22 December 2020

India Inches Forward to Block Chinese Telecom Equipment

By Abhijnan Rej

Indian media reported on December 16 that the Narendra Modi government has decided to issue certification for equipment used by telecom companies in the country based on their perceived security risk. Such certification could pave the way for an effective ban on the acquisition of Chinese telecom equipment in the future, including those related to 5G internet solutions. The decision follows a meeting of the Indian Cabinet on Wednesday, leading to a new National Security Directive on the Telecommunication Sector.

According to the Hindustan Times, the certification would be issued by a new National Security Committee on Telecom headed by Deputy National Security Advisor Rajinder Khanna, a former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s lead external intelligence agency. The newspaper quotes Ravi Shankar Prasad, minister of telecommunications, as saying after the cabinet meeting: “This is a very important decision with respect to national security.” It also notes that India’s National Cyber Security Coordinator will issue the list of equipment that will fall under the ambit of the new directive.

While India in the recent past has periodically hinted that it is ready to ban Chinese firms from 5G trials in the country, officially such a decision is yet to be taken. On November 6, India’s Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, speaking at the National Defense College, noted: “On 5G the government has not taken any call. Discussions are still on… when it (the trials) will be allowed and who will be allowed to participate. The penetration of (Chinese firms’) telecom hardware and software is extensive.”

How the CCP Took over the Most Sacred of Uighur Rituals

Timothy Grose

The rooster hadn’t even stopped his crowing when the police arrived at my Uighur host’s courtyard in rural Turpan one early spring morning in 2008. Although they spoke calmly, almost apologetically, the uniformed Uighur officers demanded that the foreign guest return on the next bus to Urumqi. Not wanting to invite more trouble for my friends, I scrambled to pack my bags and headed toward the village bus station.

Two years later, I received a wedding invitation from the same family. The eldest son and groom-to-be followed up with a phone call to personally ask that I attend. After some hesitation, I agreed to make the cross-country trip from Beijing. This time, however, I would stay two hours away from his village in hopes of preventing another visit from the cops. Stepping off the crowded van at the same dusty Turpan bus station from which I had made my hasty departure, my anxiety must have shown on my face. “Änsirmä! [Don’t worry!],” the groom’s friend confidently reassured me. “They don’t bother us at weddings and funerals. You’re fine being here.”

My presence spoke to the precariousness of Uighur hospitality. I was a citizen from a far-away country who was affiliated with a university in Beijing, and so I possessed the potential to raise the profile of the celebration. But as an American researcher examining Uighur ethno-national identity, visiting my friends risked attracting state authorities. Still, my Uighur hosts had finalized their guest list on their own. In 2010, China’s government had yet to “territorialize,” or claim, sacred Uigher rites by making them seem as though they are and always have been part of China.

Online Event: China’s Power: Up for Debate 2020 – Keynote Address by Rep. Rick Larsen

Bonnie S. Glaser: Welcome to the fifth and final debate of the 2020 China Power Debate Series. I’m Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Thanks to all of you for joining us today virtually.

Before we begin our debate, we have a special guest joining us to talk about U.S.-China relations. I’m delighted to have with us Congressman Rick Larsen, who represents the 2nd Congressional District of Washington state and, importantly for this conversation, is the co-chair of the Bipartisan U.S.-China Working Group, which was created in 2005 to providing accurate information to members of Congress on critical issues pertaining to China and to provide a forum for discussion with Chinese officials and leaders. And in this capacity Congressman Larsen has really made a significant contribution to the understanding of China within Congress. He has frequently engaged with experts on China as well to discuss China’s internal developments and its evolving approach to the world. And I admire his determination to help Congress understand China, and his dedication to protecting American interests and to promoting better understanding between our two countries.

So, we’re going to start with some framing remarks from Congressman Larsen, and then I’ll pose a few questions. If time allows, we’ll take a few questions from our viewers. And if you want to submit a question, you can go to the CSIS page for this event and click on the “Ask Live Questions” button. So, with that, I would like to hear, Congressman Larsen, your perspectives on U.S.-China relations at this really challenging time for our country and so many people around the world.

