30 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 Union territory of Ladakh: What is China’s skin in the game?

By P. Stobdan

Amid talks of military disengagement, China has made some mischievous contrivances that can’t be ignored. A day after the seventh round of Commander-level talks on October 12, Beijing reiterated for the second time that it “does not recognise the Ladakh Union territory illegally set up by the Indian side.”

Is China short of legally questioning India’s sovereignty over Ladakh? New Delhi has rebutted by saying “Ladakh is an integral and inalienable part of India.” But the matter cannot be put to rest there, for China has been consistently raking up the issue at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) since August 2019.

Beijing contends that “Abrogation of Article 370 undermined China's territorial sovereignty and violated bilateral agreements on maintaining peace and stability in the border area,” suggesting that Ladakh’s administrative jurisdiction includes Chinese territory. This is despite India allaying fears that the new arrangement has no impact on Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China. While New Delhi ended the issue there, China is now seemingly using it to broaden the canvas of the conflict.

It is unclear what China’s skin in the Ladakh game is. Its opaque maneuverings are hard to fathom. It could well be linked to rhetoric around LAC conflict. It could also be linked to China’s Kashmir policy that has swung from neutrality in the 1950s to affirming Pakistan’s position in the 1960 to terming the Kashmir dispute a bilateral issue in the 1980s. But, Beijing’s hidden motivation was known—to prep up Pakistan's position, even protecting its terrorists from getting listed by the UN sanctions committee.

Ease of Learning About Doing Business in Indian States

By Arjun Mehrotra

The international business community often looks to New Delhi to understand foreign direct investment (FDI) rules and gauge the openness of the Indian economy. While the central government formulates FDI policy and provides broad direction to states, many of the day-to-day realities of investing and operating in India are defined at the state level. CSIS’s Ease of Learning About Doing Business Index (EoLDB) tracks how easy Indian states make it for potential investors to learn about investment opportunities in their state.

The EoLDB index considers sixteen factors to measure how easy it is for investors to find information from the states’ websites to decide if they want to invest in that state. Each factor has a score of 0 if the factor is absent, 0.5 if partially present, and 1 if entirely present – these scores are then added to form the sixteen-point index. The sixteen factors are divided evenly among four groups, with equal weightage to each group. The four groups include:

Ease in finding relevant website (prominence in search results, dedicated investment portal, mobile-friendly website, and social media presence)

Ability to quickly find appropriate contact person(s) (clear first point of contact, names of officials, appropriate contact details, and dedicated country desks)

Ability to find relevant details (description of investment processes, incentives, industrial policy, and overall value proposition of the state)

Other factors - language friendliness (whether the site can be accessed in English and foreign languages) and comprehensiveness (whether links work and connect to other pertinent state and central government information sources).

A good score on the index does not definitively imply that the actual process of getting approvals will be easier or that the business environment is necessarily better than lower-ranked states. Nonetheless, such a ranking is useful as potential investors and other state governments can see what efforts states have made to attract investment.

Pakistan’s Anti-Government Movement May Hit the Brick Wall of the Security State

By Michael Kugelman

A new unified anti-government movement has emerged in Pakistan amid a worsening economic crisis. The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an alliance of 11 opposition parties, was formed in September and has held large rallies in three major cities. It plans more protests in the coming weeks and intends to march on Islamabad in January.

Fueled by large crowds and growing public anxiety about economic stress, the movement certainly has legs. But ousting Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government is a very tall order, thanks in great part to Khan’s backing by Pakistan’s powerful security forces.

Right now the PDM is pulling no punches. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) founder and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was convicted of corruption in 2018 but is now based in London after receiving medical bail, has delivered fiery video speeches at two different rallies. He called out by name the head of Pakistan’s army, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, accusing him of engineering Sharif’s ouster in 2017 as well as the 2018 election victory of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. Rarely has a senior Pakistani leader made such specific allegations by name against a sitting army chief so publicly.

Opposition alliances have a long history in Pakistan. They have come together against military dictators, and with varying success. They helped remove Field Marshal Ayub Khan from the presidency in the late 1960s, but were less successful against Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s presidency in the 1980s. These alliances have also been deployed against civilian leaders, including one against Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977 that resulted in the military coup that brought Zia to power.

Will U.S. Troops Return to Taiwan?

By Phillip Orchard

For the past several years, China has been going to exaggerated lengths to isolate Taiwan – diplomatically, militarily, even epidemiologically. But Taipei and Washington have been finding some subtle but pointed ways to make clear that the self-ruled island is not exactly alone. There was, for example, the photo Taipei released earlier this month of President Tsai Ing-wen and her Cabinet walking down a hallway at an early warning radar site, with a U.S. military technical officer lurking in the background. In August, there was the U.S.-released photo of a bunch of Taiwanese airmen and, conspicuously, a handful of U.S. avionics advisers, posing in front of a Patriot missile battery in Taiwan. Also in August, there was the first-ever visit by Taiwanese troops to the de facto U.S. embassy in Taipei, where Washington has openly discussed stationing troops.

