29 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

The Irrelevance of Soft Power

Ilan Manor and Guy J. Golan

The irrelevance of Soft Power stems not from its theoretical dimension, but from a changing global landscape. The 21st century will be characterized by growing competition among three giants – China, India and the United States. To contend with this triumvirate, nations will create short-termed strategic alliances that will collectively bargain opposite the giants, or force their hands. These alliances will rest on shared interests, not shared values. In a world governed by increased competition, as opposed to cooperation, the practice of Soft Power will become secondary. The benefit of strategic alliances lies in their malleability. Unlike the Cold-War era, nations will not be bound to one giant. On the contrary, nations will collaborate with different giants towards different ends. National power will emanate from a nation’s status as a desirable member in strategic alliances. This desirability may rest on diverse resources ranging from economic stability to technological infrastructure and geographic location. Now is not the age of uni-polarity or bi-polarity. Now is the age of giants. And in this age, power will function differently, as explained in this article. 

Vladimir Putin once stated that ‘I would prefer to abandon the terminology of the past. ‘Superpower’ is something that we used during the Cold War time. Why use it now?’ (Financial Times, 2016). The demise of the Cold War led scholars to reconsider additional terms including power. In a world no longer marked by ideological conflict and a nuclear arms race, collaboration rather than confrontation could be the order of the day. In a seminal article, Professor Joseph Nye introduced the concept of Soft Power. Ultimately, Nye argued, the attractiveness of a nation’s culture, political values, and foreign policy will be more influential on its engagement with other nations than the number of ballistic missiles at its disposal (Nye, 1990; 2008).

In this article we argue that the world is in the midst of profound structural change, and that this change necessitates that the concept of power be examined yet again. Specifically, we contend that this century will see the emergence of a modern day Triumvirate of three giants. While middle powers such as Russia, Iran, Brazil and the EU (European Union) will remain central to global affairs, it is the three giants who will dictate the rules of the game. India’s population size and status as a global telecommunications hub will see its power overshadow that of Iran or Brazil. China’s financial dominance and global military reach will eclipse that of Russia, while the US’s strength will continue to rest on its mass investment in defense, and ardent commitment to consumerism.

Not Only Ladakh, Satellite Images Reveal Rapid Chinese Construction Near ”Tri-Junction’ Doklam

By Aakriti Sharma

Located between Tingri and Lhatse counties of Shigatse City, north of Zangmu, the border post with Nepal, the airport is about 230 km from Doklam, where Indian and Chinese troops had clashed in 2017. The images show 3.3 km length of the area marked as a new site for the airport.

The 2017 military stand-off between Chinese and Indian soldiers in Doklam plateau had erupted over the construction of a highway in the contested territory.

The other two airports part of the 3+1 project are Lhuntse and Purang, which are at a short distance from the Indian border.

The airports, part of the connectivity project, are a cause of concern for India because these will be under the “dual-use” as per law, which means they are being built to suit both the civilian and military standards.

China has 60 such airports. The People’s Liberation Army can use them whenever required. 

The project was announced by the Civil Aviation Administration of China and the Tibetan Autonomous Region’s (TAR) government in 2018 and the construction work for three airports, all above the altitude of 3,900 meters, began in 2019, with a 2021 deadline for completion. 

Chinese Misbehavior Increases Support for Taiwan

By Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan

As China’s relations with many countries in the region and outside deteriorate, sympathy for Taiwan and its plight is growing. While there is little to indicate that any country is considering dramatic shifts to their Taiwan policy, China’s aggressive behavior is generating growing concerns about a conflict across the Taiwan Strait. There is also increasing public sympathy for Taiwan in many countries in the region, especially in Southeast Asia and India, because most have now experienced some form of coercion from China. This provides a fertile ground should there be considerations of any shifts in policy toward Taiwan in any of these countries. Equally, China’s sensitivity about Taiwan provides a ready handle for others to retaliate for unfriendly Chinese behavior. 

Some of these growing concerns are a result of Chinese behavior toward Taiwan itself. Repeated military exercises in the vicinity of Taiwan and efforts to pressure Taiwan militarily have been growing. According to Taiwan’s defense minister, the PLA has engaged in 49 military aircraft sorties across the Taiwan Strait median line in 2020, the highest number since 1990. The minister, who made a statement in the parliament, said that the Chinese military “conducted 1,710 aircraft sorties and 1,029 military vessel sorties into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) this year.” The minister added that, countering these moves, Taiwan’s military undertook around “3,000 military aircraft sorties to intercept and monitor the Chinese aircraft and vessels.” There is even some concern that China might be doing this as a tactic to force Taiwan to waste its resources. 