How Globally Competitive Are China’s Cities?

Since 2009, a greater proportion of the global population has lived in urban areas than in rural areas. Cities are key centers of economic, political, and cultural activities. “Global cities” are particularly critical nodes within the international economy, as they provide specialized services, such as finance, and serve as hubs for innovation. Countries with more global cities can thus better benefit from the international flow of capital and talent. As China has rapidly developed in recent decades, historically prominent Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai have grown in international influence, and many new global cities like Shenzhen have emerged as increasingly significant players in global commerce.
Patterns of Global Cities

The employment opportunities brought by Chinese economic reforms launched in the late 1970s led to a surge of people moving out of rural areas and into cities. In 1979, only 18.6 percent of the Chinese population resided in urban areas. In 2011, more than half of all Chinese citizens lived in cities for the first time in history, and by 2020 the urbanization rate in China stood at 61.4 percent.

In addition to domestic population movements, the growth of Chinese cities has drawn travelers, students, and workers from other countries. International companies have also set up offices in different cities to better access China’s vast market. As a result, cities have become one of the main gateways through which China interacts with the world.

Is China Leading in Global Innovation?

Innovation is the process by which new knowledge and ideas are created. Global leaders in innovation produce the scientific discoveries and technological advances that shape the modern world, making it critical to national power. An economy’s capacity to innovate is dependent on a variety of factors, including its commitment to research and development, the quality of its workforce, and the effectiveness of government institutions. As China works to upgrade its economy, its innovative strengths and weaknesses will shape its long-term economic competitiveness and prospects for global leadership.

China’s Strengths in Innovation

Decades of rapid economic growth have enabled China to invest in key areas that drive innovation, such as research and development and the creation of new intellectual property. These investments have improved China’s GII ranking and enabled it to compete with advanced economies, such as the United States and Sweden.

Research and development (R&D) is the backbone of innovation. It supports the development of new products and services, which can boost growth and productivity. In recent decades, China has increasingly prioritized R&D, with spending as a percent of GDP rising from 0.72 percent in 1991 to 2.13 percent in 2017. Although this is less than the OECD average of 2.37 percent, the immense size of China’s economy means that its R&D expenditure is now second only to the United States at $442.7 billion (in 2010 USD).

China’s Hyperactive Debates on Personal Data Protection

By Xiao Liu

On October 21, 2020, a draft of China’s much-anticipated Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL) was released for public comments. Along with the Cybersecurity Law implemented in 2017 and the Data Security Law (a draft of which was also released for public comments in July 2020), the PIPL is regarded as a major milestone in China’s legislative efforts to establish a set of comprehensive regulations around data. Particularly, the PIPL establishes lawful rights around personal information, as it is formulated to “protect personal information rights and interests, standardize personal information handling activities, safeguard the lawful, orderly, and free flow of personal information, and stimulate reasonable uses of personal information”(Article 1). The draft drew intensive media and public interest. Legal professionals, academics, and business representatives held discussion sessions to compare the draft law with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation and other major data laws around the world, and raise issues for clarification and improvement.

One month later, the ruling in the first trial of a highly publicized case involving the use of facial recognition technology, touted as the “first lawsuit against facial recognition,” was announced. The victory of the plaintiff, who had objected to use of the technology by a safari park, generated another flurry of coverage and social media responses.

Personal information protection has already become a hyperactive field in China, which is continuously energized not only by national legislation and policymaking, but also by the participation of legal professionals, conscious actions taken by common citizens, as well as immense media attention and active public discourses.

PLA No-Shows US-China Maritime Safety Talks

By Steven Stashwick

The Chinese military was a “no-show” at annual air and naval safety talks with the United States this week, according to an Indo-Pacific Command news release.

The talks were supposed to take place over three days, from December 14-16, by video teleconference.

The two militaries had previously agreed to hold the meeting virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Chinese officials apparently did not cancel the meeting ahead of time or inform the U.S. side that they would not be attending; they just did not dial into the teleconference, leaving U.S. officials waiting.

