21 November 2020

China’s endgame in Ladakh

by Sreejith Sasidharan

There is a dangerous parallel in history to the current India-China conflict in Ladakh. The violence in the Galwan river valley in June 2020, and the ongoing military confrontation in the Himalayas over the past six months, bears striking resemblance to a watershed moment in world history known as the Seven Years War. It is, therefore, important to examine the larger implications of this Sino-Indian rivalry on the polarity and distribution of power in the international system.

Experts have argued that China’s aggression in the Himalayas is an attempt to dissuade India from getting into an alliance with the United States. However, upon closer examination, the exact opposite is revealed. China’s attempt seems to be to drive New Delhi into Washington’s arms, use it as a precursor to consolidate a Sino-Russian alliance, and divide the world in two camps — a bipolar structure with the United States and China as the leaders competing for global hegemony. China’s strategy to strike a fatal blow to a multipolar world, is straight out of the playbook of the Seven Years War, between Britain and France.

During the mid-18th century, the boundary between French and British colonial possessions in the present-day United States were not demarcated on a mutually agreed map, much like the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between China and India in the Himalayas. In 1753, Britain opposed infrastructure developments – a series of forts in the Ohio river valley — to check the assertive anti-status quo policy by the French.

India’s turning point

Oliver Tonby: You are listening to the Future of Asia Podcast by McKinsey and Company. I am Oliver Tonby, your host and chairman of McKinsey Asia. In this series, we feature leaders from across the region to discuss the forces, the opportunities and the challenges that are shaping the future of Asia.

Welcome. Welcome everyone to the Future of Asia Podcast series. Today’s topic is called a turning point for India’s economy. I am joined by three of my colleagues; I am joined by Gautam Kumra. He is the managing partner of McKinsey in India. I am joined by Anu Madgavkar. She is a partner with McKinsey Global Institute based in India. And also, I am joined by Shirish Sankhe, senior partner out of Mumbai, who advises on urbanization and economic growth in India and more broadly, across Asia. So, ladies and gentlemen, let’s just warm up a little bit. Let’s talk about your experiences over the last six months. Give one positive outcome or reflection from the COVID-19 era over the last months that we’ve learnt. Gautam, do you want to start us off?

Gautam Kumra: Yeah. Do you want a positive start? I think I would say, Oliver, I’ve been struck, and even I was positively surprised by the resilience. I think the resilience of the country, of its people, and of our colleagues, have been impressed by how ... it’s not been easy, but I’ve been impressed by how people have found ways to operate and be at least reasonably effective in these few months. That would be my reflection.

How to Save Kabul From Saigon’s Fate

America has entered its 20th year of fighting in Afghanistan without victory. With a major troop drawdown imminent, many of the generals who failed to win are now well-positioned to prevent a disastrous defeat.

In a swift response to the 9/11 attacks, the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan shattered al Qaeda, driving its remnants into neighboring Pakistan. But then President George W. Bush decided to build Afghanistan into a democracy.

The generals enthusiastically took on an open-ended mission: “Soldiers and Marines are expected to be nation-builders as well as war-fighters,” decreed the 2006 counterinsurgency field manual. Grunts, however, soon learned they couldn’t win the hearts and minds of semiliterate tribesmen or stop the Taliban from using its Pakistani sanctuary to rearm. Still, our generals remained confident.

President Obama took office declaring that Afghanistan was “a war that we have to win.” But after making scant progress, he pulled out most U.S. troops. Mr. Trump further reduced U.S. forces to roughly 5,000, while greatly increasing the bombing.

The RCEP Signing and Its Implications

by Joshua Kurlantzick

Over the weekend, fifteen Asian states, including China, signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The deal, midwifed by China and promoted for years by Beijing, includes both close Chinese partners like Cambodia as well as countries with cold relations with Beijing, like Australia and Japan. Overall, RCEP will create the most populous trade area in the world, and it joins together several of the largest economies in the world, like China, Japan, and South Korea. It provides a major signal to investors that the region is still committed to multilateral trade integration.

