12 November 2020

Chinese hacking competition cracks Chrome, ESXi, Windows 10, iOS 14, Galaxy 20, Qemu, and more

Simon Sharwood

VMware has taken the unusual step of warning about an imminent security advisory after a Chinese team successfully popped its flagship product.

News of the crack came from Tianfu Cup, a hacking contest staged in China over the weekend and modelled on events like "Pwn2Own" where vendors allow teams to take down their wares under controlled conditions.

The targets for the competition included the iPhone 11 running the new iOS 14, and the big four browsers – Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Edge. Cup organisers said 11 of the attacks succeeded.

And that's a little scary because the challenge for ESXi, Qemu and Docker was to get control of the host OS.

The good news is that details of the cracks have not been released. So while VMware has admitted flaw-probers' attempts on ESXi were "successful", it should be able to get its patch done before the flaw is actually exploited.

If it gets the remediation right, that is: the company last week updated a patch for a critical-rated flaw that allowed a malicious actor residing in the management network who has access to port 427 on an ESXi machine to conduct remote code execution. The first patch did not fix the problem and has been suggested as the cause of a Brazilian ransomware attack.

Other vendors and projects whose code was combed for exploitable flaws at the competition appear not to have publicly acknowledged the issue at the time of writing.

Is China Building Its Own "Mother of All Bombs"?

by Michael Peck

Here's What You Need to Know: China has joined the “Mother of All Bombs” club.

A Chinese arms maker back in 2019 unveiled a weapon similar to America’s GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, or MOAB (hence the nickname “Mother of All Bombs”). The Chinese version was dropped from an H-6K bomber, the Chinese version of the 1950s Soviet Tu-16 aircraft.

Photographs on China’s state-owned Global Times news site showed earlier in the year what appeared to be a large bomb falling from a bomb bay, and then a large explosion. Chinese military analyst Wei Dongxu told Global Times that based on photographic evidence and the size of the H-6K’s bomb bay, the bomb was five to six meters long (16.4 to 19.7 feet long). Chinese media also suggested that the bomb weighed several tons, and was so big that the H-6K could only carry one.

“The massive blast can easily and completely wipe out fortified ground targets such as reinforced buildings, bastions and defense shelters," or knock down trees so troops can rappel down from helicopters, Wei said.

According to Global Times, military observers claimed that “the weapon will also spread fear among enemies if a weapon of this caliber is deployed.”

China: Still the world’s growth engine after COVID-19

By Felix Poh and Daniel Zipser

In early January, our main concern was choosing where to go with our families to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Then, just a few days before the holiday began, the announcement of a lockdown in Wuhan threw all our plans into disarray. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic changed life as we knew it literally overnight. Measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus drastically altered the way consumers behaved and how companies ran their operations. Everyone from frontline staff to executives were impacted by a temporary ban on travel, the move to remote working, and the impossibility of entertainment or excursions outside home. Even though China’s recovery is now gaining momentum, all of us are grappling with a new environment in which digital tools and innovation have proved indispensable.

At McKinsey, we redoubled our efforts to help clients and colleagues in China to maneuver through the crisis. We also worked hard to share crucial lessons with other parts of the world, connecting the dots on best practice on reopening businesses while keeping workers and consumers safe. Meanwhile, we conducted extensive research over the course of the past few months to help China-focused consumer and retail companies to emerge from the pandemic in a position of strength. Drawing on proprietary insights, we investigated how consumer behavior shifted and will continue to shift during and post-COVID-19, how consumer and retail companies are responding, and how China is faring versus other markets. We collaborated with Oxford Economics to project macro-economic recovery curves; conducted monthly polls of executive opinion on likely recovery scenarios; tapped into research by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) on long-term trends; took our weekly “pulse” surveys, which were conducted multiple times to assess consumer sentiment in China and 44 other countries worldwide; and executed an in-depth analysis of over 100 million points-of-sale data on purchase behavior before, during, and after the COVID-19 crisis.

China’s BRI and its High-Speed Railways to Nowhere

By James Guild

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has become something of a Rorschach test, taking on different meanings to different people, often colored by the vantage point from which one views it. It is frequently described in terms of “debt-trap diplomacy,” where the overarching goal is to bind developing countries to China through the accumulation of infrastructure-related debt. If and when these debts become unpayable, Chinese companies take over key strategic assets such as electric grids or ports.

Others have compared it to a 21st century Marshall Plan, with China trying to beat geostrategic rivals like Japan and the United States in shaping the physical, financial and political environment of key regions. In doing so they are also creating overseas demand for Chinese technology, investment and labor which is arguably a productive way for a country that runs big surpluses to make use of its reserves and idle assets while bolstering its strategic muscle. The truth, as is often the case, probably lies somewhere in the middle.