Admiral Phil Davidson, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said that, “The PRC’s refusal to show up to MMCA [Military Maritime Consultative Agreement] is another example that China does not honor its agreements, and this should serve as a reminder to all nations as they pursue agreements with China going forward.”

The MMCA was set up in 1998 as an annual forum to discuss naval and air safety issues between the two countries following concerns over the potential for escalation during the Taiwan Strait Crises several years prior. Envisioned as a U.S.-China version of the famous Cold War Incidents at Sea agreement between the U.S. and Soviet navies to prevent dangerous incidents at sea, the MMCA lacked that agreement’s emergency communication protocols and prohibition of dangerous behaviors. Congressional reports have described the MMCA mostly an agreement “to talk about talking.”

China Building Massive Myanmar Border Wall: Reports

By Sebastian Strangio

Reports have emerged that the Chinese government is constructive a 2,000-kilometer reinforced fence along its coiling border with Myanmar, following a spike in COVID-19 cases in the latter country.

According to a report in Radio Free Asia (RFA), the giant undertaking has been codenamed the “Southern Great Wall” and began construction earlier this year. According to the RFA report, stretches 659 kilometers of the barrier have so far been completed.

The reports have been accompanied by social media images from the town of Wanding and the city of Ruili – both of which sit on the border between Yunnan province and Myanmar’s Shan State – that appear to show reinforced steel fences topped with barbed-wire.

The Chinese government has long struggled to maintain control of Yunnan’s 2,200-kilometer border with Myanmar, which touches on regions controlled by ethnic armed groups and rebel armies that are effectively independent of the Myanmar state.

Are Turkey's days in Nato numbered?

Turkey’s future participation in the Nato alliance is likely to come under renewed scrutiny following Washington’s decision this week to impose sanctions against Ankara over the recent purchase of a sophisticated, Russian-made S-400 anti-aircraft missile system.

Tensions were already growing between the US and Turkey, both major players in the military alliance, ever since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced in 2017 that he was negotiating a major arms deal with Russia, which included the purchase of the missile system.

The deal is particularly problematic for Nato as the system was specifically designed to destroy the new F-35 stealth fighter jet, which has been developed by the US in conjunction with a number of key allies, including Britain. Indeed, Turkey was one of a few countries – including the UAE – that have secured approval from Washington to purchase the state-of-the-art aircraft. The administration of US President Donald Trump has since cancelled Turkey’s participation in the F-35 programme over the Russian deal.

Now the row has moved to another level, after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this week announced that Washington was imposing sanctions on key elements of the Turkish defence industry. The move prompted an angry reaction from both Ankara and Moscow, which claimed it was intended to punish the defence sectors of both of their nations at once.

Moving Beyond the JCPOA

By Jamsheed Choksy & Carol Choksy

Much has changed since the enactment of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Developments in recent years have reduced nuclear warheads to just one part of a larger, deadlier arsenal Iran is honing. (This is described in the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment.) Consequently, it will not be enough to resurrect the JCPOA. An enhanced deal must be negotiated. The incoming Biden administration should not rush this process, even though hardliners are poised to take control of Iran in a few months. 

Iranian and American stances 

Iran will hold presidential elections in June 2021, and incumbent President Hassan Rouhani cannot run due to term limits. A recent amendment of electoral law put the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp’s intelligence wing in charge of background checks on potential contenders. As a result of this selective process, anti-American, pro-nuclear, regionally expansionist candidates have gained a major edge, and they include five former and current military commanders. 

Systematic sabotage of facilities and elimination of scientists and commanders by the United States and Israel have triggered pushback. Iran’s parliamentarians voted to raise uranium enrichment to 20%. Iran’s public overwhelmingly rejects acceding to agreements that would limit military enhancements. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei clearly stated his opposition to any new deals: “We tried negotiations to no result; we can nullify sanctions.” 

