24 October 2020

Is the Naval Blockade of the Straits of Malacca a Realistic Option for India: An Assessment

Major General PK Mallick, VSM (Retd), 


The Straits of Malacca is the shortest sea route between Persian Gulf suppliers of oil and key Asian markets. It links major economies such as Middle East, China, Japan, South Korea, etc. Being the 500 nautical mile funneled waterway, the Strait is only 1.5 nautical miles (2.8 km) wide at its narrowest point─ the Phillips Channel in the Singapore Strait. The Strait is not deep enough to accommodate some of the largest ships, mostly oil tankers, but it is significant as through the South China Sea it connects the Indian Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. Very often, the blockade of the Straits of Malacca for disruption of Chinese energy sources and trade is being offered as a possible Indian strategic deterrence option against China in a conflict scenario. 1 With hardly any other deterrence Continue Reading

State of Play: India’s Gulf Relations Amid Shifting Regional Ties

Dr Auriol Weigold

Key Points

India has “warm” bilateral relations with the Gulf states that have “normalised” their relations with Israel and with Israel itself.

India’s relationship with Iran, based on co-operative development and under threat as India draws back, may interest the United States.

Prime Minister Modi and Israel’s long-term leader Binyamin Netanyahu, share right-wing political values.

Despite Islamophobic jibes from their Indian migrant workers, India’s relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain remain solid.

India’s Vande Bharat evacuation flights from the UAE and Bahrain are transporting migrant workers directly to many Indian cities and towns.

The presence in the Gulf of the Indian and US Navies is a reminder of the ongoing security requirement to keep open vital sea lines of communication.


India maintains relations with a diverse group of Middle Eastern countries, from Iran to Israel, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain which have most recently “normalised” their relations with Israel. India’s bilateral relations with Israel were formalised in 1992, while Iran severed all diplomatic and commercial ties with Israel after its 1979 Revolution. Iran thus appears as an outlier in this paper. Its relations with India are long-standing but less secure at this time.

India-ROK: The Search for a Post-Pandemic Comprehensive Partnership


India-ROK ties have gained new momentum in the past few years. As part of their “Special Strategic Partnership,” regular dialogue, exchanges of visits and increased trade, economic and defense cooperation are fast becoming commonplace, creating a “new normal” in their bilateral engagement. Looking ahead, the two countries are well-positioned to overcome obstacles on the path to establishing a much deeper relationship.

Impediments to Partnership

Although India and South Korea seek to develop a comprehensive partnership, there are a few impediments they will have to overcome to achieve this goal. First, there are India’s diplomatic ties with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which have led South Korea to adopt a more hesitant approach towards India. Second, India’s commitment to promoting its Special Strategic and Global Partnership with Japan has made the ROK more cautious about viewing India as a partner, given the historical antagonisms between Japan and South Korea. Finally, the ROK’s strong economic relations with China have made Seoul wary of endorsing the Indo-Pacific regional framework and joining any initiatives that are aimed at containing China from Beijing’s perspective. All this said, India and South Korea have numerous opportunities to strengthen the bilateral relationship.

Shifting Regional Dynamics and India-ROK Relations

As two of Asia’s largest economies, the expansion of ties between India and South Korea could contribute significantly to regional peace and security. Until now, their relationships with China, a major trading partner for each, has made them more cautious about adopting an anti-China rhetoric. But the recent downturn in India-China relations and South Korea’s acceptance and participation in the “Quad Plus” (a loosely organized coalition of Australia, India, Japan, the United States, and South Korea) may give both countries diplomatic cover to deepen their bilateral relationship even if that causes greater tensions with China. A stronger and united India-ROK approach towards the PRC would allow both states to develop economic and security models that other Asian nations could follow.

The India-China Rivalry Undermines the Emergence of a Multipolar World

By Emil Avdaliani

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: India has initiated a grand strategic shift away from active engagement with China and toward its outright containment. This evolution was long in coming, but recent military clashes in the Himalayas have accelerated the process. India’s emerging strategy undermines the notion of a multipolar world championed by Moscow and Beijing, putting into question the degree to which the liberal world order is in decline.

A grand strategic shift is taking place in India’s geopolitical calculus.

New Delhi has always been wary of Beijing’s growing economic and military power. But in the last couple of years, China’s moves in the Indo-Pacific region have entrenched the belief among the Indian political elite that their country has to pursue a more active foreign policy.

Beijing is pursuing many large infrastructure projects and military moves in the Indo-Pacific. The most critical of these includes China’s modernization of its military infrastructure in Tibet, which it is conducting at breakneck speed. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), involving some $46 billion of investment into Pakistan and especially into territories claimed by India, also increases New Delhi’s longterm animosity toward Beijing.