Taiwan and the U.S. have little reason to play coy about traditional means of U.S. support for the self-ruled island. The U.S. is required by U.S. law to sell Taiwan the arms it needs to defend itself, and it doesn’t typically do so covertly. Such arms packages have been getting larger and more frequent over the past couple of years, as have appearances by U.S. warships in the Taiwan Strait. And Washington, which doesn’t have official diplomatic ties with the government in Taipei, has also become less and less inclined to keep playing its game of diplomatic make-believe around Taiwan to please China, as illustrated by a pair of recent senior-level visits by U.S. officials. Still, there’s a world of difference between providing material and diplomatic support for Taiwan and putting U.S. forces in Taiwan.

So are Taipei and Washington signaling that a return of U.S. boots on the ground in Taiwan is on the table? Probably not in a major way. But Taiwan hosting at least a modest U.S. military presence in the not-so-distant future shouldn’t be ruled out.

Foot in the Door

For nearly a quarter century beginning in 1954, Taiwan hosted as many as 30,000 U.S. troops as the U.S. sought to deter the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from attempting to put a decisive end to the Chinese civil war (and to discourage Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang from launching its own mainland invasion). But the U.S. committed to withdrawing all its forces from the island in its breakthrough 1972 joint communique with Beijing, and all were gone by the time the U.S. switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

ASEAN Is Failing On The South China Sea Issue

By Phar Kim Beng

The 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are currently in the midst of discussions over the long-awaited Code of Conduct on the South China Sea (SCS). In August, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that he was hoping to see the completion of the Code of Conduct (COC) by 2021. But no one in ASEAN, including the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, has been able to discern whether Wang meant the beginning of 2021 or the end. While seemingly a simple issue, the ASEAN member states appear to lack the courage to seek clarification on it.

A former high-level member of the ASEAN Secretariat has noted that the dialogue for the COC is currently being handled by a low-level working group. When discussions languish at the “working group” level, one can be sure China that does not treat them seriously, unless “external countries” are referenced. The latter is generically used to mean the United States, and potentially other countries that the U.S. is seeking to draw into its loose “Quad” alliance, namely Australia, India, and Japan.

The ASEAN Secretariat has never said anything public on the substance of the expected new COC. This was the case with the 2002 Declaration of the Conduct of Parties for the SCS, and remains the same today, as the Secretariat – led by the media-shy and unfortunately ineffectual Secretary General Dato Lim Jock Hoi, from the region’s smallest country, Brunei – is devoid of any power to say anything on behalf of the 10 member states.

When the last ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting was convened virtually in late June, President Roberto Duterte of the Philippines was the first to “warn” of the increasing danger in the SCS. Yet what did that “warning” lead to? Nothing. Two months later, a Vietnamese boatman was killed by the Malaysian Navy for encroaching in Malaysian waters. So much for ASEAN solidarity.

China's new law restricts transfer of personal data abroad

BEIJING -- China began soliciting public comment on Wednesday for draft legislation to place tight limits on the transfer of personal data outside the country and let Beijing retaliate against any "discriminatory" prohibitions by the U.S.

China’s Leaders Focus on Tech as They Make 5-Year Economic Plan

By Joe McDonald

Chinese leaders met Monday to formulate an economic blueprint for the next five years that is expected to emphasize development of semiconductors and other technology at a time when Washington is cutting off access to U.S. technology.

President Xi Jinping’s government is working to promote self-sustaining growth supported by domestic consumer spending and technology development as tensions with trading partners hamper access to export markets and technology.

The ruling Communist Party wants Chinese industry to rely on domestic suppliers and consumers, a strategy it calls “dual circulation.” Economists warn that while this might help to reduce disruption of trade disputes with the United States and other partners, it will raise costs and hurt productivity.

The Five-Year Plan, the 14th in a series issued since the 1950s, is the foundation for government industrial plans in the heavily regulated economy. Its broad outlines are due to be announced after the meeting ends Thursday but the full plan won’t be released until March. Legal and regulatory changes and plans for individual industries will follow.

Innovation will “drive China’s manufacturing industry and push it up the global value chain while strategically ensuring domestic supply,” the official Global Times newspaper said. “Achieving independence in key areas, such as scientific research and finance, is expected to be a focus.”

China’s Nuclear Program Baffled Soviet Intelligence

By Joseph Torigian

The United States wants to include China in negotiations on nuclear weapons with the Russian Federation. Russia’s reaction to this policy depends in part on its own understanding of Beijing’s nuclear intentions and capabilities. The question of just what Russia knows—or believes—about China is a tough one. Fortunately, an extraordinary collection of newly declassified documents from the Russian archives, including the party records known as The Russian State Archive of Contemporary History (RGANI), reveals how the Soviet Union studied China’s nuclear and missile programs during the height of the Cold War—at a time when nuclear war between Moscow and Beijing was very possible.

The Soviet Union adopted an exceptionally broad view of what types of information were useful, and Soviet assets were highly successful in obtaining various types of evidence not only from China but around the world. Soviet analysts often recognized the limitations of their sources, but they, like their American counterparts, often overestimated Chinese advances during the Cultural Revolution era. The evidence shows just how hard it was for even a state like the Soviet Union to conduct nuclear intelligence effectively.

The Soviets had one significant advantage over the United States in terms of intelligence on China’s nuclear weapons program: Moscow had participated in the early days of Beijing’s nuclear industry. In 1968, Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin requested that the Ministry of Geology provide a report on uranium resources in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) . That report noted that Soviet specialists had participated in seeking uranium deposits in China between 1955 and 1960. During that time, 30 percent of all possible areas had been inspected which revealed 15 areas with uranium ore—allowing rough forecasts of how much more China might have access to.