In response to these Chinese moves, the United States has stepped up its diplomatic and military support to Taiwan. In August this year, the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar traveled to Taiwan. This was “the highest-level visit by an American Cabinet official since the break in formal diplomatic relations between Washington and Taipei in 1979.” The discussions during the visit focused on COVID-19, the impact on global health, and Taiwan as a possible supplier of medical equipment and technology to deal with the pandemic. In September, another high-level U.S. visit took place with Keith Krach, under secretary of state for economic growth, energy, and the environment. Krach was also accompanied by a U.S. delegation that included Robert A. Destro, assistant secretary of the department of democracy, human rights, and labor.

The Everlasting Mao


OXFORD – The story that the West has told itself about China over the past few decades is now unraveling. According to this narrative, China was radically ideological under Chairman Mao Zedong’s rule (1949-76), and then became largely an economic-development project in the decades following the madness of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). China remained authoritarian, and stayed committed to the pursuit of great-power influence, of course; but it had shed the revolutionary fervor of the high-Maoist era for good.

In this version of events, the Communist Party of China (CPC) ruled through economic legitimacy: it would survive as long as it presided over an economy that ensured rising living standards, but it would inevitably fail if rapid economic growth disappeared. In reality, Mao never really went away. Even if his reputation has dipped at times, he has remained an object of fascination and veneration for large swaths of Chinese society. And in the era of Xi Jinping, there is constant internal debate over whether Xi is the new Mao.

Slowly, the rest of the world has become privy to that discussion, and a wide range of recent books that would have seemed anachronistic a decade ago have suddenly become timely. Just how relevant are Mao and Maoism to today’s China? The broad answer is: very much so, albeit not in the ways one might immediately expect.

France’s incoherent China policy confuses partners

Françoise Nicolas

On 21 July 2020, French Minister of Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire participated remotely in the High Level Economic and Financial Dialogue with Chinese Vice Premier Hu Chunhua. The two parties agreed to ‘encourage the businesses of each country to participate in the creation of 5G networks in line with market and security principles’.

It seems the French market plans to remain open to Huawei. The head of the French National Cybersecurity Agency Guillaume Poupard said as much when he confirmed the next day that there would be no blanket ban on Huawei equipment in the French 5G network.

But the devil is in the details. Authorisations for vendors to use Huawei equipment for 5G are granted for between three and eight years, without guarantee of renewal. As new mobile technology like 5G takes at least eight years to yield return on investment, no vendor would take the gamble. In other words, France is imposing a de facto ban on Huawei. National security considerations no doubt account for this choice — Poupard acknowledged the risk is not the same with European suppliers like Nokia and Ericsson.

This means French networks will be free of Huawei gear by 2028 at the latest. The French approach contrasts starkly with that of the United Kingdom, which outright banned new Huawei 5G equipment on 14 July with much fanfare, and ordered the removal of the existing Huawei 5G kit from operators’ networks by 2027.

Xi’s world: Covid has accelerated China’s rise

Back in February, the Chinese state appeared to be in trouble. A terrifying virus had infected thousands of people and the country’s social media exploded in anger against the authorities faster than Chinese censors could scrub away the critical comments. Like governments elsewhere, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) turned to the emergency analogy of choice, the second world war. Channelling Mao Zedong’s guerrilla campaign against the Japanese in the 1930s, state media declared that China was fighting a ‘people’s war’ against the virus.

As in that earlier war, China’s conflict with the virus has shifted from a defiant retreat to a declaration of victory. Nor is this just bluster. The latest economic figures suggest its economy is the only one in the world that will make a full recovery from the virus — growing by 2 per cent while America’s falls by 5 per cent, the eurozone by 8 per cent and Britain by 10 per cent. Justin Yifu Lin, former chief economist of the World Bank, thinks China is on track to become the world’s biggest economy by 2030. Beijing can now look forward, while other major economies are still working out how to manage the damage while racking up staggering amounts of debt.

None of this could have happened had China not dealt so swiftly (often brutally) with Covid-19. This week, Chinese media has been full of images of people queuing for the new anti-viral vaccine — it feels there that the crisis is genuinely over.

Yet when I call friends in Shanghai, they point out that after the institution of an efficient (and highly intrusive) track-and-trace system and harsh lockdowns, life is pretty much back to normal. China’s middle classes look at news from the locked-down West with bemusement before going out to restaurants, concerts and holidays. Its recent Golden Week vacation saw more than half a billion people take to China’s high-speed railways and new highways.