Further afield, China is increasing its influence among the smaller South Asian states that border India’s eastern provinces. This issue connects with China’s “string of pearls” strategy—the development of ports that it will likely use for both commercial and military purposes in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere. The resulting Indian fears of Chinese encirclement are translating into growing calls in India for a more robust and proactive foreign policy stance.

The salient geography of the Indian subcontinent, which almost exactly corresponds to the modern state of India, provides an incomparable geopolitical advantage in that it provides control over major sea lanes from the Middle East to China. This advantage lies at the heart of India’s vision of the Indo-Pacific. India is essentially obliged to look to the south and southeast, as that direction represents the only corridor through which it can expand its geopolitical clout. (India is closed off by impassable mountains to the north and by its rivalry with Pakistan to the northwest.)

The Chinese Distant Water Fishing Fleet and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing

Mervyn Piesse

Key Points

Chinese interests operate the largest distant water fishing fleet in the world, estimated to be 1,600-3,400 ships in size.

The Chinese distant water fishing fleet could be five to eight times larger than that, however, and operate in every region of the world.

While most of those vessels operate legally, with permission from host states and in accordance with international maritime law, there is considerable scope for Chinese fishing operators to act in a legal grey zone.

Beijing has militarised part of its fishing fleet, enabling it to act as a third sea force capable of projecting power and advancing Chinese strategic interests.


Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is not just an environmental challenge, it also poses a threat to food security, employment and state development. It is often conducted by transnational criminal networks and, in some cases, it even perpetuates conflict. The Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, Admiral Karl Schultz, stated that ‘IUU fishing has replaced piracy as the leading global maritime security threat. If IUU fishing continues unchecked, we can expect a deterioration of fragile coastal States and increased tension among foreign-fishing Nations, threatening geo-political stability around the world.’ The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2019 biennial IUU Fishing Report to Congress, also noted a significant increase in alleged illegal fishing by Chinese-flagged vessels in the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of other countries in almost every region of the world. The US Department of State similarly notes that ‘China is one of the world’s worst perpetrators of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, disregarding fisheries management measures.’ It is likely that most Chinese IUU fishing is committed by distant water fishing vessels that operate outside of Chinese waters, usually within the EEZs of countries with limited abilities to monitor foreign fishing ships. While Beijing continues to issue new laws to regulate the fishing industry, there is some uncertainty about how effective they will be in addressing the questionable activities of the distant water fishing fleet, especially as the industry supports the naval modernisation ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party.

Some US-China economic and trade facts

Derek Scissors

Key Points

The US remains well ahead of the People’s Republic of China across a range of important economic indicators, from domestic wealth to share of global foreign direct investment. Because China is rapidly aging, most of the gaps are unlikely to close, contrary to conventional wisdom. Policymakers should not worry that China can be the global economic leader.

Instead, the focus should be on harmful Chinese behavior. While intellectual property coercion deserves attention, subsidies are the worst economic action. In particular, state-owned enterprises are often granted monopoly power and always protected from competition, denying everyone else opportunities in China and around the world.

The first step the US should take is boring: documenting the problems. But this will justify the harsh retaliation necessary for any change in Beijing. Retaliation should include closing a few industries to China the way subsidies close many Chinese industries and treating large-scale beneficiaries of intellectual property coercion as criminal entities.

Chinese Discourse Power

by Alicia Fawcett

New methods of information operations, in the form of interference campaigns and disinformation, outline China’s shift toward adopting the principle of “discourse power.” China’s traditional foreign policy of “non-intervention” into foreign nations is no longer viable, as it has envisioned a different world order with itself ascending to the central role. Discourse power is the concept that a country can attain increased geopolitical power by setting agendas internationally through influencing the political order and values both domestically and in foreign countries. The information space offers China an effective alternative to its prior “non-intervention” stance by allowing the country to project the “China Story”—i.e., to project the positive image through storytelling in the media landscape, both domestic and abroad. Information perception tactics such as the removal, suppression, and downplay of negative information, as well as gamification of certain hashtags, are tools with which China intends to convince foreign audiences that it is “a responsible world leader” and leading power in reforming the international political system. 

This study examined the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) use of both Mandarin-language and Western social media platforms as tools for discourse power projection. The DFRLab found China to be effective on Mandarin-language sites that target both Chinese citizens and the Chinese diaspora, employing the use of strict censorship and favorable CCP messaging prioritization. On the other hand, while attempting to engage foreign actors through Western social media platforms, the information operations found to date have resulted in ineffective influence, relied on outsourcing the operation to third parties, and utilized “astroturfing” and “sock puppets.” 

