27 October 2020

After Almost Two Decades of America’s Longest War: How Can Peace Finally Come to Afghanistan?

By Haroon Azar

October marks the nineteenth anniversary of Operation Enduring Freedom, the United States' military intervention in Afghanistan. The war accomplished its key goals effectively, at least initially. The Taliban were quickly removed from power, and al Qaeda was decimated. But the American led coalition was unable to prevent the Taliban from regrouping, and the subsequent nearly two decades have seen casualties mount for America, our NATO allies, and especially Afghan government forces and the country's civilian population. Just last week, a car bomb targeting a government building in Nangarhar province killed 15 and injured more than 40.

The Taliban insurgency grew—quickly becoming persistent, evasive, and devastating with the help of key neighboring countries. By 2010 the number of American troops in the country had reached 100,000, and the total number of foreign troops was 150,000. Despite these numbers—or perhaps because of them—the United States and its allies were unable or unwilling to decisively defeat the Taliban—and the Afghan central government appeared too corrupt or at least too weak to encourage Taliban fighters to defect.

It is no wonder that so many Americans want to see the last of our troops come home. After a war that has lasted longer than Vietnam, and as such is the longest war in our history, and with over 2,300 dead and 20,000 wounded, Americans are exhausted. (This is nothing to say of the hundreds of billions of dollars expended.) The Trump administration is now supporting peace talks with the Taliban even as the Taliban continue a brutal campaign against the Afghan government that is ostensibly our ally.

China Is Weaponizing the Belt and Road. What Can the US Do About It?

By Daniel Russel and Samuel Locklear

More than seven years have passed since Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013. What began as the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road has expanded into space, cyberspace and global health. In the terrestrial and maritime domains, BRI now includes multiple deep-sea ports in strategic proximity to vital sea lanes and maritime chokepoints. The fact that a number of BRI port projects in the Indo-Pacific do not appear commercially viable raises questions about Beijing’s motives for investing in these infrastructure assets.

The Chinese government’s steadfast insistence that the BRI is purely a peaceful, “win-win” development initiative has been met with skepticism in many quarters. The rapid pace of China’s military modernization, its program of civil-military fusion and its increasingly assertive posture throughout the Indo-Pacific have fueled suspicion about BRI and its strategic utility to China. Along with accusations of “debt-trap diplomacy,” some critics warn that projects like Hambantota port in Sri Lanka or Gwadar port in Pakistan are part of a “String of Pearls” network of potential naval bases along the shores of the Indian Ocean.

It is certainly true that the maritime domain is critical to China’s economic development and security. Since 40 percent of China’s gross domestic product is derived from foreign trade, and more than 60 percent of trade and 80 percent of China’s imported oil moves by sea, it’s no surprise that the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN’s) budget has grown significantly, or that its strategy has shifted beyond China’s coastal waters toward protection of vital sea lanes and its overseas interests. The PLAN’s area of operations has now expanded beyond the so-called “second island chain,” which stretches from Japan to Guam and to Indonesia. Its first – and thus far only – overseas base in Djibouti is located at the entrance to the Bab-el-Mandeb strait leading to the Suez Canal and European markets.

The AIIB’s Transparency Deficit


LISBON/AARHUS – The Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) opened for business in 2016 and rapidly established itself as a major multilateral development institution. It now aims to become the world’s leading financier of large-scale infrastructure by 2021. But the bank first needs to raise its game regarding timely public disclosure of its projects’ environmental and social risks.

Having once observed that "a single spark can start a prairie fire," Mao Zedong might be less surprised by how far his ideology has spread than by its many forms. From the structure of Hong Kong's democracy movement to the opportunistic rhetoric of the Chinese central leadership, one can find glimpses of Maoism just about everywhere.1Add to Bookmarks

The AIIB currently has 82 member states, with a further 21 countries expected to join soon. Europe’s largest economies – Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy – openly defied former US President Barack Obama’s administration by becoming founding members of the bank. Their decision handed China a diplomatic victory and demonstrated its ability to divide traditional allies. The United States and Japan still have not joined.

