3 November 2020

Has Gilgit-Baltistan’s Election Made Pakistan’s Opposition Parties Relevant Again?

By Umair Jamal

Pakistan has rejected the Indian government’s recent amendments to land ownership laws in Jammu and Kashmir that now allow non-residents to purchase land in the valley.

Pakistan’s foreign office in a statement said that the new law is a “clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions, bilateral agreements between Pakistan and India, and international law.”

New Delhi’s latest move to further co-opt Jammu and Kashmir comes at an important juncture considering Pakistan’s politics. The development is likely to complicate Pakistan’s Kashmir policy and efforts to decide the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). However, it may end up reviving Pakistani opposition parties’ relevancy in the country’s political landscape.

Pakistan has announced its decision to hold the GB Assembly elections on November 15. The election comes in the backdrop of a heated debate in Pakistan to make Gilgit-Baltistan the country’s fifth province.

However, the poll has become controversial as the country’s opposition parties push to thwart any efforts to rig it. Recently, Pakistan’s army chief met the leaders of all mainstream opposition parties to discuss likely constitutional changes to make Gilgit-Baltistan Pakistan’s fifth province. The meeting has drawn controversy as the military chief is not technically permitted to discuss the country’s constitutional matters with political parties.

Evaluating the Trump administration’s Pakistan reset

Madiha Afzal

Looking back over the past four years, the Trump administration’s Pakistan policy can be divided into two phases: bilateral relations that were decidedly strained for the first two years of the administration and, since 2019, a far more positive relationship marked by cooperation on the Afghan peace process and attempts, with limited success, to boost the relationship on other fronts. The reset that occurred in 2019 was due not to Trump’s impulsiveness, but to a transactional approach driven by Pakistan’s usefulness in the Afghan peace process. It is an approach that has had its advantages, but it has run into obvious limits as well.


Pakistan and the United States established diplomatic ties on Aug. 15, 1947, the day after Pakistan gained independence. It was a close relationship for the new country’s first few decades, especially as U.S. relations with Pakistan’s archrival, India, were relatively cold. In many ways, 1979 marked a turning point for both countries, and Afghanistan became a defining feature in their relationship over the next four decades. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that year, Pakistan became party to the Soviet-Afghan conflict and used U.S. and Saudi money to train and arm the mujahideen. In 1989, when the Soviets exited Afghanistan, the United States left the region, fueling a visceral sense of American abandonment in Pakistan and a sense that America could not be trusted.

The U.S. relationship with India has been a second defining factor in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. Pakistan has been sensitive about growing U.S.-India bilateral ties since the 1990s. In 1998, the Clinton administration imposed costly economic sanctions on Pakistan (to its considerable angst) for testing its nuclear weapons in response to India’s nuclear test. Concerns about U.S. preferences on the subcontinent persist. According to a 2015 Pew poll, 53 percent of Pakistani respondents said they believed U.S. policies toward India and Pakistan favored India; only 13 percent said they favored Pakistan.

What Will Vietnam Look for From the Next U.S. Administration?

By Hanh Nguyen

Next week’s U.S. presidential election is shaping up as a hugely consequential event for both American domestic politics and Asia’s security order. As the U.S. is a critical and burgeoning diplomatic partner of Vietnam, the election outcome will undoubtedly have an impact on U.S.-Vietnam relations. But what will Vietnamese leaders look for from the next U.S. administration?

Under the Trump administration, U.S.-Vietnam relations continued their upward trajectory. The U.S. remained Vietnam’s number one export market and more U.S. businesses considered moving production lines and supply chains to Vietnam in order to avoid trade war tariffs. Security cooperation has seen a significant expansion. Other than port visits by U.S. warships and aircraft carriers, the U.S. also provided security assistance to improve Vietnam’s maritime domain awareness capacity through training and equipment acquisition. Vietnam also participated in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise for the first time in 2018. Increased U.S. support is welcome in the context of the South China Sea, where Vietnam is locked in territorial and maritime disputes with China. Vietnamese leaders also welcome non-military initiatives to strengthen U.S. engagement with the region, including the Blue Dot Network for quality and sustainable infrastructure and the U.S.-Mekong Partnership to assist Mekong riparian countries in preparing for drought and climate change.