As Shahar Hameiri writes in the Lowy Institute’s Interpreter, “Never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence.” There is certainly merit to the strategic logic of underwriting infrastructure development in fast-growing or geographically important countries. But sometimes geostrategic ambitions can get ahead of practical considerations on the ground, and China’s experience with building high-speed railways in Southeast Asia certainly underscores this.

Russia and China: Could they Form an Aircraft Carrier Alliance?

by Robert Farley

Key point: Russia has the knowledge, but China has the money. Would Moscow help Beijing for the right price?

It appears that China is relying on Russian know-how and experience to develop the reactor for its first nuclear aircraft carrier. As the South China Morning Post reports, China appears to be studying the nuclear reactors on Russia’s largest icebreakers, an approach that the Soviet Union also took when it planned to build nuclear carriers in the 1980s. Specifically, Russia has invited China to bid on the construction of a new class of nuclear icebreaker, necessarily requiring the development of surface-ship based reactors. This approach stands in contrast to how the United States and France developed nuclear reactors for their largest carriers, but probably represents the best choice for China at this point. 

This first appeared earlier and is being republished due to reader interest.


To appreciate what’s at stake in China’s pursuit of nuclear-powered surface warships, it’s important to review the experience of the United States and the USSR. After the successful development of the USS Nautilus and the Skate class nuclear attack submarines (as well as the merchant ship NS Savannah) provided proof-of-concept regarding nuclear propulsion, the USN began to evaluate nuclear power for surface warships. The first USN nuclear surface warship was the cruiser USS Long Beach, commissioned in 1961. Long Beach was powered by 2 C1WS reactors, generating around 120 MW, enough power to produce a speed of 30 knots for the 17,000-ton cruiser hull. The USN rapidly followed up with USS Enterprise, powered by 8 A2W reactors, each quite similar in construction and output to the C1W. Those reactors generated 120 MW each, translating to 280,000 SHP, driving the 100,000-ton Enterprise at up to 33 knots.

New Strategic Sichuan-Tibet Railway Link To Strengthen Border Defense – Analysis

By Prof Ashok Tiku*

Chinese President XI is calling for expediting the construction of the new railway line connecting Lhasa with Chengdu to strengthen border defense.

China announced its intention to connect Tibet with another new railway line — the Sichuan-Tibet railway line to protect China’s borders. On the eve of starting the construction of this new route, Chinese president said (Xinhua Nov 9) that the new route will be key to safeguarding China’s national unity and consolidating border stability and called for building the railway line expeditiously by “concentrating resources “ for its completion. 

Recently China Railway announced the bidding results for the construction of two tunnels and one bridge, as well as the power supply project for the Ya’an—Linzhi ( Ya’an-Nyingchi) section of the Sichuan-Tibet Railway. This will be the second railway line connecting Tibet with China and will shorten the travel time to Lhasa from 48 hours to just 13 hours. The Sichuan-Tibet railway line starts from Cheng du, the capital of Sichuan province and the new addition Ya’an-Nyinngchi section will be 1,011 kms long, and includes 26 stations when completed — taking Chinese railway right up to the disputed boundary with India. The cost of the project is estimated at 319.8 billion yuan.

It would be interesting to recall that China started the railway survey of linking Lhasa with China in late 80s and the survey team had submitted three links for railway connectivity with Tibet:

China Has Lots of Tanks - And This One is Its Favorite

by Kyle Mizokami

Here's What You Need To Remember: For a main battle tank, the Type 99 is light, maneuverable, and fast. It doesn't pack the firepower of the Abrams, but it has a much higher range with comparable armor.

China has a lot of tanks. Like, eight to nine thousand of them.

Who else would bother to maintain such a ridiculous number?

The United States. And Russia. (Note that such counts include vehicles in storage and reserve. The numbers for tanks in operational units are lower in every case).

However, the majority of Beijing’s tanks are old designs, particularly Type 59 and 69 tanks more or less directly copied from the 50s-era Soviet T-54 tank. Such is their profligacy that I once had the pleasure of bumping into one in a children’s playground in Tianjin serving the needs of the (young) people.

However, China’s top of the line tank, the Type 99, has commanded healthy respect from international observers, even though it has never been exported, nor used in combat. The reason is simple: the reported performance parameters are equal to many top Western designs, and the Type 99 also packs a few unique tricks of its own.

Today we’ll look at how the Type 99 stacks up to two important contemporaries, the American M1A2 Abrams and the Russian T-90A tank.

U.S. Tried a More Aggressive Cyberstrategy, and the Feared Attacks Never Came

David E. Sanger

From its sprawling new war room inside Fort Meade, not far from Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Maryland, United States Cyber Command dived deep into Russian and Iranian networks in the months before the election, temporarily paralyzing some and knocking ransomware tools offline.

Then it stole Iran’s game plan and, without disclosing the intelligence coup behind the theft, made public a part of Tehran’s playbook when the Iranians began to carry it out.

Now, nearly a week after the polls closed, it is clear that all the warnings of a crippling cyberattack on election infrastructure, or an overwhelming influence operation aimed at American voters, did not come to pass. There were no breaches of voting machines and only modest efforts, it appears, to get inside registration systems.