European membership has helped the AIIB establish its international credibility and receive a AAA credit rating. This puts the organization on a par with traditional multilateral development banks such as the World Bank, and enables it to raise additional funds on international capital markets to increase its initial capital of $100 billion.

How China Threatens American Democracy

By Robert C. O'Brien

For decades, conventional wisdom in the United States held that it was only a matter of time before China would become more liberal, first economically and then politically. We could not have been more wrong—a miscalculation that stands as the greatest failure of U.S. foreign policy since the 1930s. How did we make such a mistake? Primarily by ignoring the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party. Instead of listening to the CCP’s leaders and reading its key documents, we believed what we wanted to believe: that the Chinese ruling party is communist in name only.

Today, it would be a similarly grave mistake to assume that this ideology matters only within China. In fact, the CCP’s ideological agenda extends far beyond the country’s borders and represents a threat to the idea of democracy itself, including in the United States. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitions

US-China rivalry: When great power competition endangers global science

By Julien de Troullioud 

This is not the first time that the world has faced the outbreak of a coronavirus which originated in China.

But the consequences have been very different this time around.

Seventeen years ago, an outbreak of SARS—a disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-1—emerged in China. Back then, a fruitful partnership emerged between the United States and China, contributing greatly to the successful control of the outbreak.

That collaboration had other benefits: It not only resulted in the successful containment of SARS and the Avian Influenza, it also nurtured the careers of young Chinese virologists and epidemiologists.

Today, while the world is facing an outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus causing the COVID-19 disease pandemic), China and the United States have engaged in an all-out confrontation—one that endangers not only that collaboration, but the greater issue of openness in science as a whole. This will necessarily have dire consequences: Pandemics, climate change, and other global perils can only be tackled successfully if future generations of scientists are allowed to thrive in a global environment in which collaboration prevails over competition.

The Chinese and American science partnership is a cornerstone to this endeavor. In 2016, more than 1.7 million students in science and engineering graduated in China, the highest number in the world. Many of these students decide to work abroad after graduating. And each year, US universities welcome the greatest number of international students in science, technology, engineering, and math in the world—about 497,413 students in 2019, of whom a third come from China.

No Matter Who Is U.S. President, Iran Will Drive a Harder Bargain Than Before

By Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar

U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement in May 2018 with the express purpose of pressuring Iran into negotiating a deal more favorable to the United States. To that end, the United States has pursued a sanctions policy of “maximum pressure” that has inflicted extraordinary damage on Iranian society. Iran’s economy contracted by seven percent in 2019–20, and its currency has devalued to a record low. Washington recently imposed still more sanctions on Iran’s banking system.

Tehran has nevertheless refused to renegotiate the agreement, as it views conceding to U.S. demands as a total surrender. Instead, Iran has resumed some of its previously suspended nuclear-related activities; continued, if not expanded, its missile program; and deepened its regional influence.

Despite this dangerous escalation on both sides, many expect a new round of shuttle diplomacy between Tehran and Washington to follow the U.S. presidential election next

Securing the Critical Minerals Supply Chain

By Eli Nachmany

From the military to the technology sector, various American institutions and industries play a role in maintaining U.S. economic and national security. While the finished products associated with defense and technology, like aircraft engines and LED TVs, capture the public eye, the supply chains for the materials needed to produce these goods often garner little attention. A set of minerals, known as critical minerals, constitutes a key part of the supply chains for these important sectors. In recent years, however, U.S. competitors such as China have come to control supply chains for the critical minerals themselves—raising questions about the effects of critical mineral supply chain insecurity on U.S. national security.

Critical minerals are key in the manufacture of all kinds of important items, like armored vehicles, precision-guided weapons, batteries and night-vision goggles for the U.S. military. An inability to develop these minerals domestically creates a reliance on foreign nations that can hamstring a country in a pinch. In the early 2010s, for example, China placed export quotas on a subset of critical minerals known as rare earth elements, which sharply increased prices and disrupted global supply chains for various minerals. The U.S. responded by bringing a World Trade Organization dispute resolution case against China about the issue, ultimately winning before the global arbitrator.