But the past ties could be a disadvantage, too. In the 1950s, the Soviets helped train Chinese spymasters, and Moscow allegedly removed most of its own spies during the 1950s. Those conditions created special difficulties for recruiting agents in the PRC. Especially after the March 1969 crisis on the Sino-Soviet border, the top-secret in-house journal of the KGB ran multiple articles on how to convince Chinese citizens to provide intelligence to Moscow.

The Dynamics of Sino-Russian Relations in Central Asia

Aleksey Asiryan and Yiming He

China’s relations with Russia and the Central Asian states have steadily improved in the last three decades. With ideological tensions and border disputes being things of the past, the Moscow-Beijing relationship continues to develop dynamically through economic and trade cooperation, defense dialogues, and regional security cooperation. Many observers note that the current trajectory of Sino-Russian cooperation is reaching its limits and cannot be sustained in light of Russia’s economic turmoil in recent years and China’s growing presence in Russia’s backyard. It is argued that the growing asymmetry between China’s rise and Russia’s decline would inevitably result in tensions and increased rivalry, particularly in Central Asia. The Central Asian states, on the other hand, would be left at the mercy of great power politics. However, such analysis is based on two false assumptions: (1) the modern-day Sino-Russian partnership is primarily based on counterbalancing the hegemony of the United States; and (2) socio-economic and political developments in Central Asia should be understood through the lens of the Great Game narrative.

The complexity and multifaceted nature of the Sino-Russian strategic partnership should not be reduced to the “axis of convenience” argument, where the US is a common denominator. Likewise, the changing power dynamics in Central Asia between the two powers did not result in animosity or confrontation. Looking at the region through the Great Game narrative leaves very little agency to the Central Asian states over their future and oversimplifies the dynamics of the Sino-Russian relationship in the region. Instead, it will be argued that despite differences in regional approaches and overlapping interests, Russia and China are not locked in a traditional rivalry and do not compete for the same goals in Central Asia. The growing asymmetry between Russia and China in the region is accompanied by Moscow’s acceptance of its weakened position, China’s respect for Russia’s strategic interests, and shared responsibility for the security and stability of the region. Despite the Russian-Chinese duopoly, the Central Asian states retain a degree of independent decision-making in line with their national interests. Central Asia’s economic future lies primarily within its own neighborhood, and the resilience of Sino-Russian cooperation is in the interests of the Central Asian republics.

The Royal Navy and U.S. Navy Are Embracing Interchangeability: Could It Backfire?

by James Holmes

“Interoperability” is old and busted, proclaim top civilian and uniformed leaders from the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps and Great Britain’s Royal Navy. “Interchangeability” is the new hotness! Declares Admiral Mike Gilday, the U.S. chief of naval operations, the allied sea services intend to “synchronize pioneering capabilities, strengthen operating concepts and focus our collective efforts to deliver combined sea power together.” They will concentrate in particular on “carrier strike, underwater superiority, [and] Navy/Marine integration” while “doubling down on future warfighting like unmanned and artificial intelligence.”

In reality, the services have pursued interchangeability for some years now. Service chieftains merely codified what has been happening in practice and hung a catchy label on it. The initiative manifests itself most visibly in aircraft-carrier operations. After a decade’s lapse the Royal Navy has re-debuted in the world of fixed-wing naval aviation, putting to sea HMS Queen Elizabeth complete with a modest complement of F-35B stealth fighters. Queen Elizabeth recently took part in a NATO exercise off the Scottish coast, launching and recovering F-35s. During the maneuver, Captain Angus Essenhigh boasted that his ship was “equipped with the most fifth-generation strike power ever deployed at sea” in the form of sixteen joint strike fighters.

And indeed his boast was true.

Significantly, the bulk of the Queen Elizabeth F-35 contingent comes from VMFA-211, a U.S. Marine Corps squadron based in Yuma, Arizona. Ten jets from VMFA-211 joined six from the Royal Air Force’s 617 Squadron. (In a quirk of history, Britain’s air force, not navy, supplies aircraft to the fleet.) Marines will remain on board the vessel for its impending maiden deployment.

Making the jump from interoperability to interchangeability is a bigger deal than it might seem. The Pentagon defines interoperability as “the ability to act together coherently, effectively, and efficiently to achieve tactical, operational, and strategic objectives,” adding that it often involves the ability to exchange “information or services” by means of electronic communications. Generally speaking, that means unlike services are compatible enough technologically that they can communicate with one another and coordinate operations. There’s also a human dimension. A service needs to compile a working knowledge of its partners’ doctrine and tactics—and vice versa—if they are to fight together in unison.

Europe Must Grow Up and Stop Moaning About Trump


Europe’s Eastern and Southern neighborhoods are in turmoil. But the European Union is unable to act.

The EU’s reactions to the extraordinary, persistent, and peaceful demonstrations in Belarus—in which the security forces become more violent by the day—are shameful. The EU looks on helplessly at the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. There is no end in sight to Russia’s de facto occupation of eastern Ukraine.