What you may have missed in the new National Space Policy

Michael Sinclair

Last week, the Trump administration released its National Space Policy, capping off what has been a revolutionary and comprehensive government-wide effort to refocus America on the stars. This effort has been so complete that it is fair to say that there has not been a similarly dedicated effort in government since the Kennedy administration and the original moon-shot. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), led by Administrator Jim Bridenstine and the reinvigorated National Space Council within the Executive Office of the President, led by Scott Pace (under the direct supervision of Vice President Mike Pence) should be commended for their vision, advocacy, and effort to bring American space policy into the 21st century.

This document joins several other national policy pieces, including Space Policy Directive (SPD)-1 (Reinvigorating America’s Space Human Exploration Program), SPD-2 (Streamlining Regulations on the Commercial Use of Space), SPD-3 (National Space Traffic Management Policy), SPD-4 (Establishment of the United States Space Force), SPD-5 (Cybersecurity Principles for Space Systems), an executive order on encouraging international support for the recovery and use of space resources, and a presidential memorandum on the launch of spacecraft containing small nuclear systems. These domestic policy documents are likewise joined by the U.S.-led Artemis Accords, that when taken together will help establish modern customary international law norms of behavior beyond the Cold War-era provisions of the foundational Outer Space Treaty (OST). [Update: SPD-6, the National Strategy for Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion, a follow-up to the presidential memorandum, was released on December 16, 2020.]


The Black Sea: How America can avoid a great-power conflict

Philip Breedlove and Michael E. O’Hanlon

Many Americans find the whole swath of territory in eastern Europe, near Russia, very far away and hard to conceptualize. This part of the world involves a number of countries, small and large, that are generally not the most frequently discussed in American news nor frequented by American tourists. To make sense of much of this remote region, it can be helpful to take a perspective that centers on the Black Sea and views that body of water as the key point of reference for much of the region. Doing so not only helps clarify what Russia is up to in its near-abroad, but also shines a spotlight on Chinese activity, and what is required of America in response.

The Black Sea region is best viewed as having three big anchors — Ukraine to the north, Turkey to the south, Russia to the northeast. Then there are three countries on either side of the region — Romania, Bulgaria and Moldova on the left or west, Georgia and Armenia and Azerbaijan to the east. Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria are NATO allies; America and NATO’s other 26 members (making for a grand total of 30) are sworn to their defense through a mutual-defense treaty. And even though Ukraine is not a NATO ally, the United States did promise (along with Russia) back in 1994 to help protect its security — which is why the Russian aggression against Ukraine since 2014 has been so concerning.

None of this is to say that America needs to prepare for war against China, or Russia for that matter, in the Black Sea region. The Black Sea is far from the Chinese coasts; the main military concerns are with China in the western Pacific region. Moreover, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told a group of people at the Brookings Institution on December 2, America is in a period of great-power competition but it is not in a period of conflict, and the goal should be to keep things that way while competing effectively against Russian and Chinese influence.

How domestic economic reforms in China can ease tensions between Washington and Beijing

David Dollar

China’s well-known story of spectacular growth, at around 10% annually for 40 years, is coming to an end because of both domestic and global factors. In analyzing China’s prospects for the next several decades, three particular challenges are striking: the shift from a labor-surplus to a labor-scarce society; the shift from investment to innovation as the primary source of growth; and the shift in China’s global position from a rising power to an established power.

Rapid aging is probably China’s biggest domestic challenge. The population over 65 will increase from 200 million today to 400 million by 2049, while the overall population will decline slightly. Within this group, the most rapid rise will be in the population 85 and older: from fewer than 50 million today to over 150 million in 2049. The challenge of taking care of the elderly is compounded by China’s rural-urban divides.

Most of the elderly live in the countryside, though often their working-age children have moved to cities as migrant workers. Since rural health systems are weaker than urban ones, taking care of the elderly will require more permanent migration to cities plus strengthened rural service delivery. China needs to scrap the hukou household registration system that limits permanent migration and to unify rural and urban pensions, health insurance, and educational systems. This will be good both for social objectives and the efficient use of labor.

More Hacking Attacks Found as Officials Warn of ‘Grave Risk’ to U.S. Government

By David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth

WASHINGTON — Federal officials issued an urgent warning on Thursday that hackers who American intelligence agencies believed were working for the Kremlin used a far wider variety of tools than previously known to penetrate government systems, and said that the cyberoffensive was “a grave risk to the federal government.”

