20 December 2020

India’s Out of RCEP: What’s Next for the Country and Free Trade?

By Prachi Priya and Aniruddha Ghosh

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a mega free trade agreement (FTA) was signed recently by 15 nations, namely the 10 ASEAN states, Japan, South Korea, China, Australia, and New Zealand. India had decided to walk out of trade pact in November 2019, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated: “Whenever I try and gauge India’s interest in light of her joining RCEP, I do not get an answer in the affirmative; neither Gandhiji’s policy of self-reliance nor my wisdom allows me to join RCEP.”

India’s decision to exit the mega trade deal was taken after negotiating the deal for seven years in the backdrop of several unresolved issues concerning market access for China, non-tariff barriers faced by Indian exporters, services trade, and rules of origin criteria, among other issues. While India was often tagged as the “troublemaker” in the deal negotiations, Indian policymakers stood their ground firmly when it came to the interests of domestic producers, especially regarding Chinese exports of subsidized goods to India. Apart from economic factors, India’s decision to not join RCEP had a strategic dimension given China’s domination of, and leading role in, the pact. Since Modi’s announcement, the Line of Actual Control standoff with China in Ladakh has sealed India’s decision to stay firm and leaves no space for any further trade negotiations involving its northern neighbor.

Make no mistake, India had no option but to exit the pact. RCEP in its present form would have not served any purpose for the country. A NITI Aayog paper titled “India’s FTAs and Its Costs,” which we have co-authored with Dr. V.K. Saraswat, a NITI Aayog member, highlighted India’s experience with its previous FTAs and its reasons for not joining RCEP. The post-pandemic world trade landscape and its associated challenges; China’s unfair trade practices and its constant endeavor to side-line issues critical for Indian industry in RCEP; and, most importantly, rising border disputes with China reiterate that India did the right thing by staying out of RCEP.

Five Things to Know About the Afghan Peace Talks

BY: Vikram J. Singh; Scott Smith; Scott Worden; Belquis Ahmadi; Johnny Walsh

The intra-Afghan negotiations that began on Saturday represent a watershed moment in the war: the first direct, official talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. These historic talks commenced 19 years and one day after al-Qaida's 9/11 terrorist attacks drew the United States into Afghanistan's civil war. Just getting the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban to the table is an accomplishment. The main reason the talks materialized is the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in February of this year; that agreement delivered a timetable for the eventual withdrawal of foreign troops, which met the Taliban’s years-long precondition for opening talks with the Afghan government.Members of the Afghan government delegation, including Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, during the opening of intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha, Qatar, Sept. 12, 2020. (Ron Przysucha /U.S. State Department)

As hard as it has been to get to talks, concluding them will likely be harder. To reach a durable settlement, the Afghan parties will need to address underlying tensions that are the root causes of decades of violence. USIP’s Afghanistan experts explain what you need to know as the intra-Afghan negotiations begin.

1. Successful intra-Afghan negotiations offer the United States the most responsible way to end America’s longest war.

Counterterrorism or Counterinsurgency? Biden’s Coming Afghanistan Dilemma

By Carlo J.V. Caro

The 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh (Royal Welch Fusiliers 23rd Foot) and assigned units including Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, Estonian Forces and French Army carry out ongoing training and preparation for OP Moshtarak, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, 2010.Credit: Flickr/ResoluteSupportMedia

It is not yet clear whether President-elect Joe Biden will stay on course with President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, or whether he will leave behind a small counterterrorism force. Unfortunately, both options are flawed. Withdrawing from an Afghanistan engulfed in civil war where the Taliban is stronger than before, and where Islamic State and al-Qaeda are implanted, will lead it to become an international terrorism harbor once again. But leaving a small counterterrorism force will not deter it from becoming a most serious threat to the United States either.

The capacity of a small military force at 2,500 personnel or under will need to be used toward protecting its own assets, and its maneuvering will be severely limited. But more important is the fact that relying solely on a counterterrorism strategy in Afghanistan has been detrimental to bringing stability to the country. While General David Barno, General Stan McChrystal, and General David Petraeus tried to implement a counterinsurgency strategy, which put a special emphasis on the local population, Ambassador Karl Ikenberry, then in his capacity as commander, Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan, decided to concentrate on a counterterrorism strategy, which actually resulted in greater civilian casualties and profoundly hurt American and NATO forces in the view of the local Afghan population.

