3 December 2020

Why India Is So Close To Russia’s Navy

By Peter Suciu

Even as the United States and India have moved closer as international partners, and conducted joint naval exercises, last month in the Indian Ocean, New Delhi clearly maintained a neutral stance on the global stage. Just days after completing the joint Malabar 2020 exercises with the United States Navy, as well as the navies of Australia and Japan, the Indian Navy has announced that it may hold joint drills in the Black Sea with Russia.

“During a meeting of the Indian military delegation led by Naval Attache at the Embassy of the Republic of India in Russia Commodore Manish Chadha with Baltic Fleet Commander Admiral Alexander Nosatov, the Indian side expressed its wish to hold joint drills of the fleets of both countries in the Baltic Sea and take part in the events of celebrating Russia’s Navy Day in 2021,” the Russian Navy’s Baltic Fleet’s press office said in a statement.

According to Tass, the representatives who were in attendance at the meeting also discussed bilateral naval cooperation and joint drills. The Baltic Fleet commander commented on the Indian naval sailors’ high skills demonstrated during the Indra-2019 Russian-Indian naval anti-piracy maneuvers held in the Indian Ocean in December of last year.


By Scott Worden

A rapid, unconditional U.S. exit puts the peace process and the gains Afghanistan has made in the last 20 years into serious jeopardy.

The Taliban’s tactic of running out the clock on the U.S. troop presence may bear fruit after the announcement on Tuesday that U.S. forces will reduce to 2,500 by January 15. The Trump administration successfully created leverage by engaging directly with the Taliban to meet their paramount goal of a U.S. withdrawal in exchange for genuine peace talks and counterterrorism guarantees. This strategy brought about unprecedented negotiations between Afghan government representatives and the Taliban in Doha. A walk down a conditions-based path to peace, long and winding as it may be, had begun. 

But at each step along the way, the U.S. government made concessions in the form of accelerated troop reductions with seemingly little of value in return. As the current administration’s term winds down, plans for a troop withdrawal have sped up again, and the Taliban’s dream of biding its time until the United States leaves moves closer to reality. If the current trajectory continues, they can anticipate retaining their military capability to continue battling the Afghan government without taking difficult steps to eliminate al-Qaida safe havens.

Understanding the Australian Inquiry into ADF War Crimes in Afghanistan

By Alexandra Koch, Rohini Kurup, Tia Sewell

The inspector general of the Australian Defense Force (ADF) released on Nov. 19 a report on its inquiry into allegations of serious misconduct by Australian special forces in Afghanistan, including accusations of war crimes. The report paints a brutal picture of the Australian special forces’ conduct in Afghanistan as part of the American-led military coalition that has been active in the country since 2001.

The details given in the report—the few that were made visible to the public, that is—evoked international shock and elicited graphic headlines such as the New York Times’s “Blood Lust and Demigods: Behind an Australian Force’s Slaughter of Helpless Afghans.”

It’s a huge document: 531 pages, although littered with redactions. And as the Times notes, “It is the first time that a member of the American-led coalition in Afghanistan has so publicly, and at such a large scale, accused its troops of wrongdoing.” So what’s in the report, and what steps led to its coming to fruition? 

Beijing Takes Its South China Sea Strategy to the Himalayas

Steven Lee Myers

Just in time for its National Day in October, China completed construction of a new village high in the mountains where the Chinese region of Tibet meets the kingdom of Bhutan. A hundred people moved into two dozen new homes beside the Torsa River and celebrated the holiday by raising China’s flag and singing the national anthem.

“Each of us is a coordinate of the great motherland,” a border guard was quoted as saying by an official state news agency, China Tibetan News.

The problem is, these new “coordinates” are more than a mile inside what Bhutan considers its territory.

The construction, documented in satellite photos, followed a playbook China has used for years. It has brushed aside neighbors’ claims of sovereignty to cement its position in territorial disputes by unilaterally changing the facts on the ground.