As for Europe’s Southern neighborhood—whether it’s the chaos in Libya, the political paralysis in Lebanon, the continuing war in Yemen, or the destruction of Syria—the European role has been pathetic. There, Europe has ceded responsibility to Russia, Turkey, and Iran. They are now reshaping the geostrategic picture of the region.

And Europe’s strategic helplessness is going to get worse.

The second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, which is sweeping across Europe, is going to make the bloc’s economies weaker and more inward-looking. If anything, if the big foreign policy issues do not shake the Europeans out of their comfort zone, this pandemic should.

The coronavirus is already affecting so many aspects of life that have been taken for granted. It shows that individual countries alone cannot overcome the pandemic and deal with its economic aftermath. It is going to require a collective, multilateral effort for growth to recover.

That is why the 2020 U.S. presidential election is followed closely from the European continent.

In terms of foreign policy issues, it is not the Brexit negotiations or the conflicts along the EU’s borders that have captivated the European imagination. Instead, it is what happens over on the other side of the Atlantic. There is the naive hope and longing that U.S. President Donald Trump will be defeated—and handsomely—by Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

Beirut Port Blast Punctures Trust in Hezbollah

By: Andrew Devereux

The explosion in the Port of Beirut on August 4 caused domestic reverberations throughout Lebanon. With close to 200 people killed, over 6,000 wounded and damages estimated at over $15 billion, the public outrage toward the ruling elite was immediate and damning (Daily Sabah, August 12). The political classes were already subjected to heavy criticism for an ongoing economic crisis that has left 55 percent of the population living below the poverty line, while remnants of the October 2019 protests against political corruption remain active (Middle East Monitor, August 20). In the aftermath of the explosion, public ire accelerated swiftly. No group has come under more scrutiny, or been blamed more directly, than Hezbollah.

While much of the outrage has been focused on the role the Iranian-backed political and militia organization has played in the gradual erosion of basic political cohesion in Lebanon, its involvement in the explosion itself has been questioned. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah issued a public statement in the days following the blast denying that the group had stored arms in the port. He denied all knowledge of the stockpile of 2,750 tons of industrial ammonium nitrate that had been stored in the port since 2013, without the necessary safety measures in place (al-Arabiya, August 7). Thus far, no evidence has been found to discount these repudiations of responsibility, but international and domestic observers believe it is unlikely such a large number of explosives would be present in Beirut without Hezbollah’s leaders having knowledge of its existence.

The denials of complicity have been complicated further by Hezbollah’s previous history of using the explosive material, and the United States has subsequently accused the group of stockpiling caches of ammonium nitrate across Europe (Alaraby, September 17). Furthermore, Hezbollah’s security chief Wafiq Safa exerts substantial influence over operations at the Port of Beirut (Arab News, August 9). By very publicly percolating itself into every political and operational aspect of the Lebanese governance apparatus, Hezbollah has made the claims of denial difficult to palate. With public outrage directed at the group and international observers hoping the incident will lead to Hezbollah’s influence in Lebanon diminishing, the next few months are vital for the group.

The glue that is holding the UK together is slowly dissolving

By Martin Ivens

Six years ago, Scotland voted by a 10-point margin to stay part of the UK. Yet the last nine consecutive opinion polls show the backing for leave as high as 58 percent, and averaging at 53 percent.

This sustained lead for independence spells trouble for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government, which fears that demands for a second referendum could become overwhelming.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) is expected to sweep to victory in local elections in May next year, giving it an outright majority in the Edinburgh Assembly.

The SNP has already been trying in the Scottish courts to circumvent a Johnson veto on another referendum. Whatever happens, the nationalists are likely to ramp up their provocations.

Last week, Bloomberg News reported that Hanbury Strategy, a consultancy firm close to the Conservative Party, had drawn up a detailed plan for ministers to defeat the nationalists.

The main tidbit in the leaked memo was the advice that the British government should “coopt the European Union” into arguing that an independent Scotland would struggle to rejoin the bloc.

That would be an embarrassing last resort for an administration hellbent on leaving the EU, with or without a trade deal. The EU would not easily be co-opted by Johnson.

The last independence referendum was meant to settle the issue of the union for a generation. Yet now it is in peril again. The threat has international ramifications.

The end of the UK would raise a question about Britain’s standing in the world, a deeper one than that posed by Brexit. If Northern Ireland were ever to vote to join the Republic of Ireland, the damage could be limited: The status of the North has been unsettled since partition in 1921.

The U.S. Foreign Service Isn’t Suited for the 21st Century

By Philip Zelikow

The United States’ institutions for wielding 21st-century power have atrophied. Americans may proudly point to their vast lead in hard power, but much of this hard power—and most U.S. spending on defense and intelligence support—is substantially irrelevant to the security objectives in our new era. These include biological security; digital security; economic and financial security; security against transnational crime, corruption, and terrorism; and the security of the biosphere we inhabit. One of the painful lessons of recent years has been that brute force rarely achieves the desired results.

Even if one is concerned about security dangers from China, Russia, or Iran, a closer look at plausible scenarios will reveal that a major part of U.S. hard power would be irrelevant in a conflict. The deeper issue, however, is that U.S. policies are mostly conceived and debated around available instruments, predominantly military, rather than the other way around. The core problem isn’t one of resources: The core problem is reconceiving the deeply neglected institutions—including the U.S. State Department and various agencies—that will allow the United States to attain its foreign objectives.