Turkey Is Prolonging The Bloodshed In Nagorno-Karabakh

by Maya Carlin

More than 1,000 people have been killed since a flare-up in violence in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on September 27. Hopes of ending nearly a month of bloodshed over this disputed territory appear dismal as regional actors continue to insert themselves in the conflict.

Nagorno-Karabakh is a breakaway region that belongs to Azerbaijan under international law but is governed and populated by ethnic Armenians. Although skirmishes have been common along the front lines of this territory through the years, this level of violence has not been seen since 1990, when a full-scale ethnic war erupted.

The re-ignition of Armenia and Azerbaijan’s thirty-two-year struggle over the Nagorno-Karabakh region has in part been fueled by Turkey’s regional ambitions. Ankara’s support for Baku is unsurprising, as both countries share close cultural ties and Turkish heritage. Turkey and Armenia, however, have a long history of conflict. Tensions date back to at least World War I when Armenians were massacred and driven out from Turkey during the fall of the Ottoman Empire, recognized by many today as the Armenian Genocide. Years of persecution and a tumultuous history have led to the Armenian military to defend the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Turkey has used mercenaries, propaganda, military aid, and weapons exports to help drive Azerbaijan to war with Armenia. Ankara’s military exports to Azerbaijan have dramatically increased in the last year. According to export data, the sale of drones, ammunition, and other weapons rose to over $76 million the month before tensions escalated over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Additionally, Azerbaijan acquired $123 million in other military and aviation technology from Turkey in early 2020. Ankara and Baku also held joint military training exercises between July 29 and August 5 of this year. Clearly, the two countries have been in close military coordination.

The Iran Factor in Talks Between U.S., Azerbaijan, and Armenia

Brenda Shaffer

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will host the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia for apparently separate meetings in Washington this Friday to discuss the ongoing fighting between their two countries. The meetings provide an opportunity for Washington to assess the conflict’s potential destabilization of Iran, which has recently faced significant protests by its Azerbaijani minority in support of Baku.

In the last week, most of the fighting has concentrated in areas that border Iran. Azerbaijan has recaptured territories that Armenia had occupied since their 1992–1994 war. Most of the international border with Iran has returned to the control of Azerbaijani troops, creating a new strategic reality for Iran. The Iranian press has openly reported Tehran’s concerns that the change at the border will have a negative impact on Iran’s security.

Iran is a multiethnic state in which 50 percent of its population is composed of non-Persian minorities. The largest ethnic minority in Iran is the Azerbaijanis, who comprise approximately a third of Iran’s population. Most of Iran’s Azerbaijanis live in provinces – East Azerbaijan, West Azerbaijan, and Ardebil – that border Armenia and Azerbaijan and the current battles.

On Sunday, Iranian Azerbaijanis demonstrated in several Iranian cities where they form the majority, including Tabriz and Urmiya, to demand that Iran stop transiting supplies to Armenia. These protests occurred despite the regime’s recent arrest of hundreds of activists and Tehran’s deployment of security forces, especially in Tabriz, in an attempt to limit the scope of the unrest.

From cyber to China, here’s what has former US national security advisors worried

by David A. Wemer

Whether current US President Donald J. Trump is re-elected or former Vice President Joe Biden becomes the next occupant of the White House, the next US president will be confronted with a growing challenge from China, the lingering danger of an assertive Russia, and a broad range of threats complicated by the proliferation of new technologies.

That is the picture three former US national security advisors painted during a discussion on the future of US national security hosted by the Atlantic Council on October 19 as part of the Council’s Elections 2020 and Commanders Series. “The foremost family of threats to the United States stem from China and the challenges it is offering in every domain,” Robert McFarlane, former national security advisor to President Ronald Reagan, argued. John Bolton, who served as Trump’s national security advisor from April 2018 to September 2019, agreed, calling China “the existential threat of the 21st century,” while also highlighting Russia’s aggressive actions and the “more immediate” threats of nuclear proliferation and terrorism. Whoever occupies the White House on January 20, 2021 will have to grapple with the fact that in this century “the very concept of national security and everything that it entails is much broader and it is all happening at a much more rapid pace,” added James L. Jones, Jr., former national security advisor to Barack Obama and Atlantic Council executive chairman emeritus.

