8 December 2020

Why Does India Lease Nuclear Submarines from Russia?

by Mark Episkopos

Here's What You Need To Remember: New Delhi rebooted the USSR-India partnership in 2008, leasing an Akula-class submarine from President Putin. 

In the latest instance of long-standing military cooperation between Moscow and New Delhi, India is set to rent additional Russian nuclear-powered attack submarines as a stepping stone on its path to acquiring an indigenous nuclear submarine force.


A somewhat unusual arrangement, India’s willingness to lease—rather than procure or import outright— submarine technology from Russia has clear precedent in recent history. In 1986, the Soviet Union became the first state to lease a nuclear submarine. In an attempt to cultivate the Sino-Soviet defense relationship, the Kremlin inked a deal with New Delhi for the 10-year lease of a Charlie-class nuclear cruise missile submarine.

Afghan and Taliban Negotiators Agree on Peace Talks’ Procedures

By Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Fatima Faizi

Afghan government and Taliban negotiators in Qatar have agreed to the principles and procedures that will guide the ongoing peace negotiations between them, Taliban and Afghan officials announced on Wednesday, an important move that could pave the way for talks that have been hobbled by disagreements for more than two months.

“The procedure including its preamble of the negotiation has been finalized,” Nader Nadery, a member of the government’s negotiating team, said on Twitter. Almost simultaneously, Mohammad Naeem, a spokesman for the Taliban, posted a nearly identical tweet written in Pashto.

Having resolved questions about how to conduct the talks, negotiators are likely to move on to focus on a political road map for both sides and a long-term, nationwide cease-fire.

The agreement comes after both sides were on the precipice of a breakthrough last month. Taliban and government negotiators had agreed in principle to roughly two dozen procedural points, Afghan officials said, but a concrete agreement was stonewalled by President Ashraf Ghani when he directed the government negotiating team to include at least one more condition: that the government be referred to by its formal name, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, in the guiding documents.

How Asia can boost growth through technological leapfrogging

By Oliver Tonby, Jonathan Woetzel, Noshir Kaka, Wonsik Choi, Anand Swaminathan

Asia’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 was partly enabled by technological foundations developed long before the crisis. Over the past decade, the region has developed and deepened its technological capabilities and infrastructure rapidly, accounting for a large share of global growth in technology company revenue start-up funding, spending on R&D, and patents filed.

There is more to come, given the potential to leapfrog in the region’s technological development based on the scale of markets and investment and the speed of adoption and intellectual property (IP) creation. However, tariff and data flow barriers, standards, export controls, and research barriers pose new risks. Moreover, Asia still needs to overcome gaps in core capabilities.

This paper is part of a series focused on the Future of Asia. This research focuses on Asian economies, describing growth in major technological indicators, exploring characteristics of growth in technological capabilities, and homing in on four major sector opportunities—with challenges in each—where Asia has significant scope for technological leapfrogging.

Will China Eliminate Poverty in 2020?

Terry Sicular

In 2015 China announced the ambitious target of eliminating poverty by 2020. Since then China has launched an all-out, campaign-style push to meet this goal, using a “Precision Poverty Alleviation” strategy that targets individual households and monitors their progress using a nationwide poverty database. Investments of financial and human resources in this program have been considerable. Although the poverty reduction target is ambitious, it is also pragmatic. It applies only to the rural population and it is based on a low poverty line. Funding for the program, while large in absolute terms, is a small percentage of government revenue. Thus, the target is achievable. Reaching the target, however, will not mean that China has won the war on poverty. Many households will remain vulnerable to poverty, and the government’s current definition of poverty does not adequately reflect what it means to be poor in China going forward.

In 2015 China announced an ambitious and admirable policy target: to eliminate poverty by the end of 2020. Five years later, after the investment of substantial financial, human, and political resources in the fight against poverty, the deadline looms. Will China meet its target? 

China Thinks America Is Losing

By Julian Gewirtz

The consequences of the presidency of Donald Trump will be debated for decades to come—but for the Chinese leadership, its meaning is already clear. China’s rulers believe that the past four years have shown that the United States is rapidly declining and that this deterioration has caused Washington to frantically try to suppress China’s rise. Trump’s trade war, technology bans, and determination to blame China for his own mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic have all confirmed the perception of Chinese policy elites that the United States is bent on keeping their country down.