In recent months, critical shortages during the coronavirus pandemic have prompted lawmakers to reconsider the strength of the U.S. medical supply chain—but the robustness of the supply chain for critical minerals has also come into question. In September, Senate Republicans included critical minerals-related provisions in their coronavirus relief bill proposal. These provisions were adopted from the bipartisan American Mineral Security Act, introduced in 2019 by Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Joe Manchin and others; the bill would have promoted mining of critical minerals in the U.S. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has worked to address the vulnerabilities in U.S. critical minerals supply chains.

Renewed fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan: what makes it different this time?

Alexander Stronell

Renewed clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan appear to have been sparked by a major Azerbaijani offensive in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Rising casualties have been accompanied by hardened rhetoric on both sides. Amid conflicting reporting on losses, it seems clear that at least several hundred service personnel and civilians have died since fighting began on 27 September, with several hundred more reportedly wounded. Baku has described the operation as a ‘counter-offensive’ launched in response to ‘large-scale provocation’ and shelling of Azerbaijani positions by Armenian forces. Armenia, Azerbaijan and the de-facto authority of the Nagorno-Karabakh region have all declared martial law; Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh have ordered the total mobilisation of their armed forces. A chorus of world leaders calling for an immediate truce has been brushed aside by the Azerbaijani leader, who has stated that the only precondition for ceasefire can be the total withdrawal of Armenian troops from the Armenian-majority Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Clashes between the two sides have not been uncommon over the past few years. Several hundred people have been killed in at least eight major incidents since 2008. In July of this year, well over a dozen (and possibly considerably more) service personnel and civilians were killed in a four-day period of fighting between the two countries in which no clear victor emerged.

Nevertheless, the last week of fighting stands out from earlier skirmishes in many ways. Firstly, the fighting is more intense than it has been in recent skirmishes: the closest parallel in recent history is the 2016 ‘Four-Day War’, which claimed at least 350 lives. There is, however, evidence to suggest that the combat has now become the most intense since the 1990s. Secondly, the renewed operations are marked by significantly intensified foreign interest − in particular, Turkey’s avowed support for Azerbaijan. Thirdly, the renewed clashes have thwarted any near-term hopes of a resolution to the conflict, which appeared close to realisation only last year. Fourthly, it stands out as a deliberately planned and premeditated Azerbaijani offensive – and, if the president’s statements are anything to go by, Baku seems determined to carry this operation to a decisive finish.

Sleepwalking Into World War III

By Carrie A. Lee

Civilian political authority over military leadership is a bedrock principle of the U.S. Constitution, so fundamental to the American system of government that it has rarely been questioned. But since President Donald Trump entered office in 2017, his administration has systematically eroded the norms that have supported this constitutional principle for generations.

The Trump administration has consistently elevated military voices over those of experienced civil servants in the development of foreign policy, and funding cuts to nondefense federal agencies, along with the resignations of many career civil servants, have left government offices woefully understaffed. As a result, policy planning and the guidance of strategic defense initiatives—which have historically been the purview of senior civil servants—have increasingly been ceded to those in uniform. Civilian authority over the armed forces is weaker now than at any point in living memory, and the Trump administration is increasingly engaging with the world

The Stability of Foreign Policy Amid Political Chaos

George Friedman

In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon stepped into the political and social chaos wrought by the Johnson administration and compounded it substantially. Hence, when I visited Europe during the late Nixon years, all of the talk was about the decline of the United States. This was partly due to the Vietnam War, but it was also due to political crises such as Watergate. From the European perspective, defeat in a seven-year war, coupled with deep divisions in American politics, could only mean America’s decline. (Recall that many Americans continued to support Nixon up until the end, accusing the media and his enemies of trying to bring him down.)

