of abating. In recent days, the standoff has become much more serious. Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn lives primarily in Germany but recently returned to Thailand, as the German government warned him not to be conducting state business from Germany. On Wednesday, protestors gathered in downtown Bangkok, confronting military and police and counterprotests. The demonstrators are infuriated by the king’s growing influence over Thai politics, the military, and Crown Property Bureau funds, his unwillingness to actually live in Thailand, and his often-chaotic personal lifestyle. In fact, the king is so much more willing to openly wield power than his predecessor father, and as a result he has made himself more open to public criticism.

A Dose of Optimism, as the Pandemic Rages On

By Donald G. McNeil Jr.

On March 16, back when White House news conferences were still deemed safe to attend, President Trump stood before reporters and announced that drastic nationwide restrictions — in schools, work places, our social lives — were needed to halt the coronavirus.

The guidelines, “15 Days to Slow the Spread,” were accompanied by a grim chart. Based on a prominent model by London’s Imperial College, the chart illustrated with a sinuous blue line how many Americans might die if nothing were done to protect the public’s health.

The line rose sharply as the estimated deaths went up, then drifted slowly down until finally, at the far right end of the graph, the number of new cases reached zero. Our national nightmare would end by October 2020 — that is, right about now. Along the way, if no action was taken, about 2.2 million Americans would die. Dr. Deborah Birx, one of Mr. Trump’s science advisers, referred to the graph as “the blue mountain of deaths.”

Clearly, the pandemic has not ended. So far some 215,000 Americans have lost their lives to the coronavirus, and reliable estimates suggest that the number could reach 400,000. Health experts agree that, with stronger leadership, the death toll would have been far lower.

Nonetheless, there is a collective accomplishment here worth acknowledging. In the Imperial College report, the authors underscored that their worst-case estimate would almost certainly not be realized, thanks to human nature: “It is highly likely that there would be significant spontaneous changes in population behavior even in the absence of government-mandated interventions.”

A Partial Ban on Autonomous Weapons Would Make Everyone Safer

BY ZACHARY KALLENBORN

The United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons Group of Governmental Experts met late last month to discuss lethal, autonomous weapons. The semiannual meetings are the first serious effort by global governments to control autonomous weapons. And the weapons pose serious risks to global security: Even the best artificial intelligence isn’t well suited to distinguishing farmers from soldiers and may be trained only on laboratory data that is a poor substitute for real battlefields.

As U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres wrote on Twitter, “Autonomous machines with the power and discretion to select targets and take lives without human involvement are politically unacceptable, morally repugnant and should be prohibited by international law.”

Organizations such as the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, and Human Rights Watch advocate for a comprehensive ban on all autonomous weapons, but such a ban is unlikely to succeed. The military potential of autonomous weapons is too great. Autonomous weapons guard ships against small boat attacks, search for terrorists, stand sentry, and destroy adversary air defenses.

Just a few weeks ago, an AI simulation defeated a living, breathing F-16 pilot five to zero in a simulated dogfight. Such an AI system could conceivably command a future aerial drone. No doubt the technology will grow and mature. No serious military power would give up such potential—especially when concerns are theoretical and adversaries may not follow suit. Russia didn’t even show up to the experts’ meeting.

In the Grey Zone

Tom Stevenson

To fight​ a war this century you need proxies on the ground. From South America to Central Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, nations have chosen to pursue their objectives through local confederates. The catastrophic Anglo-American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq are remembered as conventional wars. But the war in Afghanistan began with the raising of a proxy army. Although the invasion of Iraq was conducted by traditional armed divisions on a grand scale – nearly 180,000 troops from the US, UK, Australia and others – the occupation that followed devolved into an exercise in proxy management. The temptation to use direct military force to contend with the provocations of another state is ever present; injunctions to ‘arm the rebels’ – from proponents of interventions in civil wars around the world – are now almost as common.

Powerful states have used local auxiliaries to pursue their foreign policy aims since ancient times. The Athenians engaged Cretan archers – they had better bows. The Roman Empire used Ghassanid tribesmen to combat the Lakhmids, themselves proxies of the Persians. Almost every kingdom in Renaissance Europe enlisted Halberd-waving Swiss Reisläufer. Turning regional political factions into proxy armies was a standard tactic of European empires. But war by proxy is a strategy depended on now as never before.