Here’s a quick look at what the former national security advisors said about the post-2020 landscape and how the National Security Council (NSC) can help the next US president meet the challenges ahead:

The coming contest with China

While the US was out, China gained clout: McFarlane argued that the United States took “a thirty-year holiday since the end of the Cold War where we deluded ourselves into believing that the rest of the world would evolve toward adopting freedom and the rule of law and it hasn’t happened.” This gap in US leadership has been most effectively exploited by China, McFarlane explained, as Beijing has sought to make inroads across the world. Chinese activities have focused on gaining valuable resources such as cobalt in Africa and lithium in South America, acquiring access to strategic locations such as the Suez Canal, and entering lucrative markets for Chinese goods. China has even tried to extend its reach to the United States itself, he added. It has achieved “penetrations of institutions that are very precious to us” through, for example, the establishment of pro-Chinese organizations within US universities and the listing of Chinese businesses on US stock exchanges.

America must build its technology industries to win against China and Russia


Within every crisis is an opportunity. At the other end of this global pandemic awaits a new world of economic winners. Russia is already evoking Cold War memories by calling its test coronavirus vaccine “Sputnik V.” China is no different in the race for a vaccine, portraying itself as a global citizen and using that as a bargaining chip against U.S. global leadership.

This highlights the need for America to have a long-term high-technology vision, policy and set of goals in order to make strategic investments that correlate to our way of life, economic well-being, and democratic norms and values to shape not just the next decade but the decades to follow. The United States can either prepare and posture to shape a future with American strategic leadership, or resign itself to follower status. In many possible future scenarios, follower status may mean subservience to authoritarian-led economic systems. 

The U.S. has seized on such strategic opportunities in the past. At the beginning of World War II, America was still recovering from the Great Depression and possessed the 12th largest army in the world. The government turned to America’s manufacturing sector to help repair the economy and prepare America’s industrial base. This investment and strategic posture produced innovative developments in scientific technologies that ushered in advances in radio, ships, railroads, airplanes, nuclear power, solar power, space flight and, eventually, the internet.

Throughout the Cold War, the U.S. depended on Industrial Age policies and mechanisms to support our national defense and maintain an industrial base capable of providing carriers, submarines, bombers, fighters, tanks, ballistic missiles, satellites and other technologies. The Cold War ended in the peace dividends of the 1990s.We failed to prepare for how potential adversaries planned to challenge widely accepted norms, values and laws across the world’s land, air, sea, cyber and space domains. 

Perspectives | Armenia’s military position in Nagorno-Karabakh grows precarious

Michael Kofman 

Four weeks into the war, Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh face a military calamity. Azerbaijan’s drones and artillery have whittled them down, forcing a steady retreat. Unable to effectively counterattack or replace its losses, Armenia’s military has ceded considerable ground.

Although Azerbaijan’s early offensives did not result in significant gains, over the past two weeks they have captured a substantial amount of territory south of Stepanakert and along the Iranian border. Now Armenian forces are under threat of being cut off entirely as the Lachin corridor, linking Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia proper, is within range of Azerbaijani artillery. It is possible that Azerbaijan will capture this critical supply line within days, or at least begin to interdict it. At the time of this writing Armenian forces are trying to stabilize the battlefield and repel further Azerbaijani advances towards Lachin. The battle line is seesawing as fighting intensifies in this area.

Stimulus Spending, and Lots of It, Is the Only Way for Next President to Fix the Ailing Economy, Experts Say


With two weeks to go before the election, the nation's financial health is top of mind for Americans. According to a recent Gallup poll, nearly nine out of 10 registered voters say the economy is the most important factor in their decision about who to vote for—ahead of response to the pandemic, crime, race relations and a dozen other key issues. Additionally, nearly half of those polled said that President Donald Trump's recent COVID-19 diagnosis had made them even more worried about the economy than they already were.

No matter what happens between now and Inauguration Day, January 20—even in the unlikely event of a coronavirus vaccine or a second round of stimulus checks—the next president will be looking at an economy that is in rough shape and faces a long recovery.

The current national unemployment rate, after all, is still at a lofty 7.9 percent. While that's well below the nightmare days of late spring when it rose as high as 14.7 percent—a level second only to the rates seen during the Great Depression—it's still in another ballpark from last January, when it stood at 3.6 percent, near its 50-year low.

That pain is not being distributed equally. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis estimates that the unemployment rate for Black Americans is 12.1 percent and 10.3 percent for Latinos, compared to 7 percent for whites; meanwhile, the unemployment rate for men topped out at 13.5 percent in April while hitting 16.2 percent for women the same month. Then too, according to the Labor Department, about five million people are about to join the ranks of the "long-term unemployed," meaning they've been out of work for at least six months, at point at which they are increasingly likely to stop looking for a job altogether.