The next frontier for Chinese discourse power is in big data and artificial intelligence (AI), as signified by the high volume of mentions of these terms in the People’s Liberation Army’s official journal. Meanwhile, Chinese companies Tik Tok, Baidu, and Douyin have investigated the possibility of making deep fakes available to the consumer on their apps, pointing to a near future when these tools can be deployed as a part of information operations. The DFRLab assesses that AI will be used to employ effective, large-scale disinformation campaigns and to covertly run authentic Western social media accounts. 

Welcome to the Final Battle for the Climate


China’s unilateral commitment to carbon neutrality by 2060 took the West by surprise. If President Xi Jinping’s words can be taken at face value, the country which emits more carbon dioxide than the United States, Europe, and Japan put together is embarking on a radical program of decarbonization. Climate change politics at a global level thus shift into a new gear.

There were no doubt tactical motives behind the timing of Xi’s announcement. But to imagine that China’s strategy is a propagandistic diversion or a concession to Western diplomacy—a liberal quid pro quo for Xi’s dictatorship—is both to overestimate Western leverage and to underestimate the climate problem. It is precisely because the Communist Party regime is bent on shaping the next century that its leader takes climate change seriously. In the calculus of the regime, Yangtze river floods are, like Hong Kong rights protestors, a threat to its grip on power. The future for Beijing’s authoritarian China Dream looks far more uncertain in a world of runaway global warming.

Xi’s move may scramble Western preconceptions, but it has been obvious since the beginning of this century that China would have the decisive voice in the future of the global climate. A quarter century before it is expected to overtake the United States in terms of GDP, China surpassed it in terms of carbon emissions. China dominates all the heavily polluting industries worldwide—coal, steel, aluminum, cement. Once this could have been attributed to offshored Western production. Today, China consumes most of its heavy industrial output at home. With his decarbonization commitment, which eclipses any plausible future move that the EU or the United States might make, Xi has simply made clear where the real decision lies.

America Needs To Talk About a China Reset


During this presidential campaign, there is at least one issue on which there is little daylight between U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden: China. If anything, Biden has called Trump out for his ineffective China policies and promised to be even tougher on Beijing.

The United States urgently needs a reset of its China debate. The present level of tension between Washington and Beijing cannot simply go on without a disruption that both sides may regret.

The next administration has to tackle the U.S.-Chinese rivalry fast—and head-on. It doesn’t have to deliver peace and goodwill, or end the “cold war” with China. Washington and Beijing have fundamental differences on an array of issues, such as the South China Sea, trade, and ideology. None of these issues can be easily solved—they can only be worked on. Rather, rules must urgently be set for the ongoing competition in order to prevent an accidental outbreak of military hostilities or cyberconflict at a level that threatens global peace and stability.

Over the past four years, relations between Washington and Beijing have not only become dramatically worse—they have become dramatically dysfunctional and emotional. This is too dangerous to be allowed to continue. To use a Cold War analogy, the next administration will have to move the U.S.-Chinese rivalry from a pre-Cuban missile crisis environment to a post-Cuban missile crisis environment, without having to go through the harrowing danger of the Cuban missile crisis itself.

South China Sea: The U.S. Navy Is Back (with an Aircraft Carrier)

by Peter Suciu

The sailors and aviators serving in the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group (CSG-5) returned to familiar waters last week when it entered the waters of the South China Sea for the third time during its 2020 deployment. The carrier strike group includes the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), which is operating with the embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG 54), and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Halsey (DDG 97) and USS John S. McCain (DDG 56).

Last Monday, after operating in the Indian Ocean, the strike group passed through the Strait of Malacca and entered the South China Sea. It is now conducting maritime security operations that include flight operations with both fixed and rotary aircraft and is also taking part in maritime strike exercises along with coordinated tactical training between surface and air units the U.S. Navy’s press office reported

“Throughout our deployment, we continue our long tradition demonstrating the United States’ commitment to the lawful use of the seas and maintaining open access to the international commons,” said Rear Adm. George Wikoff, commander, Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group. “The focus of our operations has always been, and will continue to be, cooperation alongside our Indo-Pacific allies and partners in promoting regional stability.”

Following Fresh US Sanctions, Will China Bail out Iran?

By Emily Jin

As the United States slapped additional sanctions on Iran on October 8, the Islamic Republic faces a grim financial future. The Iranian economy is already struggling, and the new designations would almost completely sever the country’s access to global capital. As U.S.-Iran relations deteriorate by the day, Iran has increasing economic and political motivation to lean into its strategic partnership with China.