How Should Democracies Confront China’s Digital Rise? Weighing the Merits of a T-10 Alliance

Steven Feldstein

With President-Elect Joe Biden’s election victory, foreign policy experts are debating what a pivot from four years of America First isolationism should entail. One idea that is gaining traction is for the United States to initiate an alliance of democracies to combat China’s technological expansion and check the spread of digital autocratic norms. Specifically, many experts are proposing the creation of “Technology 10” or “T-12” groupings to counter China’s digital ambitions, safeguard the West’s technological leadership, and allow liberal democracies to shape emerging technologies. While such alliances are instinctively appealing, especially in light of the Trump administration’s abdication of international leadership, policymakers should ask tough questions about what a T-10 or T-12 alliance would accomplish and whether putting together such a group is even feasible.

Commentators cite a variety of challenges that a T-10 or T-12 group could tackle. The potential scope is wide, such as ensuring China doesn’t stake an insurmountable lead in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing, developing a more coherent framework for deterring cyberattacks, and providing a counterweight to China’s digital authoritarian ambitions. The breadth of its agenda underlies its potential weakness—unless policymakers confine the group’s mandate to a core set of issues, its value is doubtful.

With Americans Stuck at Home, Trade With China Roars Back

By Ana Swanson

WASHINGTON — American imports from China are surging as the year draws to a close, fueled by stay-at-home shoppers who are snapping up Chinese-made furniture and appliances, along with Barbie Dream Houses and bicycles for the holidays.

The surge in imports is another byproduct of the coronavirus, with Americans channeling money they might have spent on vacations, movies and restaurant dining to household items like new lighting for home offices, workout equipment for basement gyms, and toys to keep their children entertained.

That has been a boon for China, the world’s largest manufacturer of many of those goods. In November, China reported a record trade surplus of $75.43 billion, propelled by an unexpected 21.1 percent surge in exports compared with the same month last year. Leading the jump were exports to the United States, which climbed 46.1 percent to $51.98 billion, also a record.

That surge has defied the expectations of American politicians of both parties, who earlier this year predicted that the pandemic, which began in China, would be a moment for reducing trade with that country and finally bringing factories back to the United States.

“The global pandemic has proven once and for all that to be a strong nation, America must be a manufacturing nation,” President Trump said in May. “We’re bringing it back.”

But despite Mr. Trump’s restrictions on Chinese goods, including tariffs on more than $360 billion worth of its imports, there is little sign that global supply chains are returning to the United States. Instead, the prolonged effects of the pandemic on the United States appear to have only reinforced China’s manufacturing position.

China Building 1,200-Mile Southern Great Wall Along Myanmar Border: Reports


China is in the process of building a barbed-wire wall along its 1,300-mile southern border with Myanmar to prevent illegal crossings, according to recent reports.

Social media images from the town of Wanding and the city of Ruili—both in China's southwestern Yunnan Province—show 6- to 9-foot barbed-wire metal fences separating the two countries, U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported Monday.

While media reports in China say the boundary fence has helped prevent illegal crossings and by extension COVID-19 outbreaks, the RFA report said it could also keep Chinese dissidents from fleeing the country.

Last month, Burmese news site The Irrawaddy said the Myanmar military and officials in Kokang, a self-administered zone in northern Shan State, had both lodged objections with Beijing over the proximity of the fence to the demarcation line. The infrastructure was built without any prior notice given to Yangon, the report said.

A Twitter post cited by RFA said the giant undertaking, which has been codenamed the "Southern Great Wall," began this year. It currently stretches 410 miles following the completion of its first phase.

China’s Space Program Suggests Decoupling Won’t Work Like the US Hopes

By Brantly Womack

China’s space program – a long-time victim of political distancing from NASA – is completing a trip to the moon to bring back lunar samples. As part of the Chang’e 5 mission, a lander gathered rocks from the surface of the moon and then transferred them to the orbiter, which plans to return to earth December 17. This is a first for China’s ambitious space program, though a modest one by American standards. On the same day the Chinese landed, NASA rather peevishly announced contracts for as little as one dollar for lunar soil to be collected by private space companies in the next few years, and a few days later it named the astronauts for future manned American lunar missions.

But though U.S. astronauts reached the moon in 1969, China is not 50 years behind in the space race. In 2019, it completed 33 successful orbital launches while the United States did 20. Next year it plans to launch the core unit of its own modular space station, to be finished by 2022 over the course of 10 missions. Further down the road, it has plans for Mars exploration and for a gigantic space-based solar power generator.