That said, Trump’s first term represented a mixed blessing for U.S.-Vietnam relations. Despite its status as a rising security partner, Vietnam has not been immune to Trump’s trade tirades, due to its large trade surplus with the U.S. and the concomitant accusations of currency manipulation by Hanoi. While Trump’s tough stance on China certainly resonates with the Vietnamese public, Vietnamese leaders have taken a more measured attitude. For Vietnam, a bitter rivalry between its two critical partners is a worrying sign, given that its leaders tend to prefer a “not too hot, not too cold” balance in U.S.-China relations, so they can leverage the inherent tensions between two superpowers without those tensions becoming a source of serious instability. Trump’s disdain for multilateralism and his quarrels with traditional allies over burden-sharing and trade disputes aggravate long-held concerns about U.S. retrenchment in the face of China’s growing influence.

Hong Kong Is Still an Irreplaceable Financial Gateway for China

By Simon Shen

Ever since the enactment of the Hong Kong National Security Law, the city has changed beyond recognition. While hardcore pro-Beijing supporters cheered this development as a “victory,” they may not fully grasp the irreplaceable value of Hong Kong to China. There is, after all, a reason why China has not attempted to seize control of the city by force in the past.

Despite accounting for less than 3 percent of China’s GDP, Hong Kong, with its unparalleled institutional advantages, has always played a crucial role as a financial buffer between China and the rest of the world. On one hand, it channels Chinese capital outward to the world. On the other hand, it attracts international investments into China. Without this gateway, China runs the risk of excessive capital outflow and/or hot money inflow, either of which would destabilize the Chinese economy. With no end in sight to the new Cold War with the United States Hong Kong and its own system will become more important than before, financially and strategically, for China.

The Hong Kong Dollar: Quenching China’s Thirst for US Dollars

Despite its rapid economic growth, China is gradually running short of U.S. dollars. Demand for U.S. dollars is rising domestically and overseas, in particular, for funding investments under the Belt and Road Initiative. Meanwhile the supply is contracting with the escalating U.S.-China trade war and relocation of supply chains out of China. In March 2018, China recorded a current account deficit for the first time. Today, China’s foreign currency reserves may look vast, but the net value is about $1 trillion ($3 trillion in reserves minus $2 trillion in foreign debts), only about twice the amount that Hong Kong has.

How China’s ‘wolf warrior’ diplomats use and abuse Twitter

Jessica Brandt and Bret Schafer

A little more than a year ago, China had almost no diplomatic presence on Twitter. A handful of accounts, many representing far-flung diplomatic outposts, operated without apparent coordination or direction from Beijing. Today, the work of Chinese diplomats on Twitter looks very different: More than 170 of them bicker with Western powers, promote conspiracies about the coronavirus, and troll Americans on issues of race. The quadrupling in the past year and a half of China’s diplomatic presence on a site blocked within China suggests that turning to Western platforms to influence the information environment beyond China’s borders is no longer an afterthought but a priority.

In pursuing increasingly assertive tactics to shape how China is perceived online, Beijing has borrowed elements of Russia’s playbook. China’s “wolf warrior” diplomats—a phrase that comes from a jingoistic Chinese film franchise and refers to a new approach among the Chinese diplomatic corps to more aggressively defend their home country online—propagate conflicting conspiracy theories about the origins of the novel coronavirus that are designed to sow chaos and deflect blame. It is using these so-called warriors, together with its sprawling state media apparatus and, at times, covert trolling campaigns, to amplify false theories on social media and in the news. And it is doing all this by leaning on the propaganda outlets run by Moscow, Caracas, and to a lesser extent, Tehran, and the network of contrarian agitators they leverage to promote anti-Western content.

But Beijing has also developed several of its own plays. Its diplomats engage with Twitter accounts that bear hallmarks of inauthenticity, underscoring the challenge of generating grassroots support for its campaigns on a platform that is banned at home. It has deployed hashtag campaigns and dedicated social media accounts to flood conversations about its human rights record with positive content.

China’s Fifth Plenum: Reading the Initial Tea Leaves

Jude Blanchette, Scott Kennedy
Source Link

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) this week held the fifth plenary session of the 19th Communist Party Central Committee. Presided over by General Secretary Xi Jinping, the primary task was to assess the results of the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) and consider the draft proposal for the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025), but the meeting also provided a window into Chinese domestic politics as well as the Party’s assessment of China’s place on the world stage. As usual, the plenum was held at a closely guarded hotel in western Beijing with no access for independent media and observers. Hence, determining the major takeaways requires a bit of tea-leaf reading.

Q1: What was the purpose of the Fifth Plenum?

A1: According to the CCP’s Constitution, plenary sessions are the mandated annual convention of the full Central Committee of the Communist Party. These meetings are bookended by the quinquennial Party Congress, the most important event in the CCP’s political calendar. While the Central Committee, which currently has 198 regular and 166 alternate members, is nominally the most powerful political body under the CCP’s constitution, in point of fact, the seven-member Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee (“Politburo Standing Committee”) is the apex of power. Plenary sessions are more a forum for policy alignment and, in the Xi Jinping era, a venue for Xi to assert dominance while also creating a public illusion of collective governance.