The Utility and Morality of Assassination

By George Friedman

The head of the Iranian nuclear weapons program was killed Friday near Tehran. The assumption is that he was killed by the Israelis, whose motive was to cripple the Iranian nuclear weapons program by killing the one man who was most critical to its success. It might well have been the Israelis, but there are a significant number of other countries that do not want to see Iran with nuclear weapons. The United States is one such country, but several Arab countries feel the same. The Russians might not be thrilled with a nuclear-armed Iran to their south; Tehran and Moscow are friendly now, but adversaries change and nuclear weapons are essentially forever. That said, it is reasonable to assume it was the Israelis, since, given Iran’s views, they had the most at stake.

Assassination is not easy. It carries the risk of failure and of retaliation. It is a rational move only in two cases: as a deterrent to frighten an organization or state into changing policy, or when the killing of one person would be decisive in blocking an unwanted development. I will focus on the second category, which appears to describe the attack in Iran. The head of a nuclear weapons program might be a genius, or he might simply be a placeholder, shuffling papers, and his death might achieve nothing. To be a worthwhile target, he must in some sense be irreplaceable. There should not be a cohort of young geniuses the target has nurtured over the years, ready to take his place. The assassination must have a significant impact on a threat to be worth the effort, the risks and the consequences of failure and retaliation.

Arab Spring: the first smartphone revolution

Social media and smartphones briefly gave youthful Arab Spring protesters a technological edge that helped topple ageing dictatorships a decade ago as their revolutionary spirit went viral.

Regimes across North Africa and the Middle East were caught flat-footed as the fervour of the popular uprisings spread at the speed of the internet via Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

Unfortunately for the pro-democracy movements, autocratic states have since caught up in the digital arms race, adding cyber surveillance, online censorship and troll armies to their arsenals.

While the so-called Arab Spring offered a brief glimmer of hope for many, it ended with even more repressive regimes in most countries and devastating, ongoing wars in Syria, Libya and Yemen.

Why the Assassination of a Scientist Will Have No Impact on Iran’s Nuclear Program

Robin Wright

The roadside assassination, last week, of the Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was an elaborate intelligence operation that 

On Friday, the Muslim holy day, he was reportedly travelling with his wife, in a black Nissan sedan, from Tehran to visit his in-laws in Absard, a town famed for its apple and cherry orchards, about forty-five miles away. Highways around the capital are notoriously clogged, but travel restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 crisis have meant far less traffic. As Fakhrizadeh’s car neared a roundabout, a blue pickup truck parked near an electricity transmitter opened fire on the car and then exploded, cutting off local power, including to a nearby clinic; roadside cameras were disabled. One account claimed that a dozen gunmen—one group jumped out of a parked S.U.V. and another arrived on motorcycles, while snipers were hidden nearby—opened fire. A separate account, by Fars, the nation’s semi-official news agency, reported that all the fire came from the pickup truck, which was remote-controlled. Fars claimed that there were no human assailants at the scene; the whole operation took three minutes, the agency said. Both accounts said that Fakhrizadeh, hit multiple times, fell out of his car and bled out on the ground. The Iranian media released photos of the bullet-riddled car and the blood stream. By the time a rescue helicopter got Fakhrizadeh to Tehran, he was dead.

South Korea Matters More to the United States Than North Korea’s Nukes

By S. Nathan Park

In the last four years, despite outgoing President Donald Trump’s boasts, the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear arsenal has become greater than ever. But the incoming Biden administration should not be blinkered by a singular focus on North Korea leader Kim Jong Un’s weapons, because the most important change in the peninsula has been happening on the southern side of the DMZ. In a world where China is now the main foreign-policy challenge for the United States, South Korea emerged as an indispensable U.S. ally, with the potential to play the role that West Germany did during the height of the Cold War. The time has come for the United States to reorder its priorities in the Korean Peninsula: Rather than treating South Korea as a part of the solution for the North, Washington must treat the U.S.-South Korean alliance as a standalone concern, and seek to leverage the alliance to establish a rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific region.