China’s progress in space has been achieved in spite of a complete decoupling by the United States. In contrast to NASA’s successful space collaboration with the Russians, the American agency has shunned China. Joint space missions between the U.S. and the Soviets began in 1975, when the two nations were Cold War enemies. The International Space Station (ISS), the pinnacle of this collaboration, was proposed in 1984 and became operational in 2000. But the United States kept China out of the ISS. Congress then drove the decoupling home in 2011 with a law forbidding any collaboration between NASA and any Chinese entity, even to the point of barring Chinese visitors from entering NASA facilities. And there can be no U.S. components in any satellite launched by China.

Pandemic Border Restrictions Crush Hong Kong’s Economy

By Tej Parikh

With daily recorded COVID-19 cases rising above 100 in early December, Hong Kong has now entered its fourth wave of the pandemic. But despite its densely packed 7.5 million population and proximity to China, the latest surge still leaves the metropolis with just 7,722 infections and 122 deaths since the virus began.

The relatively low numbers are partly down to lessons learnt from its SARS outbreak in 2003, which claimed about 299 lives. When COVID-19 arrived in the city in January, mask wearing was already a near norm. Social distancing across the leisure and hospitality industries was observed, while businesses had enacted working from home policies. Testing and equipment also ramped up, after the government was initially criticized for the speed of its response.

While many precautions have waxed and waned in line with the pandemic, Hong Kong officials have remained steadfast over the city’s uncompromising approach to its borders. Since March, it has been closed to nonresidents arriving from overseas, barring a few small exemptions. Returning residents meanwhile are subject to a compulsory 14-day quarantine, backed up by enhanced screening and enforced by tracking devices.

Hong Kong has rarely before felt so isolated. Normally it is teeming with international business travelers. In 2019, it was also the world’s leading tourist city destination. Visitor arrivals have instead been down by over 95 percent year-on-year every month since February. Travelers from mainland China, who are also subject to a compulsory two-week quarantine on entry, account for 60 percent of Hong Kong’s inbound tourism.

China’s military modernisation

Author: Joel Wuthnow

China’s military modernisation began long before Xi Jinping became chairman of the Central Military Commission in November 2012. But the pace and scope of that effort has greatly accelerated under him. Key changes include the introduction of advanced weapons and equipment, structural reforms to make the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) a more effective force and a campaign to root out corruption and improve Xi’s control.

The PLA was once a poorly outfitted force that aimed to win land battles through guerrilla tactics and attrition. Chairman Deng Xiaoping, focused on reviving the economy, famously relegated the military to the last of the ‘four modernisations’. Beginning with Jiang Zemin (1989–2004), the PLA pivoted towards deterrence and preparations for ‘local wars’ against regional opponents. This implied a need for more capable air and naval forces as well as expanded conventional missile forces, accompanied by changes in training, doctrine, recruitment and education.

The limited political influence of Jiang and his successor Hu Jintao (2004–2012) over the military meant that the PLA was able to resist certain aspects of reform. One problem was that the PLA held on to a ‘big army’ mentality: ground force officers held most PLA senior positions and the other services were poorly integrated into the command structure. Another problem was that top party officials were unable to rein in prolific corruption, a product of PLA autonomy granted by Deng in return for its willingness to accept low budgets in the 1980s.

Xi’s arrival heralded an acceleration of modernisation and solutions to problems that had confounded his predecessors. While many had their origins under Jiang and Hu, a number of key systems came online in the Xi era, including the indigenous aircraft carrier Shandong, the Type-055 guided missile destroyer, the J-20 stealth fighter, the Y-20 long-range transport aircraft, the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile and the DF-17 ballistic missile fitted with a hypersonic glide vehicle.

Assessing the Impact of U.S.-China Technology Competition and Decoupling: Focusing on 5G

By Akinori Kahata

This blog post is the second in a series on U.S.-China technological competition. Click here to read the first post in this series, Managing U.S.-China Technology Competition and Decoupling.

A degree of technological decoupling between the United States and China is inevitable. The United States has already taken to begin this process, like implementing export controls on Chinese semiconductors and semiconductor manufacturing inputs, as well as placing restrictions on the deployment of Chinese telecommunication equipment in the U.S. These actions were important and necessary initial steps towards improving U.S. economic and national security, but it is important for policymakers to understand the ways that the Chinese government may be able to overcome these obstacles, and how they may end up inadvertently damaging U.S. industries.