The U.S. Needs a Cyber Strategy Designed for Defense | Opinion


Cyber warfare is a new arrival to the foreign policy toolkit—so much so that our government seems uncertain of how to classify it. Should we think of cyberattacks like sanctions? Airstrikes? Espionage? Is "warfare" a misnomer?

Though any terminology will have its flaws, cyberattacks are best considered a scalable tactic than can function as a weapon of war, a weapon—like any more conventional weapon—whose use by the United States should be subject to constitutional oversight, constrained by rules protecting innocent civilians and designed for defense.

Thinking of cyberattacks as potential acts of war is perhaps counterintuitive. In common parlance, a "cyberattack" can be anything from phishing to ransomware, to hacking social media accounts, to denial of service attacks, to mass leaks of personal data or communications, to meddling in foreign elections via voter manipulation or sabotage of election results, to shutting down power grids, to damaging nuclear centrifuges, to remotely causing explosions or disabling enemy defenses. If the "internet of things" expands and self-driving vehicles go into widespread use, the destructive potential of cyber warfare will increase apace.

It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which phishing would be deemed an act of war—but blowing up a car or building, especially if the explosion kills people or damages national security infrastructure, is no less grave an act because the weapon of choice is digital. We can't draw a neat line between cyberattacks which may or may not be received by their targets as warfare: Damage to major utilities or political turmoil caused by election meddling are as capable of claiming lives as are explosions.

This scalability introduces a level of uncertainty absent with more conventional weapons and techniques, and that uncertainty makes restraint and accountability in the use of cyber warfare in U.S. foreign policy all the more important.

UK has mounted covert attacks against Russian leadership, says ex-mandarin

Britain has carried out a series of covert attacks on Russia’s leaders and their allies, the former cabinet secretary has disclosed.

Mark Sedwill said the UK had sought to exploit Moscow’s “vulnerabilities”, including through the deployment of its recently declared offensive cyber-capability.

He said the aim of such actions had been to “impose a price greater than one they might have expected” in response to aggressive Russian behaviour.

“Russia is operating in what the aficionados call grey space, that gap between normal state relations and armed conflict, with cyber-attacks, information warfare and disruption campaigns,” he told Times Radio.

“It is important that we are capable of manoeuvring in the grey space and doing so effectively. We can’t leave the initiative to our adversaries.

“There are vulnerabilities that we can exploit too. We just don’t always talk about them.”

Lord Sedwill, who was also national security adviser until he stepped down last month, said the measures included actions against some of the “illicit” money flowing out of Russia.

He said the occasions when the government took such action included the 2018 Salisbury poisoning of the former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia using the novichok nerve agent.

“We seek to impose a price greater than one they might have expected when we believe it is right and necessary,” he said.

Beijing’s Human Rights Victims Shouldn’t Support Trump

By Tenzin Dorjee

Foreign policy, it is said, rarely makes a dent on the ballot box in the United States. But in the upcoming presidential election, China has emerged as a dominant if not defining issue. This is especially true for communities that have long sought to hold Beijing accountable for its litany of human rights crimes. Among Beijing’s strongest opponents—a loose coalition of single-issue voters including Tibetan Americans, Uighur Americans, Hong Kong Americans, Taiwanese Americans, and Chinese dissidents—there is a perception that U.S. President Donald Trump is “tough on China” and, therefore, worthy of reelection. Trump’s clash with China, they believe, could indirectly benefit the aggrieved groups stuck under Beijing’s boot.

But the belief that Trump, if reelected, will contain China and empower its adversaries stems from several false assumptions. First, it overestimates a second Trump administration’s commitment to a Cold War-style ideological struggle against Beijing. Second, it overlooks the fact that a real containment policy cannot proceed, let alone succeed, without a global coalition of allies—a core U.S. asset that has greatly depreciated under Trump. Last but not least, it misses the simple truth that Washington can neither democratize nor contain China if Trump destabilizes the United States first.

It is understandable that communities that have been at the receiving end of Beijing’s brutality are impressed by Trump’s fiery rhetoric, especially his promises to “make China pay” for damage done by the COVID-19 pandemic and to “decouple” the United States from China. Three decades of U.S. engagement with China—propelled by the theory that economic development leads to political liberalization—has not only failed to democratize China but also further entrenched authoritarianism under the Chinese Communist Party. In the half century since the sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset postulated a causal link between economic modernization and democratization, the so-called modernization theory has faced no challenge as great as China, where an authoritarian regime is drawing its sustenance from the very economic growth that was supposed to end it. As China becomes a global power, the threat it poses to freedom and human rights goes far beyond its borders.