At the same time, Nixon was laying the foundations of a foreign policy that would remain in place until the end of the Cold War. It had three elements. The first was the entente with China. The Vietnam War had weakened the U.S. military. Nixon countered that by entering into a relationship with China. The Chinese had been fighting the Soviets in battles along the Ussuri River. They were as alarmed by the weakening of the United States as were the Europeans. Whatever was secretly agreed to, the Soviets had to assume that it included a degree of coordination.

The second foundation was detente with the Soviet Union. Earlier in the 1960s, the U.S. and the Soviets had played a reckless game. The understanding that was reached with the Soviets did not contradict the relationship with China and, in fact, was built on it. If the U.S. had an understanding with China, the Soviets needed one as well, or else they could be trapped between the U.S. and China. The detente created channels to de-conflict the two countries, and formed an understanding, mostly followed, to avoid conflicts that could escalate into confrontation.

The third foundation was creating a framework for peace between Israel and Egypt that made a conventional Arab-Israeli war impossible. This was precipitated by Egypt and Syria’s attack on Israel and the conclusion of a war that required a direct meeting between Egyptian and Israeli officers, with Henry Kissinger present. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was the architect, but the Americans were critical guarantors. This led ultimately to the Camp David Accords, the withdrawal of Israel from Sinai, and the positioning of U.S. troops based in Sinai as a buffer.

As the US Slumps Away, China Subsumes African Security Arrangements


In 1999, two Chinese People’s Liberation Army colonels wrote Unrestricted Warfare, a book on the military strategy needed to defeat a technologically superior adversary like the United States. The critical insight was that the global infrastructure of U.S. dominance could be infiltrated and gradually converted into what they called “new concept weapons” against U.S. power. In this model of warfare, as China rose, Great Power competition would not take place, as the U.S. would simply fail to compete.

Recent developments in Africa show how this works. After the 9/11 attacks, the United States created an array of security arrangements intended to help African governments monitor flows of people and cargo. These fostered the growth of institutions focused on state and commercial-enterprise security, and allowed U.S. officials to track the inner workings of these governments’ security agencies and their economies’ global commercial links. 

But increasingly, the United States is not the only outside power with access to this sensitive information. As Chinese firms build out the continent’s new data networks and surveillance systems, and acquire ownership stakes in ports and other facilities, they obtain not just information and data, but the use of these systems and facilities as instruments of potential attack. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. is abandoning efforts to monitor and discipline other states’ participation in these security systems of its own design, continuing to privilege conventional military means, and leaving a security-leadership vacuum under the rubric of “America First.” 

Exiting the Second Lockdown, Living in the Presence of Covid-19, and Anticipating the Stage Beyond: Recommended Strategy

Amos Yadlin, Meir Elran, Shmuel Even

The Israeli public continues to await additional measures that will allow it to exit the lockdown, despite what is currently a very difficult reality: the economic situation is precarious, public confidence in the government is low, and no one can guarantee that a third nationwide lockdown is not in the offing. To tackle this crisis, INSS formulated an integrative strategy for the medium and long terms – on a judicious, effective way to emerge from the lockdown and continue to live in the presence of the coronavirus

This document was written a number of weeks after the second nationwide lockdown was announced. As expected, the measure succeeded in lowering the infection rate, albeit at a high economic cost and a new spike in unemployment. At the same time, Israel is witnessing rising friction with the ultra-Orthodox community, more extensive public protests, and diminishing public trust in the authorities, related in part to the government’s problematic handling of the multilayered crisis.

The purpose of this document is to propose an integrative strategy for exiting the second lockdown and returning to a new routine in the presence of Covid-19, looking at the immediate, medium, and long terms. It recommends new mechanisms to maintain public health, an optimal level of economic activity, and a functioning society. This is proposed for the long period in which coronavirus infection is expected to continue, and then the recovery phase following the pandemic. The national objectives that guide the proposed strategy are: to keep the pandemic under control, to ensure long-range national resilience, to mitigate economic and social damages, to maintain government functioning, and to prepare for the post-Covid-19 era. This proposal is based on discussions held at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) with the participation of Institute researchers and outside experts.