In addition, with the United States absent from regional economic integration for the past four years, after the Trump administration pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) early in its term, RCEP is a publicity coup for Beijing. And China desperately needed such a coup: across the region, countries still remain angry at how Beijing concealed the initial COVID-19 outbreak, and are also angry at how China has continued to push its territorial claims even as the pandemic hobbles many regional states.

DOD Announces Rare Earth Element Awards to Strengthen Domestic Industrial Base

As part of the U.S. government’s strategy to ensure secure and reliable supplies of critical minerals under Executive Order 13817, today the Department of Defense is announcing contracts and agreements with several rare earth element producers which will strengthen the domestic rare earths supply chain. Three of the awards were made under the authorities of Title III of the Defense Production Act (DPA).

MP Materials, who owns the largest rare earth element mining operation outside of China, has been awarded a DPA Title III technology investment agreement to establish domestic processing capabilities for light rare earth elements (LREE). LREEs are critical to numerous defense and commercial applications, including petroleum refining, glass additives, and magnets used in electric vehicle drivetrain motors and precision-guided munitions. Upon successful completion of this project, MP Materials will refine its current mixed rare earth concentrate production, which represents approximately 12 percent of global rare earth oxide content, into separated rare earth products at its site in Mountain Pass, California. 

Under the technology investment agreement with MP Materials, the Department of Defense will contribute $9.6M to MP Materials’ effort to add value-add processing and separation capabilities to the Mountain Pass operations. MP Materials has recently announced a definitive agreement to transition to a publicly held company through a merger with Fortress Value Acquisition Corp, a special purpose acquisition company sponsored by an affiliate of Fortress Investment Group LLC. 

A President Looks Back on His Toughest Fight

Barack Obama

Our first spring in the White House arrived early. As the weather warmed, the South Lawn became almost like a private park to explore. There were acres of lush grass ringed by massive, shady oaks and elms and a tiny pond tucked behind the hedges, with the handprints of Presidential children and grandchildren pressed into the paved pathway that led to it. There were nooks and crannies for games of tag and hide-and-go-seek, and there was even a bit of wildlife—not just squirrels and rabbits but a red-tailed hawk and a slender, long-legged fox that occasionally got bold enough to wander down the colonnade.

Cooped up as we’d been through the winter of 2009, we took full advantage of the new back yard. We had a swing set installed for Sasha and Malia directly in front of the Oval Office. Looking up from a late-afternoon meeting on this or that crisis, I might glimpse the girls playing outside, their faces set in bliss as they soared high on the swings.

By the Way, Donald Trump Could Still Launch Nuclear Weapons at Any Time

Garrett M. Graff

The nation is entering a particularly dangerous period of Donald Trump’s presidency. Still refusing to concede his election loss and angrily tweeting at all hours of the night, Trump faces the dwindling days of his administration, with all the authorities of the office intact and nothing left to lose. Among the authorities he’ll retain until his final minutes in office? The awesome and awful power to launch the United States’ nuclear arsenal on command.

Joe Biden’s World Order


TEL AVIV – In less than four years, outgoing US President Donald Trump has achieved what, historically, only devastating wars had done: recast the global order. With his isolationism, wannabe authoritarianism, and sheer capriciousness, Trump gleefully took a sledgehammer to the international institutions and multilateral organizations his predecessors had built from the ashes of World War II and maintained ever since. What now?

The European Union cannot afford to compromise on the rule-of-law provisions it applies to the funds it allocates to member states. How the EU responds to the challenge to those provisions now posed by Hungary and Poland will determine whether it survives as an open society true to the values upon which it was founded. 0Add to Bookmarks

Many hope that, when President-elect Joe Biden takes over, liberal international arrangements can be salvaged, and even renewed. That would certainly be desirable. Unfortunately, it is an unrealistic hope. A post-Trump order appears to be more about a return to the inter-bloc competition of 1945 than to post-Cold War liberal euphoria.