Until his assassination by US drone strike on 3 January this year, it was generally agreed that the modern master of proxy warfare was Qasem Soleimani of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the general in charge of Iran’s extraterritorial and clandestine military activities. Trump justified turning the US global assassination machine against Soleimani on the grounds that he had been ‘saying bad things about our country’, but his reputation as mastermind wasn’t without basis. Unlike his equivalents in the CIA and MI6, Soleimani liked to dodge mortar fire near the front lines. He spoke reasonable Arabic and was able to inspire loyalty in ragtag bands of foreign fighters. His activities led to the belief that where Americans and Brits were amateur proxy warriors, Iranians were professionals. Sepah-e Quds, the directorate of the IRGC responsible for running forces abroad, was founded during the Iran-Iraq War; Soleimani took command in 1997 and built on a tradition that had been developing in Iran since the revolution. In Iraq, the Quds Force has influence over the Hashd ash-Sha‘bi, a group of forty or so militias also known as the Popular Mobilisation Committee. In Syria, it works through Afghan and Syrian Shia irregulars. The Zaidi Shia of the Houthi movement in Yemen and Taliban factions in Afghanistan both work with the Quds Force, though – like Hizbullah in Lebanon, which has grown to be more of an ally than a proxy – they are better described as supported by Iran than as its puppets. Most of the fighters for these groups are drawn from local Shia communities, but the Quds Force doesn’t insist on doctrinal purity.

Forget Counterterrorism, the United States Needs a Counter-Disinformation Strategy

BY BRIAN RAYMOND 

On Oct. 14, Facebook and Twitter made the decision to remove a dubious New York Post story from their platforms—provoking heated debate in the internet’s various echo chambers. The article in question purportedly revealed influence peddling by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden, and the social media giants suspected that the uncorroborated claims were based on hacked or fabricated correspondences. Weeks before the U.S. presidential election, Silicon Valley’s swift and decisive action in response to disinformation is a stark contrast to its handling of hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign four years ago.

A week prior, on Oct. 7, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it had seized nearly 100 websites linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). These sites had been engaged in a global disinformation campaign, targeting audiences from the United States to Southeast Asia with pro-Iranian propaganda. But it wasn’t just the government engaged in countering adversaries online: One day later, Facebook and Twitter reported that they had taken down more than a dozen disinformation networks used by political and state-backed groups in Iran, Russia, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand.

In the grand scheme of things, the events of Oct. 7 and 14 were hardly noteworthy. In recent years, private and public actors alike have had to ramp up their efforts against botnets, troll farms, and artificial intelligence systems that seek to manipulate the online information environment and advance certain strategic objectives. These actors came under unprecedented scrutiny in the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The United States continues to rely on the same dated playbook that led to success against Soviet propaganda operations.

DFS Calls for Regulation of Social Media Giants

Sarah Coble 

The New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) has called for the regulation of social media giants after finding the cybersecurity protections at Twitter woefully inadequate.

Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, asked the DFS to investigate Twitter following the July 15, 2020, hack into the Twitter accounts of several cryptocurrency firms and well-known public figures.

A report on that investigation, released today, found that the global social media platform lacked adequate cybersecurity protections and, at the time of the attack, did not have a chief information security officer in place.

The department found that threat actors gained access to Twitter's systems simply "by calling Twitter employees and claiming to be from Twitter’s IT department," then asking for victims' login credentials. 

Using this unsophisticated attack strategy, the cyber-criminals hijacked the Twitter accounts of politicians, celebrities, and entrepreneurs, including Barack Obama, Kim Kardashian West, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and several cryptocurrency companies regulated by the DFS.

“The Twitter Hack demonstrates the need for strong cybersecurity to curb the potential weaponization of major social media companies,” noted the DFS.

The report recommended that a new cybersecurity regulatory framework be created for giant social media companies. Currently, the cybersecurity policies and programs of such companies are not overseen by a dedicated federal or state regulator that would ensure that their cybersecurity policies and programs adequately address the risks of their digital operating models. 