The discovery suggests that the scope of the hacking, which appears to extend beyond nuclear laboratories and Pentagon, Treasury and Commerce Department systems, complicates the challenge for federal investigators as they try to assess the damage and understand what had been stolen.

Minutes after the statement from the cybersecurity arm of the Department of Homeland Security, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. warned that his administration would impose “substantial costs” on those responsible.

“A good defense isn’t enough; we need to disrupt and deter our adversaries from undertaking significant cyberattacks in the first place,” Mr. Biden said, adding, “I will not stand idly by in the face of cyberassaults on our nation.”

President Trump has yet to say anything about the attack.

Nuclear weapons agency breached amid massive cyber onslaught


The Energy Department and National Nuclear Security Administration have evidence that hackers accessed their networks as part of an extensive espionage operation that has affected at least half a dozen federal agencies. | Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo

The Energy Department and National Nuclear Security Administration, which maintains the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, have evidence that hackers accessed their networks as part of an extensive espionage operation that has affected at least half a dozen federal agencies, officials directly familiar with the matter said.

On Thursday, DOE and NNSA officials began coordinating notifications about the breach to their congressional oversight bodies after being briefed by Rocky Campione, the chief information officer at DOE.

They found suspicious activity in networks belonging to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories in New Mexico and Washington, the Office of Secure Transportation at NNSA, and the Richland Field Office of the DOE.

Self-Delusion on the Russia Hack

Jack Goldsmith 

As the news about Russia’s broad digital espionage operation against the U.S. Defense, Treasury, and Commerce Departments, nuclear laboratories, and other governmental systems grows more ominous, prominent voices are calling for a vigorous response. “[A]ll elements of national power,” including military power, “must be placed on the table,” proclaimed Thomas Bossert, the former senior cybersecurity adviser in the Trump administration, in a New York Times op-ed. The United States must “reserve [its] right to unilateral self-defense,” and “allies must be rallied to the cause” since such coalitions will be “important to punishing Russia and navigating this crisis without uncontrolled escalation.” Sen. Richard Durbin had a similar but pithier assessment: “This is virtually a declaration of war by Russia on the United States.” 

The lack of self-awareness in these and similar reactions to the Russia breach is astounding. The U.S. government has no principled basis to complain about the Russia hack, much less retaliate for it with military means, since the U.S. government hacks foreign government networks on a huge scale every day. Indeed, a military response to the Russian hack would violate international law. The United States does have options, but none are terribly attractive. 

The news reports have emphasized that the Russian operation thus far appears to be purely one of espionage—entering systems quietly, lurking around, and exfiltrating information of interest. Peacetime government-to-government espionage is as old as the international system and is today widely practiced, especially via electronic surveillance. It can cause enormous damage to national security, as the Russian hack surely does. But it does not violate international law or norms.

U.S. Security Policy in the Trump Era

When President Donald Trump entered office under an “America First” banner, it seemed to herald a new era of U.S. isolationism. As he prepares to leave the White House on Jan. 20, though, the shifts in America’s military engagements during his one-term presidency have been less dramatic than anticipated. Though their numbers are down, U.S. troops are still stationed in Afghanistan—for now. And instead of operating around a clear security strategy, Trump’s tenure was marked by its unpredictability—dramatic reversals, erratic interventions and the fraying of long-standing alliances.

Trump’s isolationist instincts came into regular tension with his closest advisers, many of whom espoused a more traditional view of American power projection. This was never clearer than in December 2018, when Trump ignored his aides and announced his decision to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria, prompting then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other high-ranking officials to resign in protest. Trump subsequently softened his rhetoric, without definitively articulating a final policy, contributing to the sense of uncertainty over America’s security policymaking. The entire process was repeated in October 2019, only this time the decision triggered not resignations, but outrage among even Trump’s closest Republican supporters in Congress.