Moving Beyond a Post-Pandemic World

By Michael Hirsh

Ten months in, it’s not too soon to write a first rough draft of how COVID-19 became the worst pandemic in a century and what it might mean for the world of the future. And the pundit extraordinaire Fareed Zakaria is the obvious candidate to take this task on.

In his new book Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World, Zakaria—who in 2017 warned on his CNN show that the biggest threat to the world’s lone superpower was now a tiny virus that “the United States is wholly unprepared to deal with”—addresses the deeper causes of the pandemic, how it will change the world and how it won’t, and how we’d better get ready for the next one soon.

Because let’s not kid ourselves: The next one is coming. “Buckle up,” Zakaria writes in succinct, clear prose in his 242-page book. Displaying an impressive mastery of history, economics, long-past health crises, and global cultural trends, Zakaria observes: “We have created a world that is always in overdrive,” with people living longer and inhabiting larger spaces, encroaching on and destroying the natural world. In response, the pandemics to come will be “nature’s revenge,” he says. This is true not least in the once remote habitats of virulent bats, which we have learned are ideal carriers for deadly viruses because they can survive them better than other animals. But the ever spreading human population is coming in contact more often with bats as well, raising the danger of future unknown viral contact. 

Pentagon’s New Plan to Fight China and Russia in the Gray Zone

When it comes to relations among the great powers, conflict and competition are not the same thing. Conflict is what happens when states use violence to achieve political goals — in other words, war. Competition is the jostling and coercion that occur short of armed conflict — the art of maneuvering for geopolitical advantage amid a tense peace.

Not since the end of the Cold War has that distinction been as salient for the U.S. Department of Defense.

The Pentagon has no more important task than preparing to win a sharp, intense conflict with Russia or China. Yet it has also been seeking to make itself relevant to subtler, long-term competitions for influence. That necessitates a delicate balancing act, given that the requirements of preparing for war and those of competing in peace can pull America’s military in different directions.

The most recent example of this tension was a short document released this month called the Irregular Warfare Annex to the National Defense Strategy. The National Defense Strategy itself, published in 2018, focused heavily on reorienting the Pentagon toward threats from China and Russia after a long period when counterterrorism dominated U.S. policy.

Since then, the department has emphasized building the capabilities and warfighting concepts necessary to deter and, if need be, defeat Russian or Chinese aggression in danger zones such as the Baltic region or the Taiwan Strait.

France, the Other Indo-Pacific Power


On May 3, 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron made the term “Indo-Pacific” a concept of French foreign policy for the first time—shortly after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had publicly dismissed the concept as an “attention-grabbing idea” that “will dissipate like ocean foam.”1

Macron’s speech, given at the Garden Island military base in Sydney, Australia, differed substantially in its objectives and content from President Donald Trump’s introduction of his own Indo-Pacific strategy in November 2017. Each strategy unveiled underlines that the United States’ and China’s radically opposing interests, in the Indo-Pacific and globally, are a central driver of contemporary international relations. However, naturally, France and the United States take different positions on the state of affairs. While both countries oppose China’s hegemonic designs, France is uncomfortable with the widening gulf between the United States and China.

France’s approach to the Indo-Pacific aims to protect the country’s international position and its specific interests—notably, in the overseas territories that anchor and give credibility to the French strategy. But the strategy’s implementation, a delicate exercise, will continually require French decisionmakers to have a clear vision of these interests and to avoid any rhetoric or dangerous confrontation with China while maintaining a central—but not exclusive—place for the United States in its traditional system of alliances.

Toward a Stronger U.S.-Taiwan Relationship

Bonnie S. Glaser, Michael J. Green

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) established a bipartisan CSIS Task Force on U.S. Policy Toward Taiwan in January 2020 to prepare recommendations for the coming four years and beyond. The task force includes members who have held senior positions of responsibility on Taiwan policy in previous Democratic and Republic administrations as well as experts on national security, business, technology, law, society, the U.S. Congress, human rights, and Taiwan’s politics and society. The task force met monthly from January to August 2020 to consider U.S. strategic interests, diplomacy, defense, trade, and other issues and to receive background briefings from the governments of the United States and Taiwan.