Will Commanders Trust Their New AI Weapons and Tools?

BY MARGARITA KONAEV

As the Department of Defense races to develop AI-enabled tools and systems, there are outstanding questions about exactly where their investments are going, and what benefits and risks might result. One key unknown: will commanders and troops trust their new tools enough to make them worth the effort?

Drawing on publicly available budgetary data about the DOD science and technology program, the Center for Security and Emerging Technology, or CSET, examined the range of autonomy and AI-related research and development efforts advanced by the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and DARPA. Among the main research lines are programs dedicated to increasing automation, autonomy, and AI capabilities in air, ground, surface, and undersea unmanned vehicles and systems; increasing the speed and accuracy of information processing and decision making; and increasing precision and lethality throughout the targeting processes. We recently released a two-part analysis of the scope and implications of these efforts. One of the most consistent themes is an emphasis on human-machine collaboration and teaming.

Indeed, while in the public imagination the integration of AI into military systems foretells a future where machines replace humans on the battlefield and wartime decisions are made without human input or control, in our assessment of U.S. military research on emerging technologies, humans remain very much in the loop. 

The U.S. Army’s flagship Next Generation Combat Vehicle research program is a good example of human-machine teaming cutting across different use cases and applications of autonomy and AI. One of its research activities develops AI and ML software and algorithms to “team with soldiers in support fully autonomous maneuver of NGCV and other autonomous systems, both physical and non-embodied.” This effort is meant to develop capabilities for NGCV that will “increase autonomy, unburdening the soldier operator, with a high degree of survivability and lethality in a highly contested environment.” Another applied NGCV research initiative looks to new “ML and reinforcement learning methods” to enable “joint human-intelligent agent decision making, optimizing the strengths of each in the decision process and creating an adaptive, agile team.” In other words, this research envisions intelligent technologies that interact, collaborate, and integrate with soldiers, optimizing performance for both humans and human-machine teams in different environments and missions.

US Army tests jamming pod on Gray Eagle drone

By: Mark Pomerleau 

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army demonstrated its first brigade airborne electronic warfare jamming pod at an exercise this summer, and for the first time outfitting it to a Gray Eagle Extended Range drone.

The Multifunctional Electronic Warfare (MFEW) Air Large is the Army’s first organic brigade electronic attack asset mounted on an MQ-1C Gray Eagle drone and slated to be fielded in 2022.

In the September time frame, the system participated in a closely held demonstration of the Army’s Architecture, Automation, Autonomy and Interfaces capability, which was built by the service’s Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team to allow operators to control various aspects of Gray Eagle operations.

A demonstration of an Army-developed capability showed the ability to nimbly pass control between operators of drones and munitions through a networked architecture of systems.

“Lockheed Martin performed ground-based testing for the U.S. Army’s Multi-Function Electronic Warfare-Air Large system at an Army test center that included electronic attack and electronic warfare support against several communications and non-communications targets,” Dave Wagner, senior program manager of cyber and electronic warfare at Lockheed, told C4ISRNET in an Oct. 13 interview.

Lockheed is building the system for the Army and was awarded nearly $75 million in January for the second phase of the program.

No, Drones Haven’t Made Tanks Obsolete

BY ROBERT BATEMAN

In 1897, the American author Mark Twain replied in a letter to a London journalist, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” The same applies to the recent claims of the death of the tank, and by implication all major armored vehicles.

The overinflated claims of both sides in the recently reignited two-week-long fight between Azerbaijan and Armenia in their long-standing conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region have caused a rash of new claims of the tank’s demise. The social media battlefield is hotly disputed between both sides, with each posting videos of the destruction they’ve caused to the other side’s armor. These would indeed be stunning claims—if they were true. As of this week Armenia was claiming that the forces it supports destroyed literally a division’s worth of tanks, while Azerbaijan asserted a more qualified total of a division’s worth of “tanks and amphibious vehicles.”

The rumor mill created the tales of Twain’s death out of the illness of an English cousin of his. It’s now spinning at full speed over the Armenia-Azerbaijan fight. Both sides are deploying numerous digital stills and videos to support their extraordinary claims of the numbers of opposing armored vehicles destroyed in battle. Taken at face value, this seems to point to an obvious conclusion: Tanks (and other protected vehicles) cannot last, as they are death traps on a modern battlefield dominated by cheap drones. This is wrong.