While not formally fixed, each plenum has a general theme, and since the 14th Party Congress (1992-1997), the Fifth Plenum has been dedicated to evaluating the results of the previous five-year plan and considering the general “proposal” of the upcoming plan. This year’s plenary session—and the five-year plan—arrive at an extraordinarily challenging moment for China, as it faces a dramatically slowing economy (projected to reach 2 percent GDP growth this year, down from 6.1 percent last year), an increasingly fractious bilateral relationship with the United States, and an uncertain international environment that Xi himself describes as on the brink of “changes unseen in 100 years.” Five-year plans are important policy signals at any moment, but this year it is seen as a proxy for Beijing’s fundamental long-term diagnosis on the global order.

How to Respond to China's Information Warfare

By Zack Cooper & Aine Tyrrell

Last week, the State Department designated six media entities operating in the United States as foreign missions effectively controlled by the People’s Republic of China. Several days later, Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger suggested that that the United States was embracing reciprocity, which he described as “the straightforward idea that when a country injures your interests, you return the favor.”

It is tempting to assert that American policymakers should reset the U.S.-China relationship on reciprocal terms. Ironically, when the U.S. ambassador to China suggested this in an op-ed last month, it was rejected by People’s Daily. Meanwhile, China’s ambassador to the United States publishes frequently in top American newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post. Of course, neither newspaper is available in China, nor are Twitter, Facebook, Google, or dozens of other American media and social media companies.

Setting aside the galling double standard, however, reciprocity plays into the Communist Party’s hands in three key ways. First, reciprocity in this case can appear to excuse Beijing’s censorship, disinformation, and repression by suggesting that restrictions on journalists and free speech are also commonplace in democracies. The United States should absolutely push for transparency in information sources. Yet, when democratic governments regulate content or otherwise increase state control over information, they weaken their own democratic institutions. One need look no further than the politicization of the U.S. Agency for Global Media to see the damage this can do both at home and abroad.

Second, reciprocity makes the United States reactive. A smart, competitive strategy should focus the contest on America’s strengths and China’s weaknesses. But reciprocity allows the Communist Party to determine the overall nature of the competition, as well as the timing of individual moves. The United States and other democracies have real strengths in the information space because, unlike autocracies, we thrive on free flows of truthful information. Reciprocal actions distract from these strengths by letting Beijing seize the initiative and direct the competition toward more contested issues at more difficult times.

Coming Storms

By Christopher Layne

Since the closing days of the Cold War, U.S. policymakers, pundits, international relations scholars, and policy analysts have argued that great-power war is a relic of a bygone age. In 1986, the historian John Lewis Gaddis termed the post–World War II era a “Long Peace” because the Soviet Union and the United States had not come to blows. A few years later, the political scientist John Mueller suggested that changing norms had made great-power conflict obsolete. By 2011, the psychologist Steven Pinker was arguing that the Long Peace had morphed into a “New Peace,” marked by a generalized decrease of violence in human affairs. 

Of course, as evidenced by ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen, to name a few, there is currently no shortage of organized armed violence involving smaller countries. Still, given the blood-drenched course of politics since the start of the modern international system in the sixteenth century, the absence of war among great powers since 1945 is striking. That does not mean, however, that these kinds of conflicts are off the table. In fact, despite attempts by academics and politicians to write off great-power war as a real threat, the conditions that make it possible still exist. Tensions persist among today’s great powers—above all the United States and China—and any number of flash points could trigger a conflict between them. These two countries are on a collision course fueled by the dynamics of a power transition and their competition for status and prestige, and without a change in direction, war between them in the coming decades is not only possible but probable.

Why China’s Boasts About Containing COVID-19 Could Backfire

Howard W. French

When the world first started learning about the outbreak of a dangerously contagious new respiratory virus in the city of Wuhan, in central China, the Chinese government was defensive and secretive about it. Many foreign commentators were quick to cast China’s reaction as a metaphor for the inherent weaknesses of an authoritarian system.

Under the constantly tightening grip of its power-monopolizing leader, Xi Jinping, we were told, bad news has had an increasingly hard time traveling from China’s provinces to the capital in Beijing, and from there, into the higher echelons of the chain of command in the Communist Party. For a few weeks during this early phase of what became the coronavirus pandemic, most of what one read treated a country long regarded as an economic colossus as having been exposed as slow and clumsy in the face of an unexpected public health crisis. ...