This task force report explains why Taiwan matters to the United States, the framework for U.S. policy toward Taiwan, and the trends that affect economic, defense, and diplomatic aspects of U.S. policy toward Taiwan. The report concludes with a set of specific recommendations to upgrade U.S. policy on Taiwan consistent with long-standing U.S. interests in the Indo-Pacific region while also responding to the new and emerging challenges. The members of the task force participated in their individual capacities rather than as representatives of their respective organizations.

James Stavridis on global order amid potential election chaos


AS AMERICA ENTERS the final stage of a highly contested election, some global leaders must be relishing the moment: the country looks utterly distracted, inwardly focused and politically divided. With the prospect of a chaotic post-election period, there may be voices in Beijing, Moscow, Tehran, Pyongyang and Caracas wondering: “Could there possibly be a better moment to take advantage of the situation and grab a quick victory before a fractured America has time to marshal a response?”

It is often said that crime is where motive and means meets opportunity. And a few rather unneighbourly countries might be tempted. One can imagine plenty of scenarios.

Perhaps China wants to increase repressive measures in Hong Kong, make a military move on Taiwan or threaten countries in the South China Sea. Russia could try to use this moment to consolidate control over another part of Ukraine, perhaps creating a “land bridge” from Russia to Crimea along the coast of the Black Sea. In Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro could decide this is the moment to arrest the opposition leader Juan Guaidó. And that perpetual nuisance of the international system, North Korea, might strike merchant shipping or lash out at South Korea.

But I would advise extreme caution. Put simply: Don’t try it. You may be surprised by just how prepared America is to safeguard its interests in global security.

The United States Isn’t Doomed to Lose the Information Wars

By Doowan Lee

The stakes in this year’s U.S. presidential election are arguably higher than they were in 2016. Yet fears about foreign interference in U.S. elections have only grown in the past four years. Instead of traditional weapons, foreign adversaries are once again turning to social media in their attempts to undermine the upcoming election, and 2020 alone has seen a rash of disinformation about the coronavirus, political unrest, and election integrity. According to a new Gallup/Knight Foundation study, 4 in 5 Americans are concerned that false information will sway the vote in November.

This problem isn’t going unnoticed by the U.S. government. In fact, the current U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS) and National Defense Strategy, which have traditionally focused on conventional military might, highlight the importance of information warfare in international conflicts and in undermining the legitimacy of elections. Despite this, the United States still doesn’t have a clear strategy to combat information warfare.

Meanwhile, authoritarian states are ramping up their use of disinformation amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s clear that China and Russia—the two countries that pose the gravest threats to the United States, according to the NSS—are using aggressive information warfare tactics to exploit the pandemic and to erode and undermine the liberal international order. While the United States is slowly responding to the onslaught of propaganda, these efforts fall far short of what is necessary to compete effectively with China and Russia in the long term.

Trumpworld’s Corruption Is as Globalized as the Ultra-Rich the President Mingles With

By Ananya Chakravarti

Elliott Broidy, the vice chairman for the 2016 Trump campaign’s joint fundraising committee with the Republican Party that raised over $108 million, is expected to plead guilty to violating foreign lobbying law, joining other prominent members of President Donald Trump’s inner circle, including, most infamously, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Rick Gates. Broidy’s indictment emerged from a multibillion-dollar case of global fraud that has garnered remarkably little public attention—but that is deeply revealing about the nature of international corruption in the Trump era.