The Art of Diplomacy: Museums and Soft Power

Marcie M. Muscat

At its most basic, power represents ‘the ability to do things and control others, to get others to do what they otherwise would not.’ So wrote Joseph Nye in his foundational study on the shifting contours of American power at the end of the cold war (Nye 1990: 154). Nye, importantly, spoke to an alternative, or ‘soft,’ form of power that lies in attracting others willingly to your position by fostering in them empathy or envy, self-identification or aspiration. Culture both high and low reflects a society’s meaning and signals its values, which together with its practices and policies comprise its core soft-power resources (Nye 2008, pp. 95–96). As stewards of culture, museums have potential to broker in international soft power, working alongside or in partnership with institutions and governments to influence broad-based, positive change. Yet museum practice traditionally has been regarded as ulterior or tangential to the formal realm of international relations. By harnessing their existing soft-power resources and embracing their latent influence on the international system, museums have the potential to be powerful agents of change, using their unique strengths and comparative advantage to address the most daunting global challenges.

Scoop: State Department to release Kennan-style paper on China

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian

The U.S. State Department's Office of Policy Planning is set to release a blueprint for America’s response to China’s rise as an authoritarian superpower, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The lengthy document calls for strong alliances and rejuvenation of constitutional democracy. Axios obtained a copy.
The unclassified paper, called "The Elements of the China Challenge," draws inspiration from an influential article published in 1947 by the policy planning team’s founder, U.S. diplomat George Kennan, in which he introduced the idea of containment as a strategy to deal with the Soviet Union.

Details: The document, which is more than 70 pages long, examines the Chinese Communist Party's harmful conduct and its ideological sources, the vulnerabilities China faces, and how the U.S. and its allies should respond.

China versus Democracy


Whether due to the COVID-19 pandemic that began in Wuhan, China, or thanks to Beijing’s increasingly intimidating, if not aggressive, behavior in recent years, one of the more dramatic shifts in global opinion has started a long-overdue reconsideration of the liberal world’s relationship to the People’s Republic of China. In addition to a raft of high-level policy statements from the Trump administration, including the 2017 National Security Strategy, the 2019 Department of Defense Indo-Pacific Strategy report, and the 2020 “United States Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China,” a number of independent reports have been tracking Beijing’s predatory and threatening policies, whether in economics, security, or civil society. After decades of turning the other cheek to Beijing’s abuse of the free world’s open societies, all in order to maintain trade relations that themselves were turning increasingly one-sided, liberal states have begun the process of recalibrating their ties to China.

This is no easy task for America or other states, after nearly a half-century of engagement. How to reduce supply chain vulnerability without crashing current manufacturing models, how to support Taiwan and Hong Kong in the face of Beijing’s aggressive actions, whether to keep admitting hundreds of thousands of Chinese students to American universities, how to keep doing business with Chinese firms while defending rampant theft of intellectual property, the “to do” list goes on and on.

Winners, Losers and Absentees in Nagorno Karabakh

Nathalie Tocci and Nona Mikhelidze

For all the talk about a new geopolitics in the Caucasus, made up of Turkish drones and Syrian jihadis, Iranian mediation and the clash of civilisations, war between Armenia and Azerbaijan has ended as unilaterally as it gets. It did so not only because of Azerbaijan’s military victory over Armenia, reversing its defeat twenty-six years earlier, but also and perhaps most significantly because the only geopolitical game in town is now almost entirely in Moscow’s hands.

After close to three decades of fragile ceasefire that put an end to the 1988-1994 war in which Armenia seized from neighbouring Azerbaijan the Armenian-populated Nagorno Karabakh as well as seven adjacent regions, war resumed between the two countries on 27 September 2020. It was a war that was long in the waiting. Azerbaijan never digested its defeat, and spent most of the last three decades – notably during the golden days of oil hovering around one hundred dollars per barrel – arming itself to the teeth. Azerbaijan modernised its army with state-of-the-art weaponry, imported notably from Israel as well as Russia. No one was under the illusion that its military spending was defensive in nature.

Trump Administration Plans to Designate Yemen’s Houthis as Terrorists

Robbie Gramer, Jack Detsch

The Trump administration is preparing to designate Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi insurgents a terrorist organization before leaving office in January, fueling fears the move will disrupt international aid efforts and upend United Nations-brokered peace efforts between the Shiite movement and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government, according to several diplomatic sources.