Xi has a hidden long plan to leapfrog the US


The stakes were high at the Chinese Communist Party’s fifth annual session of the Central Committee, where for four days senior cadres deliberated and reportedly approved draft policies for the next five years.

The session ended today (October 29) but the Chinese public will not be able to browse the full text of the all-encompassing 2025 roadmap any time soon.

The Five-Year Plan, reportedly replete with a suite of policies and economic and social development goals, is still pending pro forma scrutiny and final promulgation by the Chinese parliament at its annual session next spring. 

But a renowned scholar believed to be among President Xi Jinping’s top advisors has hinted about Beijing’s view of the nation’s economic outlook for the next five years. 

Justin Lin, aka Lin Yifu, head of the Peking University’s (PKU) National School of Development, told a forum in Beijing on Wednesday that the economy could ride out the geopolitical headwinds and keep expanding at 6-8% annually for the next ten years. 

Lin, a former deputy governor at the World Bank, was quoted by Xinhua as saying that China had turned the corner in its fight against Covid-19 and amid the current testing times may take an unassailable lead over major Western economies in terms of economic recovery and in nurturing emerging new high-tech industries.

China’s Fifth Plenum: What You Need to Know

By Shannon Tiezzi

The fifth plenum of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s 19th Central Committee wrapped up in Beijing on October 29 after a four-day meeting. This year, the semi-annual gathering of China’s top leaders had a special task: finalizing the blueprint for the 14th Five-Year Plan, which will set China’s economic and social policy vision for the period from 2021-2025. The final version of the plan won’t be passed until the National People’s Congress meets in early 2021, but it is unlikely to differ in substance from this week’s blueprint.

The full text of the post-plenum communique is available here in Chinese (an English translation is likely to be released later). While it’s a dense read, full of CCP jargon, it contains essential clues about China’s trajectory over the next five – and even 15 – years.

As is typical, the communique was largely triumphalist in its tone, declaring victory in meeting the goals of the previous five-year plan. There was, however, acknowledgement of some of the problems that China still faces, including persistent (and growing) inequality between rural and urban residents, environmental issues, and – despite a heavy government focus – lack of quality innovation. The next five-year plan aims to tackle those issues.

This time, the vision for China’s economic future places a heavy emphasis on quality over raw numbers. The blueprint calls for “sustained and healthy” growth marked by “significantly improved quality and efficiency” during the next five-year period. Importantly, there is no specific target for GDP growth, something analysts have long said needs to be dropped if China truly wants to transition away from an obsession with growth at all costs. We could still see a soft GDP target added in the final version of the 14th Five-Year Plan approved next year, but for now the main focus seems to be on GDP per capita instead. The communique set the goal of raising GDP per capita to the level of a moderately developed country – a vague goal that leaves room for flexibility.

What Happens to the CCP If China’s Economic Growth Falters?

By Alexis Leggeri

Amid growing tensions around President Xi Jinping’s international assertiveness and the COVID-19 pandemic, important changes in two key policy areas – domestic security and consumption – are slowly taking China toward a crossroads for its “Chinese Dream.” While these policy areas are often analyzed separately, they actually constitute a nexus that underpins China’s political stability – a growth-based political legitimacy backed by an expanded security apparatus. As a result, the current policy changes hold the potential to amend the dynamics of political stability in China, with consequences for its political economy and foreign policy.

On consumption, the ”dual circulation” strategy was pitched by Xi in May 2020 and is likely to be part of the 2021 five-year plan, the main planning framework for the Chinese economy. The strategy aims to strike a better balance between the internal and external aspects of the Chinese economy, to the benefit of the former, partly through further policy support for domestic consumption. This is in line with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s objective to turn China into an innovative and consumption-driven economy by 2049, as its investment- and export-led growth model exhausts itself.

On domestic security, Xi in the summer of 2020 launched a political campaign allegedly aimed at purging the security apparatus and ensuring its absolute loyalty, a campaign which will last until he renews his mandate in early 2022. This and the growing depth of the Social Credit System – a still fragmented AI-backed surveillance system that attributes scores to citizens based on their behavior – are key pieces in Xi’s domestic power consolidation, which is taking government control over society to a level unprecedented since Chairman Mao.

Given this upward trend in terms of domestic security capacities, what would be the consequences of a failed economic transition toward a more consumption-driven economy? Would such an event necessarily lead to political change, as often claimed?