Promote and Build: A Strategic Approach to Digital Authoritarianism


Digital authoritarianism presents overlapping and expanding challenges within autocracies and democracies. The ever evolving tools and techniques of digital authoritarianism transcend boundaries and have over the past decade advanced the interests of authoritarian states while subverting human rights, democratic principles, and more. A new strategic approach is needed to address this broad challenge set. It should be grounded in fundamental principles and framed around promoting resilience while building affirmative alternatives, then executed across the U.S. government and multilateral system.
Digital Authoritarianism on the Rise

As the world turns its eyes to the 2020 U.S. presidential election, many are wondering what role Russia, China, and others may play and how both external and internal actors will use digital technologies and applications as disruptive tools. Misinformation and disinformation may get the most attention (especially during an election year), but they are far from the only digital tools authoritarians use to repress, disrupt, and spar with strategic competitors.

The growing threat of digital authoritarianism is well understood in Washington and other capitals around the world. The problem has been exquisitely documented, described, and diagnosed. And yet the trend is not only continuing, it is accelerating within virtually every nation on Earth. Digital authoritarianism presents overlapping and expanding challenges (1) within autocracies, (2) as tools to undermine adversaries, (3) via export to like-minded regimes, and (4) within and by democracies themselves.

Exploitation of digital tools by leaders with authoritarian tendencies threatens to take humanity backward, potentially undoing decades of post–World War II political and multilateral progress in every country from the world’s most important democracies to its most fragile. The suite of information technology their creators envisioned as bridges to enhance governance and liberty are in fact showing it is their double edge that cuts more deeply. From disinformation to corporate espionage, surveillance of citizens, and election interference, abuse of these technologies and the number of actors engaged in harm via online spaces increases by the day. At the same time, the Internet is being deliberately fragmented in a way that is likely to advantage authoritarian states. The flow of information is increasingly dictated at the national level, limiting the competition of ideas and suppressing the rights of individuals who operate in the open and must follow the rules while advantaging those who already break the law with little consequence.

The Status of U.S. Military Power in 2020


Dakota Wood

As Congress struggles to pass a now overdue federal budget, defense spending—both how much and how it should be spent—is under the microscope.

China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, among others, have invested heavily to modernize their forces and equip them with the most up-to-date technologies.

At present, the U.S. military remains marginally capable of defending the country and its interests.

America’s competitors are developing and deploying new technologies that will make their conventional forces far more effective in open combat. The question before Congress is: Will the U.S. try to keep up?

Unprecedented spending in response to the pandemic has driven the national debt to new heights. As Congress struggles to pass a now overdue federal budget, defense spending—both how much and how it should be spent—is under the microscope.

Those on the left bewail the “militarization of foreign policy” and insist the money would be better spent on beans rather than bullets. Others say the Pentagon should abandon plans for high-end ships and planes in favor of robots and cyber tools.

The U.S. Army Wants Ammunition-Carrying Robots to Help Fight Future Wars

by Kris Osborn

The Army seeks self-guiding, auto-loading robots empowered to arm combat vehicles and move ammunition from one platform to another quickly while reducing risk to soldiers and coordinating combined joint attacks. 

The emerging artificial intelligence-centric system seeks to resolve a resupply problem often confronted by attacking forces traveling with finite amounts of ammunition. Furthermore, the need for ammunition, and the pace at which it is needed, is vastly different than it may have been in previous years. 

“The rate of fire is different now compared to autoloaders that existed in the past. We have sophisticated ammo now. The autoloading problem is a really difficult one. We have confidence in our armaments center,” Brigadier General John Rafferty, Director, Long Range Precision Fires Cross Functional Team, Army Futures Command, told The National Interest. 

By referring to sophisticated ammunition, Rafferty may have been citing several emerging high-tech artillery and rocket munitions such as new Excalibur variants. These include “shaped charge” or “shaped trajectory” 155mm rounds able to both course correct and, in some cases, tailor blast effects to meet a specific threat.