The 21st-century agenda is a different mix, requiring a broadly based and attuned foreign service.

If the United States doubled the size of its foreign service, which it should, the budgetary impact would scarcely be noticed. But the U.S. Congress will not, and should not, pour fresh water into the same old vessels. Instead, an agenda for reconceiving U.S. foreign-policy institutions for the 21st century should include:

Redefine and broaden the concept of foreign service beyond a single department of the government. This reconceived foreign service should be interdepartmental, while the State Department’s focus should be narrowed to provide more and better analysis of foreign developments and orchestrate the foreign efforts of various agencies applying their specialized knowledge and skills.

Russia’s Internet Freedom Shrinks as Kremlin Seizes Control of Homegrown Tech

By Dylan Myles-Primakoff, Justin Sherman

This month, two Russian firms separately announced plans that would put them in direct competition: Yandex, the internet and search company, acquired the online bank Tinkoff, while the banking giant Sberbank unveiled a suite of technology products just two days later. As the Moscow Times reported, “analysts also point out that Russia is long-overdue a digitization surge, and there could easily be room for both to emerge winners.”

But behind this is another conflict—the Kremlin’s ever expanding attempts to bring technology firms in Russia under the state’s control. Both companies have played a role in these efforts; Yandex has been under Kremlin pressure to give the Russian government more influence over its decisions, and Sberbank is a state-owned enterprise. (The latter is sanctioned by the U.S. government.) Corporate takeovers such as Yandex’s acquisition of Tinkoff are pushing Russia’s major tech companies into ever growing conglomerates, controlled either directly by the government or by other actors trusted to advance Kremlin internet policy.

But the Kremlin’s toolkit of coercion is much broader, and more international, than this one tactic. The Russian government has recognized the scale of political and economic power now wielded by internet companies and sought to channel that power toward its own ends.

Since Russia’s 2014 war against Ukraine, the Russian government has carried out a rapidly escalating crackdown on internet freedom, but the hostile attitude toward freedom of information underlying Russia’s internet policy has changed little since Vladimir Putin first took office in 2000. The Kremlin’s strategy for the internet has in many ways mirrored the approaches used early in the Putin era to bring Russia’s major broadcast and print media—then the major means of information dissemination—under effective government control.

What Happened to American Leadership?

By George Friedman

International conferences for people in my profession are generally a thing of the recent past, having been replaced by virtual conferences via platforms like Zoom and Webex. I’ve attended three this month alone and many more in prior months. One question has been repeatedly raised, particularly at European conferences: What has happened to American leadership? It’s typically followed by another question of whether the United States is returning to isolationism. I am not at all clear what leadership means when there is little following. I am more baffled by the notion of a return to isolationism.

It is the concept of a “return” that confuses me, since the United States never isolated itself. It’s true that in the interwar period the U.S. tried to avoid going to war in Europe again. The U.S. became involved in the First World War to block a German victory and then withdrew its troops. The U.S. saw this as the war to end all wars, and the Europeans increasingly acted as if it were a truce within one war. The United States did not want to be dragged into another European bloodbath and was in no position to stop what was to the United States an endless European dynamic.

But while the United States sought distance from Europe, it was involved in Asia. It opposed Japan’s invasion of Manchuria by providing limited military force to China, engaged with the Philippines and maintained a substantial naval force in Hawaii. U.S. economic measures grew so intense that they triggered the attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor. For Europeans and what I might call Europeanists in the United States, the failure to engage in Europe is deemed isolation, and the substantial engagement in Asia is deemed irrelevant. The United States was not engaged in Europe because it reasonably believed it could have little influence there, and that expanding its influence would be too risky. The U.S. did not want to replay WWI, and was drawn into Europe by Hitler declaring war on the United States after Pearl Harbor. It is not clear what the U.S. would have done without this, but the desire not to get trapped in another European bloodbath was neither irrational nor irresponsible.

Once Hitler declared war, the United States inevitably assumed leadership. The American industrial plant was indispensable to Britain and the Soviet Union, and U.S. forces rapidly dwarfed the British in Europe. The United States was forced into a Pacific war by Japan and an Atlantic war by Hitler, not altogether by choice. It became the leader in both theaters because of the power it brought to bear. Leadership was the result of an imbalance of power.

Russia knocking Turkish drones from Armenian skies


The electronic warfare system is known as “Belladonna”, a poisonous plant that gets its name from Renaissance women who used its extract for tinctures to dilate the pupils of their eyes, ostensibly to make them more attractive.

While Belladonna translates to “beautiful woman” in English, in Russian it has a second meaning: it is the name of a Russian electronic jamming system now credited with knocking out at least nine Turkish Bayraktar armed drones used by Azerbaijan to target Armenia. 

If true – and no one has denied it – the system is now operating around the sensitive Russian military base at Gyumri in Armenia, far from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict area. 

In Russian, Belladonna is known as “Krasukha.” The Krasukha jamming system was rushed to Armenia to counter the successful use of both armed drones such as the Bayraktar and suicide drones like the Israel-made loitering munition known as Harop.