China Shows Signs of Cracking Down on ‘Silk Road’ Crime

By Sebastian Strangio

On October 23, the Chinese media outlet Caixin published a long and detailed investigation into She Zhijiang, a Chinese expatriate businessman who has been linked to a raft of shady developments in Southeast Asia. The article helped flesh out the background of the obscure 38-year-old, who hails from China’s Hunan province but now possesses a Cambodian passport along with a page-consuming list of pseudonyms. Over the past year, She’s name has risen to public attention in connection with his Hong Kong-registered firm Yatai International Holdings Group, which has made gambling-related investments in Myanmar, Cambodia and the Philippines.

Caixin’s reporting revealed that She has been a fugitive from the Chinese law since 2012 and has earned hundreds of millions of dollars generated from illegal online casino operations in Southeast Asia. Given the documented involvement of Yatai in a host of gambling-related projects, this is an unsurprising revelation, but it does highlight the challenges that Chinese criminal activities poses to Beijing’s bid for influence in the region.

In particular, the Caixin report details She’s history of dubious dealings in the Philippines. In 2014, a court in Shandong convicted She for operating an illegal lottery business in the Philippines targeting Chinese web users, which allegedly landed him illegal gains of 2.2 billion yuan ($298 million). While She went on the lam, eight of his accomplices were sentenced to jail for 15 to 24 months, according to the court documents. He has been a fugitive from the law ever since.

She has since become involved in investments in Myanmar and Cambodia, where he soon established cozy ties to the ruling elite and was granted citizenship in 2017. His most prominent development is the $15 billion Yatai New City development, which has risen from the banks of the Moei River in Myanmar’s Kayin State, bordering Thailand. The project, which is being built by Yatai in partnership with an armed militia affiliated with the Myanmar military, broke ground in 2017, with ambitious plans to establish a hub of “science and technology, gambling and entertainment, tourism, culture and agriculture,” in addition to safari parks and shooting ranges.

American money for American ideas: Think tanks should disclose foreign funding


On Oct. 13, the Department of State rolled out new regulations targeted at think tanks. With an eye to the malign activities of foreign governments like China and Russia that have sought to exploit America’s openness, Secretary Mike Pompeo indicated that, moving forward, his agency would request funding disclosures from think tanks interested in working with Foggy Bottom. While such disclosures wouldn’t be mandatory, Pompeo made clear that they would make a difference. In his words, government officials would “be mindful of whether disclosure has been made and of specific funding sources that are disclosed when determining whether and how to engage.”

This step is a long-overdue recognition of the pervasive, and often pernicious, influence of foreign money in America’s policymaking process. Until now, much of this concern has focused on academia and advocacy. In a recent report, the Department of Education uncovered a staggering $6.5 billion in unreported donations from foreign governments to America’s institutes of higher education. According to its report, "there is very real reason for concern that foreign money buys influence or control over teaching and research.”

The study highlighted a crucial point: The openness of the American system is a strength to be celebrated, but also a vulnerability to be defended. Foreign governments often enter U.S. civil society with the intent of shaping our academic institutes or political decisions to advance their own interests. In such instances, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

But this principle also applies to donations and grants, particularly with think tanks. At their best, these institutions catalyze public problems into policy solutions and equip government officials with creative ideas to secure the common good. In this way, the function of think tanks is categorically different from that of academia. Whereas the former educates students, the primary role of think tanks is to educate policymakers. Their function is public, not private, and their focus is policy, not politics.

The WTO DG Race: What Happens Now?

William Alan Reinsch
Source Link

On October 28, David Walker, New Zealand’s ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO), convened a meeting of the heads of WTO delegations in Geneva. He announced that following the third consultation period, it appeared that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria was the candidate for the vacant director-general (DG) position most likely to obtain consensus. This was not a meeting to make that decision—that is scheduled for November 9. All of the delegations that spoke except for one apparently indicated they would support the consensus. The dissenter was the United States, which made clear it continued to support the other candidate, Yoo Myung-Hee of South Korea, and would oppose Okonjo-Iweala. The South Koreans did not speak at the meeting, and Yoo did not immediately withdraw her candidacy, as the other failed candidates had done. So, what happens now?

There are several possibilities, and the path will almost certainly not become clear until after the U.S. election on November 3. One thing is for certain: there will be a lot of behind the scenes talking between now and November 9. Those conversations will attempt to find out what the United States really wants.