To be sure, North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is a serious matter. But take away the weapons, and North Korea is the same country that it has been since 1973, when President-elect Joe Biden became a senator: an isolated and impoverished country whose sole importance in the world comes from the harm that it causes to its own people and the potential harm it may cause to its neighbors.

Biden’s Environmental Agenda Must Go Beyond Climate Change

Stewart M. Patrick

Joe Biden’s appointment of John Kerry as his special envoy for climate change signals the U.S. president-elect’s determination to place the fight against global warming, at long last, at the center of U.S. foreign and national security policy. His efforts to save the global environment should not stop there, however. Beyond climate change, the planet is experiencing a historically unprecedented collapse in biodiversity, undermining the countless benefits humanity gets from nature. To slow this disastrous loss of species and ecosystems, the incoming administration should spearhead a multilateral effort to reverse the multiple drivers of global ecological degradation, which go well beyond Earth’s rising temperatures.

After four years of catastrophic U.S. disengagement under outgoing President Donald Trump, Biden has pledged not only to restore U.S. climate leadership but also to accelerate the decarbonization of the U.S. and global economies. Biden’s determination to put “climate change on the agenda in the situation room” and mainstream these concerns across all Cabinet departments are welcome departures not just from Trump’s disastrous legacy, but also from the stove-piped treatment of climate action under previous administrations.

Biden Has Many Good Choices at SecDef


When President-Elect Joe Biden announced his foreign policy team last week, one post was conspicuously absent: Defense Secretary. It had almost universally been assumed that Michèle Flournoy would be the pick, but reports began to surface that progressive activists were opposing her for a variety of reasons; that Black leaders, most notably House Majority Whip James Clyburn, were pushing for one of their own in light of their role in securing the nomination and election for Biden; and that the president-elect himself was looking for someone with whom he had a more comfortable working relationship.

Almost immediately, an outpouring of support for Flournoy arose on Twitter and the op-ed pages from those who had worked for her. At least a dozen women offered heartfelt testimony about her tireless mentoring and sheer decency as a leader—and many men rushed in to note that she mentored them, too. Numerous open letters and statements from current and former officials were pushed out to urge her appointment.

The combination of the weakness of the progressive critiques and the outpouring of support from people I trust and admire has persuaded me that Flournoy would indeed make an outstanding choice.

Is Turkey gearing up for military move against Syrian Kurds?

Fehim Tastekin

A fresh Turkish military buildup is underway in the northern Syrian region of Ain Issa, north of Raqqa, around the key M-4 highway, raising the specter of another Turkish thrust to curb the Syrian Kurds. 

Military vehicles, heavy weaponry, radars and remote surveillance equipment have been stationed in areas that form the line of contact with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). According to Kurdish sources, the Turkish military and allied rebel groups have set up military posts at the village of Saida, north of Ain Issa, as well as around Tell Tamer and Zirkan. In early November, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Turkish forces had been stationed also at Kaffifa, Ain Rummana, Tina and Al-Rabea, all near the M-4 highway.

Mervan Rojava, the head of the media office of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the backbone of the SDF, told Al-Monitor that Turkish forces had set up a watchtower with surveillance cameras and snipers at Saida, a deserted village just north of M4. Rojava recalled that the M4 had effectively become a separation line between Turkish forces and the SDF after Turkey seized control of the border stretch from Tell Abyad to Ras al-Ain in Operation Peace Spring in October 2019. “The Turkish military has been setting up military bases and digging trenches along the separation strip at sites just several hundred meters from the highway,” he said.

Turkey’s Demographic Games Come to the Caucasus

by Michael Rubin

STEPANAKERT, NAGORNO-KARABAKH—For much of Europe and the Middle East, the refugee crisis in Syria was a human tragedy. Syrian children sell chewing gum in the streets of Mosul and pick produce on farms in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Jordanian television highlights the plight of refugee girls who once dreamed of becoming doctors or lawyers taken as second wives in order to escape refugee camps. Syrians board rickety boats and rafts in a desperate attempt to reach Europe. Some do, but many don’t make it.