Meanwhile, Trump’s vision didn’t stop his advisers from hinting at military intervention as a path to regime change in places like Venezuela and Iran. In the latter case, Trump subsequently made his opposition to war clear. His broader reluctance to commit U.S. forces to another major conflict in the Middle East played a part in the deescalation of tensions with Tehran in January, following the U.S. killing of a top Iranian military commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, and Iran’s retaliatory ballistic missile strike against U.S. forces stationed in Iraq.

The South Caucasus: New Realities After the Armenia-Azerbaijan War (Part Three)

By: Vladimir Socor

Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently supplanted the Minsk Group’s triple co-chairmanship (the United States, France, Russia) as mediator between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It was Putin, not the Minsk co-chairmanship, who mediated the November 10 armistice agreement, shunting aside the Minsk Group’s troika. The armistice agreement does not even mention the Minsk Group and does not reference any “status” goal for Karabakh Armenians (see EDM, November 12, 13).

The US and French co-chairs, removed from the negotiations by Putin’s maneuver, are keen to re-enter the process by having the Minsk troika discuss the Karabakh “status” issue with Baku and Yerevan. The Kremlin, however, will probably take up this issue on its own initiative, dealing directly with Baku and Yerevan (the same procedure it used when mediating the armistice); and Moscow will await a convenient opportunity to initiate this process on its own timing.

Indeed, according to Putin (and contrary to Azerbaijan’s position—see above), this conflict is not conclusively resolved because the problem of Upper (“Nagorno”) Karabakh’s status remains open (TASS, November 17, 21).

The Kremlin had played “neutral” during the 44-day Karabakh war before intervening to stop the fighting. Exploiting Yerevan’s adventurism (see EDM, November 25), and undoubtedly anticipating its debacle, Putin intervened at the last moment on the Armenian side as a providential “savior,” namely on three counts: “saving” the Karabakh Armenians by sending Russian “peacekeeping” troops; “saving” the Armenian army’s remnants from total destruction by stopping the war at that point; and “saving” Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s government from collapse with fulsome praise for Pashinian’s acceptance of hard but inevitable armistice terms (TASS, November 17, 21, December 2).

U.S. Should Strengthen Gulf State Partners, Vital to Stability in the Middle East

By Michael J. Connor

Last Wednesday, the Senate voted down legislation aimed at stopping the sale of advanced offensive weapons to the United Arab Emirates. Washington can and should do more. As Iran proliferates advanced long-range weaponry and its proxies launch short-range attacks, the incoming Biden administration should also emphasize strengthening the defenses of America's partners in the Gulf.

The Trump administration reportedly promised the Emirates the F-35 aircraft as part of the historic Abraham Accords to normalize relations with the Israelis. In addition to supplying the UAE with fifty of America’s premier fighter jet, the $23 billion agreement includes 18 MQ-9B armed drones and air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions.

As President-elect Biden is likely to continue the Trump administration's attention to great power competition with China, constructive arms sales could transform America's role in the Middle East from being a security guarantor to a security contributor. If that transition is to succeed, Washington should examine how the Arab Gulf States fit into a regional approach to Middle East security as America pulls back.

Transferring only offensive weaponry does not address several of the unconventional threats America’s regional partners confront today. An advanced air force cannot eliminate threats from the cheap drones and rockets becoming increasingly common around the Middle East.

Russia Tests Anti-Satellite Missile: US

By Abhijnan Rej

The United States Space Command announced on December 16 that Russia has conducted a test of a direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) missile. A statement issued by the command has Commander General James Dickinson saying, “Russia publicly claims it is working to prevent the transformation of outer space into a battlefield, yet at the same time Moscow continues to weaponize space by developing and fielding on-orbit and ground-based capabilities that seek to exploit U.S. reliance on space-based systems.”

Russia had previously conducted two ASAT tests and maneuvers earlier this year. In February, according to the U.S. Space Command, two Russian COSMOS satellites “which behaved similar to previous Russian satellites that exhibited characteristics of a space weapon, conducted maneuvers near a U.S. Government satellite that would be interpreted as irresponsible and potentially threatening in any other domain.” Russia also tested a direct-ascent one in April.