Interviews with government officials and other experts suggest a number of reasons for the apparent success.

One may be that the United States’ chief adversaries were deterred, convinced that the voting infrastructure was so hardened, Facebook and Twitter were so on alert, and Cyber Command and a small group of American companies were so on the offensive that it was not worth the risk.

Azerbaijani Military Takes Over Key Town In Nagorno-Karabakh

(RFE/RL) — Officials from the de facto government in the breakaway area of Nagorno-Karabakh have confirmed that Azerbaijani forces have taken control of the strategic town of Shushi amid heavy fighting and reports forces are approaching the region’s capital, Stepanakert.

“Today, unfortunately, we have to accept that a chain of unlucky events has followed us for days and the city of Shushi is completely out of our control,” Vahram Poghosian, a spokesman for the leader of the unrecognized republic’s de facto government, said on November 9.

The statement confirms comments by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on November 8 that his country’s forces had taken Shushi, the second-largest settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh. That announcement had sent many people into the streets of Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, to celebrate.

However, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, in a message on Facebook, later said that “the fighting for Shushi continues,” without elaborating.

Surrounded by sheer cliffs, Shushi (known as Susa in Azeri) is seen as a strategic point for Azerbaijani forces to launch attacks on Stepanakert.

Earlier, Aliyev told the BBC that Yerevan’s “opportunities to compromise are shrinking” and said he saw no possibility of peace talks with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.

Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but the ethnic Armenians who make up most of the population reject Azerbaijani rule. They have been governing their own affairs, with support from Armenia, since Azerbaijan’s troops were pushed out of the region in a war that ended in a cease-fire in 1994.

Israel Nearly Went Nuclear to Win the 1973 Yom Kippur War

by Sebastien Roblin

Here's What You Need To Remember: The Yom Kippur war resulted in the death of 2,500 to 2,700 Israelis and an estimated ten to 16,000 Arab soldiers—and wounded over twice that number. The IDF lost roughly 1,000 tanks destroyed or temporarily knocked out and 102 jets, while Arab forces lost 2,400 armored vehicles and over 400 hundred aircraft. The IDF would later recover 400 knocked-out T-55 and T-62 tanks for IDF service.

During the Cold War, the armies of NATO and the Warsaw Pact stood poised to wage devastating, large-scale mechanized warfare using a bewildering arsenal of modern weapons including main battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, helicopter gunships, jet fighters, short-range ballistic missile launchers, supersonic bombers, surface-to-air missile systems, and tactical nuclear artillery.

Yet fortunately for humanity, that conflict never took place. Despite numerous bloody proxy and civil wars, there were few interstate clashes between large mechanized armies. The handful of exceptions notably include the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pakistani conflicts and the Iran-Iraq war. However, the most intense mechanized battles since World War II took place in October 1973 when Egypt and Syria launched a surprise assault on the Israeli border fortifications during the Jewish Yom Kippur holiday.

The Arab and Israeli armies were lavishly equipped with then state-of-the-art tank, jets, and missiles from the Soviet Union and West respectively, including new types of weapons that would see their first major combat test. The result was a hi-tech slugging match of unprecedented scale and tempo.

The war was conceived by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad to recapture the Golan Heights and Sinai, which had been seized by Israeli forces in the humiliating Six Day War. The wide-open deserts of the Middle East heavily favored armor and air power, and the IDF's tank and fighter units had significantly outperformed their adversaries.

Biden’s Dilemma

By George Friedman

The election is over, and barring major fraud or error, Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States. He begins as a weak candidate. The country is divided virtually down the middle; almost half of the country voted against him. Animosity toward him will be similar to that faced by Donald Trump for the past four years.

Congress is deeply divided. The Senate may come in at a tie, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris holding the deciding vote. In the House of Representatives, the Democrats’ majority shrunk to just 14 seats. During the Trump administration, they tended to vote with near unanimity. With a smaller majority they may not, given the emergence of a progressive wing of the party. With Trump gone, unanimity may be gone too. Once the euphoria of victory passes, Biden will have little room for maneuver.

Biden must create a strong foundation for his presidency quickly. When Barack Obama came to office, the dominant issue was the Iraq war. He immediately reached out to the Islamic world to redesign perceptions there, and though it had only limited effect in the Islamic world, it had substantial influence in the United States, which was weary after a decade of war in the region. It represented something new at a time when the old was seen by many as dysfunctional.

For Biden, there is no towering foreign policy issue. There are, of course, two towering domestic issues: the COVID-19 crisis and the economy. To some extent there is a tradeoff here, absent a viable vaccine. The more aggressive measures are used to fight the virus, the greater the stress on the economy. The more sensitive one is to the economy, the less obsessed one is with the disease. This is an imperfect view of the situation, but far from preposterous.