To be sure, the idea that the United States seeks to stymie and contain China was widespread among Chinese officials long before Trump came to power. What many Americans see as disruptive effects attributable only to Trump’s presidency are, to China’s current rulers, a profound vindication of their darkest earlier assessments of U.S. policy.

China’s Coming Upheaval

By Minxin Pei

Over the past few years, the United States’ approach to China has taken a hard-line turn, with the balance between cooperation and competition in the U.S.-Chinese relationship tilting sharply toward the latter. Most American policymakers and commentators consider this confrontational new strategy a response to China’s growing assertiveness, embodied especially in the controversial figure of Chinese President Xi Jinping. But ultimately, this ongoing tension—particularly with the added pressures of the new coronavirus outbreak and an economic downturn—is likely to expose the brittleness and insecurity that lie beneath the surface of Xi’s, and Beijing’s, assertions of solidity and strength.

The United States has limited means of influencing China’s closed political system, but the diplomatic, economic, and military pressure that Washington can bring to bear on Beijing will put Xi and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) he leads under enormous strain. Indeed, a prolonged

The China Challenge Can Help America Avert Decline

By Kurt M. Campbell and Rush Doshi

When U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes the oath of office—likely masked and surrounded by socially distanced officials and family—he will look out on a country that many believe is in decline. The problems that propelled President Donald Trump to office, including a collapsing middle class and toxic internal divisions, remain. And Trump will bequeath new ills to his successor: a runaway pandemic, a struggling economy, burgeoning debt, a wounded democracy, and a diminished global reputation.

“Declinism,” or the belief that the United States is sliding irreversibly from its preeminent status, is tempting. But such fatalism would be misguided. The United States still retains enviable advantages: a young population, financial dominance, abundant resources, peaceful borders, strong alliances, and an innovative economy. Moreover, as Samuel Huntington wrote in Foreign Affairs decades ago, the United States possesses an unusual capacity for self-correction, with declinists ironically playing “an indispensable role in

Ret. Gen McChrystal Fears Rise of China's Military, Asks If U.S. Is Prepared to Fight for Taiwan


Atop retired general has warned that the U.S. underestimates China's increasing military capabilities and fears that time is running out to stop it from making a move on Taiwan.

Stanley McChrystal was the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan but was dismissed from his post in 2010 by then President Barack Obama after he made disparaging remarks in a Rolling Stone interview about government officials.

Last month, McChrystal was among a group of experts who briefed to President-elect Joe Biden on international security matters. In an interview with Axios, McChrystal said the U.S. had to invest more in its forces to curb the rise of China's military capacity to deter it from seizing Taiwan.

"Their ability with rocketry and whatnot has essentially changed the dynamic," McChrystal said. China has developed hypersonic missiles known as "carrier killers" which Beijing claims can hit surface vessels like aircraft carriers.

China to expand weather modification program to cover area larger than India

By James Griffiths

Hong Kong (CNN)-China this week revealed plans to drastically expand an experimental weather modification program to cover an area of over 5.5 million square kilometers (2.1 million square miles) -- more than 1.5 times the total size of India.

According to a statement from the State Council, China will have a "developed weather modification system" by 2025, thanks to breakthroughs in fundamental research and key technologies, as well as improvements in "comprehensive prevention against safety risks."

In the next five years, the total area covered by artificial rain or snowfall will reach 5.5 million sq km, while over 580,000 sq km (224,000 sq miles) will be covered by hail suppression technologies. The statement added that the program will help with disaster relief, agricultural production, emergency responses to forest and grassland fires, and dealing with unusually high temperatures or droughts.

What China Hopes to Gain From the Present Border Standoff With India

Shivshankar Menon

The India-China relationship has been through a crisis in 2020. The June 15th incident in the Galwan Valley, which claimed the lives of 20 Indian soldiers, and subsequent firing incidents, the first bloodshed in 45 years, followed an unprecedented build-up of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). In eastern Ladakh, the PLA moved forward into areas previously under Indian control, and has been preventing Indian patrols from accessing patrol points that they consistently visited in the past in Depsang, Hot Springs-Gogra-Kongkala, near the Galwan river and around Pangong Tso.

What China did in April-May by changing the situation on the ground, shifting the LAC, and preventing Indian patrols on territory hitherto controlled by India was a fundamental and consequential shift in behaviour, a successful salami-slicing manoeuvre. Because India’s initial response was non-strategic, we were forced to cede ground, and now face a fait accompli. 