How to downsize the US presence in the Middle East

Bruce Riedel and Michael E. O’Hanlon

Barack Obama and Donald Trump rarely agree. But in regard to the Middle East, they have had one point of clear accord: Basically, they want out. To be sure, that means different things to the two men, and perhaps yet something else to Joe Biden. Yet the basic notion that the region is strategic quicksand, to be avoided as much as possible, is a view they all share. So do most other Americans. So do we. American foreign policy in the region is too militarized. And the 60,000 U.S. troops typically there at any one time are too many, when measured against the missions they can realistically accomplish. While much less than the 100,000+ troops we typically based in the region in the early years of this century, they are many times the number we ever based in the region prior to 1990.

However, there are right ways and wrong ways to get out of the Middle East. Often, frustration with the region translates into slogans like “end forever wars” or, as Trump recently tweeted about Afghanistan, “get the troops home by Christmas.” These kinds of comments start with an understandable emotion and diagnosis of the overall situation, but point in a damaging direction.

There are right ways and wrong ways to get out of the Middle East.

The United States can indeed choose to bring back our forces from forever wars anytime we want — but doing so will hardly end them, or the threats they pose to Western interests. Literally bringing all GIs home from Afghanistan by late December would require the United States to destroy many supplies in place, abandon Afghan partners to extremism and a worsening civil war, risk flying helicopters off the roof of our embassy to rescue diplomats at some future date, and create new opportunities for al-Qaida or ISIS to find sanctuaries at a time when they have lost them in other parts of the region. Rather than taking the pressure off the terrorists, we should want to keep it on.

Competition and Cooperation in the Maritime Domain

Competition over the world’s maritime resources and territorial disputes over maritime borders are becoming increasingly prominent in international affairs. At the same time, depleted fish stocks and polluted waters make the question of how countries can collectively manage maritime resources a central one, particularly in discussions over climate change.

Against the backdrop of heightened competition in the maritime domain, China has been rapidly modernizing and expanding its naval capabilities thanks to an unprecedented shipbuilding effort. By contrast, the U.S. Navy is struggling to meet its ambitious goals toward expanding its fleet while nevertheless maintaining a demanding operational tempo.

Meanwhile, the resources that lie beneath the ocean’s surface are increasingly at risk of overexploitation. Illegal fishing is devastating already diminished global stocks and may soon present a severe crisis to countries whose populations depend on seafood for their diets. In the South China Sea, competition over fishing rights as well as offshore oil and gas reserves has been a major driver of tensions and conflict.

The maritime domain highlights the tensions between national sovereignty and transnational challenges, between the ocean’s littoral regions as exclusive economic zones and the high seas as a global commons. While often ignored in coverage of international affairs, it features prominently in bilateral, regional and multilateral diplomacy, particularly when it comes to resolving boundary disputes.

WPR has covered maritime issues in detail and continues to examine key questions about what will happen next. Will the United States shore up its naval superiority or continue to cede ground to China? How will the pivot to renewable resources affect competition for maritime resources? Will concerns over climate change and depleting fish stocks jumpstart global efforts to improve the state of the world’s oceans? Below are some of the highlights of WPR’s coverage.

Why Action Against Google Is Not Enough

By Dipayan Ghosh, Loully Sane

The U.S. Justice Department’s latest move to sue Google for allegations that its search and advertising functions violate federal antitrust laws is unsurprisingly making headlines. The world should welcome much-needed scrutiny of a dominant platform that has, as the Department contends, monopolized the search sector and exploited society through that commercial domination. But the reality is that the United States—and its global partners—must take a comprehensive approach to internet regulation to address the biggest and most persistent challenges that the internet has surfaced over the past decade. While action against Google represents a significant development, lawmakers’ regulatory intent can’t end with Google, or simply the enforcement of antitrust provisions against the firm.

The coronavirus pandemic has only increased the importance of regulation across the internet. COVID-19 has accelerated the world’s transition to a virtual economy: Work and school have largely shifted online; telehealth services have expanded; online shopping has soared; apps for food and grocery delivery, fitness, and social meetups have proliferated. Each of these trends was already underway, of course, but global lockdowns because of the pandemic have dramatically sped up these changes.

Will our way of life change forever? What will the new normal look like? The answers may be unknown, but in the short term, it is clear that people around the world are exchanging more information online, sharing more personal information with various companies, health insurance providers, employers, schools, and other networks. And all this is happening over mostly unregulated online platforms. As digital communication increasingly becomes a fundamental service upon which society depends, consumers and citizens should be asking who has access to our information and how it is being used. More and more, communication over the internet resembles a utility-like service; we turn to the same platforms every day to access social media, video conferencing, and to search the Internet. As a result, the companies behind these services have driven out competition and become economically stronger. Meanwhile, the dominant digital platforms are sucking up data, wielding it to develop proprietary insights, and steering the media landscape toward a system that is designed to maximize their profit. Put another way, they are building unilateral power over what we see and consume in the digital media ecosystem.