A direct-ascent ASAT is ground-launched. A co-orbital ASAT, on the hand, is space-based, in an orbit similar to the target which it can acquire after it receives an order remotely. But, such co-orbital ASATs have a dual use in that they can also be used for space situational awareness (SSA) activities. A Secure World Foundation report last year noted that Russia’s space based ASAT program “Burevestnik,” active since 2011, consists of four COSMOS satellites that are designed to provide the country SSA capabilities but “may play a supporting role for other counterspace weapons.” These findings that were corroborated in a different report produced by Center for Strategic and International Studies. (BreakingDefense has a nice summary of both reports here.)


Steve Blank

Editor’s note: Stanford University is hosting a brand-new class this fall—Technology, Innovation, and Modern War. Steve Blank, who teaches the course along with Joe Felter and Raj Shah, is writing about each class session—offering Modern War Institute readers an incredible opportunity to learn about the intersection of technology and war and hear from remarkable guest speakers. Read about previous sessions here.

Our guest speaker was Sumit Agarwal, former deputy assistant secretary of defense and DoD senior advisor for cyber innovation. Out of MIT, Sumit joined the US Air Force and was one of the first officers in network warfare. He’s spent almost twenty years in the National Guard. But in the private sector he’s done a number of amazing things: he headed up mobile at Google, then went back into the Pentagon where he was the youngest deputy assistant secretary of defense ever in the Pentagon. Then most recently, he cofounded Shape Security, one of the leading cybersecurity companies in the country. Earlier this year, Shape Security was sold to F5 for over a billion dollars.

I’ve extracted and paraphrased a few of Sumit’s key insights and urge you to read the entire transcript here and watch the video.

Safety and Security Online

The way we are going about creating safety and security online in cybersecurity and defending against cybercrime isn’t quite rational. In cybersecurity, any individual, any business of any size, from a small business all the way up to a giant bank, is at the end of the day subjected to the worst that adversaries of any sort—foreign nations, organized criminal gangs—can throw their way. And that makes no sense.

The thinking about online security is absolutely at odds with how we think about security in the land, sea, air, and space domains. Our Army, Navy, and Air Force defend our borders. So the result of no defenders in cyberspace is what one would predict. It’s a mismatch. The result is that we are less secure. You end up with companies that are losing more money online, losing more assets that belong to them and more customer data that they’re entrusted with, than they would ever lose in an offline context. And so that’s a really strange thing in the domain that we created—we are having a harder time safeguarding and securing ourselves than we do in the other domains.

A moment of reckoning: the need for a strong and global cybersecurity response

Brad Smith 

The final weeks of a challenging year have proven even more difficult with the recent exposure of the world’s latest serious nation-state cyberattack. This latest cyber-assault is effectively an attack on the United States and its government and other critical institutions, including security firms. It illuminates the ways the cybersecurity landscape continues to evolve and become even more dangerous. As much as anything, this attack provides a moment of reckoning. It requires that we look with clear eyes at the growing threats we face and commit to more effective and collaborative leadership by the government and the tech sector in the United States to spearhead a strong and coordinated global cybersecurity response.

The evolving threats

The past 12 months have produced a watershed year with evolving cybersecurity threats on three eye-opening fronts.

The first is the continuing rise in the determination and sophistication of nation-state attacks. In the past week this has again burst into the headlines with the story of an attack on the firm FireEye using malware inserted into network management software provided to customers by the tech company SolarWinds. This has already led to subsequent news reports of penetration into multiple parts of the U.S. Government. We should all be prepared for stories about additional victims in the public sector and other enterprises and organizations. As FireEye CEO Kevin Mandia stated after disclosing the recent attack, “We are witnessing an attack by a nation with top-tier offensive capabilities.”

War powers in the era of Joe Biden and Lloyd Austin

Amy McGrath and Michael E. O’Hanlon

That is a valid question, but to our mind there is an even more pressing one concerning the checks and balances on how our country employs military power. Since World War II, the executive branch has usurped war-making powers that the U.S. Constitution entrusted to the people’s branch of government, Congress. This pressing issue demands major, comprehensive new legislation from a new Congress and president come 2021.