The U.N. and international relief agencies have tried to dissuade the Trump administration from designating the Houthis a foreign terrorist organization, but the apparently imminent decision would give U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo another victory in his anti-Iran strategy as he visits Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates this week. Riyadh, which has been at war with the Houthis for over five years, has already designated the Houthis a terrorist organization and has been urging Washington to do the same.

Ending the Yemen war is both a strategic and humanitarian imperative

John R. Allen and Bruce Riedel

Saudi Arabia ostensibly started the war in Yemen to prevent Iran from acquiring a foothold on the Arabian Peninsula overlooking the strategic Bab al Mandab straits. Almost six years later, the war has in fact given Iran just that — plus created the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world. The Biden-Harris administration should make ending the war an urgent priority for both strategic and humanitarian reasons.

Saudi Arabia led a coalition of states to intervene in Yemen’s civil war in 2015 when the Houthi rebels agreed to allow direct flights between Sana’a and Tehran, as well as Iranian access to the port of Hodeidah. The Zaydi Shia Muslim Houthis have had contacts with Iran and its client Hezbollah for decades. In 2015, the Iranians and Hezbollah had only dozens of advisers and experts in Yemen, and had trained a handful of Houthis in Iran and Lebanon.

Now their presence is much larger and they provide critical expertise and equipment to assist the Houthi missile and drone program that keeps up a steady fire on Saudi cities and military bases. Despite the Saudi blockade and American interception efforts, the Iranians are steadily getting aid to the rebels. This costs Iran a pittance compared to the tens of billions the Saudis have spent on the war, which is a very expensive quagmire for Riyadh. An additional cost has been to U.S. prestige under the Trump administration for continuing to support the war, even when there was no congressional support for it and many in the international community condemned us for it.

Turkey and Ukraine Boost Mutual Defense Ties

By: Can Kasapoglu

Turkey and Ukraine have been building the pillars of a promising defense cooperation partnership for some time. The two countries currently engage in joint endeavors in game-changing military areas such as drone warfare, aerospace engines and missile technology. Following the October 16–17 summit between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine, Turkish-Ukrainian strategic ties look poised to bring about a new geopolitical reality in the Black Sea region.

The most notable current area of cooperation between Turkey and Ukraine is in unmanned aerial systems (UAS). Turkey’s forthcoming high-end combat drone, the Akinci (the Raider), was notably powered by Ukraine’s Ivachenko-Progress AI-450T turboprop engines during its prototype test flights. Produced by Baykar Company—the maker of the famed “Pantsir-hunter” Bayraktar TB-2 UAS—the Akinci will mark a true leap forward for the Turkish arsenal thanks to its advanced sensors and available weapons systems, an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and air-launched cruise missiles, respectively (Baykarsavunma.com, accessed November 9). Last year, Baykar boosted its defense industrial cooperation with Ukraine by establishing a joint venture, Black Sea Shield, with Ukrspetsexport, a member of the state military-technical conglomerate Ukroboronprom. The Black Sea Shield program covers a broad cooperation agenda, including aerospace engines and missile technology (see EDM, February 12; Baykardefence.com, accessed November 9).

President-Elect Biden’s Agenda on Technology and Innovation Policy

Robert D. Atkinson, Doug Brake, Daniel Castro, Nigel Cory, Stephen Ezell

Technological innovation has long been and will continue to be critically important to per-capita income growth, economic competitiveness, and national security. So it is important to examine President-elect Joe Biden’s policy agenda through that lens.

This report compiles information from the president-elect’s campaign website and policy documents, from the Democratic Party platform, and from media accounts of statements he has made. The report begins with an overview of the general philosophy the president-elect has articulated on tech and innovation policy, and then examines his policy positions and likely initiatives across 10 issue areas:

Innovation and Research and Development

Digital Economy


Education and Skills



Samuel Visner, Scott C. Kordella

Protection of satellites and ground systems against cyber-attack is necessary to ensure safe operations in the space sector. Protection will be required for both the command segments of and workloads served by a rapidly proliferating constellation of new, largely commercial satellites, numbering possibly in the tens of thousands. Effective and commercially viable cyber protection strategies are required that can be updated regularly to meet changing threats.