To avoid traveling down a path that may damage the United States’ economic security, a preliminary evaluation of the impact of these actions is necessary. Enough time has passed since these policies came into place to judge the impact they have had on businesses, and understand how various stakeholders have responded. However, it is important to note that due to the speed of innovation in these sectors and the difficulties of predicting how stakeholders may respond to new developments, these policies must be continuously evaluated to ensure that they remain the best possible response to the current situation. To this end, the following sections discuss the current impact of U.S. actions against China, with particular focus on the restrictions placed on Chinese 5G equipment providers.

Impact of restrictions on the use of Huawei and ZTE equipment for 5G telecommunication equipment

(1) Policy Objectives

US Sanctions Turkey Over Russian Air Defense System, Raising Questions and Concerns

By Abhijnan Rej

The United States on December 14 followed through on a long-issued threat to Turkey, and imposed sanctions on a Turkish government entity following its acquisition of the S-400 surface-to-air missile system from Russia. The sanctions were imposed on Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB) according to section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which became U.S. law in August 2017. According to a press statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, “the sanctions include a ban on all U.S. export licenses and authorizations to SSB and an asset freeze and visa restrictions on Dr. Ismail Demir, SSB’s president, and other SSB officers.”

“Today’s action sends a clear signal that the United States will fully implement CAATSA Section 231 and will not tolerate significant transactions with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors,” Pompeo’s statement added. As a result of Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400 system, the U.S. ally has also been suspended from participation in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter partnership, the statement noted. An accompanying fact sheet has provided specifics of the sanctions imposed on SSB.

Turkey’s S-400 system was slated to have become operational this April; the country took delivery of a second battery of the missiles in September last year.

Arab Recognition of Israel Redefines the Middle East

By George Friedman

Last week, Morocco established diplomatic relations with Israel, joining three other Arab countries – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan – that normalized ties this year. In Morocco’s case, part of the deal was U.S. recognition of Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara, just as it had agreed to remove Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

This process, which began with the UAE, is rooted partly in a paradox of U.S. Middle Eastern policy. The United States has played an important role in implicitly endorsing the process and occasionally throwing a sweetener on the table. But the United States also made it clear that it was withdrawing its forces from the region and reducing its commitments. That left the region without the power that held it together. Public hostility among nations in the region, and especially with Israel, was possible while the U.S. served as coordinator and bridge. These countries could and did work together but only through secret contacts and U.S. coordination. Without the United States, each state was left to either go it alone or form meaningful relations on the whole. U.S. policy forced the countries of the region to face a reality they had tried to hide: They needed each other.

They needed each other because the Sunni Arab world had enemies, none more dangerous to their interests than Iran. The Arabs framed their policy on the assumption that the United States would guarantee their interests, and even their existence, against an Iranian threat. That remains possible, but what the United States has done is create a critical uncertainty. Iran cannot be sure of what the United States would do under any particular circumstances. Neither can the Arabs. Each has to prepare itself for an absent United States, rather than simply assume an American reaction.

Where Trump Went Wrong on North Korea Nuclear Diplomacy

After more than two years at the forefront of the international agenda, North Korea denuclearization efforts have faded from view, leaving little progress to show for it. Critics say the Trump administration took a flawed approach to the negotiations—and the U.S. trade war with China didn’t help. Meanwhile, North Koreans continue to suffer.

Ending North Korea’s nuclearization efforts moved to the forefront of the international agenda soon after U.S. President Donald Trump took office in 2017, and stayed there for more than two years. But despite a period of improved relations between North and South Korea and two unprecedented face-to-face meetings between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, no clear progress was made toward denuclearizing North Korea. It subsequently faded from view as a priority for the Trump administration, which will now pass the intractable problem along to the incoming Biden administration intact.

Trump framed the leaders’ two summit meetings and his personal relationship with Kim as a promising start to a potential breakthrough, and claimed that he single-handedly avoided war with North Korea. But critics pointed to the lack of headway in the failed talks, which they blamed on the Trump administration’s flawed approach to the negotiations. For his part, Kim has refused to even begin drawing down the nuclear weapons and missile programs that are essentially his regime’s life insurance policy—and its only bargaining chip to get the international community to drop punishing sanctions. President-elect Joe Biden will take office in January with little room for maneuver, and even less should Kim greet him with a high-profile missile or nuclear test in the early days of his presidency, as many observers expect.