Global Views of a Biden Presidency


As leaders around the world offer congratulations to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, Carnegie scholars across our global network are looking ahead to what their administration will mean for U.S. engagement with key international partners and competitors. With the United States still focused on COVID-19 and economic challenges at home, what is realistic for renewal of relationships abroad? Scholars offer initial thoughts on where we go from here.

America’s Trifecta in Space: Odds Are We’ve Regained Dominance in This Domain, But Can We Keep It?

By John Venable

Over the last four years, America has come a long way toward regaining the upper hand in space. The Obama era’s timid aspirations and anemic funding for this important domain are largely a thing of the past. Instead, we have an active commercial launch sector, a reinvigorated NASA, and a reconstituted Defense Department.

America led the world in space from the mid-1960s through the end of the Space Shuttle program. But even before the Atlantis flew that program’s last mission in 2011, the decline had started.

President Obama canceled NASA’s Constellation Program—a plan for manned exploration of the moon and then Mars—in 2010. In its stead, he promised to increase NASA’s budget by $6 billion to pursue a rather fanciful asteroid retrieval program. However, he ultimately cut the agency’s budget by more than $11.4 billion over the next six years. It left the nation that had previously led all others to rely on Russian rockets to send its astronauts into space for the next nine years. 

The outlook for NASA and the whole of the U.S. space program changed in 2017 when President Trump issued the first of five memoranda to revive American ascendancy in space. It directed NASA to team with private-sector partners for manned missions to the moon and Mars. Program Artemis, as it is called, has thus far received the funding needed to achieve those objectives. If the president’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget is approved, NASA funding will increase by more than 31%, and funding for deep space exploration will have grown by more than 260% since 2016.

The Pentagon’s Plans To Network EVERYTHING: Faist


WASHINGTON: How do you shrink electronics and bureaucracy at the same time? That’s the challenge facing Jim Faist as he coordinates cutting-edge research across the services.

“You need to collaborate,” of course, says the Pentagon’s director for advanced capabilities. But you don’t need to collaborate the way the military did on the F-35 stealth fighter, with a single program developing three variants of one aircraft for three different services.

“Building a joint program office,” he says, “you build a big bureaucracy of requirements validation that no one’s happy with. Typically, there’s no need for that.”

Applying The Hypersonics Model To Electronic Warfare

“What I believe in is not (emphasis added) a joint program office, but joint engineering against specific problems,” Faist said. “Probably the most successful on my watch has been hypersonics.”

While the Army’s building a hypersonic missile to launch from trucks and the Navy’s version will fire from submarines, both services are using the same glide body (which contains the warhead) and the same rocket booster. They are just packaged differently. Meanwhile the Air Force is pursuing more compact hypersonics to launch from planes, building on the same underlying technologies. Helping advance those underlying technologies, develop prototypes, and coordinate the services’ independent efforts is the undersecretariat of defense for research & engineering, where Faist works – playing a supporting and facilitating role, not a directive one.

After Trump, Biden May Change the Tone on Trade More Than the Substance

Kimberly Ann Elliott 

Donald Trump has been an unorthodox president, to say the least. Much of America and the rest of the world is hoping for a return to some semblance of normality under President-elect Joe Biden. But what might that mean on trade? The traditional take on American trade politics for decades has been that Republicans tend to be free traders while Democrats are more skeptical. Trump certainly turned that on its head. Yet after he started imposing tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in imports, several polls—which obviously have to be taken with a grain of salt—showed most Americans becoming more supportive of trade and globalization. Biden has also been critical of Trump’s “America First” trade policy, especially the rejection of multilateralism, but the changes under his administration are likely to be more incremental than transformational.

During his decades in the Senate and as Barack Obama’s vice president, Biden behaved like a pretty traditional, centrist Democrat. His blue-collar roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania, did put him somewhat to the left of President Bill Clinton, who ushered the North American Free Trade Agreement through Congress, and China into the World Trade Organization. As a senator, Biden supported both of those moves, but he also voted against a number of bilateral free trade agreements negotiated by President George W. Bush’s administration. Biden shares the widespread concerns in Washington about the direction of China under Xi Jinping, but he also criticized Trump’s tariffs, correctly noting they are taxes on American consumers. ...

Joseph S. Nye, Jr. Says More…

This week in Say More, PS talks with Joseph S. Nye, Jr., a professor at Harvard University.

Project Syndicate: Donald “Trump’s electoral appeal may turn on domestic politics,” you wrote in September, “but his effect on world politics could be transformational, particularly if he gains a second term.” Well, he hasn’t gotten his second term. Is this enough to ensure that we really are at “the end of an historical accident”? What changes cannot be undone, at least not easily?

Joseph Nye: Had Trump been re-elected, the damage to the international system of multilateral institutions and alliances would have been very difficult to repair. As one European friend told me, “it is hard to hold one’s breath for four years; eight years is impossible.”