American Interest in Global Jihad – A Google Trend Analysis

By Dr. Antoine Jardin

Radicalisation, jihadism and terrorism-related issues were not extensively addressed during the 2020 US presidential campaign. In contrast to all previous elections since the beginning of the 21st century, these topics, along with US involvement in military conflicts in the Middle East did not play a central role in the debate between the two candidates. As president-elect Joe Biden will take office in January 2021, almost two decades after the 9/11 attacks, the fight against jihadism seems to fade away as a top priority for both the Democrat and Republican parties in Washington, D.C.

In the 2004 presidential election, the confrontation between George W. Bush and John Kerry was shaped by the response to 9/11 and the consequence of the so-called war on terror that led to two military interventions in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003).

In 2008, Barack Obama first distinguished himself from Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic Party Primary by taking a clear stance on the conflict in Iraq, depicted as a ‘dumb war’, and by campaigning for the closure of Guantanamo detention camp in Cuba. Within the GOP, John McCain insisted on increasing the US involvement in the Middle East to defeat terrorism, proposing during one Town Hall meeting to maintain military troops in Iraq for a ‘hundred years’. Other issues were debated by both parties such as the use of waterboarding as a torture technic or favouring a legal or an extrajudicial frame to confront a ‘non-conventional enemy’.

The Can-Do Power

Samantha Power

Ever since then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright memorably called the United States “indispensable” more than two decades ago, both Americans and publics abroad have vigorously debated the proposition. Today, as President Donald Trump’s term comes to a close, foreign observers of the United States are more prone to use a different word: “incompetent.”

The Trump administration’s response to the most urgent problem in the world today—the coronavirus pandemic—has been worse than that of any other nation. This, in turn, has understandably tarnished perceptions of the United States: according to recent Pew Research Center polling conducted in 13 major economic powers, a median of 84 percent of respondents agreed that the United States has done a poor job of handling COVID-19—by far the most damning appraisal received by any major country or institution. Yet the mishandling of the pandemic is just the latest in a string of lapses in basic competence that have called into question U.S. capabilities among both long-standing allies and countries whose partnership Washington may seek in the years to come. A brand once synonymous with the world-changing creations of Steve Jobs, with feats of strength and ingenuity such as the Berlin airlift and the moon landing, and with the opportunity represented by the Statue of Liberty now projects chaos, polarization, and dysfunction.

Misinformation, Disinformation, Malinformation: Causes, Trends, and Their Influence on Democracy

Disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation pollute the information space worldwide and the trend of manipulating facts continues to disrupt public communication and, consequently, democratic processes in societies. The aim of this paper is to investigate the phenomena of misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation, as well as their impact on the political sphere. In addition, the paper attempts to explain the harmful influence of misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation on public debates, democratic processes, and civil society engagement.

Table of contents


Historical origins of misinformation, disinformation and malinformation

Information disorder - key concepts and definitions

The Dangers of Vaccine Disillusionment

By Josh Michaud and Jen Kates

November brought some of the best news of the COVID-19 pandemic: strong evidence that novel coronavirus vaccines currently under development will work. That was never a forgone conclusion. But it is now almost certain that several different effective coronavirus vaccines will become available within the next few months.

Developing a vaccine is just the first step in a long journey toward ending the pandemic, however. Even more daunting tasks await policymakers and health workers after pharmaceutical companies ship the first doses out the door. To eliminate the risk of future outbreaks, as much as 70 percent of the world’s population will need to be immune to the coronavirus—through vaccination or infection and recovery. Given that only an estimated ten percent of the world’s population has had COVID-19 to date (with most infections concentrated in a relatively small number of countries), that leaves an extraordinarily high target for global

Covid-19: Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine judged safe for use in UK

By Michelle Roberts

The UK has become the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, paving the way for mass vaccination.

Britain's medicines regulator, the MHRA, says the jab, which offers up to 95% protection against Covid-19 illness, is safe to be rolled out.

The first doses are already on their way to the UK, with 800,000 due in the coming days, Pfizer said.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the NHS will contact people about jabs.

Elderly people in care homes and care home staff have been placed top of the priority list, followed by over-80s and health and care staff.

Can Vaccine Diplomacy Shape a New World Order?