The Fight Over the World Trade Organization Has Begun

by James Jay Carafano

Even repentant “panda huggers” and liberal internationalists have acknowledged that the World Trade Organization (WTO) is no longer up to the task of dealing effectively with the full range of challenges Beijing presents today’s global trading regime.

There’s no point in debating whether Beijing should have been admitted to the WTO in the first place. It’s in. And the United States shouldn’t just pull out and leave the field there free to China. So, what now?

China has used its economic power to bully, bribe, corrupt, and steal its way up the global economic supply chain, with only limited resistance from the WTO. It is past time to plug the loopholes that allow this.

International organizations have become battlegrounds for today’s great power competition. The United States must act to protect its interests and foster equitable global norms—just as it did in the 1990s. After the Soviet Union collapsed, America was guiding international organizations to establish responsible rules for international relations. But that effort has been short cut by the rise of great power competition, in which we see nations like China trying to exploit organizations to their advantage. Beijing’s strategy of attempting to infiltrate and control key international organizations is well documented.

There are two prominent and very different views on how to deal with this challenge. One is to just cut and run, decoupling from China and disengaging from international organizations. But a “take your ball and go home” approach makes no sense. It simply gives Beijing free rein to do whatever it wants.

Recovery and Renewal at the UN


NEW YORK – The international community urgently needs new tools, ideas, and initiatives to meet the common threats and challenges faced by the United Nations’ 193 member countries. The world body’s 75th anniversary, to be marked on United Nations Day on October 24, presents an opportunity to chart a path to the partnerships we need to meet the challenges we will face in the years and decades to come. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic – the costliest and most far-reaching crisis since World War II – the need for institutional renewal and recovery is obvious.

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.3Add to Bookmarks

Among the most ominous threats and challenges, beyond pandemic disease, are a rapidly changing global climate, violent conflict and large-scale displacement in fragile states, and sophisticated cyber-attacks. What these challenges have in common is that they are beyond the ability of any country to resolve on its own. International cooperation is crucial, but that cooperation is being jeopardized by a resurgence in nationalism which threatens the very structure of the international order built three-quarters of a century ago.

Rising nationalism raises a significant risk that the UN system’s structure and institutions, essential but in need of repair and rejuvenation, may instead be left to decline, decay, and even collapse. Such an outcome would be tragic, not just for those institutions but for all of humanity.

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

By Hal Brands

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.More from

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.

How 30 Lines of Code Blew Up a 27-Ton Generator

Andy Greenberg

Earlier this week, the US Department of Justice unsealed an indictment against a group of hackers known as Sandworm. The document charged six hackers working for Russia's GRU military intelligence agency with computer crimes related to half a decade of cyberattacks across the globe, from sabotaging the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea to unleashing the most destructive malware in history in Ukraine. Among those acts of cyberwar was an unprecedented attack on Ukraine's power grid in 2016, one that appeared designed to not merely cause a blackout, but to inflict physical damage on electric equipment. And when one cybersecurity researcher named Mike Assante dug into the details of that attack, he recognized a grid-hacking idea invented not by Russian hackers, but by the United State government, and tested a decade earlier.

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Andy Greenberg is a senior writer for WIRED, covering security, privacy, and information freedom. He’s the author of the book Sandworm: A New Era of Cyberwar and the Hunt for the Kremlin's Most Dangerous Hackers. The book and excerpts from it published in WIRED won a Gerald Loeb Award for... Read more
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The Era of Full-Spectrum War Is Here

By Jeffrey A. Stace

Foreign-policy experts have spilled much ink in the debate over whether the United States is, or is not, in a new cold war—whether with China, or Russia, or perhaps both. Whatever observers call it, it should be abundantly clear that Russia and China have more severely harmed the core national security interests of the United States and its allies than either ever did on a battlefield or during the entirety of the classic Cold War.

In fact, “cold war” may not be enough to capture what has actually happened. Rather, what China and Russia have pulled off might be more usefully thought of as “full-spectrum warfare,” which comprises full-bore geopolitical challenges by traditional military and nonmilitary means.

Experts and laypeople alike can get their heads around military competition, not to mention major economic clashes, and even intelligence agency spycraft. But the cyberwar aspect—including tampering with voter rolls and machines, malware, social media interference, troll farms, and much more—is proving more difficult to get a handle on (even among senior officials, past and present, on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Atlantic).