The Turks have heavily advertised the success of Bayraktar in three theaters – Syria, Libya and now in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Turkey and Azerbaijan have released numerous “kill videos” of the drone blowing up tanks, armored vehicles and trucks – and killing many soldiers in the process.

Bayraktar is a fairly conventional armed drone that is navigated to the target area using GPS. The drone’s Wescam MX-15D multispectral camera system is made in Canada while its BRP-Rotax engine that generates about 100 horse-power is produced in Austria. 

The next US president has a tall order: Keeping China in check


No matter who wins the election, the next U.S. president will face an increasingly complex international security environment, highlighted by a powerful China, a revisionist Russia, and a nuclear-armed North Korea (and possibly Iran), as well as transnational threats such as terrorism, narcotics trafficking and cyber hacking and influence operations. These challenges will be compounded by the persistent COVID-19 pandemic and its continued negative impact on the world economy. 

Most importantly, while addressing these foreign policy concerns, the president — hopefully aided by the losing candidate — will need to unify our nation following this bitterly partisan election cycle. 

U.S. policy toward China will be the most important foreign policy and security issue facing the new administration, with the looming possibility of a Taiwan Strait crisis. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will mark the 100th anniversary of its 1921 founding by striving to reunify with Taiwan. The CCP’s stamping out of the Hong Kong democracy movement has demonstrated what CCP control over Taiwan would mean for Taiwan’s existing freedoms. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s decisive 2020 reelection victory and her efforts to protect Taiwan’s sovereignty are a clear rejection of reunification with China in any form.

A positive trend for Beijing in cross-strait relations is China’s rapidly improving military dwarfing Taiwan’s military capability and endangering U.S. military assets in the Pacific. The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) now routinely enters into Taiwan’s claimed Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), forcing the Taiwan Air Force to sortie and intercept PLAAF flights. China’s intrusion into Taiwan airspace likely has the intended effect of wearing down the Taiwan Air Force, as well as collecting intelligence on Taiwan’s air defense network. These sorties and resulting interceptions increase the risk of accidental engagements. 

On the Rise: Europe’s Competition Policy Challenges to Technology Companies

Kati Suominen


Digital business models such as social media platforms, ride sharing apps, and e-commerce marketplaces enable billions of individuals and firms to interact and transact with each other every day. Their rapid growth has given rise to criticism that they are “winner-take-all” businesses that have created an unrivaled advantage through their network effects that entice more and more users to join, and through their acquisition of potential competitors and ancillary businesses.

Both the United States and Europe are currently debating the merits of these arguments—including whether antitrust law should be retailored to address them. In the United States, antitrust enforcement officials and courts have, in general, accepted market leadership earned through competition in the marketplace, as long as it leads to greater efficiencies and cost savings for consumers. In contrast, the European Commission antitrust officials have tended to favor protecting potential competitors, even if market leaders have managed to outperform competitors and gain consumer loyalty through their ingenuity and smart acquisitions. One of the outcomes of this approach has yielded recent investigations and multi-billion-dollar fines by the European Commission on American companies such as Google, Apple, and Amazon for supposedly violating European competition policy rules.

Today, the business climate for American technology companies is heating up in Europe. Concerned about Europe’s lack of competitiveness in the global digital economy, both the European Commission and various EU member states are looking to significantly expand their antitrust powers to curb large technology companies. One way they do this is by blocking pre-eminent firms’ planned mergers and acquisitions and forcing them to provide access to the data they have gathered—to the benefit of European competitors.

Europe’s hardening antitrust stance poses significant problems to U.S. business interests in Europe’s giant digital market—Europe’s business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce sales alone are climbing past $850 billion this year. The Commission’s approach also risks digital protectionism and politicization of antitrust enforcement, which could have significant implications for trade relations between the United States and the European Union and for many emerging markets’ thinking about competition policy issues.

The End of the Petro-State

By Tahmineh Dehbozorgi

COVID-19 is dominating headlines this year, but mark this: 2020 will go down in history as the year in which the oil market crashed, taking petro-states across the globe with it. 

Dread of the coronavirus is challenging many countries that depend on oil to fund their national budgets. Lower oil prices mean lower public spending for oil-dependent nations. Less fiscal power for these nations could lead to destabilization, since most already struggle with weak economies and demanding young populations. 

Even though this crisis has been predicted, the majority of giant global oil producers have been too slow to diversify their economies. Now this popular source of revenue is no longer yielding enough output. If petro-states aim to remain competitive in the energy market, they ought to attract foreign and domestic investment in the emerging green technology market, which could yield sustainable economic benefits for the nations.

In early 2020, global oil demand declined at an alarming rate due to COVID-19 lockdown measures. According to the International Monetary Fund, petroleum spot prices average an estimated $36.20 per barrel in 2020. The IMF expects the price will reach $37.50 per barrel in 2021. Further analysis of the oil market indicates that prices are expected to increase thereafter toward $46 per barrel, still about 25% short of the 2019 average. When oil production is nationalized, this instability causes trouble for governments and institutions.

As COVID-19 restrictions keep crude prices lower for longer, there are profound consequences for the way oil-rich countries are run. Revenue volatility limits a government’s ability to invest and jeopardizes major, multi-year projects such as improvements to healthcare, education, or infrastructure.