Michael B. Greenwald, Michael A. Margolis

The coronavirus has catalyzed many global shifts and exposed growing rifts in society. Along with increasing unrest and separation amongst its domestic population, the role of the United States as the leader in the international community has been called into question. Coinciding with more American threats for unilateral withdrawal from global partnerships is the rise of China as a viable option for geostrategic leadership. Over the past several years, China has dedicated resources to supporting emerging markets, and now competes with the United States as an alternative and often preferred geoeconomic partner for many emerging market countries. Traditionally, in the case of natural disasters and shared threats around the world, American leadership has played a central role in rebuilding communities, economies, and multilateral support initiatives. However, in the most recent iterations of its foreign policy, retrenchment and a dialing back of international goodwill have defined its administrative priorities.

The Face of Climate Insecurity: A Surge of Tropical Storms Strike Megacities in Asia and the Pacific

Laura Birkman

The conjunction of multiple, cascading extreme weather events with precarious demographic and socioeconomic trends produces massive humanitarian disasters in the coastal megacities of the Asia-Pacific. The intensity and frequency with which tropical storms are occurring in highly vulnerable urban hotspots reveal the risk of climate change becoming a driver of instability and insecurity.

In this snapshot, Femke Remmits and Laura Birkman analyze the exposure of megacities in the Asia-Pacific region to extreme weather events and how adapting to rising sea-levels and more frequent and extreme weather events will form a major challenge to the Asia-Pacific region.

To address and adapt to expanding climate induced insecurity and risk, it is important that decision-makers, urban planners, and other relevant stakeholders are aware of and consider the indirect security risks produced by natural disasters in the world’s most densely populated areas. The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) seems well placed to take on a leadership role in this regard.

Nagorno-Karabakh conflict killed 5,000 soldiers

For more than six weeks, Azerbaijan and Armenia fought a bloody war, but few details emerged of the true scale of military casualties.

Azerbaijan made significant territorial gains but gave no casualty numbers, while Armenia said last month it had counted 2,425 dead soldiers.

Now Azerbaijan says 2,783 of its forces died in the Nagorno-Karabakh war and another 100 are missing in action.

It brings to over 5,000 the number of soldiers confirmed to have died.

At least 143 civilians were also killed on both sides and tens of thousands more were displaced by the fighting.

The war broke out between the two former Soviet republics in late September. The two countries had never resolved the territorial dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan but under the control of neighbouring Armenia.

The Syrian Forever War Has Created Forever Refugees

by Shelly Culbertson

The Syrian civil war is about to turn ten years old. Fighting has ebbed into an uneasy stalemate, but Syria remains divided. The Assad regime has regained control of most territory, but the U.S.-backed Kurds control the northeast, Turkey controls much of the northern border region, and the northwest province of Idlib remains a contested space with a large concentration of Al Qaida. Internationally-sponsored negotiations to arrive at a political solution through both the United Nations Geneva process and the Russian-Iranian-Turkish Astana process have petered out.

A “no deal” resolution appears to be the most likely outcome of this complex conflict, per whispers in diplomatic circles. In other words, it is feasible that no formal agreement will take place to end Syria's war and start the peace. The status quo could freeze in place.

A no-deal outcome eliminates the prospect of most of Syria's 5.6 million refugees in neighboring countries ever returning to live in Syria—despite this month's limp conference in Damascus during which Bashar al-Assad encouraged refugees to come back. The forever wars are creating forever refugees.

Is Africa overtaking the Middle East as the new jihadist battleground?

By Frank Gardner

In a three-year mission named Operation Newcombe they are joining a force of around 15,000 UN multinational troops, spearheaded by the French, in efforts to help stabilise a part of the continent known as the Sahel.

Mali is one of several Sahel nations currently fighting jihadist insurgencies and the violence is getting worse.

According to the Global Terrorism Index published on 25 November, the "centre of gravity" for the Islamic State group IS has moved away from the Middle East to Africa and to some extent South Asia, with total deaths by IS in sub-Saharan Africa up by 67% over last year.

"The expansion of ISIS affiliates into sub-Saharan Africa led to a surge in terrorism in many countries in the region," reports the Global Terrorism Index.

"Seven of the 10 countries with the largest increase in terrorism were in sub-Saharan Africa: Burkina Faso, Mozambique, DRC, Mali, Niger, Cameroon and Ethiopia".