In round one of the era of full-spectrum warfare, China won.
In round one of the era of full-spectrum warfare, China won.For the past decade and a half, Chinese government hackers stole unimaginable amounts of intellectual property from the United States—to the tune of $300 billion to $600 billion worth per year—and others. Starting in former President Barack Obama’s administration, numerous aides and cabinet officials encouraged him to do more to hold China accountable. It was a catastrophic failure that he didn’t.

Are We Fighting the Last Infowar?

By Jacob Parakilas

Since Donald Trump’s upset victory in 2016, the topic of information warfare has dominated strategic conversations in the United States and Europe. New research programs focused on countering disinformation and identifying propaganda and bot networks have sprung up; congressional and parliamentary hearings and working groups have been convened on the topic; and news and social media companies have been refining their policies on dissemination of hacked and possibly fraudulent materials.

The expectation, clearly, is that we are now in an era of permanent infowar. And with U.S. intelligence agencies having firmly pointed the finger at Russia for its role in the 2016 election, the question has frequently been: Will other authoritarian countries follow the same playbook? Though the question has been raised with respect to any number of countries — Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea — the most pressing object of Western concern is China, whose resources are substantially greater than Russia’s and which has many more points of leverage thanks to its much higher degree of embeddedness in the global economy.

And yet there are reasons to be skeptical that the particular genre of information warfare that led to this upsurge of attention will be a defining feature of modern intrastate conflict.

To be clear: The evidence that the Russian military intelligence service did perpetrate the hack-and-dump operation targeting the Democratic Party using WikiLeaks as a front is very strong. The evidence that it affected the election is less so. That’s not to say that there was no effect; with the election decided by less than 80,000 votes across three states, especially given that many voters made up their minds at the last minute, it is impossible to write off the possibility that it was at least one of several contributing factors that pushed Trump over the top. But voters often don’t accurately remember which party they voted for, let alone their rationale for doing so. Accurately tracking down the cause of any particular vote is nearly impossible.

The Best (Cyber) Defense Is a Good (Cyber) Offense | Opinion


We are at war in cyberspace. While lawyers might quibble about the definitions of armed attacks and other niceties of international law, the fact of the matter is that, for around a decade, we've been in series of consistent—albeit small-scale—conflicts in cyberspace. These conflicts have intensified recently, particularly since the start of the COVID pandemic, and have had a massive impact on the American public and private sectors. One can hardly pick up a news magazine today without being assaulted by headlines about data breaches, ransomware, cyber-enabled financial crime or social media-spread misinformation and disinformation. Standing alone, cyber-enabled economic warfare conducted by China drains the American private sector of billions of dollars a year, with total damages estimated in the trillions. Former NSA Director Gen. Keith B. Alexander described this concerted effort as "the greatest transfer of wealth in human history," and former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI)—nearly a decade ago—called out the ongoing cyber economic war.

Even worse, in the last six years alone, we've seen our adversaries undertake attacks tantamount to acts of war. For example, we've seen North Korea and Iran engage in the affirmative destruction of data and the bricking of computer systems here in the United States. And the threat level continues to grow. Just last year, then-Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats told Congress that Iran is actively "preparing for cyber attacks against the United States and our allies" and is "capable of...disrupting a large company's corporate networks for days to weeks." During the same testimony, the DNI noted that "China has the ability to launch cyber attacks [in the U.S.] that [could] cause...disruption of a natural gas pipeline for days to weeks." Of course, we all know about Russia's wildly successful covert influence campaign that has undermined public confidence in our elections and rule of law institutions. While the Russian activities are likely to go down in history as among the most effective covert influence operations ever, what sometimes goes missed in all the election talk is the DNI's assessment that Russia is also actively "mapping our critical infrastructure with the long-term goal of being able to cause substantial damage," including by "disrupting an electrical distribution network for at least a few hours."

Notwithstanding the significant costs imposed on the American people and our economy by these activities, the Russians and others have paid little price for their actions. While we've imposed limited sanctions against Russia (primarily because Congress pushed for them), have indicted some key actors in both Russia and China and imposed some limited trade measures against China, the continued pace of activity from our adversaries in cyberspace makes clear that they are largely undeterred. This is especially clear, given the frenetic activity we've seen in the recent months as threat actors have sought financial and strategic gains in the post-COVID environment, including targeting institutions conducting cutting-edge vaccine research. And there is little question that cyber-enabled covert influence activity will only increase as we get closer to election day.