Iran’s economic motivations loom large given the dire circumstances. Since 2018, the United States has launched an aggressive pressure campaign on Iran. The most recent sanctions put a nail in the coffin, as they bring the remaining 18 Iranian banks that were not subject to secondary sanctions under this more aggressive pressure. Though Iran was already largely cut off from the international financial system for most trade, this in effect now completely severs Iran’s access to the U.S. dollar and basic consumer goods. While the sanctions carved out an exception for humanitarian transactions, international financial institutions such as those in Europe and developed Asia will also be hesitant to touch these transactions for fear of sanctions. Also, as Iran’s reserves dry up, the Central Bank of Iran will be even less able to defend the rial. On top of the country’s currency crisis, which is adding to inflationary pressures, economic vulnerabilities such as a rising current account deficit (including a large trade deficit with China) and fiscal deficit exert additional pressure on its already dwindling currency reserves.

China has been willing to flout U.S. sanctions on Iran in the past, as it continues to buy oil and engages in other financial dealings. China’s willingness to support trade and offer critical investments now presents an economic lifeline to Iran.

For Iran, there is also a political motivation in building closer ties with China. Iran’s hardliners and reformists both prefer China over the United States. The hardliners have always been skeptical if not outright hostile to the West, while the pragmatists and reformists, disillusioned after the U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), have no viable option other than accepting China as a strategic partner.

Diplomatic Visits, New Arms Sales, and PLA Provocations Raise Tensions in the Taiwan Strait

By: John Dotson


Events throughout 2020 have seen a measured but steady increase in tensions surrounding Taiwan. The government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to deny any legitimacy to the democratically-elected government of the Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan. The PRC also continues to make menacing insistence upon unification on Beijing’s terms, in language that has grown more strident throughout the tenure of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping (China Brief, February 15, 2019; China Brief, November 1, 2019).

Against this background, the PRC has reacted with both harsh rhetoric and saber rattling to enhanced U.S.-Taiwan diplomatic contacts in August and September, as well as a reported further round of impending U.S.-Taiwan arms sales (see discussion further below). One PRC English-language outlet opined in late September that “The U.S. has been releasing all kinds of supportive signals to Taiwan this year, with the level and frequency of their so-called interactions flagrantly enhanced… While [some in Taiwan] jump at such signals, they’d better think long and hard whether the signals are sweet poisons from the U.S. for Taiwan” (PLA Daily, September 25).

U.S. Diplomatic Visits to Taiwan

Recent years have seen a noteworthy increase in official and semi-official U.S.-Taiwan diplomatic exchanges. In March 2018 the Taiwan Travel Act (TTA) was signed into U.S. law, providing a statement of support for increased travel by high-level Taiwan officials to the United States. This was followed by unofficial “transit stop” visits in the United States by ROC President Tsai Ying-Wen (蔡英文) in 2018 and 2019, and a May 2019 meeting between U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton and his ROC counterpart David Lee (李大維) (China Brief, July 31, 2019). In early February this year ROC Vice President-elect Lai Ching-te (賴清德) traveled to the United States, where he met with senior U.S. political figures and attended the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. (Taiwan News, February 4). Although Lai had not yet assumed office at the time, and therefore visited in an unofficial role, the trip produced harsh condemnations in PRC state press (Xinhua, February 6). All of these visits by Taiwan officials have drawn similarly negative reactions from the PRC Foreign Ministry and state media, as with the “stern representations” presented over President Tsai’s stop in Hawaii in March 2019 (Xinhua, March 21, 2019).


By LTG Richard Formica, U.S. Army Ret.

The U.S. Space Force (USSF) was established on 20 December 2019 as a military service within the Department of the Air Force. According to the National Defense Authorization Act, it is to be organized to provide freedom of operation for the United States in, from and to space and to provide prompt and sustained space operations. This is a vital mission and must remain its focus. 

Standing up the new service will not be simple. There are several important tasks that need to be accomplished: 

The service headquarters must be organized and staffed;

its place within the Department of the Air Force and DoD must be established;

it must be physically located and set up in the Pentagon;

its roles and missions must be determined;

operating procedures and systems must be put in place and integrated into the battle rhythm that is required to sustain the force; and

it must be prepared to accept those space and space-related capabilities that need to transfer in from the other services. 

As the establishment of the USSF moves forward, the temptation for overreach must be avoided. It is critical to identify specific space and space-related capabilities to be transferred to the USSF; it is equally important to determine which capabilities should remain with their respective service—in this case, with the U.S. Army. This must be the result of a disciplined and thorough process to ensure that it is done correctly. The purpose of this paper is to suggest three principles to guide the way forward in identifying these capabilities.


By Maj. Amos C. Fox
Source Link

The ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War offers a glimpse into Russia’s effort to re-exert itself as a great power on the world stage. Historian Orlando Figes provides an excellent explanation of Russian political ambition under President Vladimir Putin. Figes posits that “from the start of his regime, Putin aimed to restore pride in Soviet history. It was an important part of his agenda to rebuild Russia as a great power.”