Ethiopia’s Conflict in Tigray Presents Hard Decisions


After several weeks of fighting, Ethiopia’s federal government seized control of the Tigray region’s capital city of Mekelle and declared victory over the ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on November 28. Yet, despite Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s apparent military success, troubling questions remain regarding what happens next—and whether peace and stability can be restored to the region.

There is little question that the TPLF leadership has carried out a strategy of provocation meant to undermine and weaken Abiy. Their disdain for him and their corresponding resentment of their diminished political stature is well known. The TPLF’s armed attack against the Ethiopian army’s northern command headquarters in early November forced Abiy’s hand. If Abiy had not responded forcefully to the TPLF’s latest incursion, not only would he have risked emboldening a key rival, but it would have signaled weakness to other groups desiring further autonomy. Unfortunately, Abiy now finds himself embroiled in a conflict that has killed hundreds—possibly thousands of people—without a clear resolution in sight.

The Internet’s Most Notorious Botnet Has an Alarming New Trick

IN JUST THE last two months, the cybercriminal-controlled botnet known as TrickBot has become, by some measures, public enemy number one for the cybersecurity community. It's survived takedown attempts by Microsoft, a supergroup of security firms, and even US Cyber Command. Now it appears the hackers behind TrickBot are trying a new technique to infect the deepest recesses of infected machines, reaching beyond their operating systems and into their firmware.

Security firms AdvIntel and Eclypsium today revealed that they've spotted a new component of the trojan that TrickBot hackers use to infect machines. The previously undiscovered module checks victim computers for vulnerabilities that would allow the hackers to plant a backdoor in deep-seated code known as the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface, which is responsible for loading a device's operating system when it boots up. Because the UEFI sits on a chip on the computer’s motherboard outside of its hard drive, planting malicious code there would allow TrickBot to evade most antivirus detection, software updates, or even a total wipe and reinstallation of the computer's operating system. It could alternatively be used to "brick" target computers, corrupting their firmware to the degree that the motherboard would need to be replaced.

Could China Hack a U.S. Fighter Jet or Tank?

by Kris Osborn

Here's What You Need to Know: The U.S. military is working to mitigate emerging cyberthreats.

What if an armored combat vehicle was rapidly into battle through rigorous terrain while facing enemy fire, when its navigational and targeting systems were suddenly given false, wrong or misleading information? What if its on-board data flow was instantly jammed, denied or disabled? Such a scenario, which would immediately compromise or even destroy an otherwise successful attack mission, could happen if a vehicle’s on-board serial bus were hacked by enemy cyber intruders.

This possibility is increasingly realistic given the alarming pace at which enemy cyber attackers are leveraging new technologies to innovate previously unknown or impossible methods of intrusion.

There is a critical need to increase security of a vehicle or aircraft’s data buses, which allows for the transmission of mission critical information within and between platforms.

Iran's Missiles Are Getting a Lot More Accurate

Here's What You Need To Remember: Iran's missile strikes have become much more precise. In an attack on a U.S. airbase in retaliation for the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, the missiles specifically targeted the hangars rather than the barracks - a decision that was likely intentional.

The images paint a picture of precision: The first satellite imagery of the aftermath of the Iranian strike on Ayn al-Asad Air Base in Iraq highlights Iran's improved ability to accurately strike distant targets with its extensive missile arsenal. The pictures, released by imaging company Planet Labs on Jan. 8, show that Iran can chalk up its strike as a success even without inflicting U.S. casualties. What's more, they also show how Iran sought to skirt a delicate line in exacting public retribution while also avoiding an escalation that would lead to outright war.

What Makes China’s DF-17 Hypersonic Missile So Deadly?

by Mark Episkopos

Here's What You Need to Know: America cannot shoot these missiles down and has no similar kind of weapon.

Beijing’s first hypersonic weapons system, the DF-17 stands as one of the most militarily consequential additions to the People’s Liberation Army’s missile roster in recent years.

The DF-17 was first unveiled in 2013. It entered service in 2019—on the heels of at least nine tests—after making its debut at China’s 70th anniversary military parade. The DF-17 is a medium-range ballistic missile that is mounted to a DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV). The missile boasts a reported range of up to 2,500 km, and is deployed from a mobile transport-erector launcher (TEL). U.S. intelligence sources observed in 2017 that the missile is remarkably accurate, with the purported ability to land “within meters” of intended targets during a series of field tests. Chinese state media stressed that the DF-17 is meant for conventional-only missions, but there is seemingly nothing stopping it from carrying a nuclear warhead.