One possibility is that the Trump administration simply means what it says—it wants Yoo and opposes Okonjo-Iweala. Another possibility, however, is that the United States is using the issue to pursue other objectives. It has a long list of complaints about the WTO relating to the Appellate Body, the definition of “developing country,” and the failure of many members to meet their obligations to report their subsidies. It is also working hard to achieve a meaningful fisheries agreement in the face of opposition from China and others. One solution to the impasse would be for the United States to agree not to block Okonjo-Iweala in return for progress on some of these other matters. That could actually be a win-win outcome. The other members get the DG they want, and the United States gets some reforms it has been demanding. No doubt other countries will resist that, but they might ultimately conclude it is better than the other alternatives. However, it is hard to see such a grand bargain being struck between now and November 9.

U.S.-Russia Relations at a Crossroads

Cyrus Newlin, Heather A. Conley
Source Link

U.S.-Russia relations are at their worst since the Cold War and will remain dynamic in the coming years, with a lingering risk of escalation. Washington and Moscow diverge on a growing list of challenges yet there are opportunities for selective engagement. To prevent a drift towards confrontation, they should work to make their relationship more predictable and transparent—regardless of the outcome of the November 3 presidential elections in the United States. Military-military contact and deconfliction efforts must continue but by themselves are insufficient. Both the United States and Russia would benefit from more regular and structured bilateral engagement. There is some, though diminishing, room for a positive agenda, particularly in the Arctic, in the arms control arena, and in the Eastern Mediterranean regional context. But even in areas where the two remain far apart, deconfliction mechanisms should be complemented by diplomatic dialogue that clearly communicates an assessment of regional dynamics and policy priorities and demarcates red lines.
Arms Control

The U.S.-Russia strategic stability framework, which was painstakingly built over decades, is at risk of dissolution. Although treaty violations and unilateral withdraws has fostered an environment of mutual mistrust, the Trump administration views existing arms control agreements as no longer responsive to the evolving security environment, including the inclusion of all nuclear weapons, the emergence of new weapons such as hypersonic vehicles or space-based systems, and most importantly, China’s modernization of its strategic nuclear forces. At the time of this writing, it is unclear whether the United States and Russia will agree to extend the New START Treaty, the last remaining bilateral treaty limiting nuclear stockpiles, when it expires in February 2021 and what political framework will be negotiated to secure a future arms control agreement with both Moscow and Beijing.

Big Tech’s Election Plans Have a Blind Spot: Influencers

Arielle Pardes

In the months before the 2016 election, Samuel Woolley worried a lot about bots being used to hijack political conversation online. Woolley, the director of propaganda research at the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Media Engagement, found it frighteningly easy for someone to swarm the web with fake comments and posts from an automated bot network. What would stop a candidate or outside group from bombarding social media with artificial praise or slandering their opponent? Fortunately, platforms like Facebook and Twitter have developed strategies to target that kind of behavior. So now, instead of bots to boost political messaging, Woolley says, “what we’ve seen is more usage of real users.”

The Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict hints at the future of war

Azerbaijan’s armed forces may be busy waging war over Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed enclave run by Armenia. That did not stop them from setting aside scarce helicopters and tanks to star in a music video, complete with khaki-clad singers, guitarists and a drummer. The bellicose heavy-metal tune, accompanied by a montage of bombing raids, would not be out of place in the Eurovision song contest, and is part of a crude attempt by Azerbaijan’s corrupt and autocratic government to rally people round the flag.

The real war, which began on September 27th, has been less telegenic. Hundreds of people, most of them soldiers, are already believed dead. The fighting is the worst since 1994, when ethnic Armenian forces seized Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding Azerbaijani districts after a conflict that saw tens of thousands killed and a million people displaced. Azerbaijan claims to have taken a dozen villages in the Jabrayil district, one of seven that ring Nagorno-Karabakh and were occupied by Armenian forces. Azerbaijani cluster munitions have struck Stepanakert, the capital of the breakaway province. Armenian forces have shelled Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second-biggest city. Both sides seem to have used ballistic missiles, and a few stray rockets have landed in next-door Iran.

Why American Strategy Fails

By James A. Winnefeld, Michael J. Morell, and Graham Allison

In January, either a second Trump administration or a Biden administration will face the most difficult foreign policy test the United States has experienced since the early years of the Cold War. This test stems not just from specific challenges but also from a growing imbalance among four classic variables of grand strategy: ends, ways, means, and the security landscape. Left unrecognized and unaddressed, gaps between U.S. ambitions and the U.S. ability to fulfill them will generate increasingly unacceptable strategic risks.