Turkey hosts the most Syrian refugees of any country and, to Turkey’s credit, the country and its people have dedicated substantial resources to their health and well-being. Where others see tragedy, however, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sees opportunity. Not only has he weaponized the threat of dumps of refugees on European shores in order to blackmail Europe into greater diplomatic concessions, but he has also used the predominantly Sunni refugees to wage demographic warfare against Turkish minorities whose identities Erdoğan resents or seeks to dilute. According to Turkish parliamentarians and provincial officials, Erdoğan’s top authorities offer Sunni Syrian Arabs an opportunity both to avoid refugee camps and to gain the privileges of Turkish citizenship so long as they settle either in predominantly Alevi areas in Hatay or in Kurdish towns and villages in southeastern Turkey. In both cases, Erdoğan’s goals are simple: utilize Sunni Islamists to dilute minority populations or tip the balance in close-held districts to his own party.

Israel’s Azerbaijan Mistake

by Michael Rubin

STEPANAKERT, NAGORNO-KARABAKH—Armenia’s defeat in the 45-day Nagorno-Karabakh War was largely the result of its forfeiting dominance over the skies. Armenia does not have Azerbaijan’s vast oil wealth. Its economy remains strangled by a Turkish and Azerbaijani land blockade. That economic reality influenced Armenia’s military strategy to focus on parity with Azerbaijan’s ground forces. Azerbaijan’s air force, after all, both small and equipped with legacy Soviet Sukhoi-25s, MiG-21s and MiG-24s. Nagorno-Karabakh’s topography, meanwhile, resembles Switzerland. Even with smaller ground forces, the Armenians believed they could hold the higher ground. It was a fatal miscalculation. Not only did Azerbaijan augment its air force with Turkish F-16s, but its purchase and use of dozens of Israeli kamikaze and surveillance drones tipped the balance of the war against Armenia.

Israelis may justify their relationship with Azerbaijan in realpolitik consideration: In its crudest terms, it is a relationship based on a weapons-for-energy calculation. Jerusalem sold Baku billions of dollars’ worth of top-shelf military equipment, and Israel received almost half of its oil needs from Azerbaijan. The long-term detriment to ties may soon surpass any short-term gains, however.

Russia Now Has A Position In Libya: What Next? – Analysis

By Dylan Yachyshen*

(FPRI) — The Russian state-affiliated private military company known as the Wagner Group has proven adept at leveraging instability or weak institutions to further Russian influence abroad. Throughout 2020, the Russian Federation and Wagner have worked to support and enable Khalifa Khaftar, a warlord fighting against the Government of National Accord (GNA), the United Nations-recognized government in Libya, to consolidate territory. Mimicking its actions in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Sudan, Wagner has established bases and deployed troops that help Khaftar further Russian interests in North Africa. In times of diminished U.S. leadership, Khaftar’s position in Libya will allow Wagner and the Russian state to take advantage of the instability plaguing the region, specifically the Sahel, and potentially result in a Russian naval base on the Mediterranean.
The Libyan Civil War

Civil war has wracked Libya since 2014, after a 2011 intervention by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) led to the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. The conflict soon attracted the attention of regional powers, with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) backing Khaftar in the oil-rich east with weapons and money, seeing him as a strident anti-Islamist. Turkey, meanwhile, emerged as a vociferous supporter of the GNA in Tripoli, ostensibly wanting to support a Muslim Brotherhood-friendly government, but motivated by underlying Mediterranean energy politics.

Data From 45 Countries Show Containing COVID Vs Saving The Economy Is A False Dichotomy

by Michael Smithson

There is no doubt the COVID-19 crisis has incurred widespread economic costs. There is understandable concern that stronger measures against the virus, from social distancing to full lockdowns, worsen its impact on economies.

As a result, there has been a tendency to consider the problem as a trade-off between health and economic costs.