Japan's Potential Contributions in an East China Sea Contingency

by Jeffrey W. Hornung

What roles could Japan play should a high-end contingency erupt in the East China Sea that finds the United States engaged in major combat operations with China?

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the SDF?

What legal and political factors are likely to influence Japan's decisions to support the United States, allow the United States to access its bases in Japan for combat, and authorize the SDF to use force?

How can Japan better position itself to respond to a regional contingency, and how can the United States support Japan in these efforts?

In the Indo-Pacific region, the alliance the United States has with Japan is arguably its most important. If a high-end contingency erupts in the East China Sea and the United States becomes engaged in major conventional combat operations with China, what roles can and might Japan play? In this report, Jeffrey W. Hornung assesses the strengths and limitations of Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF), as well as legal issues pertaining to the SDF use of force and U.S. base access in a contingency for combat operations that may not be directly tied to the defense of Japan.

US sanctions NATO ally Turkey for purchasing Russian missile system

By Conor Finnegan

A year and a half after Turkey acquired a Russian missile defense system, violating U.S. sanctions law, President Donald Trump has implemented penalties against the NATO ally.

His refusal to implement those sanctions had drawn bipartisan ire in Congress, but authorizing them now has enraged Turkey, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, amid deteriorating relations between it and its Western allies like the U.S.

The sanctions, announced by the U.S. Treasury Monday, targeted Turkey's defense procurement agency, known as the Presidency of Defense Industries, and its senior officials, including its president.

How the US Can Mediate the Japan-South Korea Dispute

By Xuan Dung Phan

President-elect Joe Biden will have a challenging time restoring U.S. alliances in Northeast Asia as Japan-South Korea ties have soured over deep-rooted historical issues. While President Donald Trump took a hands-off approach, Biden seems eager to help the two U.S. allies mend ties. But his administration must avoid the fundamental flaw of previous reparations arrangements: prioritizing state interests over victims’ concerns.

Aiming to bring Asian allies together for its Cold War containment strategy, Washington facilitated the signing of the 1965 normalization treaty between Japan and South Korea, which Tokyo claims settled all reparations questions. However, the deal was not a legitimate redress for victims of Japanese wartime military brothels and forced labor, as these issues had not yet surfaced at the time. Furthermore, South Korea was ruled by the dictator Park Chung-hee, who pushed through the treaty to secure Japanese capital. He did not compensate the victims but instead used the money for economic development. In short, the 1965 agreement was a shallow attempt at reconciliation as economic, security, and political considerations took primacy.

In 2015, then-President Park Geun-hye reached a “final and irreversible” deal with Japan regarding the “comfort women” — women forced to serve in Japanese military brothels. Not long into his term, current President Moon Jae-in, Park’s successor, disbanded the Japan-funded charity set up under the accord after calling it a “political agreement that excludes victims and the public.” Indeed, former comfort women and their supporters were dismayed at the lack of prior consultancy. Park was seeking a speedy rapprochement with Japan amid Chinese economic coercion and North Korea’s nuclear tests. In dire need of a united front to counter Beijing and Pyongyang, the Obama administration in the U.S. mediated reconciliation talks. One year after the agreement was signed, to Washington’s relief, Japan and South Korea finally inked the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), a bilateral intelligence-sharing pact on North Korea. Like the 1965 settlement, the 2015 agreement accommodated state interests, not the victims’.

Biden Will Have to Confront a New and Perhaps More Dangerous Space Race

Stewart M. Patrick 

President-elect Joe Biden is a down-to-earth guy, but the fate of the heavens may end up being one of his main foreign policy challenges. The United States has long sought to maintain outer space as an open, stable and rules-bound domain. Unfortunately, this cooperative vision is under stress. The emergence of new space-faring nations, an explosion of private commercial activity and a brewing arms race, among other issues, are all leaving outdated international institutions in the space dust.

Biden has made a “return to multilateralism” the core theme of his proposed foreign policy. Closing glaring gaps in outer space governance should be part of this agenda. Without broad agreement on principles, norms and rules of responsible behavior, today’s final frontier will soon resemble the Wild West of yesteryear.


By Rachel Ellehuus & Donatienne Ruy

The Greater Mediterranean is a single geographic area where threats and opportunities are shared from coast to coast. Viewing it as such exposes the overall impact of instability and influence in the region on U.S. interests and the space for action.