From our experience as national security officials—in the military, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Department of Defense—we understand why correcting this imbalance is easy to say but hard to do. The policy community resists setting priorities, mostly reacts to ongoing events, and uses the term “vital” promiscuously. Military services and warfare communities are wedded to long-cherished legacy systems that are in many ways misaligned

Scientists Have Discovered a Genuine Room-Temperature Superconductor

by Joel Hruska

The search for a truly room-temperature superconducting material has been one of the great Holy Grails in engineering and physics. The ability to move electricity from Point A to B with zero resistance and hence no losses would be a game-changer for human civilization. Unfortunately, until today, every known superconductor still required very cold temperatures. Today, scientists announced they’ve achieved superconducting at 59 degrees Fahrenheit/15 Celsius. While this is still a bit chilly, you can hit 59F in a well air-conditioned building. This is a genuine breakthrough, but it doesn’t immediately clear the path towards easy deployment of the technology.

At extremely low temperatures, the behavior of electrons through a material changes. At temperatures approaching absolute zero, electrons passing through a material form what are known as Cooper pairs. Normally, single electrons essentially ping-pong through the ionic lattice of the material they are passing through. Each time an electron collides with an ion in the lattice, it loses a tiny amount of energy. This loss is what we call resistance. When cooled to a low enough temperature, electrons behave dramatically differently. Cooper pairs behave like a superfluid, meaning they can flow through material without any underlying energy loss. Tests have demonstrated that current stored inside a superconductor will remain there for as long as the material remains in a superconductive state with zero loss of energy.

There are two problems yet standing between us and a more effective exploitation of this discovery. First, we aren’t sure exactly why this combination of elements works in the first place. The research team used sulfur and carbon, then added hydrogen, forming hydrogen sulfide(H 2S) and methane (CH 4). These chemicals were placed on a diamond anvil and compressed, then exposed to a green laser for several hours to break sulfur-sulfur bonds. This much is known. Unfortunately, determining the exact composition of the material has proven impossible thus far. The diamond anvil prevents the use of X-rays, and existing technologies that can work around that problem aren’t capable of locating hydrogen atoms in a lattice. The team’s efforts to characterize and understand its own discovery are still ongoing.

The Peril of a Rudderless Continent


SÃO PAULO – Argentina’s President Alberto Fernández had reason to be upbeat last week: After Luis Arce’s election victory in Bolivia on Oct. 18, the peronista will no longer be the only center-left leader in South America. Fernández used the opportunity to call for the revival of UNASUR, a nearly defunct regional organization that once comprised 12 South American nations. Yet his largely symbolic proposal merely underlined the sorry state of cooperation in the region.

After the promising development of regional rules and norms starting with the end of the Cold War, Latin America has seen a shocking breakdown of regional coordination. This has been symbolized most recently by Jair Bolsonaro’s refusal to speak to Argentina’s president Alberto Fernández, his Argentine counterpart, and Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador’s decision to avoid traveling to the rest of Latin America altogether.

But the breakdown in coordination has deeper roots – and amid what promises to be a protracted economic crisis as the region emerges from COVID-19, the glaring lack of regional cooperation and coordination among Latin American governments will likely get worse before it gets better.

Regional cooperation in Latin America has a rather storied history. International charters such as the Santiago Commitment to Democracy (1991), the Declaration of Managua (1993), Mercosur and its democratic clause (1998), and the Inter-American Democratic Charter (2001), and the South American Defense Council (2009) all helped lay the groundwork for an unprecedented degree of political and economic cooperation. That success was felt especially in the 1990s and early 2000s, when broadly accepted commitments to democracy and a series of regionally respected leaders created healthy peer pressure that helped stabilize political affairs in moments of crisis. This was the case in 1998, when regional leaders helped Peru and Ecuador sign a peace treaty after a war in 1995, and in 1996 and 1999, when regional governments avoided a coup in Paraguay. Regional actors even convinced Hugo Chávez to restart a dialogue with Venezuela’s opposition after a failed coup in 2002.

DOD Strategy Paves New Path for Electronic Warfare

By Rachel S. Cohen

The Pentagon on Oct. 29 released a strategy for military use of the electromagnetic spectrum that could ultimately spur the creation of a new combatant command to oversee those operations.

The Defense Department has waged war via the electromagnetic spectrum for decades, using aircraft like the E/A-18G Growler and the EC-130H Compass Call to jam electronic signals and transmit computer code to other wireless devices.

But a growing number of commercial companies, personal electronic devices, and military systems that use wireless wavelength have crowded and complicated the spectrum in the digital age. That’s leading the military to see electromagnetic warfare and spectrum management as intertwined, not independent, concepts that should be coordinated across the department for the first time.