This view, for example, has largely defined the approach of the US federal government. US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in June, as the Trump administration resisted calls to decisively combat the nation’s second COVID wave:

“I think we’ve learned that if you shut down the economy, you’re going to create more damage."

The Race to Make Vials for Coronavirus Vaccines

An old story about glass goes something like this: A glassmaker, presenting his wares to the Roman emperor Tiberius, handed over a bowl for inspection. After studying it, Tiberius returned the bowl to the man, who promptly hurled it to the ground. Rather than smash to pieces, the glass merely dented; it had been fashioned from a substance that the ancients called 

At Corning’s Sullivan Park laboratory, engineers use platinum-lined ceramic crucibles to test new ideas in high-temperature furnaces, heating silica compounds to thirteen hundred degrees.

The story was, as the historian Pliny wrote, “more widely spread than well authenticated.” But it captures an aspiration nearly as old as glass itself: to create resilience in the fragile substance that results when hot silica fuses with other minerals. That aspiration now carries special importance. After many months in which the COVID-19 pandemic has brought misery to much of the world, new vaccines will soon be ready for distribution. Getting them to people who need them will require more than a billion vials to be manufactured, filled, and shipped, at top speed and in some cases under extreme stress. (Pfizer’s vaccine must be kept colder than ninety degrees below zero.) Under any circumstances, putting medicine into glass is a tricky business. Standard medical vials—made of borosilicate—often break as they’re filled, and just one damaged vial can ruin a batch of doses and stop a production line.

Offshore Wind Energy To Double

by Willem Roper

Wind and solar energy are quickly becoming one of the cheapest forms of energy across the world. This is leading to a booming growth in these two renewable energy industries, with several large carbon emitting countries vowing to expand renewable infrastructure in the coming decades to meet decarbonization efforts. Data on future global power expansion shows a potential giant leap forward in offshore wind production over the next five years.

In data collected by Bloomberg, an estimated 25 gigawatts of power capacity will be generated by offshore wind farms in the world during 2020. That’s expected to rapidly increase in the coming years, with total capacity predicted to more than double to 61 gigawatts by 2025. To put that amount of power into perspective, one gigawatt by itself contains enough energy to power 110 million LED lightbulbs. By 2025’s estimate, offshore wind farms will be contributing enough energy to power roughly 6.7 billion LEDs around the world.

Terrorism Monitor

Turkey’s ‘African Eagle’ Trains Turkish-Speaking Troops in Somalia: Where Next?

Central Asia’s Specter of Insecurity: The View from Badakhshan to Fergana

Islamic State-Khorasan’s Peshawar Seminary Attack and War Against Afghan Taliban Hanafi

The Race To Crack Battery Recycling—Before It’s Too Late

EVERY DAY, MILLIONS of lithium-ion batteries roll off the line at Tesla’s Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada. These cells, produced on site by Panasonic, are destined to be bundled together by the thousands in the battery packs of new Teslas. But not all the batteries are cut out for a life on the road. Panasonic ships truckloads of cells that don’t pass their qualification tests to a facility in Carson City, about a half hour’s drive south. This is the home of Redwood Materials, a small company founded in 2017 with an ambition to become the anti-Gigafactory, a place where batteries are cooked down into raw materials that will serve as the grist for new cells.

Redwood is part of a wave of new startups racing to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist yet: How to recycle the mountains of batteries from electric vehicles that are past their prime. Over the past decade, the world’s lithium-ion production capacity has increased tenfold to meet the growing demand for EVs. Now vehicles from that first production wave are just beginning to reach the end of their lifespan. This marks the beginning of a tsunami of spent batteries, which will only get worse as more electric cars hit the road. The International Energy Agency predicts an 800 percent increase in the number of EVs over the next decade, each car packed with thousands of cells. The dirty secret of the EV revolution is that it created an e-waste timebomb—and cracking lithium-ion recycling is the only way to defuse it.