While the exact extent to which Russia seeks to pursue its status as a great power is unknown, what is known is that Russian policy is oriented on rebuffing further NATO advances in its historical sphere of influence and on gaining (and maintaining) influence across Europe and the Caucasus region. The Russo-Ukrainian War, which began in the spring of 2014, is but one illustration of this point. The war is Putin’s crack to re-exert control and influence over Ukraine, which had been distancing itself from Russia and growing closer to the West during the post-Soviet period. 

The fight for the Donetsk airport was pivotal to this Russian strategy. It changed the operational and tactical battlefield calculus, helping shift the strategic momentum to that of the Russians and their proxy agents in the Donets River basin, or the Donbas. It effected more than the destruction of the airport; it served a much larger role in the conflict. First, it was the pivot point between the Russian summer and winter offensives, the countermeasures that Russia took when it appeared that its proxy client in the Donbas was about to be defeated. Second, when coupled with the Battle of Debal’tseve, the battle at the airport drove the Minsk II agreement, illustrating that effective traditional campaigns can still result in true decisiveness in war. Similarly, the battle demonstrated that, for all the talk of hybrid maneuvers in contemporary warfare, Russian land forces and their intermediaries possess the acumen, strength and sustainment infrastructure to fight hard, rigorous land combat.

Revitalizing the WTO

by Clete R. Willems

All three pillars of the World Trade Organization (WTO)—negotiations, implementation and monitoring, and dispute settlement—require drastic reform to ensure the WTO remains a key force in resolving disputes and forming international trade rules. The world has changed since the creation of the WTO, and it must also evolve to stay current with pressing global issues.

The WTO is in crisis, and momentum for ambitious reform must be generated before the system loses its relevance.

Reform is especially important now since it would provide an efficient way to tackle China’s unfair trade practices head-on. This paper proposes concurrent measures that the United States and European Union can take to revitalize the WTO. 

The will of all WTO members will ultimately be necessary to achieve the broad-based reforms envisioned in this paper, but improving cooperation and coordination between the United States and European Union is a necessary start.

Many reforms have occurred since the creation of the WTO, and these changes highlight that it is essential to update the existing rules of the WTO to meet higher standards. In addition to updating the rules to take into account modern innovations and agreements, it is also critical to regain domestic support for free trade by making stronger commitments on politically important issues.

This report emphasizes the need to promote free trade by reducing high tariff rates, and this will in turn help least-developed countries. Any reform of the institution must ultimately help countries recognize the challenges least-developed countries face and lead to more equitable trading terms. Without significant reform, the WTO will continue to fall short on delivering its promise to ensure as much smooth, free trade as possible.

Document of the Week: When Ordering the Assassination of a World Leader Required Secrecy


There was a time when ordering the overthrow or assassination of a foreign head of state was a top-secret affair, not something the so-called leader of the free world would boast about on morning television. But U.S. President Donald Trump did just that last month, complaining on Fox & Friends that his plans to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were ultimately nixed by then-Defense Secretary James Mattis. “I would’ve rather taken him out. I had him all set. Mattis didn’t want to do it,” Trump said.

But while Trump may be the first U.S. president to brag publicly about putting another world leader in the crosshairs, he is hardly the first to do so.

Fifty years ago, President Richard Nixon triggered a series of covert actions aimed at either preventing Chilean leftist politician Salvador Allende’s from being inaugurated president of Chile or overthrowing him if he took office, which he did on Nov. 3, 1970. The White House ultimately triggered a military coup against Allende, who died by suicide in the presidential palace in 1973, shooting himself with an AK-47 rifle that was reportedly give to him by the Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

The episode, which tarnished Washington’s reputation in Latin America and beyond, provides a good opportunity to reflect on the impact U.S. regime change has had on American standing in the world. In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the beginnings of the U.S. plot, the National Security Archive assembled a collection of previously declassified documents detailing Nixon’s fevered attempts to take Allende down.

Congress Unveils Its Plan to Curb Big Tech’s Power

ANYONE WHO'S PAID even slight attention to the congressional investigation of the power wielded by tech giants won't be surprised by the report released Tuesday by the subcommittee’s Democrats. They say four companies—Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google—have monopoly power that threatens core economic and political liberties. The report, which ends a 16-month investigation and includes a trove of internal documents, lays out the most thorough case yet that Big Tech exploits its advantages in unfair ways. And it outlines a detailed vision for new legislation to fix those problems—with implications that could extend far beyond the tech industry.