But Joe Biden has promised to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and the World Health Organization, and to strengthen America’s strained alliances. This bodes well. Nonetheless, it will take time to restore trust, not least because more than 70,000,000 Americans cast their votes for Trump. This suggests that Trumpism will live on, even without Trump.

The Problem with the Nagorno-Karabakh Ceasefire Agreement

by Michael Rubin

Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan took to Facebook late last evening to announce that he had accepted a Russia and Turkey-backed ceasefire ending the forty-five-day war with Azerbaijan. Outraged Armenians poured into the streets of Yerevan. Some broke into the parliament building; others beat unconscious Speaker of Parliament Ararat Mirzoyan in front of his wife and children. Crowds are demanding the resignation of Pashinyan, who came to power in a 2018 democratic revolution

The popular anger is understandable. For Armenia, the agreement is a disaster: It lost much of southern Nagorno-Karabakh and key strategic districts surrounding the disputed territory. Refugees fleeing the cultural capital of Shusha will likely not be allowed to return. Ilham Aliyev, the authoritarian dictator in Azerbaijan which pursued the war with Israeli drones, Syrian mercenaries, Turkish F-16s, and his own special forces, is gloating. The Azeri president further noted that there is no guarantee that Nagorno-Karabakh’s autonomous government will continue to exist. 

The deal, reportedly negotiated by Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, not only calls for the deployment of Russian and Turkish troops along the lines of control, but it also guarantees a transportation route through Armenian territory between Azerbaijan proper and its Nakhichevan enclave, a clause which Aliyev said was added at his insistence. 

Both of these facts are deeply problematic and should be questioned by the U.S. State Department. To station German troops in Israel, Japanese troops in Korea, or Italian troops in Libya would be historically tone-deaf. To allow Turkish troops into Armenia or Armenian-populated districts of Nagorno-Karabakh is worse because the Turkish government continues to deny Armenia’s genocide and because Erdoğan and many elements within his government continue to speak in terms of religious warfare. Erdoğan called Turkish forces invading Kurdish populated areas in northern Syria “the army of Muhammad,” and Yeni Akit, an Islamist paper popular with Erdoğan, announced, “Go tell the infidels, Mohammed’s army has returned.” Simply put, there is simply no reason for Turkey to have any role in the conflict. To allow it to have a role rewards Turkish aggression, affirms Erdoğan’s pan-Turkic delusions, and encourages Erdoğan to further challenge Turkey’s century-old borders. 

Ukraine Looks for Applicable Lessons in Latest Karabakh War

By: Yuri Lapaiev

From the earliest days of war in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, some bloggers and security experts noted key similarities between the situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk and that of Azerbaijan’s Karabakh and surrounding areas. In both cases, war had de facto created self-proclaimed and unrecognized republics, the separatists enjoyed quasi-unofficial support from a neighboring country, and popular desires have burned for liberating the occupied territories. Even the international platform for solving the Karabakh crisis—the Minsk Group under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)—superficially resembles the Trilateral Group for Ukraine, mediated by the OSCE and having negotiated two ceasefire documents in Minsk.

Those parallels have also extended to frontline efforts and results. As in the case of Karabakh, the war in Ukraine has long had no end in sight. In 2016, after another round of clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Ukrainian political analyst Evhen Zherebetskiy identified two main reasons for the lack of progress in solving the Karabakh crisis: the passive positions of the United States and the European Union in the negotiation process as well as Russian sabotage and “hybrid”-style policies toward the South Caucasus. He also insisted that Moscow, as a major regional actor, exploits the Karabakh conflict for its own geopolitical goals—a fact likely to drag the war out endlessly. Likewise, in the Ukrainian case, Zherebetskiy sees the Minsk peace agreements reached with Russia as useless (PolUkr, April 14, 2016).

After the latest Karabakh offensive began on September 27, 2020, many Ukrainian defense and security experts quickly undertook to compare the situation there with the ongoing war in Donbas. A natural point of focus was on Azerbaijani tactics, which have emphasized the wide use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and active above-ground reconnaissance. For example, in a piece for Petr i Mazepa, military expert Kirill Danilchenko analyses the successful record of modern Turkish-built Bayraktar TB2 strike UAVs, which Azerbaijan purchased and has actively deployed against Armenian forces. Danilchenko insists that such tactics could also be useful for Ukraine (which incidentally also wields these same Turkish drones). Moreover, he writes, the Ukrainian government should increase the number of similar UAVs in the army, while Ukraine’s defense industry should focus on developing anti-UAV weapons and electronic warfare (EW)–scramblers (Petr i Mazepa, October 10). Another famous defense blogger, Yaroslav Bondarenko, explicitly hopes that the Azerbaijan operation can serve as an example for the Ukrainian Armed Forces on how to go about liberating eastern Donbas (Facebook.com/YaroslavBondarenko.BlogUA, October 27). Meanwhile, the issue of protecting ground forces from similar UAV strikes is being broadly discussed by Ukrainian bloggers and across online social networks and thematic military forums (Twitter.com/dr_blackerny, October 17). In turn, Oleh Katkov, an expert from Defense Express, in analyzing the fighting in Karabakh, has underlined the importance of modern interconnected communication and control systems for the armed forces. While Artem Vyunnyk, the CEO of the company Atlon Avia, which develops the newest Ukrainian strike drone Grim (Thunder), has argued that this type of (loitering munition) UAV is uniquely suited for carrying out high-precision strikes against military targets such as radar installations. Notably, Azerbaijani forces fighting in Karabakh clearly demonstrated the capabilities of loitering munition drones, using them to destroy large numbers of Armenian tanks and convoys (Radio Svoboda, October 18).