Cyber protection strategies have been developed in other (non-space) sectors using collaborative processes, which has resulted in more secure systems. This paper describes some of the cyber protection work in other sectors, the collaborative processes used to develop viable cyber protection solutions, the solutions themselves that have been identified and are being used, and the lessons-learned from their use, resulting in a set of ‘best-practices’ in these sectors. The processes used in these domains to develop these strategies can be applied to the space domain, with similar expected results and best practices for space systems.

Wearable Sensor Technology and Potential Uses Within Law Enforcement

by Sean E. Goodison, Jeremy D. Barnum, Michael J. D. Vermeer

Many wearable sensor technology (WST) devices on the market enable individuals and organizations to track and monitor personal health metrics in real time. These devices are worn by the user and contain sensors to capture various biomarkers. Although these technologies are not yet sufficiently developed for law enforcement purposes overall, WSTs continue to advance rapidly and offer the potential to equip law enforcement officers and agencies with data to improve officer safety, health, and wellness.

The RAND Corporation and the Police Executive Research Forum, on behalf of the National Institute of Justice, organized a workshop of practitioners, researchers, and developers to discuss the current state of WST and how it might be applied by law enforcement organizations. Workshop participants discussed possible issues with acceptance of WST among members of law enforcement; new policies that will be necessary if and when WST is introduced in a law enforcement setting; and what data are gathered, how these data are collected, and how they are interpreted and used.

The Internet of Bodies Will Change Everything, for Better or Worse

Ross Compton was there when a fire ravaged his $400,000 home in Middletown, Ohio, in September 2016. Fortunately, Compton told investigators, he was able to stuff a few bags with several possessions—including the charger for an external heart pump he needed to survive—before shattering a window with his cane and escaping.

But as the smoke cleared, police began to suspect that Compton's story was a fabrication.

His statements were inconsistent. The rubble smelled of gasoline. And it seemed implausible that someone fleeing a burning house—especially someone with a medical condition like Compton's—could execute such a complex escape plan.

Eventually, investigators were able to indict Compton on felony charges of aggravated arson and insurance fraud. Their star witness? His pacemaker.

Police obtained a warrant to retrieve data on Compton's heart activity before, during, and after the fire. After reviewing this information, a cardiologist concluded that it was “highly improbable” Compton would've been able to escape the flames so quickly, while lugging so many belongings.

Fighter aircraft will soon get AI pilots

CLASSIC DOGFIGHTS, in which two pilots match wits and machines to shoot down their opponent with well-aimed gunfire, are a thing of the past. Guided missiles have seen to that, and the last recorded instance of such combat was 32 years ago, near the end of the Iran-Iraq war, when an Iranian F-4 Phantom took out an Iraqi Su-22 with its 20mm cannon.

But memory lingers, and dogfighting, even of the simulated sort in which the laws of physics are substituted by equations running inside a computer, is reckoned a good test of the aptitude of a pilot in training. And that is also true when the pilot in question is, itself, a computer program. So, when America’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an adventurous arm of the Pentagon, considered the future of air-to-air combat and the role of artificial intelligence (AI) within that future, it began with basics that Manfred von Richthofen himself might have approved of.

Learn By Losing: Give AI To OPFOR First


WASHINGTON: Drones have decimated conventional armored forces from Ukraine to the Caucasus in regional conflicts. Should the US let its soldiers experience such disasters first-hand before the battle to inoculate them against real-life defeats and teach them the power of remotely operated weapons in a way they’ll never forget?

As a young officer, one senior general told an Army Futures Command conference this morning, some of his most powerful learning experiences came from losing against the elite Opposing Force (OPFOR) at the National Training Center.

“I learned … only because I got tired of going out to Fort Irwin and getting my rear end handed to me every time,” the general said. (Media were allowed to cover the conference as long as we didn’t identify individual speakers, to facilitate this kind of candid discussion). “Sometimes, the forced learning is the best way to begin.”