The case against each firm is complex, but some key themes emerge in the 400-plus-page report, built on hearings, other testimony, and more than a million documents. The subcommittee accuses Apple of using its control over mobile apps to squeeze excessive fees out of app developers, who often pass those costs along to users. Amazon allegedly uses its dominant share of online retail to unfairly compete against the outside sellers who use its platform—37 percent of whom, the subcommittee finds, derive all their income through Amazon. The case against Google focuses on the company’s use of its dominant share of the search market to entrench its own position, advantage its own products, and take over other markets like maps and advertising. As for Facebook, the report contains explosive internal emails, some revealed for the first time, showing that the company’s executives openly discussed acquiring companies, including Instagram and WhatsApp, in order to snuff out growing competitors.

In emailed statements, all four companies said they welcomed regulation but vehemently denied the critical findings in the report.

Why Amazon and Jeff Bezos Don't Deserve All That Hate | Opinion


This is the 30th weekly edition of On the Street, though I may have lost count. In any event, it's pretty amazing that every single week has been a profile in turmoil. Week 30 was no different. House Democrats were still doing battle with reluctant, and cheap, Senate Republicans over a much-needed COVID-19 bailout package. Was Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confusing enhanced unemployment benefits with Merrick Garland? That could explain it. Speaking of not making sense, the S&P 500 stock index was actually a bit up for the week again, because...who really knows? Some of my topics this week: Why Amazon isn't all the evil, Silicon Valley's plot to cut salaries of stay-at-home employees—and how things really work in the world of investing. (President Trump's economic advisor Larry Kudlow is involved, wouldn't you know it?) Oh, and, of course, more great music in Loose Change.

Big, But Bad? Amazon launched the holiday shopping season with its Prime Day(s) last week. You were able to get deep discounts on must-haves like DNA testing kits, crock pots and, needless to say, Sherpa fleece blankets. This all comes amid complaints from Congress on Amazon's market power. (For details, if you can take it, see here.) I'll get into the antitrust issues around Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple in a future column. But as the pandemic/holiday shopping season kicks off, it is worth a reminder that there's a good reason why Amazon is where it is today. Since Jeff Bezos founded the company in July 1994, as a online bookseller based in Bellevue, Washington, it grew partly by following the cardinal rule of retailing: give the customers what they want, when they want it. If you were anxious to have the latest Harry Potter novel, it would be on your doorstep the first day it was available. If you wanted an obscure CD from a band, say the really obscure Ultimate Spinach, no worries. Jeff's got it. But there was much more to it. "Yes, Amazon gave shoppers what they wanted when they wanted," explains Brian Dumaine author of Bezonomics: How Amazon is Changing Our Lives and What the World's Best Companies Are Learning From It. "But the key to its success is that Bezos also gave shoppers what they didn't know they wanted—everything from one day shipping, to free movies with a Prime account to a talking genie named Alexa that makes it easier than ever to order—from Amazon, of course." The result? The company accounts for nearly 40 percent of online retail in the U.S., says Dumaine. But don't fear its current dominance. Long ago, in ancient times, Sears, with its stores and catalogs and machine washable suit, was a force to be reckoned with. Walmart was reviled because, critics said, it destroyed Main Street USA. (It may be hard to remember, but before Sam Walton became Darth Vader, he was Luke Skywalker. Or something like that.) Yup, Amazon may be the new evil empire. But tell that to its customers. They won't care until something else, better, comes along. And it always does.

The Dangerous Decline of U.S. Diplomacy

by Michael Rubin

U.S. diplomatic effectiveness is in decline. While progressives praise multi-polarity and the role of international organizations, the flip side of both is erosion in Washington’s influence. The dynamics of contemporary American partisanship are also corrosive to diplomacy. Gone are the days of broad bipartisan foreign policy consensus and consistency. In recent years, both Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump appeared motivated more by a desire to do the opposite of their predecessors than any broader strategic logic. Entire countries—Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Cuba, Russia, and Ukraine—have become political footballs. Many professional diplomats, meanwhile, suggest the problems afflicting American diplomacy are compounded by an under-resourced State Department. Certainly, it is possible the State Department could do more with a larger budget, but it would be a mistake to equate resources with effectiveness. Jake Sullivan and Daniel Benaim, two of former Vice President Joe Biden’s top foreign policy advisors, further argue that, in the Middle East at least, “Diplomacy could succeed where military force has failed.” Such sentiments may be rhetorically satisfying, but they are an intellectual strawman. Diplomacy may be a valuable tool, but it is not a panacea, nor are diplomacy and military strategies mutually exclusive

When the president or secretary of state travels, that person always brings a coterie of aides and even more journalists. Consider the Daily Telegraph’s description of President George W. Bush’s entourage on a 2003 trip to London: 

Mr. Bush will be accompanied by a retinue consisting of 250 members of the Secret Service, 150 advisers from the National Security Department, 200 representatives of other government departments and 50 political aides. There will also be approximately 100 journalists travelling with him. There are also his personal chef, personal assistants, four cooks, medics and the presidential 15-strong sniffer dog team. 