Oil revenues make up as much as 90% of the Iraqi government’s budget. The World Bank now suggests that the country’s economy will have its worst performance since the fall of the late President Saddam Hussein in 2003. This could have numerous negative consequences for Iraq, exacerbating its inability to battle domestic terrorism and furthering its vulnerability to foreign intervention.

Last Call for Transatlanticism


BERLIN – Many Americans have already voted, and many more will soon go to the polls in what will be the world’s most important political event of the year. The 2020 US presidential election is a fateful moment in every sense of the word, not just for American democracy but also for transatlanticism and the future of the West.

If Donald Trump is re-elected, there are good reasons to doubt that transatlanticism will survive the next four years, or that the West will remain united in any meaningful way. It would be a veritable disaster in an already disastrous year.

Fortunately, Trump’s Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, has consistently led in opinion polls, which means there could soon be an opportunity to revive the West as a geopolitical actor. The question is what a post-Trump transatlantic relationship should look like. Merely returning to the pre-Trump era isn’t an option. Too much has changed on both sides of the Atlantic these last few years, including the key political players themselves.

For the United States, there can be no returning to the status quo ante in which Europe was a security freeloader. The complaint that European NATO members have not been contributing their fair share to common defense is hardly exclusive to Trump. But Europeans, for their part, will not soon forget the shock of the Trump presidency, and have already come to the realization that they must rely more on their own strength and sovereignty in the years ahead.

Lest anyone forget, the US “pivot” to Asia (and away from Europe) started under former President Barack Obama, not Trump, and was driven not by ideology but by the US’ objective interests as a global and Pacific power. In fact, the intensifying focus on Asia has been happening ever since the end of the Cold War, and even more so since China’s accession to the World Trade Organization and economic, technological, and military ascendency. These developments have all been shifting the geopolitical center of gravity from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Incumbents vs Insurgents: Counter Insurgency’s Normative Reliance on Brute Force

Bethany Castle

A Critical Terrorism Study (CTS) lens argues normative terrorism studies often “suffers from state bias” (Gunning, 2007: 368), as state force is depicted as ‘necessary’ and Western states are so often labelled the “victims and never the perpetrators” (Poynting and Whyte, 2012: 1). This results in a situation where universally, state ‘brute force’ is considered one of the most effective if not the only methods to end insurgency (Crenshaw, 1991). As a result, throughout history states have adopted hard-line positions and used excessive force to quash political uprisings; Byman (2017), Dixon (2009) and Kocher et al (2011) discuss examples of this in Malaya, the War on Terror and the Vietnam War, three scenarios where Western forces utilised brute force in an effort to end insurgency. Brute force is often wielded by incumbent states in an effort to suppress insurgents; this paper defines brute force as encompassing indiscriminate violence as “the killing of civilians in times of war is often part of a deliberate policy of mass killing against non-combatant populations” (Valentino et al, 2004: 376). The common use of brute force and, arguably, gratuitous violence in counter insurgency is symptomatic of states wielding their power, manifesting it through military might as they reinforce the status quo; “inequalities and injustices thus generated is implicated in the ‘problem’ of terrorism and other forms of subaltern violence” (Jackson, 2007: 245). This essay will utilise a CTS lens to analyse and challenge state power and how the concept of state supremacy is intrinsically linked to the idea that wielding brute force reinforces power and thus ends insurgency (Gunning, 2007). As a result, this essay aims to discredit the idea that brute force alone can end insurgency. It will argue this through a focus on coercion theory, good governance theory and the outcomes and implications of indiscriminate vs select violence as methods of counter insurgency efforts.

Surprise and Shock in Warfare: An Enduring Challenge

By Charles B. Vandepeer & James L. Regens , Matthew R.H. Uttley

“A general-in-chief should ask himself several times in the day, ‘What if the enemy were to appear now in my front, or on my right, or my left?’”
—Napoleon Bonaparte[1]

Replica of Trojan Horse (Wikimedia)There is a long history of commanders using surprise assaults—often in conjunction with demonstrations, feints, and ruses—to break through, envelop, or outflank an enemy on the battlefield. Examples span millennia from the 12th or 13th century BCE Trojan Horse recounted in Homer’s Odyssey, the Battle of Cannae in 206 BCE during the second Punic War, the Battle of the Teutoburger Wald in 9 CE, the 1187 Battle of Hattin, the Battle of Trenton in 1776, the 1940 Battle of Taranto, Pearl Harbor in 1941, the 1950 Chinese intervention in the Korean War, the 1967 Six Day War, and the 1973 October War, illustrating that surprise is a recurring tactic that is sometimes executed with devastating impact on the opposing force.[2] Moreover, surprise itself occurs militarily because the defender either fails to obtain advance warning or fails to respond quickly and effectively to counter the attack despite having prior warning. In other words, surprise is an action on the battlefield that is unanticipated by the enemy’s decision calculus.

Surprise by its very nature, therefore, is a psychologically traumatic, not just a physical, event happening at a specific time and place. Shock constitutes the cognitive and emotional responses, individually and collectively, to surprise. In essence, shock is a potential but not automatic effect of varying impact associated with surprise. As a result, because it is unexpected, a surprise attack may make the difference between success and failure, especially in the early stages of an armed conflict due to the amplified stress it generates. As Clausewitz posited, “Surprise therefore becomes the means to gain superiority, but because of its psychological effect it should also be considered as an independent element. When it is achieved on a grand scale, it confuses the enemy and lowers his morale.”[3] Hence, this article examines the interplay of surprise and shock in military operations and analyses the implications of that interplay on decision-making in warfare.