The issue is not just Donald Trump and his impulsive style of decisionmaking. The worry goes way beyond Trump. Indeed, whatever his other flaws, he may leave the White House having conducted fewer new military operations than most of his post-Franklin Delano Roosevelt predecessors.

Under Article I of the Constitution, only Congress can declare war, raise armies, and maintain navies, and otherwise provide funds for the common defense. The president, by contrast, is commander in chief of the military. Both branches have huge responsibilities; neither can wage war by their own decision or preference.

Yet Congress has not declared war since World War II. Nor has it formally approved, in any meaningful alternative way (except belatedly through the appropriations process), several of the major conflicts the nation has engaged in since then — notably, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Kosovo War, or 2011 Libya operation. Perhaps it is no coincidence that a number of those conflicts did not turn out so well. In fairness, it did approve both Iraq wars in advance, as well as the response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and in a manner of speaking the Vietnam War (through the somewhat disingenuous Gulf of Tonkin Resolution).

Air Supremacy Lost: An Imminent Danger for Ground Troops

By Captain Walker Mills

“A powerful force picked him up, shook him, and threw him to the floor. Through the ringing in his ears, he could hear tent mates shouting to find out who was all right.” Enlisted radio repairman, Albert Villanueva, of the 933rd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion had just survived an enemy airstrike on Cho-do Island off the coast of Korea on the night of April 15th, 1953. Two of his friends, PFC Herbert Tucker and William Walsh, did not. These two Americans marked the last deaths inflicted on the U.S. military by enemy aircraft. Even though aerial combat had entered the jet age, North Korea still flew obsolete Yak-18 and Po-2 aircraft (known as ‘Bed Check Charlie’) to engage United Nations and U.S. military forces. Flying low, slow, and often at night, these aircraft successfully evaded then-modern U.S. aircraft. It was not until the U.S. military reintroduced World War II-era, propeller-driven Navy F4U-5N fighters that ‘Bed Check Charlie’ aircraft took significant losses. While the ‘Bed Check Charlie’ operations did not have meaningful impacts on the overall war effort, their harassing attacks created a sense of vulnerability in U.S. troops. Carried out by antiquated propeller-driven aircraft (including a biplane from 1927), the ‘Bed Check Charlie’ attacks stood in stark contrast to the modern, technologically advanced U.S. airpower of the day. Today, there is a danger of history repeating itself for U.S. ground troops. 

Since the Korean War, U.S. ground forces have operated with near total air supremacy in every conflict. The collapse of the Soviet Union and ongoing counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations have led U.S. forces to take air supremacy for granted. Meanwhile, U.S. ground units’ tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) designed to mitigate enemy air operations through passive defensive measures, such as signature management, have atrophied. Marine units, without the layered air defenses employed by the Army, are particularly at risk. After decades of operating without enemy air threats, the Marine Corps had little incentive to invest in air-defense systems or train to operate under contested or hostile airspace—until now. 

Here's Every Aircraft Carrier in the World


Broadly speaking, there are three aircraft carrier types today: larger carriers that carry both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters; smaller carriers that operate helicopters; and amphibious ships that have full-length flight decks, hangars, and carry helicopters.

Some of the world's carriers are new, bristling with planes and capable of circumnavigating the globe without refueling. Others, meanwhile, are at least a half-century old and carry just a handful of obsolete planes, rarely leaving base.

Here's a comprehensive look at the world's fleet.
United States of America
The United States now operates 10 Nimitz-class "supercarriers," aircraft carriers that dwarf all other flat-tops worldwide both in size and capability.

The Nimitz carriers are 1,092 feet long and weigh a whopping 101,600 tons—60 percent larger than their nearest counterparts, the Queen Elizabeth class. Each ship is propelled to speeds in excess of 30 knots by a pair of nuclear reactors, giving them nearly unlimited range. The ships are built with high-tensile steel for protection, with layers of Kevlar over vital spaces.