The politics of internet security: Private industry and the future of the web

by Justin Sherman

Executive summary

The private sector’s influence on the Internet’s shape and behavior—and, therefore, its security—is enormous yet understudied. This infrastructural influence, spanning companies like Internet service providers and cloud services providers, is also underappreciated in US policy. The US government was the exclusive driver of Internet development for its first twenty-four years, and states continue to shape the Internet today through regulation, capacity-building, and direct participation in Internet processes. But Internet governance is now largely privatized. This report argues that the US private sector’s unique influence on global Internet infrastructure gives it an opportunity and responsibility to improve Internet security, and that the US government should better collaborate with those actors and leverage that influence.

This argument matters because Internet insecurity is a national security issue for the United States and every other nation. Internet insecurity is also a selling point for the several authoritarian countries seeking to undermine trust in the free and open Internet model and replace it with a state-controlled, “sovereign” version. The US private sector, through its influence on the Internet’s technology, protocols, standards, and operational practices, has an opportunity and responsibility to address these problems by reshaping the Internet to make it more secure—but many firms are not maximally using their influence to do so. It is critically important that US policymakers better understand this private sector influence on the Internet so it can help shape incentives for security.

This report examines two protocols as examples of private sector influence over presently vulnerable systems key to the Internet’s function: the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), used to route Internet traffic, and the Domain Name System (DNS), used to address Internet traffic. These two case studies detail how the protocols work, why they are vulnerable or error-prone, and what the private sector can do about it. This report uses empirical data on attacks and current protections.


Rapidly receding sea ice is enabling access to a range of highly valuable resources across the Arctic. In addition to energy reserves, critical minerals, and fisheries, newly opened shipping routes across the Arctic could potentially help to re-route global trade and enable high-speed Internet connectivity between Europe and Asia. The ability to exploit newly available Arctic resources is drawing increasing interest from both commercial and national actors and is enticing nations, such as China and Japan, to pour both political and financial capital into the region.

When oil prices peaked in 2008, it appeared that a race to secure oil resources in the Arctic was inevitable. However, due to a rapid fall in global oil demand and the high cost of oil extraction in the Arctic, development failed to materialize. Instead, the dynamics of resource competition in the Arctic have shifted toward securing critical minerals, exploiting natural gas reserves, and asserting territorial control over recently opened shipping routes along the Arctic coast. Additionally, the entrance of Asian and European Nations into Arctic affairs has dramatically shifted regional geopolitical dynamics.

The admittance of Asian countries—China, Japan, South Korea, India, and Singapore—as Observer states to the Arctic Council in 2013 significantly expanded the geopolitical landscape of the Arctic. As more national interests converge there, new commercial alliances are being forged. China now looks to Russia’s Arctic energy resources as a means to diversify its energy supply, while European nations are eager to partner with Asian nations to develop high-speed Internet and shipping along the Northern Sea Route.

With new players and commercial relationships emerging in the Arctic, there has been an attendant increase in international tensions. Strengthening commercial ties between Asian and European nations, and deepening levels of Chinese investment across the region—coupled with Russia’s emerging primacy—are generating pushback from the U.S. In May of 2019, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo directly called out Chinese and Russian activities in the Arctic as threats to U.S. national interests and security. Moreover, the wider uncoupling of the U.S. and Chinese economies are making the Arctic an arena of great power competition.



National governments are rapidly expanding their data collection capabilities, driven by domestic security interests, private industry, and new enabling technologies. Globally, nearly all governments are increasing their efforts to collect and access data by monitoring private citizens, gaining permission to use data collected by corporations, or gathering intelligence on foreign governments. This mass accumulation of data can have transformative impacts on societies, raising questions about what uses are, in fact, in the public’s interest.

Many national governments have crafted exemptions to their data privacy laws, empowering them to build up massive data collection infrastructure. A recent wave of legislation to bypass encryption could radically enhance governments’ access to user data, while also weakening general data protections. To date, at least twenty-five countries have passed some form of legislation limiting encryption. This carries broad implications for businesses, organizations, and individuals by potentially exposing sensitive data to bad actors and infringing on civil liberties.

Private industry plays a major role in the global build-up of governments’ data collection and monitoring capabilities, particularly in the developing world. Today, most nations possess similar data collection and monitoring capabilities, thanks to a multibillion-dollar data collection and surveillance industry. For the last two decades, British, American, French, and German companies have been the primary exporters of this technology to Middle East and African nations, but China and Japan have recently emerged as major global exporters as well—with advanced surveillance systems’ capabilities amplified by artificial intelligence.