The Mediterranean basin sits strategically at the intersection of three continents, where events on one shore often shape those on the other. In recent years, geopolitical tensions have risen in this narrow region, along with instability caused by conflict, governance failures, and economic strife.

The United States’ goal of maintaining favorable regional balances of power in Europe and the Middle East depends on developments around the Mediterranean. Traditionally a theater of U.S. and European activity, the Greater Mediterranean has seen a rise in Russian and Chinese influence. This risks jeopardizing the space for U.S. and NATO action.

In addition to the recent influence activities, an increasing number of transnational threats emanate from NATO’s Southern Flank. Yet the U.S. government still lacks a comprehensive approach to the region that can overcome organizational silos and account for both influence and instability drivers. These silos create blind spots in which adversaries can grow their influence. This in turn blunts the United States’ ability to project power and influence in the Mediterranean.

Love Him Or Hate Him, President Trump’s Defense Legacy Is Profound

Loren Thompson

Donald Trump is the most controversial U.S. president in modern times. Some have seen him as the salvation of a faltering democracy, others as an existential threat to that democracy.

It will be a long time before historians arrive at any kind of consensus concerning the significance of the Trump presidency. However, some consequences of his tenure are already apparent. One of those is the impact he has had on the nation’s defense posture.

Trump has done more in four years to shift the vector of U.S. military preparations than most presidents accomplish in eight. The fact that he did this while the nation was at peace is remarkable. The fact that he often did not know the details of how his defense strategy was being implemented is beside the point (few presidents do).

As President Trump prepares to exit the White House, it is important to see his military legacy clearly, because for better or worse, it is the foundation on which his successor will have to build.

We Need a Goldwater-Nichols Act for Emerging Technology


The U.S. military overcame inter-service friction to become the world’s best at joint operations in large part because Congress imposed legislation upon a Defense Department that could not or would not overcome the challenges on its own. Today, lawmakers should consider similar steps to help the military better grapple with and integrate rapidly changing technology.

Passed in 1986 after a contentious political fight and over DoD opposition, the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act established unity of command through the combatant commanders. It also reserved half of joint duty assignments in grades above O-3 for joint-qualified officers — that is, those who have completed a program through a Joint Professional Military Education school and two years of joint assignments. The results speak for themselves: across the services, joint experience and education has for decades been a requirement for advancement to senior ranks. 

Today, we face a problem of a similar scope and scale. The officer corps is highly qualified to meet the challenges it is currently preparing for. However, as we know from first-hand experience as the inaugural director of two artificial intelligence fielding organizations in the DoD and as the former Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Defense for Personnel and Readiness, today’s officers are woefully unprepared to integrate rapidly-changing technology into operating concepts, planning processes, weapon systems, or even daily business practices. DoD struggles to match commercial best practices when it comes to buying and fielding new systems. This is an endemic problem. Most organizations try to match old practices and bad habit patterns to new technology, rather than allowing new technology to help lead them to better and faster ways of operating. Data management practices are generally abysmal. 

Our Bases In US Will Be Attacked: Army


WASHINGTON: With Google going haywire this morning, and news reports that a Russian hack of network firm SolarWinds could have compromised the Pentagon and other federal agencies, we’ve all gotten a sharp reminder of how vulnerable our high-tech world can be. That includes the US Army.

So just imagine the worst day in the life of an Army base commander. In the midst of an international crisis, while his troops rush to train up, kit up, and deploy abroad – suddenly the lights go out. A cyber attack has fried the power plant in the small town outside the base, and the base itself doesn’t have enough back-up generators to keep functioning at full capacity.

The nightmare doesn’t stop there. The signals at the local rail yard are all glitching, so you can’t ship out your heavy equipment, and the nearest seaport is shut down. Oh, and someone spread rumors online that the real reason the base is so busy is that the Army is coming to confiscate private citizens’ guns, and they doxed all of your contractors and civilian employees, so now your cybersecurity chief can’t come into work because heavily armed protestors have surrounded her house.

And the best part: The bad guys didn’t have to hack a single military system to do this – just the independent civilian services your base depends on.

Preventing this worst-case scenario is the purpose of the new Army Installations Strategy, released this morning. At just 16 pages (plus six pages of acronyms and official definitions), the strategy doesn’t give specific recommendations on what base commanders should do – those details are still being worked out. But it lays out a clear vision for what Army bases in the US need to become: resilient, adaptable, connected, and above all, not complacent.