Broidy’s fall was an unexpected consequence of the unraveling of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a Malaysian state fund ostensibly set up to promote development through foreign investment but whose masterminds used it to leverage loans of $4.5 billion on the global financial markets, which they then siphoned off. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, its chairman, has been arrested, as have his close associates. Goldman Sachs, which brokered these loans and whose involvement then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions dubbed “kleptocracy at its worst,” has reached a $3.9 billion settlement with the Malaysian government, though it remains under the shadow of U.S. legal penalties. Broidy’s own relatively modest role in the scandal was a result of his alleged lobbying to influence the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation into 1MDB on behalf of Jho Low, the accused mastermind of the fraud. This included an unsuccessful attempt to arrange a golf game between Trump and Najib in 2017. (Malaysia didn’t just target Republicans. In 2014, Najib came under fire for engaging in what he called “golf diplomacy” with President Barack Obama while his country reeled from some of its worst flooding in years.)

How Police Can Crack Locked Phones—and Extract Information

Sidney Fussell

Smartphone security measures have grown increasingly sophisticated in recent years, evolving from passcodes to thumbprints to face recognition and advanced encryption. A new report from the Washington, DC-based research nonprofit Upturn uncovers how police have maintained access to suspects’ phones even as these defenses grow more complex: by contracting with digital forensic firms that specialize in bypassing locks and accessing and copying encrypted data.

Uniting the Techno-Democracies

By Jared Cohen and Richard Fontaine

At the outset of the digital age, democracies seemed ascendant. The United States and like-minded countries were at the cutting edge of technological development. Policymakers were pointing to the inherently liberalizing effect of the Internet, which seemed a threat to dictators everywhere. The United States’ technological advantage made its military more potent, its economy more prosperous, and its democracy, at least in theory, more vibrant. 

Since then, autocratic states have caught up. China is at the forefront, no longer a mere rising power in technology and now an American peer. In multiple areas—including facial and voice recognition, 5G technology, digital payments, quantum communications, and the commercial drone market—it has surpassed the United States. Leaders in Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Venezuela, and elsewhere are increasingly using technology for illiberal ends, following China’s example. And despite the United States’ remaining advantage in some technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and semiconductor production, it has fallen behind China in formulating an overall strategy for their use. 

Almost in parallel, the United States and its allies have stepped away from their tradition of collaboration. Instead of working together on issues of common interest, they have been pulled apart by diverging national interests and have responded incoherently to autocratic states’ co-optation of new technologies. Although officials in most democratic capitals now acknowledge the profound ways in which new technologies are shaping the world, they remain strangely disconnected from one another when it comes to managing them. Coordination, when it occurs, is sporadic, reactive, and ad hoc.

In the debate over autonomous weapons, it’s time to unlock the “black box” of AI

By Arthur Holland Michel

Every year since 2014, representatives from states around the globe have assembled in Geneva, Switzerland under an international disarmament treaty known as the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons to try and crack an exceptionally tricky question. What, if anything, should be done about artificially intelligent (AI) weapons that can pick out and attack targets without a human pulling the trigger? Even as militaries make growing strides to develop autonomous systems—including weapons—the talks at the United Nations are heading into their eighth year with no shared answer in sight.

Negotiations over so-called lethal autonomous weapon systems have been beset by seemingly unbridgeable rifts between those who wish to ban such contrivances, those who want to regulate them, and those who dismiss the need for any new hard rules. Each of these groups, however, can probably agree on at least one point: No autonomous weapon should be a black box. These weapons should always do what they are expected to do, and they must do so for intelligible reasons.

Regardless of what rules these weapons are subjected to now or in the future, a high degree of understandability and predictability—to borrow the more technical argot of accountable AI—will be essential features in any autonomous weapon. Even if the states negotiating at the United Nations opt not to set any new rules, adherence to the existing laws of war still likely hinges on militaries having a good handle on what their autonomous weapons will do and why they do it.

To be sure, all weapons must be predictable and understandable. But autonomous weapons will likely need to be especially predictable to compensate for the absence of human control, and they need to be especially understandable because that’s often the only way to know exactly how they’ll behave.