The outbreak and spread of COVID-19 have created an enabling environment for governments’ adoption of data collection and surveillance measures. Despite the potential for public health benefits, without adequate safeguards there is real potential for the pandemic to significantly expand the scope of data collection and surveillance measures long after the virus is contained. As legislation struggles to keep pace with unfolding events and technological innovations surrounding government data collection, nuanced understanding of current trends and explicit policy measures are critical for businesses to thrive in this increasingly complex environment.


This report was written by FP Analytics, the independent research division of Foreign Policy; access to the executive summary of 5G Explained is made possible with support from Nokia.

5G technology is set to revolutionize the internet as we know it. It will increase network speeds, enable the Internet of Things (IoT) by bringing billions of more devices online, and advance new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Despite this transformative impact, the majority of businesses still do not know what 5G is and what it could do.

The “race to 5G” has been widely publicized (and state of development wildly embellished), but the fundamental issues and realities underpinning the transition to 5G technology are still widely misunderstood. Building 5G networks requires extensive global coordination among governments, private companies, and regulatory bodies. It is an ongoing process that will unfold over the next decade at different paces in different countries. As this process occurs, understanding the stages of 5G development in different markets and accurately timing investments will be crucial for businesses. 5G technology will bring broad benefits and widespread risks globally, but there will likely not be one clear-cut winner. Despite this, intense geopolitical competition surrounding 5G is developing, and the results of this competition will have long-lasting and far-reaching effects.


By LTC Claude A. Lambert, U.S. Army

Some terrorist groups overseas are using battlefield experiences to pursue new technologies and tactics, such as unmanned aerial systems and chemical agents that could be used outside the conflict zones.

-U.S. Department of Homeland Security1

In September 2013, at a political campaign rally in Dresden, Germany, a small unmanned aircraft system (UAS),2 or “drone,” flew within feet of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere, hovering briefly before crashing into the stage near Merkel’s feet.3 This harmless stunt by a political activist demonstrated that drones, especially those using autonomous navigation systems, could be stealthy, accurate and potentially deadly. Had this drone been armed with a chemical or biological warfare (CBW) agent, it may have incapacitated or killed this high-level delegation, garnering international attention and triggering profound concern regarding the government’s inability to secure and defend vulnerable populations from any UAS capable of delivering CBW agents. 


There have been other incidents involving commercial UAS and national security. In April 2015, a small UAS, possibly tainted with radioactive cesium, was discovered on the roof of the Japanese Prime Minister’s office. The UAS was “carrying a camera and a bottle of unidentified liquid that bore a sticker with the universal symbol of radioactivity.”4 In January 2017, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) started using commercial UAS to provide reconnaissance and targeting information against coalition forces5 and began showing interest in conducting UAS-based CBW attacks.6


By SFC Joseph D. Hart, Jr.

This paper is published by the author in conjunction with ongoing research and partnership with the Army Music Analytics Team and the West Point Music Research Center. What is published here is a condensed version of a longer work, originally written for the completion of his National Security Master’s Thesis at American Military University in 2019.

“It is not the strongest nor the most intelligent of species that survives, but the one that is most adaptable to change.”

-Charles Darwin (1809–1882)

Using research methodologies to examine and synthesize expansive ideas, this paper will present a comprehensive understanding of music in relation to the military world. The overall purpose is to look at military bands to see if there is a justification for the use of military music in defense of the nation. 

Noise, sound and music are all distinct, but they play essential roles to one another. From the perspective both of the creator and of the recipient, noise, sound and music can vary drastically. Primarily, noise is usually considered unwanted or unintended sound capable of negatively affecting both communication and thought, e.g., the multitude of conversations in an auditorium, traffic or a passing train. In contrast, intentional sound is defined as something that has bright, distinguishable, vibratory patterns with a somewhat set duration. The “ding” on a microwave, the “chirp” of a bird and a crying baby are all sounds that catch attention. In the modern era, sounds function as shortened forms of communication. Music, finally, is defined as a combination of sounds with distinct characteristics—dynamics, pitch, rhythm, texture and timbre. While music may be desirable, unwanted music can be perceived as noise by the recipient. 

Snapshot of a shadow war

By Elise Thomas and Albert Zhang

The rapid escalation in the long-running conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia which took place in late September 2020 has been shadowed by a battle across social media for control of the international narrative about the conflict. On Twitter, large numbers of accounts supporting both sides have been wading in on politicised hashtags linked to the conflict. Our findings indicate large-scale coordinated activity. While much of this behaviour is likely to be authentic, our analysis has also found a significant amount of suspicious and potentially inauthentic behaviour.

The goal of this research piece is to observe and document some of the early dynamics of the information battle playing out in parallel to the conflict on the ground and create a basis for further, more comprehensive research. This report is in no way intended to undermine the legitimacy of authentic social media conversations and debate taking place on all sides of the conflict.