Moscow Loses Control Over Its Post-Soviet Backyard

Benjamin Quenelle

The former USSR is wobbling again …

Thirty years after the collapse of the Communist empire, the political crises in Belarus and Kyrgyzstan, and the war in Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan — all emerging in quick succession — are calling into question Russia's influence on the smaller former Soviet republics.

"Vladimir Putin's Kremlin does not like crowds of protesters, especially when, in Minsk or Bishkek, they question the legitimacy of power. This creates instability, which is the antithesis of what the president wants," worries one source close to the Kremlin.

A senior European diplomat in Moscow notes that Russia has gotten used to the role of arbitrator in the region, making all of the conflict very disturbing. "But we shouldn't underestimate the capacity of Putin, who hates taking action on the spot and under pressure, to play the perpetrator of war or peace," the source added.

In just three months, in its post-Soviet "garden" in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus, Moscow has been taken aback by events it did not see coming: political chaos in Kyrgyzstan, revolution in Belarus, war in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The "near abroad," an expression used by the Kremlin since the collapse of the USSR, has suddenly been thrown into turmoil. For Putin, allergic to disruptions that start to spiral out of control, it's a real source of trouble, particularly in the face of a political agenda that includes an upcoming change of government and constitutional referendum to solidify his rule.

In each of these neighboring countries, the cause of the disruptions is first and foremost national: the anger in Bishkek is directed against authoritarianism and corruption of the elites, which is exacerbated by long-simmering tensions between clans; the exasperation in Minsk targets a president who, for a quarter of a century, has clung to power; and Armenians and Azerbaijanis face each other in the territorial conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh with suspicions that their Turkish neighbor is taking advantage of it.

What Trump’s Loss Means for Authoritarian Leaders

By Sara Khorshid

When Joe Biden said on Wednesday night that “democracy works,” he struck a chord for many democrats around the world, not just for the Americans who voted him into office. But just as progressives inside and outside the United States have been rejoicing, relieved to see their faith in democracy validated, democracy’s opponents have been nervously following the U.S. presidential election and betting on a win for Donald Trump, which they did not get.

Authoritarian rulers to whom democracy is a threat, most notably in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are a case in point—and it is easy to see why Biden’s victory has frightened the two countries’ leaders. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, would have adopted undemocratic policies and overseen human rights violations whether or not Trump was in office, but his presidency allowed them to do this with more confidence and ease. They knew that they would not face a serious moral challenge from Washington no matter how far they went in their suppression of their citizens.

During Trump’s four years as president, proponents of democracy and human rights have been remarkably lonely and overpowered in an international arena that suddenly looked very different than it had prior to 2016. In the summer of 2018, for example, when Canada’s foreign minister called for the release of two political detainees in Saudi Arabia, Riyadh overreacted, expelling the Canadian ambassador, suspending flights to and from Toronto, withdrawing thousands of Saudi students from Canadian schools and universities, and freezing future trade and investment with the North American country. More shocking than the Saudi storm of punitive measures against Ottawa was Washington’s reluctance to come to the aid of its neighbor and longtime partner.

How to Make Sure Peace Endures Once the Fighting Ends

The need for peacebuilding in post-conflict societies grew out of the realization that signing agreements to bring fighting to an end is a necessary but insufficient step toward true and enduring peace. Peacebuilding is now conceived of as a multistage process to strengthen the peace accord and begin unifying communities through approaches ranging from governmental capacity-building and economic development to reforms of the legal and security sectors. Each initiative is intended to be a step toward improving human security, and the process often includes a transitional justice mechanism to foster societal healing and reconciliation.

Peacebuilding is often a laborious and expensive process—and one that can easily be undone. Witness Brexit’s triggering of the long-dormant fault lines between unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland. Moreover, as peacebuilding has evolved, there is still no consensus on who should lead these efforts. In the wake of Sept. 11, the United Nations introduced a Peacebuilding Commission, intended to push for the adoption of post-conflict interventions and then aid and track their implementation. But it lacks enforcement capacity, and key member states can block its activities. Regional bodies, including the European Union and especially the African Union, have shown an interest in prioritizing post-conflict peacebuilding, but their track records are mixed.