The End Of Venezuela’s Oil Era

By Matthew Smith

Venezuela, once Latin America’s largest oil producer and a founding member of OPEC, has seen its economically vital oil industry collapse triggering one of the worst economic and humanitarian crises of the century. The pain is far from over for Venezuela’s people and the country’s failing economy. Before 1920, Venezuela was a poor agricultural country facing many of the developmental issues plaguing Latin America. The country’s journey to becoming a crude oil superpower, leading petroleum state, and founding OPEC member began in 1914 with the drilling of the Zumaque well in the Mene Grande field on the eastern shores of Lake Maracaibo. This was Venezuela’s first commercial oil well and it launched a monumental oil boom that transformed the country and by 1950 saw it become the world’s fourth wealthiest nation per capita. Venezuela was not only heralded as Latin America’s richest nation but also its most developed. By the 1970s, the country, which is now a socialist dictatorship, was lauded as Latin America’s most stable democracy at a time when most nations in the region were ruled by military dictatorships. By the 1980s, Venezuela’s democracy was unraveling because of a global recession and sharply weaker oil prices. These events weighed heavily on the economy, and government spending, causing the country to spiral into debt. By the late-1980s Caracas had turned to the International Monetary Fund for help. The IMF recommended market-oriented neoliberal economic reforms including savage budget cuts, primarily impacting social programs such as public health and education. When these reforms were implemented by Caracas, they triggered considerable civil unrest. The reforms also sparked runaway inflation which only worsened the suffering of every-day Venezuelans. Those events illustrated the substantial dependence of Venezuela’s economy on oil and the country’s vulnerability to weaker prices. It was the government’s failure to diversify the economy away from oil which was to blame for the crisis, with petroleum responsible for around 80% of export income, almost a third of GDP, and over half of the government income. By February 1989, the streets of Caracas, once described as the jewel of South America, exploded into riots as dissatisfaction with rising prices and the government accelerated sharply. A harsh government crackdown, rising poverty and inequality, and savage spending cuts sparked considerable dissent among Venezuela’s poor. This social and economic upheaval created the ideal political environment for a charismatic junior military officer and socialist Hugo Chávez to win the 1998 presidential election. Upon entering office, Chávez commenced his Bolivarian Revolution, reformed the constitution, established vast social programs, and redistributed land. Like his predecessors, Chávez ran the economy almost entirely on oil. This was only sustainable for as long as oil prices remained high. After Chávez’s death in 2013 and Nicolás Maduro’s rise to power, oil prices collapsed again in late-2014 as Saudi Arabia opened the spigots to bolster production and regain market share. Venezuela’s petroleum-dependent economy spiraled into crisis causing millions of Venezuelans to flee the country and sparking the collapse of the economically vital oil industry.

The Whispering Prussian: Clausewitz and Modern Wars

Muhammad Alaraby

The relevance of past wisdom to our modern affairs has always been debatable. Carl von Clausewitz and his theory of war are not an exception. Since On War was posthumously published in 1832, many conflicts have taken place beyond its pages. Equally the international system has changed character several times, states have infused and diffused, and politics has become generally more complex and inclusive than in the time of the Prussian general. War itself has changed; the world, it seems, has short supply of big wars between states, whereas proxy wars, cyber wars, drones, ethnic conflicts and terrorism have dominated international conflict. Clausewitz’s wisdom seems to be obsolete. His eloquent inquiry into war appears to have little to say about today’s modes of conflict and future wars. All these facts may make Clausewitz irrelevant and unnecessary for serious analysts or policymakers, let alone fighters on the ground or in hi-tech war rooms.

Clausewitz, nevertheless, makes a last stand. It is his theory that can sharpen our understanding of war as a human affair, which is invested with violence, uncertainty, and political disputes. Ironically, these aspects of war and conflict that today’s world undergoes, can render Clausewitz more relevant than ever. This article shall argue that Clausewitz did not intend to portray or conceptualize any specific type of war. On the contrary, his work is an inquiry into the nature of war as a human activity shaped by passion, reason, and unpredictability. Additionally, this piece presumes that the supposed transformation of war is a gross overstatement that can be challenged by the Clausewitzian paradigm. For doing so, I will discuss first the so-called new changes of modern conflicts, that gave a rise to the ant-Clausewitzian paradigm and its main arguments. As a counterargument, I will tackle Clausewitz’s relevance to modern conflicts and its utility for our understating of “war.” 

Modern Conflicts: What Is New?

There are several elements in contemporary wars that make them utterly different from those of the nineteenth century, when Clausewitz lived and fought. From the 19th century onwards the technical innovations and socio-political transformations of the industrial age brought about a systemic change in the conduct of war in the West and around the world (Gilbert, 2014). Thus, war moved from the realm of strategic ingenuity to the employment of increasingly advanced equipment. By the end of The Second World War and the advent of nuclear war with its related notions of deterrence and balance of terror, the process of change reached a peak of destructiveness.