Can Biden Unwind Trump’s ‘Maximum Pressure’ on Venezuela and Iran?

Judah Grunstein 

When President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20, he will inherit two types of problems from his predecessor. The first will involve repairing the damage President Donald Trump created through neglect: the alliances, partnerships, multilateral organizations and U.S. government institutions to which Trump paid too little attention the past four years. Though not negligible, these problems will in most cases be relatively straightforward to address through methodical diplomacy—the simple art of showing up.

The second category of problems has to do with the damage Trump created by paying too much attention to an issue: most of all, his campaigns of “maximum pressure” on Venezuela and Iran, which have succeeded in applying pressure, mainly through sanctions, but failed to achieve any meaningful outcomes. It will require more thought and care to unwind these failed policies without sacrificing leverage for whatever approach Biden hopes to pursue instead. Both Venezuela and Iran will also be politically fraught for the incoming administration, as any softening of America’s posture to unblock the current impasses will be portrayed by hawks in Washington as rewarding unsavory regimes that have no domestic constituencies of support in the U.S.

International Strategy to Better Protect the Financial System Against Cyber Threats


In February 2016, a few months after Carnegie began its work on this project, a cyber attack shook the finance world.1 Hackers had targeted SWIFT, the global financial system’s main information network, trying to steal 1 billion U.S. dollars, nearly 0.50 percent of Bangladesh’s GDP,2 from the Bangladeshi central bank over the course of a weekend.3 It was a wake-up call revealing that cyber threats targeting the financial sector were no longer limited to low-level theft but could now pose systemic risk.

Only a few months earlier, in 2015, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace had launched an initiative to better protect the global financial system against cyber threats.4 Our first step was to develop a proposal for the G20 to launch a work stream dedicated to cybersecurity in the financial sector.5 In March 2017, the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors outlined an initial road map to increase the cyber resilience of the international financial system. In the wake of the Bangladesh incident, Carnegie expanded its work, complementing the G20 project with the development of an action-oriented, technically detailed cyber resilience capacity-building tool box for financial institutions. Launched in 2019 in partnership with the IMF, SWIFT, FS-ISAC, Standard Chartered, the Global Cyber Alliance, and the Cyber Readiness Institute, this tool box is now available in seven languages.6 And we are continuing to track the evolution of the cyber threat landscape and incidents involving financial institutions through a collaboration with BAE Systems.7

The more war stays the same, the more it changes


War never changes. War changes all the time — sometimes in revolutionary ways. These sentences do not contradict each other. That is a surprisingly hard point to get across, even to seasoned fighting men and women. But early this month, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave it his college best at events hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and the Brookings Institution. At the Naval Institute’s Defense Forum Washington, for instance, he prophesied, “The nature of war is probably not going to change, but the character of war does change and it changes frequently.”

Distinguishing between the “nature” and “character” of war, as Gen. Milley does, is common parlance in defense circles. War is a human enterprise, if a lamentable one. It involves a violent interaction of human wills in which each contender tries to impose its will on an unwilling foe. It kindles dark passions such as hatred, spite and vengeance. Such sentiments deflect policy, strategy and operations from a purely rational course predicated on calculating costs, benefits and risks. The classics of strategy implore makers and executors of strategy to keep cost/benefit logic in charge when making war. All the same, we refer not to the dispassionate statecraft of Achilles but to the rage of Achilles.

Life imitates art.

Defending Forward

Besieged by a global pandemic, saddled with growing federal debt, and distracted by other domestic challenges, Americans are not thinking about U.S. defense policy or global military posture. Lately, they have grown concerned about the very state of our democracy.

When foreign policy manages to enter a conversation, it often takes the form of support for “ending endless wars.” I certainly appreciate the desire to end military conflicts and deployments. Too often as secretary of defense, I found that my most difficult responsibility was calling or writing families to inform them that a loved one tragically paid the ultimate price for our country.

But whether we like it or not, the United States confronts a growing array of serious national security threats. Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, and Pyongyang, in addition to a number of determined terrorist organizations, continue to pursue objectives inimical to American interests.

In considering how to best respond, I draw lessons from my five decades of public service.

One of them is the realization that keeping our homeland safe and prosperous requires Americans to lead on the international stage – engaging other nations and building capable coalitions. Withdrawing into a defensive and insular crouch here at home risks leaving Americans more isolated and more vulnerable to threats. Large oceans do not provide the protection they once did.