Twitter’s ‘Hacked Materials’ Rule Tries to Thread an Impossible Needle

Andy Greenberg

Twitter for years functioned as an unrestricted mouthpiece for hackers of all stripes, from freewheeling hacktivists like Anonymous to the Kremlin-created cutouts like Guccifer 2.0. But as the company tries to crack down on hackers' use of its platform to distribute their stolen information, it's finding that that's not a simple decision. And now, less than three weeks before Election Day, Twitter has put itself in an impossible position: flip-flopping on its policy while trying to navigate between those who condemn it for enabling data thieves and foreign spies, and those who condemn it for heavy-handed censorship.

A Recipe For War – OpEd

By Zlatko Hadžidedić and Adnan Idrizbegović*

There is a widespread view that Germany’s policy towards Bosnia-Herzegovina has always been friendly. Also, that such a policy stimulated the European Union to adopt a positive approach to the Bosnian quest to eventually become a part of the Euro-Atlantic integrations.

However, Stefan Schwarz, a renowned German politician, in his recent comment for Deutsche Welle, raised the question of the true nature of Germany’s policy towards Bosnia, from 1992 to the present day. Here we shall try to offer possible answers to this question, so as to present a brief history of that policy.

A history of (un)recognition 

Germany officially recognised Bosnia-Herzegovina as an independent state on April 6, 1992. Prior to that, such recognition had been granted to two other former Yugoslav republics, Slovenia and Croatia, on January 15, 1992. Germany recognised these two states against the advice by Robert Badinter, a jurist delegated by the European Commision to arbitrate in the process of dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, to recognise all Yugoslav republics simultaneously. Under the pressure by Germany, 12 members of the European Community (United Kingdom, Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Greece, Austria) recognised Slovenia and Croatia in January 1992. As Washington Post wrote on January 16, 1992,

The German government hailed today’s event as a historic development and immediately opened embassies in the two republics. But France and Britain, which still harbor doubts about the wisdom of early recognition, said they would wait to see if Croatia fulfilled its promises on human rights before carrying out an exchange of ambassadors.



Somewhere in the recesses of my memory, there is an image. Is it from a movie? A picture seen in childhood?

It was a picture of a man in a Soviet standard-issue gray cotton-felt quilted jacket and a cocked ear-flapped hat sitting awkwardly on a low, rough-hewn wooden platform held up, not by wheels, but by four ball-bearings – a primitive skateboard of sorts. He has no legs, and his trousers are fully turned in. In each hand, he holds a thick, rounded block of wood to propel himself forward.

This image of a severely disabled veteran of the 1941-1945 Soviet-German War, known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War, has stayed with me. It is pertinent now. Earlier this year, the Soviet Union marked the 75th anniversary of its victory in the war against Nazi Germany.

Others are recalling these veterans now as well. In an essay titled “The Invalid. Victory Day. A Postscript,” Lyudmila Ulitskaya, one of contemporary Russia’s most celebrated writers, revisits how thousands of veterans, disfigured by war, flooded the streets of Soviet cities in the post-war years.

Ulitskaya observes that there were millions of them, adding in an accompanying video that “this is not an exaggeration: it’s an understatement.” She continued:

Cheap Drones Versus Expensive Tanks: A Battlefield Game-Changer?

By Malcolm Davis

The distant conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh has already provided a sharp lesson on how future battles might be fought.

The war has been most visibly characterised by ‘kill cam’ footage of drones attacking armoured fighting vehicles, including main battle tanks, as well as unprotected infantry, with devastating effect.

It’s not widely understood in the West, but this conflict has the potential to escalate into a wider regional war, dragging Turkey and potentially Russia more overtly into the fighting.

The use of armed drones isn’t new, of course. Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) armed with Hellfire missiles were used extensively in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Australia is acquiring the armed MQ-9B Sky Guardian.

What’s different in the current conflict in the Caucasus is the use of low-cost ‘loitering munition’ systems bought from allies. Each drone costs far less than a crewed platform or a fully reusable UAV. In the future, rapid manufacturing technologies will allow them to be acquired at low cost and used in large swarms. That’s a potential game-changer for land warfare.