‘Drone Vision’: Precision Ethics Theory and the Royal Air Force’s use of Drones

James Greenhalgh

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles, otherwise known as UAVs or drones, has been the cause of huge global criticism as technological security heads into a new decade. Western powers, including Britain have come to favour drones in combat situations in order to minimise the risk of both soldier casualties and collateral damage on the ground. According to defense secretary Gavin Williamson, the government intends to invest £7 million on a brand-new drone squadron after leaving the European Union in order to strengthen its global presence and enhance our lethality[1]. But to what extent do these ‘lethal’ drones contribute to a more precise and more ethical type of warfare? We often regard the use of drones as part of the natural progression in the technological modernisation of warfare. Thus, so long as they have the ‘intention’ of destroying IS militants, the general public consensus of drones used by the military is quite passive. During this essay, precision ethics theory will be used to help discuss various cases in which the Royal Air Force (RAF) has deployed drones, focusing mainly on Iraq and Syria. In particular Reyaad Khan, a British national IS militant who was organising a terrorist attack on Britain. 

The British Army is Looking to Use Drones to Ambush The Enemy

by Peter Suciu

Earlier this month, the UK's Chief of Defence, Gen. Sir Nick Carter suggested that the British Army could fill out its ranks with "robot soldiers." The deployment of robots could address the recruitment shortfalls that the UK has faced in recent years, but could also give its forces an edge in combating the enemy.

One area where small autonomous vehicles could potentially play a large role is in being force multipliers.

Last month the UK's Ministry of Defence showcased new high-tech equipment including the Nano Bug mini drone that can fit in the palm of a soldier's hand. It can travel at speeds of up to 50mph and provides the troops on the ground with a bird's eye view of the battlefield.

It can send information to the soldiers on the ground but also link to the larger ground-based X3 unmanned autonomous vehicle, which has a speed of 12.4mph and a range of 1.2 miles. The X3 can be linked with other vehicles and drones, which can share information along a chain up to 15 miles long. This could ensure that infantry as well as armored vehicles avoid entering a battlefield until it has been properly scouted.

America, Beware: Russia and China's Nukes Are Becoming More Dangerous

by Kris Osborn

Here's What You Need to Know: Russia’s addition of new low-yield tactical nuclear weapons is putting pressure on the United States.

The U.S. must massively “revise” its nuclear weapons-oriented 21st-Century Strategic Deterrence Theory to reinvigorate its arsenal of current and future weapons of mass destruction as a way to stay in front of fast-modernizing rivals, the Commander of U.S. Strategic Command said. 

Adm. Charles Richard told a prominent think tank that the U.S. must quickly and efficiently prepare to face two major nuclear-armed rivals in the coming years, citing Chinese and Russian nuclear-weapons modernization as well as fast-emerging threats posed by North Korea and Iran. 

Having not faced a major nuclear rival in decades, the U.S. needs to fortify and strengthen its deterrence posture through the construction of new nuclear-weapons and maintenance of current systems, Richard said, according to a Pentagon report. 

How Do You Fend off Swarms of Drones? The U.S. Military Has Some Ideas

by Kris Osborn

Here's What You Need to Remember: Certain small drones can hit speeds of 60-to-70 miles per hour, and some are small enough to fit in the palm of the hand. Swarms of these can be dispatched to cover an area with ISR and build-in redundancy so a mission can continue if one is destroyed.

Swarms of enemy drones approaching a forward operating base or groups of dismounted soldiers present a unique and increasingly challenging threat. Enemy drones can blanket areas with surveillance, test enemy defenses, jam communications and even themselves become explosives to attack targets. 

The variety of uses of small drones, and the guidance systems which direct them, can be very difficult to defend against, a reality inspiring the current Air Force effort to solicit new ideas on ways to destroy them. The Air Force recently released a Request for Information (RFI) to industry, asking for new innovations able to counter small enemy drones. 

Certain small drones can hit speeds of 60-to-70 miles per hour, and some are small enough to fit in the palm of the hand. Swarms of these can be dispatched to cover an area with ISR and build-in redundancy so a mission can continue if one is destroyed.