“This is the beginning of a unique opportunity,” a Pentagon official said on a background call with reporters. “The new strategy will have wide-ranging impacts across the DOD that will shape the future of the department, influencing how the DOD makes decisions on how best to design, resource, and implement EMS concepts as a new foundation for multidomain warfighting.”

How the Army plans to revolutionize tanks with artificial intelligence

Nathan Strout

Even as the U.S. Army attempts to integrate cutting edge technologies into its operations, many of its platforms remain fundamentally in the 20th century.

Take tanks, for example.

The way tank crews operate their machine has gone essentially unchanged over the last 40 years. At a time when the military is enamored with robotics, artificial intelligence and next generation networks, operating a tank relies entirely on manual inputs from highly trained operators.

“Currently, tank crews use a very manual process to detect, identify and engage targets,” explained Abrams Master Gunner Sgt. 1st Class Dustin Harris. “Tank commanders and gunners are manually slewing, trying to detect targets using their sensors. Once they come across a target they have to manually select the ammunition that they’re going to use to service that target, lase the target to get an accurate range to it, and a few other factors.”

The process has to be repeated for each target.

“That can take time,” he added. “Everything is done manually still.”

On the 21st century battlefield, it’s an anachronism.

The Army is in hot pursuit of missiles that provide strategic, mid-range and short-range capability against adversaries like Russia and China.

“Army senior leaders recognize that the way the crews in the tank operate is largely analogous to how these things were done 30, 45 years ago,” said Richard Nabors, acting principal deputy for systems and modeling at the DEVCOM C5ISR Center.

“Smoke and Mirrors”: An Examination of Information Warfare’s Capabilities and the U.S. Defense Against Them

Alan C. Cunningham


In the start of 2020, much of the world and virtually all of the United States was consumed by news reports and developments about COVID-19, a new strain of the Coronavirus respiratory disease. Hysteria was rampant with people buying toilet paper and masks and gloves, despite news agencies and international health organizations urging against this; some did this of their own accord, but it is undeniable the effect that social media websites (like Facebook) and “news” agencies (like InfoWars) had on inciting this hysteria.[1] Not only was misinformation spread about what individual countries were experiencing, but about the cause of the virus.

On 12 March 2020, The Hill reported that a spokesman for the People’s Republic of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the agency responsible for spearheading diplomatic endeavors with other countries, suggested via Twitter a, “conspiracy theory…[that] instead suggests the virus was brought to the country in 2019 by U.S. athletes participating in the Military World Games that were held in Wuhan,”.[2] Two days prior to this comment, an article was written on Defense One which discussed Iranian, Russian, and Chinese media channels pushing theories that COVID-19 was a bioweapon, while noting that these stories are being, “fueled by Iranian, Russian, and Chinese government-backed campaigns blaming and attacking the United States as the source for the scourge,”.[3] The article describes how Iran’s Press TV published conspiracies previously reported by Alex Jones’ InfoWars website and how RT News (the state-sponsored media outlet, largely regarded as undeniably pro-Russian), “has used its considerable media reach via channels [like RT] to amplify statements coming out of Iranian leadership,”.[4]

This led me to begin thinking about how Foreign Intelligence Entities (FIEs) and States utilize Information Warfare (IW) practices to attain their overall goals as well as how significant of a threat IW is to the United States. After examining this and America’s defenses against such action, I began thinking of how America could improve upon their current state of preparation. Overall, I came to the conclusion that Information Warfare is an extreme threat to the United States, our political system, and our public’s thought process along with our government and private industry needing to drastically and quickly take measures to ensure that our country is protected. However, before going into this analysis and description, we must first define what exactly Information Warfare is and how it is utilized.

Air Force Meshes Info-War Capabilities

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

The Air Force is working to coalesce a number of its information warfare operations as great power competitors Russia and China make investments in their own digital warfighting tools.

Last year, officials began merging and integrating headquarters staff for cyber and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance effects under an office known as A2/6, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Mary O’Brien, deputy chief of staff for the organization.

While cyber and ISR are the “primary focus today in A2/6, they’re not the only capabilities that we need to converge in order to deliver effects in the information environment of the future,” she noted during a panel discussion at the Air Force Association’s Virtual Air, Space and Cyber Conference.

There is also a need to influence the entire electromagnetic spectrum, O’Brien said. To get at that, the Air Force Spectrum Management Office will be integrated into the A2/6 team, she noted. The effort was slated to begin in October.

“Their mission is to defend and ensure electromagnetic spectrum access for the Air Force and DoD activities in support of our national policy objectives and global operations,” she said. “With this realignment, A2/6 continues along a multi-year path to support — from a headquarters Air Force perspective — the synchronization of information warfare functions.”