Transitional justice initiatives have a similarly rocky history. Designed to help a society document and reckon with a legacy of human rights abuses, they can take several forms, including criminal trials, a truth commission or a reparations program. Where early initiatives, like the post-World War II trials of German and Japanese war criminals, emphasized criminal justice, more recent efforts have expanded to focus on reconciliation, healing and societal transformation. But including discussions of transitional justice mechanisms in peace negotiations can also present stumbling blocks, particularly when people who might be held accountable by such processes must take part in establishing them. There is also the broader problem of sustaining these efforts in the face of the temptation to leave painful experiences in the past.

For both peacebuilding and transitional justice initiatives, funding remains a key challenge—and a frequent excuse to stall efforts. Though the peace agreement that ended South Sudan’s civil war provides for the creation of a Commission for Truth, Healing and Reconciliation, the transitional government has taken no steps to establish it, regularly citing a lack of financing. The question of who should fund reconstruction is another regular obstacle to peacebuilding. In some cases, consensus over the need for stability drives international funding mechanisms for pledging aid—though the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to a shortfall in future pledges. In other cases, such as Syria, reconstruction funding becomes a new arena for contests over influence and power.

The EU Is Facing an Historic Economic Crisis Thanks to Coronavirus

by Desmond Lachman

The last thing that a highly indebted and weak European economy now needs is another supply-side shock that could tip it into a double-dip recession and a prolonged period of price deflation.

Yet that is precisely what a renewed wave of the coronavirus pandemic is now threatening to do to Europe. This does not bode well for the European economy nor for the rest of the global economic recovery. This is especially the case given Europe’s large share in the world economy and the real risk that there could be another round of the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis.

Even before the latest wave in the pandemic, the European economy was not in good shape. While the economy did experience a strong bounce from its earlier spring collapse, it still remains well below its pre-pandemic level. As a result, it has now lapsed into deflation. 

At the same time, European budget deficits have ballooned as a result of bold fiscal measures taken to fight the pandemic as well as of a collapse in tax collections in a weaker economy. As budget deficits have widened, the public debt levels in highly indebted countries like Italy, Portugal, and Spain have skyrocketed to postwar records. This is now raising questions anew about the ability of those countries to repay their debts.

The pandemic’s renewed wave now threatens to cause a double-dip in the European economic recession, which would exacerbate the Eurozone’s deflation problem. This would seem to be especially the case considering that France, Germany, Italy, and Spain have all already been forced to substantially roll back the earlier easing in their lockdown restrictions. In the same way that the earlier lifting of the lockdown caused the economies of those countries to bounce, the world must now expect that the reimposition of coronavirus restrictions will cause the European economy to relapse into recession.

Betting on Global Security

by Zack Brown

The way philanthropy operates in America needs to change, said Alexandra Toma, the executive director at the Peace and Security Funders Group, a network of funders who tackle international security issues.

This is especially true now, as the coronavirus pandemic and nascent arms races threaten to upend global stability, while political unrest at home continues to hamstring an effective government response.

“What funders can do is focus on the root causes of all of this upheaval,” said Toma in an interview on the podcast Press the Button. And in order to do that, they will need to dramatically reshape their conception of risk.

She explained that one of the more notable trends in the peace and security field today is the shift away from traditional, established institutions and toward more localized, grassroots movements that focus on everything from nuclear proliferation to climate change. “It’s just someone in their community observing a wrong and trying to make it right,” said Toma.

However, many of these smaller initiatives remain unfunded. In part, this can be chalked up to the limits of practicality. Individuals or small groups working on peace and security issues almost by definition do not have the same reach and clout as larger universities or think tanks, she explained. And even if they are found, the frequent lack of a standardized process for transferring funds can create serious obstacles in the way of cash flow.

But there’s another, larger factor at play: risk. Foundations and wealthy individuals are often far less willing to “take a shot” on startup projects using unproven methods than they are to approve traditional grants to the same-old partners.

Top cyber espionage groups that have India in their crosshairs


Over the last seven months of the coronavirus pandemic, online threat actors have been ramping up their attacks against India.

The motivation behind these attacks varies from financial gain to reputational damage.

CYFIRMA's research shows hackers keen to breach India's firewalls originate primarily from China, Pakistan, and North Korea.

India is not only facing threats from foreign actors on land but also in the digital world. India's geopolitical situation, especially with respect to Pakistan and China, has been under severe stress over the past six months.

As a result, state-sponsored actors and financially motivated hackers are now looking at India's government agencies and Indian companies as their next target, according to the India Threat Landscape Report 2020.

CYFIRMA's research shows hackers keen to breach India's firewalls originate primarily from China, Pakistan, and North Korea.

However, not everyone stepped into the field with the same objective. Some hackers are looking to make a quick buck, while others are keen to do some long-lasting damage by stealing trade secrets and intellectual property.