Next Step in Government Data Tracking Is the Internet of Things

By Byron Tau

WASHINGTON—U. S. government agencies from the military to law enforcement have been buying up mobile-phone data from the private sector to use in gathering intelligence, monitoring adversaries and apprehending criminals.

Now, the U.S. Air Force is experimenting with the next step.

The Air Force Research Laboratory is testing a commercial software platform that taps mobile phones as a window onto usage of hundreds of millions of computers, routers, fitness trackers, modern automobiles and other networked devices, known collectively as the “Internet of Things.”

SignalFrame, a Washington, D.C.-based wireless technology company, has developed the capability to tap software embedded on as many as five million cellphones to determine the real-world location and identity of more than half a billion peripheral devices. The company has been telling the military its product could contribute to digital intelligence efforts that weave classified and unclassified data using machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Hacker Lexicon: What Is the Signal Encryption Protocol?

LAST WEEK, WITH little fanfare, Google announced a change that could soon make its 2 billion Android users worldwide far harder to surveil: The tech giant says it's rolling out a beta version of its Android messaging app that will now use end-to-end encryption by default. That level of encryption, while limited to one-on-one conversations, is designed to prevent anyone else from eavesdropping—not phone carriers, not intelligence agencies, not a hacker who has taken over the local Wi-Fi router, not even Google itself will have the keys to decrypt and read those billions of messages.

The news isn't just a win for global privacy. It's also a win for one particular encryption system: the Signal protocol, which is well on its way to accounting for a majority of the world's real-time text conversations. As this protocol becomes the de facto standard for encrypted messaging in most major services, it's worth understanding what sets it apart from other forms of end-to-end encrypted messaging.

The war with China, as I saw it

David Poyer

Ten years ago, as China’s rise accelerated, I sounded out several fellow authors of informed military fiction, proposing that we collaborate on a World War Three-style series about a new Pacific conflict. I would handle the action at sea, they the land, air, and space aspects. I thought such a series might serve as a warning, in the same way fiction had alerted us in advance of previous dangers.

They begged off, one saying there was zero possibility of such hostilities.

Unconvinced of that, I proceeded to craft “The War With China” on my own. This six-book series was published by St. Martins/Macmillan. It recounts how a near-future war might unfold, on land, at sea, in the air, in space, cyberspace, and on the all-important home front.

Today, a decade later, the likelihood of such a conflict is the topic of everyday discussion and, no doubt, of detailed planning. Force structures, acquisition, and training are all being hastily revised against just such a contingency.

Bitcoin is Near All-Time Highs and the Mainstream Doesn’t Care…Yet

By Niccolo Conte

Bitcoin Near All-Time Highs vs. Search Interest
Just about every financial asset saw a huge drop in March, but few have had the spectacular recovery that bitcoin has had since then.

Up more than 300% from the March lows, bitcoin is within $1,000 of its all-time high ($19,891) established three years ago. While 2017’s run-up saw a huge surge in Google searches, interest this time around is less than a quarter of what it was back then.

This graphic overlays bitcoin’s price changes against Google search interest for “bitcoin” between 2017-Nov 2020, showing the muted relative search interest for its recent rally. Despite Google search interest being low, it is turning upwards, potentially hinting at a rise to cap off 2020.



Is there a cure for disinformation, propaganda, and other offenses against the truth?

Twitter’s answer has been to add fact-checks to misleading statements, a move that has led to a showdown with President Donald Trump. While this fight has been framed as an issue of free speech, ancient Greek philosophers, who worried deeply about what “fake news” meant for their own societies, would say it’s much more profound and more urgent than that.

As technologically advanced as the fight between Twitter and Trump now seems, this dilemma is not new at all. The world’s very first democracies—in ancient Greece—had their own difficult debates about truth, knowledge, and democracy. If the ancient philosophers were alive today they would say this is no mere scuffle over Tweets, but a moment that asks us to make a fundamental choice about whether we want to live in a society that values the truth. The Athenians’ approach to this question shows why allowing propaganda and disinformation to stand, unquestioned and untested, could unravel democracy itself.