Cyber’s uncertain future: These radical technologies and negative trends must be overcome

James Van de Velde

The fate of the world may literally hinge on which states develop and appropriately introduce the radical technologies that are likely to disrupt cyberspace and the world. What are they, and what disruption do they pose? Here are a few, split into two categories:

Radical-leveling technologies have leapt from linear to exponential capabilities and will shape the future competition:
Additive manufacturing (i.e., 3D printing): “Who can manufacture what” may no longer be decided by governments.
Human-machine interfacing: Where will this lead intelligence collection, privacy and security?
The Internet of Things' expanded attack surface: The IoT may invite a near-constant struggle between good and malicious cyberspace actors throughout our government, intelligence, defense and commercial lives.

Chain algorithm (i.e., blockchain) and cryptocurrencies: We have yet to discern how blockchain technology will be integrated into both public and private networks, such as for protecting the national currency of states, and what such integration will mean for intelligence collection and effects operations.

Algorithmic-driven operations: Relying on algorithms in operations may aid both our and our adversaries' operations.

Data analytics: Successful application of data analytics will help reduce false positives and aid in forensics (by discerning trends better). But new ways to collect, manage and analyze data will have to be discerned.

Cybersecurity: Emerging challenges and solutions for the boards of financial-services companies

By Tucker Bailey, Soumya Banerjee, Christopher Feeney, and Heather Hogsett

Cybersecurity has become a top concern for the boards of financial-services firms, and the level of concern seems to be growing day by day. With organizations seeking to create new digital customer experiences, applying sophisticated data analytics, and investing in a wealth of other technology innovations, cyberrisk management clearly requires governance at the highest levels. The advent of the COVID-19 crisis makes this challenge even more urgent.

Well before the pandemic hit, the Bank Policy Institute and McKinsey began to address these issues. To gain deeper insights and help guide boards in their decision making, we collaborated on a survey of top financial firms to assess current cybersecurity trends, challenges, and solutions. We found that boards are not only spending a significant amount of time on cybersecurity challenges and ways to address them but also assigning committees to deal specifically with these issues. However, though many boards are working to integrate cybersecurity resilience into their overall risk efforts, they have not yet learned to measure these risks consistently and to maximize value for money. Boards also need practical new approaches to set their risk tolerance for cybersecurity and to guide management’s resourcing and spending so that they can address the consistent and persistent risks inherent in this area.

As boards look at their next moves, they can take their cues from more advanced firms starting to adopt a cybersecurity and technology risk-management strategy informed by business operations. These firms are integrating their efforts to control cybersecurity and technology risks with operational risks and resilience. They are giving their boards new views of information to help them assess cyberrisks against the risk tolerance of the enterprise and ensuring that board members have the knowledge to oversee these activities.

This report summarizes our survey findings and describes some of the moves that mature firms are taking now.

A Former US Army Officer Examines the World View of the Indian Military

By Abhijnan Rej

As India-U.S. military cooperation deepens, there is growing interest in the worldview of Indian armed forces officers among policymakers and analysts in the United States and allied countries: how they perceive India’s strategic challenges and how they want to tackle them militarily. Colonel David O. Smith (retired), a distinguished fellow with the South Asia program of the Stimson Center and former senior U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency officer, has been a long-time analyst of South Asian military issues. In a new book, “The Wellington Experience: A Study of Attitudes and Values Within the Indian Army,” Smith — based on observations of U.S. military officers who attended India’s Defense Services Staff College (DSSC) in Wellington, Tamil Nadu, over a 38-year period, from 1979 to 2017 – examines prevalent perceptions within the Indian armed forces about Pakistan, China, Kashmir and other core Indian national security issues. In an email interview with the Diplomat, Smith highlights the key points of his work.

Your study of the Indian Army follows a similar study you had conducted about Pakistan’s, based on experiences of U.S. students in the Command and Staff College at Quetta, which was published in 2018. If I had to ask you to identify three points of commonalities between the two – despite obvious differences – what would they be?

There are so many areas of commonality in what was observed at Wellington and at Quetta that it might be easier to list the differences. But since that was not your question, I will give what I consider to be three of the most obvious ones: pedagogy and institutional culture, inadequacy of doctrine for modern warfare, and the distorted view each side has of the other.

First, not surprisingly since both institutions spring from the same parent, both Wellington and Quetta continue to employ the pedagogy they inherited from the British commonwealth model and rely on competitive examinations to select student officers from nearly identical backgrounds. Also observed at both institutions were what I described as “negative cultural behaviors” that promote cheating by using previous staff college solutions on exercises, tests, and research papers — what at Wellington is called PCK (previous course knowledge) and at Quetta is called chappa. The use of these techniques is so prevalent that it is part of each institution’s organizational culture. Also common to both institutions is the unwillingness on the part of the Directing Staff and senior officers to tolerate much, if any, creativity or unconventional thinking in exercises or syndicate room discussions. And finally, an evaluation process in both that reinforces the already strong cultural propensity not to question doctrine or the opinions expressed by senior officers.